Aesthetically speaking, the rosary isn’t anything special. Green and gold beads, a rather large Crucifix, attached with the small loops of a regular old chain. Being Catholic from birth, I have had many rosaries given to me as gifts – during my time of mission work in Ireland, for my First Communion, in celebration of my wedding, from my husband when we were first dating – and so on.
This one doesn’t stand out in the least, except that I was assured of the prayers from the person who made it by his very hands about five years ago. A gift, from a man who in the years that followed, would become a priest for a very short time, only to have his priesthood end with a death that no one foresaw.
I didn’t know him well: he had sent me a message in 2014, inquiring about my mailing address so he could send a rosary to me in advance of a year of mission work I was about to complete with NET Canada, where I’d set out to evangelize young adults and teens in Quebec.
Now that he’s gone, the rosary holds the memory of someone who is looking down, united in prayer with us each time we celebrate Mass. He was a mere 32 when he died, having lived his entire life with spina bifida. I remember seeing him celebrate Mass when he was first ordained, never allowing any obstacles around the church or sanctuary to get in the way of his service.
I don’t believe that significances are something to be passed up. Rather, I find meaning can be held in even the smallest memory of a person I barely knew. He was just a family friend who entered seminary and became a priest. I have very few memories of him. But, for whatever reason, I now have a rosary that he crafted with his own hands. An item to assist in my prayers up to Heaven, as he echoes them in salvation.
As the two-year anniversary of his passing arose about a week ago, my memory of the rosary he gifted me also came about. Still, though the rosary is not worth a thing in the eyes of the world, it’s a semi-permanent reminder of the temporary existence he had on earth.
I was reminded of his story once again, when another of a recent nature came about this week: Fr. Michael Los, a young Polish priest ordained from his hospital bed last month, died from cancer. Images floated about of the man celebrating Mass from the hospital room, holding a host and saying prayers of consecration.
To say my heart began to ache would be an understatement.
In my faith, there is something about suffering that is redemptive. It isn’t a cruel punishment from God. There is great hope in loss – the promise of an endless life in a Place where suffering is no more. This isn’t easily understood, nor is it something that I’ve ever been able to fully grasp.
My own suffering in the wake of these men’s stories comes not from a place of loss necessarily, but rather from the pain of knowing that two upstanding men who had given their lives to Christ were called to do so fully; our God is a jealous God, and it was time for each to take his place in His House.
As I grapple with questions of “why, when they were each so young?” and “why them, when we need good priests more than ever?”, I know that this was always how their stories were meant to end: ordained priests, not quite middle-aged, giving one resounding “yes” to whatever God wants, even if it means giving up the vocation they’d discerned and worked towards.
In some baffling way, I’m reminded of my own temporary-ness, my own significant “yeses” I’ve given: to be Catholic, to have done mission work, to become a wife, to live differently from the world’s ways of doing things. I also look to the small “yeses” in everyday life: to wash the dishes, to make dinner, to go to work.
Fiddling with the beads on the rosary, I feel the presence of “yes” that is far greater than my own comprehension – one that reaches beyond my own.
I hear the “yes” of priests who, in our eyes, died far too soon. The “yes” of Our Lady, which I reflect on each and every time I say the prayers of the rosary. The “yes” of my little, menial life.
Whatever the Cross, whatever may come, I desire to speak my “yes” with a resounding noise, far louder than any other influence except that voice inside my own heart. It may not speak loudly in the busyness of what’s surrounding me, but I can carry it with me in the same way I carry the rosary around in my purse through bustling city streets.
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