Slow Down! — Rosary Prayer isn’t a Hot Dog Eating Contest

I read this article about the value of reading the Bible slowly and contemplatively. The author, David Mathis, compared meditating on the Bible to enjoying a well crafted meal as opposed to trying to scarf it down quickly like you’re in a hot dog eating contest. This article got me thinking that the same principle of meditative bible reading applies to rosary prayer and relates to what I wrote in my last post about finding happiness.

World-class eaters would never stuff themselves at top speed at every meal, but many of us are prone to come to Bible intake like we’re scarfing cheap hot dogs. When morning devotions are simply our first to-do of the day, and we set out simply to read a chapter, check a box, and complete the task, we end up putting ourselves through something more like a hot dog eating contest than an enjoyable, nourishing, life-giving meal.

You can basically replace the word “Bible” in the article with “rosary” and the overall message remains the same. This echoes what I said about how not understanding the why behind rosary prayer reduces it to a check box on your daily to-do list.

What I’m going to do going forward is really take my time praying the rosary and emphasize quality over quantity. I don’t think Mary sits all day on a cloud in Heaven with a clip board making notes on how many rosaries I complete. The rosary isn’t an all or nothing proposition where it doesn’t count if you don’t complete the entire rosary. After all, what does a complete rosary even mean? Five mysteries in a 24 hour period? Five mysteries in a single sitting? All 20 mysteries? The 15 original mysteries? The meaning of a whole rosary can vary greatly depending on the individual. So why race through a rosary to met some arbitrary standard?

English: A Discalced Carmelite nun sits in her...
English: A Discalced Carmelite nun sits in her cell, praying, meditating on the Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not saying that you should just give up praying the rosary or not set a goal of praying it. What I am asking is that you don’t water down your rosary praying by racing through it in order to meet that goal. I think Mary appreciates a single decade prayed earnestly over five decades prayed hastily. Some days you may manage a single decade. Other days you may have the energy and concentration for all 20 mysteries. The idea is to not go through the motions to reach a goal but also don’t stop just because you prayed a certain number of mysteries. It’s not like you or Mary are trying to meet some sort of monthly rosary quota. In short, use your rosary prayer time to its fullest by making the most of each prayer.

Did you just rattle off 10 Hail Marys while thinking about last night’s hockey game?  Stop!  Do it again.  Did you just completely forget what mystery you were praying?  Stop!  Take a break and come back when you have more focus.  Where is the downside to acknowledging that you actually weren’t praying for the last five minutes and trying again?  There is no downside if the purpose of your rosary prayer is to pray it earnestly, not to complete the loop.

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The Rosary is a Means, Not an End

No matter who you are, your goal in life is probably to maximize the quantity and quality of personal happiness. This goal unites nearly all of humanity whether you are an American suburbanite, a nomad in Mongolia, or even a terrorist fighting in Syria.  We all seek to be happy although our means and justifications may differ.

Ven. Fulton J. Sheen provided these three simple rules for finding happiness. The TLDR; summary is:

  1. If you are ever to have a good time, you cannot plan your life to include nothing but good times
  2. Pleasure is deepened and enhanced when it has survived a moment of tedium or pain: this law helps us to make our prized pleasure last for whole lifetime.
  3. Pleasure is a by-product, not a goal.
Fulton J. Sheen, Roman Catholic Bishop and ear...
Fulton J. Sheen, Roman Catholic Bishop and early television preacher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe these happiness principles also apply to prayer, particularly rosary prayer. I think too many times we view rosary prayer as the goal, not the means to something greater. I’m in no way exempt from this way of thinking.  I often tell myself that I’m going to pray the rosary every day but forget to remind myself WHY I want to pray the rosary every day.

Let me be clear.  There is nothing wrong with motivating yourself to pray the rosary regularly as long as you are mindful that praying the rosary is a means, not an end in itself. When rosary prayer is treated as the goal it often becomes rushed and unfocused since we tend to treat it as a check box on our daily todo list.

