Ash Wednesday is quite in tune with the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, although at first glance it might not be apparent.
Ash Wednesday is about doing God’s will as we start Lent, a process that will take us through to Good Friday with the crucifixion and then to Easter, with the resurrection of Jesus. Ashes–and thinking about how we will return to dust– can help us think about doing God’s will. But so can the Joyful Mysteries.
The first Joyful Mystery is the Annunciation. The angel announces to Mary that she is to be the mother of Jesus. Mary responds, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” This is a statement of receptivity, a statement of assent to God’s will. There is no resistance. Whatever God wants, God gets. Mary is setting the example for us. If God wants us to fast, we fast. If God wants us to go to Mass more frequently, we go to Mass more frequently. If God wants us to pray more, we pray more. Whatever sort of inspiration we have to give up for Lent or to do extra for God for Lent–if we say in our hearts, “Be it done unto me according to thy Word,” we are following the Marian spirit, the example of Mary in her complete compliance to the will of God. And that is what we want during Lent: conformity of our will to that of God.
The second Joyful Mystery is the Visitation. Mary has gone out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who, though too old to bear children, nevertheless is now pregnant with John the Baptist, who leaps in Elizabeth’s womb upon seeing Mary. Mary has been told wonderful news by the angel and could just sit around contemplating matters in her heart, keeping it to herself or just sharing it with Joseph. But she doesn’t do that. She does not settle for complacency. She goes out of her way to travel and be in the community. She is oriented toward others. She helps her cousin in her own pregnancy. Mary is a person of service. She serves others in love. She has said, “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” and this assent to God’s will has not resulted in an introversion but extroverted efforts to go out and serve. We are all called to service, especially in the Lenten season. In being responsive to God’s will we are all called to be in community. God’s will and our love for others are not separate: God’s will for us to is to love others.
The third Joyful Mystery is the birth of Jesus. The birth of Jesus comes after 1) Mary has submitted her will totally to God and 2) Mary serves others in the love of God. The soul turns to God and then at once turns to others. It is not a selfish, inwardly focused love. Love by its nature is not consumed with self; love by its nature is given to others. God the infinite power of the universe, deigned to humble Himself to be born among us as a little baby. Such majesty and power demonstrated such humility.
In gratitude, we need to humble ourselves more frequently during Lent in the sacrament of Penance. When we prostrate ourselves before God spiritually, ignoring our pride, we receive His grace–give birth to his grace–in our hearts. Confession is important because we want to prepare our souls to receive Him properly in the Eucharist. Infinite love poured Himself out to us in the Incarnation and does so again in the Eucharist. We consume Jesus in the Eucharist, and then we, too, allow ourselves to be consumed by others as we serve them. People take up our time; they consume our time, our energies, especially with our Lenten resolutions. With Love making His home in us, we are able to love others.
The fourth Joyful Mystery is the Presentation. Jesus is presented to the temple as the first born. As is Jewish custom, Joseph and Mary pay the money amount according to Judaic law to “redeem” Jesus, so that they don’t have to hand him over to become a priest instead. However, in the temple, Simeon tells them Jesus is the savior of the world and that a sword (of grief) will pierce Mary’s heart. Consequently, Mary has knowingly offered her Son, her wonderful child up to God for His purposes. Jesus is her everything. But she willingly and without hesitation gives Him up. It is a kind of death, as indicated in the imagery of her heart being pierced.
We, too, are called to be ready at any time to give up our most prized possessions, our most fervent loves, to God. Are we patient when something we have lost or had stolen is gone? Do we still praise God when family and friends pass away? Do we still sing joyfully to God when our abilities sometimes diminish with old age and infirmities creep in? Lent calls us to spiritually present everything before God as an offering to Him.
Finally, in the fifth Joyful Mystery, Jesus is found in the Temple. He’s twelve years old now, and his parents lose track of him on a trip to Jerusalem during Passover. They find him talking to the elders in the Temple; they find Him doing the will of His Father in the Temple. There was no need to worry; He was doing the will of God. This mystery is connected with the fourth mystery, where Mary gives up her Son in the Temple, knowing He is the Messiah. She has already died to self in her completely relinquishing her son at the Presentation; now in finding Jesus in the Temple she is overjoyed, so happy to get Him back. In leaving everything in God’s hands, in God’s will, she dies to self in the fourth mystery and has a resurrection of spirit in the fifth mystery.
In doing God’s will, in following the example of Jesus’ passion and resurrection, we, too, especially during the Lenten season, are called to die to self: only then can we rise with Him. The love of God in us as we do God’s will–with no attachment to our own–gives us a foretaste of our resurrection in heaven.
In sum, Ash Wednesday starts us off with the first Joyful Mystery, in which we resolve to conform our will to that of God, and in the rest of the Joyful Mysteries Mary encourages us to follow Jesus spiritually from his passion, death and then resurrection at Easter.
(image: from Youtube: Catholic Deliverance Power)