I have been privileged with the opportunity of experiencing some great works of art from different centuries and artists. One of the paintings that I have encountered more than once is Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary) by the great Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. This painting, done between 1650 and 1655, is now at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and previously was part of the collection of the Monastery of El Escorial. I have experienced the beauty and tenderness of this painting in its original setting at the Prado museum as well as in special exhibitions in Alexandria, Louisiana, and Ponce, Puerto Rico. This work evokes a sense of charming and approachable religiosity, with the Virgin Mary tenderly holding the infant Jesus in her arms, their faces together in a warm embrace while the Infant holds a golden rosary in his right hand. Murillo uses the technique of chiaroscuro so characteristic of his early period to bring the spectator to a scene of profound serenity and an invitation from the characters in this piece. Yes, invitation, because Mother and Child are here directly facing the spectator, instead of looking at each other or to any other direction.
For me this painting represents what has been the Rosary in my life, an invitation to enter alongside Mary into a tender and genuine contemplation of salvation history and how God is present to us in the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious moments of our lives. As the faces of Mary and Jesus touch in the Murillo painting, the Rosary invites us to enter into a closer experience of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, the one who out of profound love entered our world and was caressed by a human mother, the one who is like us in everything but sin and understands our struggles. This devotion of the Rosary, so much related to our Dominican Order, invites us to unite the mind and the heart in order to remember the events of our lives and the continuous, affirming presence of God in all those events. This reflection is not only directed to our individual needs; as members of a world loved and redeemed by the Immanuel, God with us, we also direct our prayer to the needs of our sisters and brothers.
The recitation of the Rosary has been an important element of my life since the time I was a young adult and discerning about my life and future. After twenty years as a Dominican friar, I can ponder on how the Rosary has been assisting me in all aspects of my life, in different cities of the world. Among those remembrances I can recall the times as a young adult when l presided over weekly recitations in different houses of my neighborhood in Santa Juanita (Bayamón, Puerto Rico), the times I participated at the Rosary processions at the Lourdes Basilica in France, the time in Miami when I prayed with my grandfather Juan a week before he died, and the afternoons reflecting about the mysteries walking by the beautiful grounds of the Monastery of the Infant Jesus in Lufkin, Texas. And I hope that in the mysteries that are still awaiting for me in the future, the recitation of the Rosary will help me remember and contemplate about the presence of God in my life and bless and celebrate the lives of other men and women, all children of God. The Murillo painting reminds me of the loving invitation of Christ and his Mother to participate in the contemplation of divine realities; may we all accept joyously the invitation and celebrate the love of God in all the events of our lives.