Fr Eamon Roche
Recently in a second-hand book sale I spotted ‘The Glories of Mary’ the famous 18th century book on Marian devotion by St Alphonsus De Ligouri. How happy I was to pay a mere 50 cent for the possession of this masterpiece on the life and virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In order to demonstrate the qualities of the book let me relate to you some of the saint’s reflections on the ‘Finding of Jesus in the Temple’, also known as the 5th Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, so that your meditations on this Mystery may be enriched.
“Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied. ‘Did you not know that I must so be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant” (Lk 2:46-50).
De Ligouri’s reflections on this passage of Sacred Scripture help us to enter into the depths of Mary’s heart when she lost her son; with her we can make the journey from near-despair to joy and from separation from God to union with God. Through our searching (and our suffering) Jesus draws us into the Temple of God, the Father’s House, there to find our happiness.
St Alphonsus asks his readers to “imagine what anxiety this afflicted Mother must have experienced in those three days during which she was seeking everywhere for her Son.” The words on Mary’s lips were surely those words from Psalm 41 “My tears have become my bread, by night, by day, as I hear it said all the day long ‘where is your God?’” De Ligouri is convinced that Mary’s three-day loss of her Son was the greatest of all her sorrows, even greater than the sorrow of witnessing her Son’s passion and death on the Cross.
At least at Calvary Mary had the company of Jesus to console her, but when the twelve-year-old Jesus was missing “she suffered far from Jesus, not knowing where he was”. When Mary beheld Jesus on the Cross at Calvary she also had the consolation of knowing that the Redemption of the World was being accomplished before her eyes. With the absence of the twelve-year-old Jesus, however, Mary had the awful thought that she had somehow become unworthy of being his mother. Did God cancel her great mission? Had she failed? In losing her Son did she also lose salvation for the entire world? What great anxiety she was plunged into!
Even Mary, who was sinless, sometimes worried that she had displeased God! This brings consolation, St Alphonsus tells us, to those souls that are desolate and no longer enjoy, as they once enjoyed, the sweet presence of their Lord: “when Our Lord withdraws Himself from the sight of a soul which loves Him, He does not therefore depart from the Heart”; rather, Our Lord often conceals Himself that the soul may “seek Him with a more ardent desire and greater love”. We learn from Mary how to seek and find Jesus with patience, endurance and diligence.
When we pray the Rosary we must allow ourselves to be impacted to the very depths of our being by the Mysteries upon which we are meditating. This is what Mary did: “His mother stored up all these things in her heart” (Lk 4:52). Spending time praying the Rosary, meditating on the life of Jesus and Mary, is how great saints like St Alphonsus grew in holiness. When we partake of the Mysteries of Christ we will become children adopted into the Holy Family – Mary finds us and keeps us! We must always keep the hope alive that our searching and striving is not in vain. Take courage, St Alphonsus tells us, though we may feel lost, Jesus has merely gone ahead of us and he calls us to search for Him. “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7).