Light and Life – Sept-Oct 2021, Vol 74, No 5 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province
[Br. John Paul Puschautz joined the Brothers of Saint John at their American novitiate in Princeville, IL in 2010. He continued his formation with them in both France and the US during these intervening years. During his three years of apostolic internship, he served as a campus minister at Seton Hall University in NJ. He also completed his M.A. in Scientific Theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary. After careful discernment, he will be entering the Order of Preachers through the Western Dominican Province in August 2021.]
After a couple of challenging but enriching years of study in France, I was inspired to ask my superior to renew my consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary by making a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima. I received permission to embark on this adventure with Br. Patrick but we were told to set out in the simplicity and abandonment of the apostles, which meant we were to hitchhike without any phone, money, or plans. Let go and let God. Let go of all our illusions of control and let God reveal his paternal providence. St. Thomas Aquinas says that hope is born from a desire for a good that is “difficult but possible to attain” (ST II-II 17.1). I was invited to exercise this theological virtue countless times on this journey to our Heavenly Mother. This amazing experience taught me so much about our pilgrimage through the lacrimarum valle, or “vale of tears,” which is life. On earth we are “en route” to our celestial home and hope sustains us through the many challenges of life. We are constantly tempted to despair of attaining our ultimate good when we are bombarded by the worries of the world; by the social and political turmoil, by the increasingly hostile, secularized, and consumerist culture, and by the scandal in the Church. All of these difficulties, on top of our daily personal trials, drag us down. We need hope. The author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that hope is the “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” which “enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain” (Heb. 6:19). We have hope because Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the forerunner who has run the race and traced a path “behind the curtain” to eternal happiness.
When we lose sight of our “upward calling” (cf. Phil. 3:14) we need to imitate the perfect disciple, Mary, and to hold on tight to our chain of hope, the Rosary. By meditating daily on the mysteries of Jesus with Mary, we learn little by little how to live in the world without living of the world. Mary is our mother who faced incredible challenges without ever letting go of the anchor of hope. She knows our fears because she herself experienced them before the Nativity and the finding of Jesus in the Temple. She knows our heartache because her heart was pierced at the slaughter of the Holy Innocents and the slaughter of the Holy Innocent on Calvary. Faced with desperation Mary “hoped against hope”(Rm 4:18) even when all seemed dead and lost. She is the stabat mater, the mother who was standing at the foot of the cross, who responded always to God’s mysterious will with her fiat, “Let it be done unto me according to your will” (Lk 1:38). Like the psalmist praying “I will awake the dawn,” she hastened with her loving desire, the rising of the “morning star” (Rev. 22:16) at the Resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost where she helped give birth to the Church. Hope sustained her during the long years of anticipation before her glorious Assumption and now she is the woman clothed with the sun and crowned with stars as Queen of heaven and earth (cf. Rev.12:1).
Mary reigns as Queen to intercede for her children as they traverse the desert of this world. Because of the sins of our first parents and our sin, we have been exiled out of the Garden, and we wander through this thorny “wilderness of Sin”1 like the Israelites on pilgrimage to the Promised Land 3500 years ago. Like our ancestors in faith, we are tempted to murmur and doubt God’s providence, after all, the desert is a place of intense thirst and danger. But paradoxically, in the Bible, the impoverishing desert (ἔρημος) can also be a place of refuge and encounter with the living God as told in the book of Revelation, “The woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for 1,260 days” (Rev. 12:6).2 This wilderness has been transformed by Christ conquering Satan; “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt 4:1). The desert of this world becomes the intimate place of encounter with the Bridegroom of our souls where God nourishes us and wins back our heart as he said through the prophet Hosea, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (2:14). Perhaps this thirst we experience in the desert is actually for our good, for it pushes us to work for the food that “endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27) and to discover the living water, who is Christ, who tells us that “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14). Hope is this source of living water for with it we possess already, in a germ form, the mustard seed of the Kingdom of God within us (cf. Lk 17:21). Hope is not a mere psychological optimism about the future, but a supernatural assurance of our will in God, for whom all things are possible (cf. Mt 19:26). As a theological virtue, hope has God himself as its object, and therefore through it we “attain God on Whose help it leans.”3
While we are lost at sea, hope is the anchor in heaven which establishes us firmly in our heavenly port and Mary is our Stella Maris, our guiding star. The Rosary is the chain of hope which connects us to heaven through Mary. When we hold our rosary in faith, we hold the hand of Our Mother which gives us the confidence to face any danger with courageous hope. An image of this is the cord you sometimes see toddlers holding connecting them to their parents in order to not get lost in the crowds. In the crowds and distractions of this world we can hold on tight to our chain of hope to guide us to our heavenly home.
The Rosary also unites us to our brothers and sisters. If we ever feel alone, we just need to think of the thousands of members of the confraternity, the thousands of consecrated religious men and women around the world, and the countless faithful in heaven and on earth who intercede for us as members of the Body of Christ. Another image that comes to mind is the unique experience of navigating through crowds of millions at World Youth Days. In order to not get separated from each other, groups need to link together as a human chain and hold on for their lives. Much like this human chain, the Rosary unites all of Mary’s beloved children. We have our hands on our neighbor’s shoulders who leads us and we lead our neighbor who has their hands on our shoulders. Mary is the mediatrix connecting us to Jesus who leads the way through the crowd. She is the intercessor Queen who presents our prayer before the King as St. Louis De Montfort so beautifully described. She knows our suffering and trials and she gives us hope because she has gone before us and leads us. Mary Our Mother, the Immaculate Conception, is guiding us on our pilgrimage to perfection, guiding us to heaven where we too will be “holy and immaculate in God’s sight” (cf. Col 1:22).
Until that day when the veil is lifted, we are called to live in hope. Despair is the vice contrary to hope. It is like a virus that creeps in and little by little discourages us and leads us to doubt God’s infinite goodness. A Rosary a day keeps the devil away by anchoring us in heaven. It is the perfect antidote in whatever trial, for it brings us “to Jesus through Mary.” On my pilgrimage to Fatima, I experienced daily miracles of God’s presence through Mary’s intercession. On my last day traveling, I was dropped off in a foreign city in the middle of the night. Without many options, I started walking and praying my rosary. I asked a factory worker on a night shift taking a smoke break if I was going in the right direction. After confirming this he asked what I was doing in that part of town, at that time of night with such strange clothes. I explained that I was a Catholic religious brother on the last leg of a 15 day hitchhiking pilgrimage, just a couple of hours away from my destination. Much to my surprise he offered to drive me the rest of the way after he got out of work. God arranged this meeting. This man needed a sign of God’s presence in his life as much as I needed a ride, and I was able to be that sign for him. In my poverty, I was tempted to despair in this trial and to forget God’s providence. Sometimes we feel lost at night in a strange city. Remember our anchor in heaven. Do not lose hope! Invoke Mary! Let us pray with St Bernard “If the winds of temptation arise; if you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation look to the star, call on Mary. If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry, look to the star, call on Mary. Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of your soul, look at the star, call upon Mary.”4
1 cf. Ex.16:1. The Israelites wandered through the desert of Sin (from the Hebrew word סִןי for “thorny”) for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land.
2 Cf. Deu 2:7 For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands; he knows your going through this great wilderness; these forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.’ Jer 2:2 RSV “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” [Jer 31:2 “Thus says the LORD: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest.’”
3 Aquinas, ST. II-II 17.1 emphasis mine.
4 Hom. II super “Missus est,” 17.
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