The rest of the Rosary is meaningless without these Mysteries. Our Lord’s life and death are in vain without his Resurrection. St Paul, in fact, says the entirety of the Christian teaching is meaningless without this.
The story is told of the filming of the T.V. miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth, that after filming the crucifixion, the cast felt they were finished because that was so powerful a moment. Someone said, “Hey, shouldn’t there be a Resurrection somewhere?” I think this is apocryphal because most works are not film in a chronological sequence, but rather based on outdoor and indoor shoot schedules and the availability of studio space and special effects resources. But the story does point out the modern error that the crucifixion, itself, is the focus of the story.
Neither, point of fact, is the resurrection: but rather the Entirety of the Life of Christ from his action in the creation of the world to the the prophetic foreknowledge of the prophets, from his incarnation in the Virgin’s womb to his institution of the Holy Eucharist, from his Crucifixion to the Descent of the Holy Ghost, and finally to his action in the life of the Church, his Body, today. This is the ongoing action of salvation: we can no more point at one point in time as “the event of salvation” than we can point to magical words in the Eucharistic Canon as “the exact moment of consecration.” As the late canon Edward West once said of the Eucharist, so it is for the life of the world: “We do not know when Christ enters in and we can not reach in and pull him out again.” Christ is saving you right now, if you are willing to participate in the on-going action of your salvation.
The Glorious Mysteries show us what should be the crowning glories of our life as Christians: as our Lord Rises, so do we. As our Lord prays the holy Spirit down on the world from his Father, so do the saints continue to pray God’s grace into the world. As the Blessed Virgin is crowned, so are will we, by God’s grace, reign with her in Heaven.
But as with Christ, so with us: it is the entirety of the action of our life that becomes the actualization of Salvation. We cannot be crowned without being conceived, we cannot rise without dying. The Rosary of Our Blessed Lady shows us that the entirety of life has been sanctified: and that we are called to live in that on-going sanctification. The Natural Order of life can be broken by us, yes: but we can also live into it and offer it to God in a great Eucharistic action.
The Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world” was also conceived before the foundation of the world, raise by Joseph, potty trained by Mary, educated in the synagogue of Nazareth, raised from the dead, and crowned in glory from before the foundation of the world. Jesus is God’s eternity participating in our time, but to God things are not sequential. A thing either is or is not. Things come into being, yes: but for God they are not a process. The Dolorous or Sorrowful mysteries are the events at the End of Christ’s ministry. But to God – like all the other events of the life of Christ, they are always present. By his grace (his energy), as we contemplate them, we may enter into them:
Perhaps these are what many people think about when they think of “meditating on the Rosary”. Any sort of “Affective Piety” or “Pious Visualization” may give one a very stereotyped idea of someone conjuring up a mental image of the Crucifixion or the Scourging and, working themselves into an emotional state, having a good, cathartic cry.
One of the most emotionally moving, “religious feeling” experiences of my life was hearing a sermon on the medical aspects of the Passion of Christ: what one feels when one is so stressed out as to sweat blood, how the purple robe would have soaked up the blood from the scourging and then dried, like a large woolen bandage – which was ripped of Jesus’ back later, opening all the wounds again, tearing off more flesh. I was on a crying jag for about 30 mins after that sermon – which I heard in 1980 on Passion Sunday at the Methodist Church in Acworth, GA. It was one of those things that sticks with you. The Anglican and later, Byzantine hymns of Holy Week can still leave me an emotional mess because they call to mind, 30+ years later, the image in that sermon. But feelings ain’t faith and no one was ever saved by feeling something. Faith is a walk, not a breakdown.
We are no more try and feel sadness here than we are supposed to feel or to try and feel sentimental Christmassy thoughts in the Joyous Mysteries or giddy, triumphalism in the Glorious Mysteries. Feelings may, of course, arise: but that’s not the point. We are not here to feel something, but to grow in Christ and to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. So what are we doing here? We are thanking God for these events – as we do in the other Mysteries – and we are calling them to mind to make their reality present in our lives. We are, in a real sense, participating in them as we are in the other mysteries.