Rosary prayer requires focus and patience if you want to maximize its benefits.  Let’s be honest, praying the rosary is not always fun and pleasurable.  But as Ven. Fulton J. Sheen said, when you endure a little bit of pain and hardship, it makes the fruits of that hardship that much more prized and treasured.  Keep that in mind the next time you don’t feel like praying the rosary or just want to rush through it.  Mary understands the difficulty and appreciates your desire to reach out to her son, Jesus Christ, in the face of such hardship.

The million dollar question becomes, what benefit am I hoping to maximize by praying the rosary?  What do you hope to gain from it?  Everyone will have a different answer. Here’s mine.  I pray it as a means of deepening my relationship with God. I pray the rosary because my Mother Mary tells me it is the most effective way of living in God’s grace. She promises me 15 benefits if I pray the rosary devoutly.  I believe it also gives me perspective on all the events of my life and seeing what’s truly important and what is not. In short, I want to grow in happiness by living as God asks me to. Those are my true goals that praying the rosary helps me move ever closer to.

Generally available Marian image created in th...
Generally available Marian image created in the 1880s. The white circular text in the halo reads: “Je suis l’Immaculée Conception” (French for “I am the Immaculate Conception”). From Jtdirl’s collection. Copyright long expired. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How about you? What’s your idea of happiness? Are you trying to be happy by living as Ven. Fulton J. Sheen suggests? What do you hope to gain from prayer? Are you treating prayer as a means to happiness by looking for God’s grace or an end in itself?

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Praying with Pinterest

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Like writer’s block, sometimes I come down with a case of prayer’s block. Prayer’s block manifests itself in mindlessly reciting prayers without any real intention or focus. If you have ever prayed an entire decade of the rosary and upon coming to that gap in the chain you did not know what mystery you were praying, you encountered prayer’s block.

I recently discovered a great way combat prayer’s block.  Use Pinterest!  For those who do not know what Pinterest is, it’s a website that allows people to post images and videos on virtual “boards” that have a common theme.  It’s very popular for finding ideas for home decor, organization and storage ideas, DIY projects, arts and crafts, and recipes.  For example, if you want to find a creative way of serving margaritas at your next party, search for “margarita” and Pinterest will show you dozens of pictures of margaritas with links to the website where the image was used.

Welcome to Margaritaville

You can search for any rosary mystery or religious term like Virgin Mary, Rosary Meditation, Rosary Prayer, Catholic Prayer, etc. and see a wall of images.  Focus on those images as you pray the rosary.  They may help inspire new thoughts, meditations, and intentions.  They can help you remain focused on praying and make it more difficult for your mind to wander off.

The link back to the website the image appears on is the important part when it comes to combating prayer’s block.  If you can follow a picture of a margarita to a recipe, why not follow an image of the Virgin Mary to a prayer?  If you select an image on the board, there is a “Visit” button below it that will take you to the website.  Many times these images appear as part of a blog or article that is worth reading for prayer ideas.  If you find an article you like, maybe the author wrote more worth reading or bookmarking that website.  Maybe that website has links to similarly helpful sites.  Following just a few image links on Pinterest can greatly increase your resources if you are ever lacking for prayer ideas.

If you suffer from prayer’s block, give Pinterest (or the Christian themed copycat, Godinterest) a try.

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The Value of Fasting

I am an avid reader of science and technology articles. I read Wired and Popular Science cover to cover within days of the magazine arriving in my mailbox and I read articles from numerous websites. I get super excited when I notice a link between my two passions — science and technology and prayer and spirituality.

I came across such an article that dived into the science behind fasting. A researcher has a theory that fasting obstructs a hormone responsible for cell growth and makes people more sensitive to insulin. He thinks that periodic fasting could reduce one’s chances of developing diabetes or cancer. The technical details are beyond the scope of this article but it’s an interesting read.

