The first Luminous Mystery: The Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan:
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:21-22)
For me, because of my vocation journey, I see in the going out into the wilderness to find his cousin John, an inner longing on the part of Jesus to seek out the way of life he was destined for. When you have the calling to be a preacher, you will not be satisfied with doing a “behind-the-scenes” job, like being a carpenter. I imagine that every time he visited a synagogue or a place where men were discussing the Torah, or whenever his family made a visit to Jerusalem for the holy days, Jesus had the urge to stand up and teach or preach—just as he did as a young man. Now, the urge was too strong. The only person who might understand this would be his cousin, John, who had gone out to the wilderness, and who was preaching.
We know, however, that there was also something else at play in this event. Jesus goes to be baptized. It is an act of self-revelation, and a moment of confirmation between all three Divine Persons of the Trinity. The Father declares that Jesus is his son, the Holy Spirit appears, and without words, also testifies that Jesus the man is also Jesus the Divine One. This event is meditated upon as Luminous, therefore, for what it reveals about the relationship between the persons of the Most Holy Trinity.
The second Luminous Mystery: The Miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana:
“Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (Luke 2:7-11)
Probably of all the mysteries we meditate upon with the rosary, the Miracle at the Wedding is my favorite. It’s such an exciting scene to picture as you pray. I like to imagine that the wedding is for one of those mysterious women scripture calls Jesus’ sister. Maybe she was the daughter of Joseph before he married Mary, maybe she was a cousin—either way, she’s a close relative of Jesus, and probably one he knew very well. I imagine the house is full of guests, the air is alive with music and laughter, and the aroma is of delicious food. Mary is an honored guest, of course, as the step-mother of the bride, and she is anxious for her step-daughter’s happiness. Thus, she busies herself with checking on the guests. While she is doing this, Jesus is enjoying himself, talking and laughing with the other people, and teasing his beloved sister. I even imagine them singing a duet together—a favorite Psalm the two of them know by heart (The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, for example).
When Mary discovers that the wine has run out, she seeks out her son and asks him to replenish the wine. This is a daring request. The miracle will expose Jesus as someone special. Jesus hesitates, but eventually grants his mother’s requests. Thus, the Miracle at the Wedding reveals his divinity, for with one word Jesus is able to transform water into wine. For Catholics, this should foreshadow the nature of Transubstantiation, but it should also remind us of any act of healing or strength on Jesus’ part. With words he was able to heal the sick (even if they weren’t present), calm the sea and winds, forgive the sinner, and raise the dead. The power of Jesus, as with the Eternal Father, is that his will must be obeyed—all he needs to do is to say the word. What Catholic Christians understand is that he, again with words, declared that his Apostles would share those same powers. He gave them the authority, and that authority has been handed on through ordinations ever since.
This mystery also proclaims the efficacy of prayer and the intercession of the saints. Our Lady’s appeal to her son ought to be understood in the same way as the prayers she offers for those in need from her place in heaven. Jesus was under no obligation to help the wedding party out, since it was poor planning on their part not to procure enough wine for their celebration. It would have been just not to have done anything extraordinary. Yet, his mother’s petitions are persuasive. We do not get the whole scene in scripture, so it reads like a rather abrupt conversation, but I imagine there were at least a few lines spoken between them. In any case, Jesus is moved to act—if not for the sake of the wedding couple, for the sake of his mother. This is the first example of the efficacy, particularly, of the Blessed Mother’s prayers on behalf of others. It also is a wonderful characterization of her behavior and personality. She’s an active woman, eager to serve and help others. She also already had faith in Jesus, and so confidently trusted in him. Her discipleship, in other words, had already begun.
The third Luminous Mystery: The Ministry of the Lord Jesus:
"But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!'" (Luke 15:20-24)
There are so many things to meditate upon when it comes to Jesus and his ministry. As talked about just above, you could think about the healing of the sick, the exorcisms, the miraculous feedings of multitudes, the personal encounters he had with people like the Samaritan Woman, the woman with the hemorrhage, etc., which changed these peoples lives.
One thing that stands out to me, however, since I am a Dominican, is the preaching work of Jesus--particularly, Jesus' style of preaching. Sometimes he is straight forward, as in the Beatitudes; but a lot of times, Jesus tells stories. He's very good at this. And one of his best stories is that of the story we know as "The Prodigal Son". Luke puts this story with two others--"The Lost Coin" and "The Lost Sheep". All three stories highlight a central revelation about God: he loves not passively, but actively--and the people that he loves, he actively seeks to find and rescue. At least, that is the case in the two other stories. In the story of the lost son, the story respects the free will of the son. Unlike a coin or a sheep, which are in some ways helpless, a human being is free to act. In that case, the loving father, who represents God, (im)patiently waits for the son's return, but does not force the son to come home. It's a wonderful and multilayered drama--but the heart of the message seems to be that although the son was wayward and rejected he who ought not to have been rejected, the loving father was ready and willing to love him and forgive him. In fact, the father brushes aside the son's confession of guilt, teaching us all that love is bigger than anything we do. A truly loving person rejoices not after the apology, but the moment the person comes back to us. The loving person does not just forgive when asked, but has already forgiven out of love for the trespasser. It is the love of the loving person that compels the person to repent and change--to come home. This is the kind of being that God is.
The fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus:
“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him…While he [Peter] was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from a cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:2-3, 5)
Something that stands out to me from this mystery and the Baptism of the Lord, is the idea that Jesus is the one who pleases the Father. In the many times that I have struggled to understand the Holy Trinity, or to meditate upon the identity and nature of Jesus, I have returned over and over again to the idea that the testimony of the Father is trustworthy. When the Father looked upon Jesus the man, he saw his own dear Son, the Word Incarnate, with whom he and the Holy Spirit made the world. On the human level, too, Jesus was perfect. The New Adam was precisely the very human being that God intended the whole human race to be like. He was the model used for our creation--and he was its purpose. The joy the Father received through Jesus' life was the joy known to any artist, athlete, chef, gardener, etc. when something they've been planning for and working on has suddenly gone perfectly right. In this luminous mystery, we meditate upon Jesus' perfection--the fact that not only was Jesus perfect in divinity, but in humanity. We are called to his same perfection, freed as we have been from the power of sin. If only we would own our identities as sons and daughters of God and live accordingly.
The fifth Luminous Mystery: The Institution of the Holy Eucharist:
“While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:22-25)
What is luminous about the Holy Eucharist? Everything. For Catholic Christians it is just an obvious truth that the center of the Christ-event was the self-offering of the Lord Jesus on the Cross. It is not the Cross that saves, but Jesus on the Cross, and so the crucifixes in our churches remind us: here in this place, Golgotha, was born the Church. The meaning of the Crucifixion, and its graces, was explained fully at the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Lord's Supper. Here he stated clearly that he was giving his body and blood to be broken and poured out for the remission of sin. If no greater love hath a man than this, than to give his life for his friends, God would not be outdone: he would give of his own divine life for those whom he loved. God is Love, and the Eucharist reveals it.
The Eucharist is too big for me to write about here. It was, as I have said, one of the reasons I became a Catholic Christian, and it is the reason I remain a Catholic Christian, and would never be a Protestant Christian again.
When I stand in the chapel at daily mass or in church on Sunday and I hear the words of consecration I translate them as simply: I love you! This is the meaning of the Eucharist, and it is the meaning of the Cross, and it is the highest revelation about God. God the Son has said: I love you! Then he lived that statement to the point of death. Our work is to trust in that love and be transformed by that love, and to be transformed into that love.