Sequebatur autem illum multa turba populi et mulierum, quae plangebant et lamentabantur eum. Conversus autem ad illas Jesus, dixit: Filiae Jerusalem, nolite flere super me, sed super vos ipsas flete et super filios vestros. Quoniam ecce venient dies in quibus dicent: Beatae steriles, et ventres qui non genuerunt, et ubera quae non lactaverunt. Tunc incipient dicere montibus: Cadite super nos; et collibus: Operite nos. Quia si in viridi ligno haec faciunt, in arido quid fiet?
And there followed him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us; and to the hills: Cover us. For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?
Jesus said, “if they do this to me, imagine what they will do to you when I’m not around!” We echo our modern, whiny, and self-pitying culture if we are too fast to cry “Horrible Persecution!” when all that’s happening is a change in the tax laws. We need to be strengthened in our faith by realizing what our God has done for us. An Anglican priest, well-beloved of me, used to say (in nearly every sermon) that “…God, whose holy name is love, was so willing to share his love with us that he accepted steel in his hands and feet and side…” and then he would charge us in the name of love to do the same. We need to be mindful of what happened so that we can have it happen to us.
As we enter into meditation on the Dolorous Mysteries, let us remember: this is not the Passion Theater of the Mind (or Heart). This is basic training.
The Latin Phrase which was employed as the title of this article is translated as “Custody of the Eyes”. It’s a quaint, perhaps Victorian-sounding, phrase to which I was introduced by a Priest in NYC who had once been an Benedictine at the Great House of Nashdom in the UK. He noticed me, please forgive me, of a Sunday after Mass, ogling someone on the street. Leaning to me he said, “Custodia, Frater!” Custody, brother. Since I’d no idea what he meant, he explained: training to remove the eyes from gazing upon the vanities of the world.
One modern Orthodox writer compared thoughts tending towards sin as rocks thrown through the windows of our minds with messages tied on them. We are startled and we read the messages… we engage the thoughts. To the Medieval theologians and philosophers, it was the eyes that were the largest of these windows, the ones easiest, if you will, for the rocks to be thrown at. When they were inventing the notion of “romantic love”, the troubadours of Europe encouraged these rocks to be thrown – in fact, if you wanted to “fall in love” you had to be looking around…
The eyes go reconnoitering for what the heart would possess…
Yeah, that’s one way to put it. Jesus was commenting on the same thing when he said:
Audistis quia dictum est antiquis: Non moechaberis. Ego autem dico vobis: quia omnis qui viderit mulierem ad concupiscendum eam, jam moechatus est eam in corde suo. You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew V xxvii-xxviii
It’s not a modern issue. Jesus was well aware of not just a male’s tendency to have wandering eyes, but all people, and not just sexually speaking. Coveting in the sense of keeping up with the Jones is essentially allowing the eyes to wander and then the soul following. Gluttony can begin with “your eyes being bigger than your stomach”. Jesus offered a clue to ending this issue as well:
Quod si oculus tuus dexter scandalizat te, erue eum, et projice abs te: expedit enim tibi ut pereat unum membrorum tuorum, quam totus corpus tuum mittatur in gehennam. And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell. Idid. xxix
Plucking out your eye may be a bit extreme: but there is a clue to the Church’s understanding of this text in the Office hymn for Prime (the First Hour in the Western Rite):
Sint pura cordis íntima,
Absístat et vecórdia :
Carnis terat supérbiam
Potus cibíque párcitas.
Which in the Anglican tradition is translated thus:
[God] keep our hearts and conscience pure
Our Souls from folly would secure
And bid us check the pride of sense
with due and holy abstinence.
I think a better translation is:
Oh, may our hearts be pure within,
No cherish’d madness vex the soul;
May abstinence the flesh restrain,
And its rebellious pride control.
The point is well sung: it is all of our senses that are thus at issue. Custodiat Oculorum is short hand for an abstinence that is needed for all our senses. Our senses can be tuned to God, but when they are “tweaked” by the world, aroused, if you will, they are short circuited. We cannot do what we are out to do: work out our salvation in fear and trembling. This story (from the teaching of Francis of Assisi) makes clear how our tempting distractions can throw us off course:
A certain pious King sent two messengers successively to the Queen with a communication from himself. The first messenger returned and brought an answer from the Queen, which he delivered exactly. But of the Queen herself he said nothing because he had always kept his eyes modestly cast down and had not raised them to look at her.