The article mentions that those who fast often feel sharper mentally because of a process called ketosis. It has something to do with a difference in body chemistry when you’re burning fat instead of carbohydrates. But that got me thinking about why the Church recommends fasting in addition to prayer. If fasting sharpens the mind and makes you physically healthier, could it also make you spiritually healthier as well?

The common idea behind fasting is that we give up something physical (such as food) and replace it with something spiritually nourishing. But this isn’t a trade of equal value. The spiritual benefit will always outweigh the physical loss. Think about that for a second. You give up a dessert or your ritual cup of coffee so you can instead better listen to God and form a deeper relationship with Him. Talk about giving up so little to gain so much!  Seems like an easy deal right?

And yet, while we all know the tremendous benefit of fasting, it is probably one of the hardest disciplines to practice. I think many of us have no problem saying some extra prayers, reading the bible, or praying the rosary when we put our minds to it. But you might as well suggest amputating a limb at the idea of not having that slice of cheesecake, substituting that mouth watering bacon burger for soup, or cutting out that cup of afternoon coffee. But that’s the point isn’t it? The harder the sacrifice, the more you benefit. When you say, “Okay God, I’m giving this up for you!” the better you will be able to hear God respond with a “thank you” and His grace.

And on Saturday he ate 1 piece of chocolate cake, 1 ice cream cone, 1 pickle…

Fasting amplifies our prayers and our reception of God’s Word.  Compare fasting/prayer to diet/exercise.  Exercise is not as effective without a matching, healthy diet.  All that you gain working out for an hour can be undone with a single cheesecake slice.  Or your health can be further benefited by supplementing exercise with nutritious food.  The same can be said for prayer.  All the benefits of prayer can be undone by a moment of sin or it can be elevated when combined with fasting.  Obviously, if we pray and then turn around and sin we really haven’t let God’s grace into our hearts.  But when we pray and fast, we allow God more room in our hearts to truly transform us.  St. Augustine once said, “Those who sing pray twice.”  If that’s true then I say that those who fast must be praying five-fold.

Jesus in Pray
Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How does fasting connect to the rosary?  Think about one of the themes of the Third Luminous Mystery.  Jesus calls us to focus on living for His Kingdom of Heaven.  That focus manifests itself by active conversion of our ways.  We change our earthly focus to a Heavenly one.  And that is exactly what fasting is all about.  We give up something worldly in exchange for something spiritual.  We intentionally choose the Kingdom of Heaven over delights in this earthly kingdom.  No one accidentally fasts.  Nor do we accidentally live for Heaven.  In the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus puts a choice before us.  Will you live for His kingdom and convert your ways or will you remain chained to the pleasures of this life?

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Gone Fishing

Another Divine Mercy Sunday, another empty church. I am always disheartened to see so many empty pews after the standing room only Easter Mass. Where did everyone go? So much for Easter transforming hearts and minds right?

Seeing all those empty pews reminds me of this reading from John’s Gospel.  One of the first things Peter did after Christ’s death was go fishing. In the Gospel, he says it almost casually — “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). After the drama that he had just encountered, Peter was looking to return to something comfortable and familiar. It’s almost like he was thinking that being one of Jesus’s apostles was great, but that was now something in his past.  Maybe he saw it like we see our teenage or college years — a phase that we grew out of. Peter was picking up his life where he left off before meeting Jesus — as a fisherman.

Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the...
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t we all have a bit of Peter in our hearts? We fasted and sacrificed during Lent and celebrated on Easter Sunday. For 40+ days our hearts were focus on making room for Christ. And then what do we do? Go to work the next day and do the same things we’ve always done as if Easter was just another day on the calendar. Do you even recall what the priest said in his Easter homily? Do you feel fundamentally changed? Probably not. But you seem to be in good company since it seems that many of the apostles initially treated their time with Jesus like it was a passing fad. It had its moments and even some promise, but now it was time to get back to reality.

