Intercession in the approach to God
Using intercessory prayers is not exclusively a Christian practice but is in fact also practiced by Buddhists! For Christians Jesus is the prime mediator between Man and God. But intercession for specific helps is also asked of those who have been declared as Saints by the Church. And of course, the most favoured intercessor is Mother Mary. There are many objections that are put forward against this approach to God. The major objection is that God can hear our prayers directly then why an intercessor. I looked for an answer to this and found it in the Bible. It says that the prayer of the pure is always heard. The prayer to the mother gives a confidence that there is someone full of grace and purity and also blessed by God who is praying with us; and therefore it also gives the confidence that our prayers will be heard, for the prayer of the pure is always heard.
Another thought that Thomases like me face is that, how can we be sure that mother Mary or the Saints are praying all the time for us at our request? But we Thomases also know the answer within our hearts that- if the courage to still believe, in what cannot be seen or known for sure, gives an assurance that for the rest of the 23 and a half hours in which one is not praying, the prayers are still vibrating in the universe, then why not believe in all of that! If one believes, then it is so, for to each man as he believes. But if one doesn’t believe, then it is not so. The prayer then rises half hearted and unsure and dies the death it calls to itself. Religion and rituals call on one to be brave. The brave decision to believe in any ritual can only bring benefits. It is an ‘only courage and all benefits equation’.
This is what I have understood. But there is also another strong objection that I personally held with respect to the reciting of the Rosary to Mother Mary.
What better way to explain this objection than putting down a typical prayer scenario in Kerala…….
The children have a get together at the ancestral home. It is evening and the oldest member Kuttiamma calls everyone to come to the prayer hall to recite the rosary. ‘Ooh, not today’, says little James. ‘No excuses’, says the man of the house Joyachhan. He is very strict and is very particular about reciting the rosary every night. So the prayer begins. Little Elsie starts the prayer and it takes the speed of a super fast express. ‘Slow down’, says Kuttiamma. ‘I don’t get the words if I slow down’, says Elsie and saying that she takes of again. After the prayer Joyachhan gets hold of his niece little Sara and tells her. ‘You were wringing your fingers and looking at them all through while reciting the prayer. You were not really concentrating on the prayer’. ‘Uncle’, says the little Sara with an expression of surprise on her face, ‘so you were looking at what I was doing all through the prayer! That means you were not praying either!’
Reciting the rosary is such an important part in a Catholic’s daily prayer life, but why not try something else when most participants are usually yawning through it all! What is the use of any prayer if it is done half heartedly, and just out of an obligation to do it? Why not try something different whenever established methods fail? Why do we adamantly hold on to methods even when it is obviously not serving its purpose? Are we afraid of giving up God’s supposedly ‘favoured’ method of prayer? Why are we not affected by the fact that the mind has already given up and the tongue is the only thing stuck with the words of the prayer?
Does the rosary really help in experiencing God?
Whatever the method of prayer it should obviously serve the purpose of praying. It is implied by Kabir Das in one of his couplets that just repeating some words like a parrot does not become prayer. This is what I always agreed with and therefore never really believed in reciting the rosary. I did not understand the rosary either. The words of the prayers were memorized to me, but, are mere words, all that one need know about any prayer? Someone has to give a glimpse to the import of the words and the spirit of the prayer. The assumption that it comes naturally is wrong. At least it was wrong in my case.
I first understood the spirit of the rosary a few years back, when somebody told me that, ‘when you surrender everything at God’s feet one by one with each bead of the rosary, then how can you avoid concentrating through it all.’ I realized then that the rosary need not be really an ineffective method of prayer; rather my state of mind and my lack of understanding while reciting the rosary was making the prayer ineffective. After that, I made a deliberate attempt at understanding the rosary (rosary for prayer help from mother Mary).
Prayer is a method of meditation, which holds both a process of coming closer to God and the means of experiencing Him. A proper prayer according to me has three steps. The first is gratitude. A grateful heart is closer to God, for it acknowledges God as the giver of all the blessings in our lives. The second step is unburdening. All our worries, wrongs, needs, pains, fears, we unburden at the feet of God. Then our problems are no longer ours but His and we can free our minds from them. God is the best listener. He does not judge our burdens, so we can unload our hearts without adding the worry of being judged! So the first step brings us closer to God, the second step frees our mind and heart and makes it ready for the third step. The third step is, being still and experiencing the glory of God within us!
I discovered that the rosary too holds these three steps! It calls us to meditate upon the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. While meditating on the joyful mysteries, I believe that there should be a moment of silence in which we thank God for the joys in our life. While meditating upon the sorrows that Jesus underwent, we should pause and unburden our own sorrows. Then while meditating upon the glorious mysteries like the resurrection, we should pause and experience the stillness that is the result of a free mind.
