Wednesday 12 October 2022

The hem of his garment

It is sometimes the little memories of a person that mount-up to give a true impression of them. For me, there is a little mosaic of images from my youth concerning my maternal grandfather. He was a reserved man. An aircraft engineer during the war, he worked in aeroplane and munition factories in different cities (and even at Cadbury’s Chocolate) when jobs at home were scarce. He was a man of his generation, not given to sentiment or to displays of emotion. I remember, as a child, being sent to his suit jacket in our hallway to retrieve some pills from his pocket. There among the handkerchief, the cough sweets and the pen knife I found his rosary, something I had never seen him use, and I was puzzled — perhaps it was my grandmother’s, I thought. Some years later, an elderly and now widowed grandfather descended the stairs one night long after retiring, anxiously searching for something he didn’t want to admit to. It was his rosary. Years later when he died, characteristically slipping out of the room, as it were, when no one was there, the nurse returned to find in his hand his rosary.

Not all men need to speak of their inner life. St Philip use to reply, when asked of his mystical experiences, secretum meum mihi — my secret is my own, thank you. A good Redemptorist Confraternity man his whole life, my grandfather’s devotion to the holy rosary was a pillar of his quiet life, and like so many men of the last century, an unspoken of, yet deeply treasured pillar.

The rosary lends itself to such quiet and heartfelt devotion, and it surprises some that it is as much so for men as it is for women. Those quietly spoken decades, and mulled-over mysteries give voice to our desires, our hopes, our need for God’s mercy, and Mary’s prayers. Those mysteries of the rosary provide us with an insight into the life of the Son of God made man, and whilst he came to bring us the Gospel of salvation, to accomplish our redemption, he also became incarnate to serve as the pattern of our spiritual life. Each of those mysteries is a revelation of the virtues of our Lord, and so to meditate on them, calling on our Lady’s prayers along the way, cannot help but be fruitful for us. Blessed Columba Marmion once reminded his monks that “the Eternal Father is pleased with us only in so far as we imitate his Son and inasmuch as he sees in us the likeness of his Son, for it is in his image that he has predestined us from all eternity.” A hard-hitting truth, that. But the Father also knows our weakness, and deals with us gently, leading us into this imitation of his Son by gradual steps, and the rosary is a marvellous tool in that great work.

One great priest and devotee of the rosary compared it to the woman with the haemorrhage grasping the hem of the Lord’s garment. In our search for him, in our need for his mercy, in our desire to imitate him in our spiritual life, the rosary serves as such an expression for our deepest desires and need for Christ’s grace. It is a tangible sign that our Lord’s life is not so removed from us, and that our Lady’s prayers are always on our side.

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