Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
Imagine it and so it shall be
In likely the most beautiful written work of his lengthy pontificate, Pope John Paul challenges the dark images that undermine our civilization and encourages us to replace them with images of the light of Christ. That is the underlying message of the pope's Oct. 16 apostolic letter, The Rosary of the Virgin Mary.
Too often, we downplay the effect images can have on us. Right now, the exterior of many homes is littered with images of ghosts, skeletons and witches - images designed to set the atmosphere for one of the main secular feasts of the year - Halloween.
Our TVs, computers and recorded music bring images of violence and illicit sex into our homes. TV advertisements bombard us with fast-paced images of fulfillment through consumerism. We absorb all these images and more and tell ourselves that they don't affect who we are.
The advertisers who spend billions of dollars are betting otherwise.
The genius of St. Ignatius Loyola realized images affect us profoundly. Wounded by a cannonball, Ignatius was forced into months of recuperation with the lives of the saints and the Bible as his only reading.
Gradually, Ignatius replaced the images in his mind of courtly splendour and military valour with those of poverty of spirit. He devised a system of meditation using incidents from the history of salvation and the life of Christ.
He saw that we become what we imagine. If we want good people and a good society, we first of all need a healthy imagination to be widespread.
So it is with the "genius" of the rosary. For the rosary is not mechanical prayer, but a series of imaginings taken from the lives of Jesus and Mary.
Pope John Paul urges families to spend less time watching TV and more time praying the rosary: "To return to the recitation of the family rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation."
In the rosary, we contemplate the life of Jesus through the eyes of the one who knows him best - his mother.
Her gaze was "ever filled with adoration and wonder."
But that gaze often had different expressions. At the finding of Jesus in the Temple, it was a questioning look. At Cana, it was a penetrating gaze that deeply understood Jesus. At the foot of the cross, it was a look of sorrow. At Pentecost, it was "a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit."
The mysteries of the rosary, the pope tells us, "awaken in the soul a thirst for a knowledge of Christ nourished by the pure source of the Gospel." And so the pope added five new mysteries to the rosary, mysteries of light taken from the public life of Jesus.
These new mysteries enable us to use the rosary to meditate on that part of Jesus' life which comprises the largest part of the Gospels.
This meditation is not idle day-dreaming. It is not an escape from the problems of the world. It remembers the mysteries of Christ's life in the Biblical sense of remembering - "a making present of the works brought about by God in the history of salvation."
The rosary helps us to see the world's problems "with responsible and generous eyes, and obtains for us the strength to face them with the certainty of God's help."
At the conclusion of the rosary, many say a little prayer asking that by meditating on the mysteries, we may come to "imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise." This is a prayer, but it is a prayer asking God to strengthen the imagination to do its job.
The rosary, like the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, holds great promise for the world. It holds the promise of a Spirit-filled imagination, an imagination that can rescue us from darkness.
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