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The Pitiful Mysteries

Recently we were quizzing my seven year old about which mystery of the rosary focuses on Christ’s passion.  After one incorrect guess, he proffered, “the pitiful mysteries?”  We laughed briefly, but then reflected on what episodes would make good reflections for pitiful mysteries, if there was such a thing.

As it turns out, this was a fruitful exercise.

Pitiful has a few definitions, most commonly, “deserving or arousing pity or commiseration”, as well as an archaic meaning of “compassionate,” and the Gospels are brimming with examples.  For instance, the turning away of disciples after the Bread of Life discourse because it was “too hard” or Judas’s despair after his betrayal.  What about the widow’s gift? Or, the women of Jerusalem along the road to the cross?

All have lessons for us today.  

Sometimes the stories we recalled aroused sympathy, or we identified with the human failings; other instances made us reflect on our own pride or lack of trust (such as the rich young man and his attachments).  

The episode I’ve meditated on for weeks is Peter’s denial of Jesus, particularly as told in Luke.  Not only did Peter deny Jesus as predicted, but this version reads, “Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord…He went out and began to weep bitterly.”

This episode evokes pity, sorrow and empathy from me.

I read this and recall my own sin, and I imagine the look of hurt on Jesus when I deny him by my own thoughts and actions.  

I think the value in this spontaneous exercise for me was meditating on the human experiences in the Bible which are universal and timeless.  In some cases a person rejects Jesus and we never learn if the person returns—a reminder to pray for those who have fallen away or cannot accept the truth.  Stories such as the parable of the Prodigal Son bring comfort, because obvious human weakness is followed by mercy and forgiveness.  There are also stories that show us great love and devotion, such as the seemingly pitiful offering of the widow’s mite. 

In the instance of Peter, St. John offers the rest of the story, demonstrating forgiveness, mercy and God’s great wisdom.  St John describes how after the Resurrection, Our Lord asks Peter three times, if he loves him. And three times, Peter was able to respond, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”  In this ultimate example of forgiveness, he established our first Pope and demonstrated his divine mercy and wisdom.

I’m so thankful that throughout the Gospels, these human struggles remind me just how deep God’s mercy is for me.


On this Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, Catholics are reminded and encouraged to pray the Rosary.  It is the prayer of the Blessed Mother, giving us space in the course of 10 “Hail Mary” prayers to reflect on an event in the life of her Son, Jesus.  This devotional prayer is centuries old and developed from a traditional and ancient Christian prayer practice of pacing one’s meditations with the use of a knotted or beaded rope.

The Rosary is a beautiful prayer which Fulton Sheen calls “the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known.”

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Anna Ostrom

Anna is a Catholic wife and mother of five children. She is thankful to be married to a stay at home dad extraordinaire, who keeps the family ship righted while she is working as a pediatrician. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, read-alouds, and searching for the world’s greatest children’s book.

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