The Joy of Heaven Begins in the Rosary
October 7, 2013
People spend their whole lives in search of happiness. Every day new variations of different philosophies of life are proposed seeking it. The advertising industry and popular songs bear witness to the reality of this search. Christianity claims to offer happiness, but the type of happiness we’re speaking of is something much more numinous, something far deeper and mysterious than that typically sought after by the world. The great truth revealed by the search for happiness is that men and women were made by an infinitely good Creator, and only His loving presence will fulfill the human heart’s deepest longings. Think about it: we’ve all known people who go off searching for happiness ‘in all the wrong places.’ In the end nothing but contemplation of God Himself can put the human heart at rest. The happiness promised by Jesus and proclaimed throughout the centuries by the Christian tradition is nothing short of the heart’s truest joy. As Blaise Pascal once remarked, “Nobody is as happy as a real Christian.” For example, many attested at the canonization proceedings of St. Dominic that “His face was always radiant” and “By his cheerfulness he easily won the love of everybody.” Later in history St. Thomas Aquinas, that learned son of the Dominican Order, connects joy with the idea of expansion. In his Commentary on the Psalms, he writes of a joy that is “nothing less than an expansion of the heart.” He’s attempting to describe here a joy “so full that it breaks forth externally, from within.” The Dominican tradition bears a special witness to evangelical joy, but in fact countless other saints have borne it in their own way. The reality of the Gospel message permeates men and women; it gives them joy to the full. To be a saint is not to be sober, dismal or gloomy. Paul Murray, OP, writes, “The deep, almost uncontrollable laughter which springs from Gospel joy, far from being something that is unspiritual or shallow or escapist, is, in fact, simply an ecstasy of the inner heart, a saving ‘movement’ away from the preciosity of cold self-love, an impulse of surrender and delight towards the neighbor and towards God.” This Gospel joy comes from being with God; joy comes from God’s presence. Lurking among the capital vices though, there is a toxin which poisons the spiritual life: acedia (a.k.a. spiritual sloth). Different from emotional sorrow or clinical depression, acedia is a sadness which pollutes spiritual joy. St. Augustine writes of acedia, “Light which is so pleasant to pure eyes, becomes hateful to infirm eyes which can no longer bear it.” Spiritual sloth creeps in slowly and engenders in men and women habitual disregard for spiritual things, leading Christians to neglect or omit acts of devotion to God. In short, acedia weighs down the heart and causes the soul to descend into spiritual anemia. Never fear though, because God has given us helps to combat spiritual sloth! When we meet His own Presence in the Eucharist at the sacrifice of the Mass, experience his mercy at confession or come to Him in the other sacraments, we find a God who wants to give us a share in his own life and joy. Grace comes to us in these moments and we once again find ourselves refreshed and renewed. The Rosary, too, is one of these instances where heaven and earth meet; where we see God. By praying the Rosary, we enter into the mysteries of the life of Christ, like Mary who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). In the Rosary, too, we link these great spiritual themes of contemplation and joy. Even in the Sorrowful Mysteries, we find the saints rejoicing in the wonders of Divine Providence and the great and mystifying good God has worked on our behalf. Praying the Rosary, turning over in our hearts and minds the mysteries of the life of Christ while repeating its familiar prayers, stirs up within us an ardor for Jesus and a longing to be with Him. Far from binding us to the same mindless ruts of meditation, the Rosary expands our hearts and opens to us new horizons for our life with God. It’s precisely this regular, habitual rumination which directly combats acedia, spiritual sloth. Virgil says in the Divine Comedy, “Amid a thousand twigs, one sweet fruit is sought”; when we pray the Rosary, we are seeking that one thing which will put our heart at rest. The one sweet fruit is the ultimate gratification of the human heart: contemplation. St. Thomas reminds us that, “the ultimate perfection of the contemplative life [is] namely that the Divine truth be not only seen but also loved.” By praying the Rosary, and entering into contemplation, we are doing little more than falling deeper in love with the Triune God. Although the final satiation of man’s thirst for happiness will only be completed when we gaze forever on the face of our Creator in heaven, the satisfaction of our deepest desires begins now in the joys of our life of prayer. In a special way, our heaven begins in the Rosary. This article is re-posted from myyearoffaith.com, an evangelical outreach of the Diocese of Fort Wayne South Bend.
Image: Stefano da Zevio, Madonna in the Rosary