The rosary is often the part of daily prayer for Christians. When we recite the rosary daily what we will need is concentration, which is sharpest when we have an intense urge, desire in life and immense faith in rosary. We may also (in case of lack of any needs or sorrows) possibly get focus by saying the prayers super fast, and that is fine as long as we still get the import of the words. That is, if we are saying the Hail Mary.., we should feel the glory of the mother even if we rush through the words. And when we follow it with the Holy Mary.., we should feel our mother praying for humanity. Similarly for the first part of the prayer to God ‘Our Father..’,we should feel the Father’s will descend upon the world and the flesh, and for the second part of the same prayer ‘Give us today..’,we should feel God’s healing descend upon us. In the prayer to the Holy Trinity.., Gods fullness and power should be felt. When asking Jesus for his gift of forgiveness, we just have to believe that our sins are forgiven. And while reciting ‘The Apostles’ Creed’ at the very start of the rosary, it is utmost important to shed any new found doubt ant declare that we do believe! This prayer is important as it decides whether the rosary will bring to us what it promises. We have to believe to receive! And the most important thing required to believe, I feel is courage.
There is a poem in which the poet says…
I’d rather walk in the dark with God than go alone in the light,
I’d rather walk by faith with him than go alone by sight.
And yet as every human has the freedom to think and question, Thomas too has the right, to still wonder if mother Mary is important. Here it would be relevant to know that apart from the Bible, the holy book Qur’an too speaks of Mary. Not only that, she is the only woman figure mentioned in Qur’an! That makes her important! The name of the 19th chapter in Qur’an is Surat Mariam. When two holy books accord importance to one person, that person must be important!
And yet again Thomas can ask, ‘but a prayer especially to mother Mary?’ It is important that in reciting the rosary we do not forget that we are actually worshipping and praying to God the Father. We say the Lords prayer first, which is addressed to God the Father, following which we ask our mother Mary to take up our prayers addressed to God and finally we ask Jesus to lead all souls into heaven by the forgiveness of sins. Reciting the prayer with closed minds may make us feel that the prayer involves worshipping mother Mary. Our mother Mary is our help in prayer. She is the most pure and compassionate mother of Jesus ‘the Word Incarnate’ and thereby is our mother too. These factors make a sincere rosary a powerful prayer. And yet it is very important to know what the church has to say of prayer mediation through mother Mary. For that we should refer the Vatican II. ‘No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the Goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source’ (The Church, 62). Therefore it is my interpretation that the church apart from approving intercession is also expressing that it is alright to prefer to have only Jesus as the mediator. So we needn’t feel guilty if we do not recite the rosary and prefer other forms of prayer.
Though ‘the rosary’ generally is used to refer to ‘the rosary for prayer help from mother Mary’, there are also other prayers said with beads like ‘the rosary (to the Father) for mercy’ which can also prove to be very powerful. This Chaplet of Mercy is a prayer to Father, requesting Him to remember the suffering of Jesus on the cross and thereby have mercy on us and the world.
The rosary,can also be especially useful to concentrate where a personal prayer is found to fail, for example personal prayer said on bed sometimes could make the mind wander especially when thinking up occurrences of the day for which to be thankful, or for which one might need some guidance. So, one could use the rosary when not at the regular prayer corner and speak of needs or convey gratitude after every ten beads, to keep focus. After being unconvinced to use the rosary for a good many years, it was a period of distress that led me to the rosary and finally faith in the Mother and the beads and I found that intense need, leads to immense focus on every word of the rosary and the 15 minutes of rosary can lead to trance and brings out immense power. What I am trying to say is that it depends on each person as to what will suit him or her, the spiritual stage of the person, the level of devotion and need or even the time or place. The person is therefore the primary factor that determines the effectiveness of the prayer rather than the actual method of prayer. And so every possible approach to God, be it Intercession or any other, is absolutely effective as long as the seeker intends it to be!
Finally I wish to share why today I absolutely believe in mother Mary and the mercies of the rosary. The reason is mainly in the answer to these questions. What effects you more, your child's illness or your own? Which is easier to bear, your child's physical suffering or your own? My son broke a bone of his hand and I cried. I broke a toe bone in five pieces and I did not cry. All mothers will feel that mother Mary bore the sufferings of the cross as much if not more than Jesus. It wouldn't be wrong if I feel that mother Mary is in a way a partaker in the suffering for our sins."And a sword shall pierce through your soul also, (that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed..)" Luke 2:35, were the words of Simeon to Mary when he spoke of the sign Jesus would be. Another fact is that a woman's, a mother's heart is more compassionate, more affected when it sees others suffer. When the wine was finished at the wedding in Canna, Mother, a compassionate woman, wanted to help but Jesus born a Man was not affected and asked, "Woman what is it to you and me". Reflect that at that point Jesus addressed mother as 'woman'and I believe that address held meaning. At that point Jesus put the question to the point of view of a woman! Our sufferings is often bigger in Mothers eyes, than in Jesus' eyes. I therefore am led to believe that God who intended to understand mankind through a human birth,would not forget to consider a woman's view too. And so Mother, blessed among women, has all ears when she puts her, a woman's view, a mother's view to Jesus and he would then listen respecting her perspective as he did at the wedding in Canna.
Also in one of my most trying times, it was my mother and a whole lot of women who flocked to me, many uncalled, and prayed for me unasked. And when I then saw the vision of the protector cross, the first thing I felt and with conviction was that the vision was the result of the prayers, the intercession of the compassionate women hearts....