The second messenger also returned. But after delivering in a few words the answer of the Queen, he began to speak warmly of her beauty. “Truly, my lord,” he said, “the Queen is the most fair and lovely woman I have ever seen, and thou art indeed happy and blessed to have her for thy spouse.”
At this the King was angry and said: “Wicked servant, how did you dare to cast your eyes upon my royal spouse? I believe that you may covet what you have so curiously gazed upon.”
Then he commanded the other messenger to be recalled, and said to him: “What do you think of the Queen?”
He replied, “She listened very willingly and humbly to the message of the King and replied most prudently.”
But the Monarch again asked him, “But what do you think of her countenance? Did she not seem to you very fair and beautiful, more so than any other woman?”
The servant replied, “My lord, I know nothing of the Queen’s beauty. Whether she be fair or not, it is for thee alone to know and judge. My duty was only to convey thy message to her.”
The King rejoined, “You have answered well and wisely. You who have such chaste and modest eyes shall be my chamberlain. From the purity of your eyes I see the chastity of your soul. You are worthy to have the care of the royal apartments confided to you.”
Then, turning to the other messenger, he said: “But you, who have such unmortified eyes, depart from the palace. You shall not remain in my house, for I have no confidence in your virtue.
The Works of the Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, London: R. Washbourne, 1882, pp. 254-255 This text as quoted was found here
When the rocks are thrown into our windows our duty to the Heavenly King is disrupted. How many times, walking down Polk Street from my apartment on my way to Church can my gaze be distracted by human beauty, by shops displaying their wares in the windows, by flashing signs, by my own nosiness (as when hearing someone talking loudly or near me), or by smells of tasty food coming out of shops and restaurants. Oh, my mouth can water just walking by the butcher shop or the pizza stand. If you follow my Instagram you have an idea for how easily I can be distracted. Even just sitting as I type my eyes wander. In this case, contra Tolkien, those who wander are lost.
God wants us to move in his peace, to keep our hearts and consciences pure, secured in his light. Our culture, however, needs us to live in a state of Ambient Arousal: just on the edge of shopping, just on the edge of consuming things or people. It’s too easy to say “Satan made the culture” but it is clear he uses this culture to his advantage. And it is so easy to forget that God didn’t build it this way, nor did Christians at all: Our culture is predicated on making us stumble at all cost into lust, into envy, into emotional states, into consumption of our souls.
So Custody of the Eyes – and in a real way, of all the senses – is a way to achieve Custodia Mentis and Custodia Cordis: Custody of the Mind and of the Heart. In our culture we think a lot. Our minds wander: we imagine, we cogitate, we ruminate. We do not, however, often pray. St Paul says to pray constantly and we all know that means pulling our mind away from the TV, from the radio, from the internet, from other enjoyments. But it also means pulling all of our senses away from the enticements of the world whenever possible. This doesn’t mean stopping our participation in daily life: it means changing it.
One of the Desert Fathers tells of an Angel that promised to show him a woman who was much more adept at prayer than he. The Angel took him into the great city of Alexandria where he saw an old woman washing dishes. As she washed she prayed. Today we find more dangerous things to do mindlessly than washing dishes: driving cars comes to mind. We do it with a minimal focus, and think about random things, or chat with our companions. We are quite willing to free our mind fully by whatever mindless task we are doing. And we thus miss the chance to pray. Whenever we are being mindless… the rocks come through the window.
Thus far I can bring you in my meditation. I understand the situation. The Rosary has been a great help to me in this regard. I find that I can pray the Rosary whilst walking – in fact it is a great prayer for that! The feet go on their way, the eyes are downcast, the brain is occupied. Prayer! It is easy to glance about, to notice the surroundings, to be safe, to go about our duties. But prayer is happening. This is a new thing! Hours of the day open up for prayer! On the way to lunch, walking to the office, getting on the bus. Training the brain to crave prayer – automatically as soon as the front door opens. This is not a time to worry about the shopping list, or to evolve a shopping list for the future, or to plan a meal, or to lust after your neighbor: this is a time for Communion with God!
Custody, brother! Custody, sister! Not only of the eyes, but of all the senses and then of the mind and then of the heart! When you get home at the end of the day, will you able to sing the final stanza of the hymn?