Sermon for Cell of Walsingham Mass with Hymns Tuesday 7 October 2014
Sermon preached by Fr Julian Browning
Our Lady of the Rosary
The Rosary is a way of asking God for help. Help with what? Help with the discovery that we can’t do life on our own. We’ve tried. What happens when we try to take control of our lives, to pull ourselves together? We fret over the same old issues, the same hurts, the same mistakes and regrets. When we find ourselves in that place, with the best will in the world, our minds oscillate between two states, regrets about the past, and fears of the future. This is how we often think about the Church, isn’t it? Regrets about the past, fears for the future. Over and over again. That’s how we review our lives, past and future, same old stuff. And if there is one major roadblock on the spiritual journey it is resentment, resentment that this has happened to me, and our discontent might be entirely justified, but it takes us to dark places and keeps us there. To understand that this might happen to us, is the first step towards dealing with it. There is an antidote to resentment. The antidote to resentment is gratitude, gratitude for all that happens to me, whatever that might be. Saying the Rosary expresses this process. It’s a cry for help, from resentful distressed humanity, but it is said with deep gratitude for the divine help which we know is never held back from any of God’s children. God is constant in his love. If we look to God, he will sustain us. If we turn to him, he is there. If we reach out our hand to him, he will save us. It’s going to be all right after all. In His hands He gently bears us, rescues us from all our foes.
The Rosary is a mantra, that is to say it is repetitive prayer which keeps our minds in the present, where God is to be found. God isn’t in our fantasies of past and future, that’s our little kingdom, not God’s Kingdom. God is here, now, always now. Saying the Rosary, or any other mantra prayers in contemplative practices, also engages the whole person, all that I am, the body, with the hands, with the rosary bead, with the stillness of the person – indeed just holding a rosary is a prayer of some sort – and the mind is also engaged and freed from its distracted thinking and so we can turn towards God. This is something we can actually do, physically, not just mentally, together, or on our own, but always as part of something greater, the rolling prayer of the whole Church. As the Chinese proverb says, it is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness.
This is the cry of humanity which is always heard. When we ask Mary to pray for us in the Rosary, what we are doing is invoking the name of the one who was closest to Jesus and knew him better than anyone else. So she knows what to say, and we are happy for her prayer to be ours, and our prayer to be hers. Then we draw closer to the heart of Jesus ourselves, the soul of Our Saviour. The scenes of the Rosary, the various Mysteries, are ways of reading Christ, bringing him into our lives again – and so we re-establish a relationship with Christ, which we thought we’d lost because we know we’ve wandered away on our own.
In the Christian faith, our words, our cries, are heard as soon as they are uttered. This is the faith bit: talking to God through Mary, becomes listening to God, to what he has to say to each of us. Help is on its way, as soon as we re-connect with God, through this and other prayer practices, in the present, as we are now, with all faults. Not hoping for a better past; not trying to define the future on our terms. Just starting again now, open to what God wishes to make of us. As Mary said:
Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy Word.