Where has summer gone? After a busy start of the school year in August, and event-packed September, who can remember the summer as October begins?
Fortunately, we have the opportunity to pause each year on October 7 – the Feast of the Holy Rosary – to pray the Rosary with Father McLaughlin in the formal garden before the statue of Mary. This year, the rain forces us to take our prayer into the Patio Music Room before the painting of the Assumption of Mary.
Along with 35 or so mothers of current and former students, I enjoy joining in the Rosary that reflects on moments in the life of Jesus – joyful, sorrowful, glorious, or luminous mysteries of Christ. In 1572, Pope Saint Pius V established October 7 as the Feast of the Holy Rosary in thanksgiving to God for the victory of Christians over the Turks at Lepanto – victory that prevented Islam from spreading into Western Europe. Pope John-Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries, or “Mysteries of Light,” in his 2002 Apostolic Letter entitled, The Rosary of the Virgin Mary. The five reflections are “The Baptism of Jesus,” “The Wedding at Cana,” “Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom,” “The Transfiguration,” and “The First Eucharist.”
While the central figure of the October 7 feast day is Mary, the great prayer of the Rosary underscores Mary’s “yes” to God, and focuses our prayer to Jesus through Mary. Originally attributed to Saint Dominic, the Rosary is thought to be modeled after the 150 psalms with 150 “Our Father” prayers followed by decades of the “Hail Mary.” Hypnotic and meditative, the prayer requires us to consider the events in the life of Christ as we pray over and over again two great prayers of our faith.
I first recall praying the Rosary in grade school, remembering how sometimes I was distracted by the heat in the classroom or how I became drowsy after just having had lunch and recess. The prayers seemed so repetitive and boring as a child. Only after I grew older do I now appreciate the contemplative power of the Rosary. I am especially grateful for it on anxious nights before bed when my mind cannot rest. I begin the prayer and feel as though I am resting my head in the arms of Mary. That image and feeling of complete resignation offer me the peace and comfort I seek in those sleepless moments.
In recent weeks I came across an alternative idea about the life of Saint Norbert that helped me consider how conversion of our hearts and God’s call in our lives might really come about.
In speaking with Father Ted Antry, O.Praem., after a Mission and Heritage meeting at Archmere, we started to discuss Norbert’s call by God. The account, found in Chapter 1 of The Life of Saint Norbert, Vita A, explains that Norbert was on horseback on his way to Freden when a storm arose and a bolt of lightening scared his horse, throwing him to ground. It was then when Norbert heard the words of Psalm 33 spoken to him, “Turn from evil and do good.”
Father Antry suggested that the conversion of Norbert may have been articulated in that final defining moment on the way to Freden. However, Norbert may have been considering a call to conversion, to a different way of life, several years before when he was at the imperial court of Henry V. Norbert became disenchanted with Henry’s use of force against the Pope, and he left the Court along with his position as the son of noble parents. In other words, a study of Norbert’s life may suggest that his conversion was a process of discernment over several years, culminating in the vision of establishing a new religious community.
I like this explanation of Norbert’s conversion because I find it more plausible based on my own personal experience. I do believe that many of us have not had that singular defining moment – “the thunderbolt” that completely changes our lives. Rather, discernment happens over time. This discussion about Norbert’s conversion also led me to consider the story of how Mary said “yes” to God’s call during the Visitation of the angel Gabriel.
After Saint Gabriel told her that she would be the Mother of God, I would like to believe that her affirmative response was not a simple one. I would like to think that Mary, as an example for us today, had to have prevailing faith to learn more about the plan of salvation for humankind that included her. Not just once, rather each day, she had to say “yes” to God with a blind faith that each of us would very likely find difficult to manage.
When I consider the 501 students enrolled at Archmere this year, their families, and all those who support our community as parents of graduates, alumni, grandparents, and friends, I am overwhelmed with joy by our responsibility to make sure Christ is present in our words and actions, so that transformative experiences are possible every day. In the coming weeks, we will be welcoming to campus the grandparents of our students, our alumni celebrating class reunions, and other alumni, parents of graduates, and friends who will be attending the events of this year’s Homecoming. These lasting relationships are the signs of transformative experiences – ones that allow us to share our mutual belief in God and make us want to care for one another – loving God and neighbor, the two greatest commandments.
During this month of the Holy Rosary and of Respect for Life, I hope that all of us may take the time to offer prayers to God through the intercession of Mary for the courage to say “yes” to God’s call – a call to serve within our families, the Archmere community, our local communities, and the world.