When I find myself sliding back into routine, I meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple.  I recall how the Holy Spirit promised St. Simeon that he would not die until seeing the chosen one.  Imagine how surprised, joyful, and maybe even a little scared Simeon must have felt upon hearing this news.  Maybe we felt a similar passion and joy towards our faith on Easter Sunday.  Now imagine how many years Simeon must have waited for that promise to be fulfilled.  The Bible doesn’t give an exact count, but all depictions of Simeon show him as an elderly man.  Who would have blamed him if he started to doubt that promise and believed his time would be better spent on something other than his faith?  But did he lose hope or did he let any doubt affect his faith in God’s plan for him?

Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast
Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like St. Simeon, remaining devout to the end of his life, so too must we be devout in our faith long after the immediate joy and glory of Easter fades.  Many times our faith feels challenging like Christ’s last human days on Good Friday and not the celebration of Easter.  But we pray the rosary and focus on imitating those who remained steadfast even in the absence of signs, wonders, and even joy.  We remember St. Mother Teresa who fought a seemingly hopeless battle of helping the poor.  Or we draw inspiration from the martyrs who died without seemingly changing anyone’s heart towards Jesus Christ.  When we pray the rosary, we pray for the faith and hope that Jesus hears our prayers and does answer them even when it seems like we are wasting our time.

Peter may have thought that his time as Jesus’ apostle was in vain.  He may have thought that he would just return to being a fisherman instead of the fisher of men that Jesus promised.  But of course we know that God had a grander plan for St. Peter than just being Jesus’ apostle in Jesus’ earthly life.  And so we pray that we also have the faith, courage, and fortitude to understand that God has a grander plan for all of us even when it seems like our prayers go unheard.

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Lent Post Mortem

 

In software engineering it is common to have a post mortem upon completion of a large project.  A post mortem gives the team a chance to identify what went well and what went badly in the course of the project and investigate the root causes.  The idea is to continue doing what is good and avoid making the same mistakes in future projects.  I like to think of Lent as a large spiritual project that deserves its own post mortem.

When I look back at my Lent, here’s what I did right:

  • Received the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • Listened to the Gospel nearly everyday
  • Prayed the rosary nearly everyday (okay, that’s not too different from my usual routine)
  • Fasted from alcohol, candy, and snacks during the day

What was less than ideal:

  • Did not attend any extra Masses or prayer services
  • Did not receive ashes on Ash Wednesday
  • While I did not snack during the day, I didn’t exactly show a lot of willpower in the evening.  So my fast was more like a delayed gratification on some days.

What did I learn?

  • Listening to the daily Gospel really fills in the story and teachings of Jesus that you don’t get only listening to the Sunday Gospel.  I started to better understand the buildup to Holy Week and how Jesus drew the ire of the Pharisees which led to his crucifixion.  I will try to continue reading/listening to the Gospel daily.
  • I should try to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation more often.
  • Since I abstained from snacks and treats on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, I know I can make it the entire day without them.  I should put in more effort to fast from snacks throughout the year, not just on those two days.

Now it’s your turn.  What did you gain during this Lent?  Where did you fall short and do you plan on correcting any errors made during Lent in this Easter season?

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How Catholics Should Give and Receive Criticism

Time for a touchy subject — criticism.  Have you noticed how intolerant everyone appears to get at the slightest hint of criticism?  I understand that no one enjoys criticism, even constructive criticism.  But in the last few years, how society views criticism has changed.  Instead of it as something you either accept or ignore, criticising anyone has become tantamount to hate speech that warrants severe repercussions.  Just look at some of these headlines about how people react when their views are challenged or someone says something that makes them feel uncomfortable:

What I think is going on is that many people infer that any type of criticism comes from a position of self righteousness or malice.  Criticism is interpreted as a passive aggressive way of saying, “I’m better than you.”  In today’s world, the greatest act of love and concern appears to be silence and the cardinal sin of secular society is saying or doing anything that might upset someone.

In short, the world of Fahrenheit 451, where books are burned because people may find the ideas in them offensive, has come true.  Granted, we do not have firemen raiding homes looking for contraband books.  But we do have a culture where people are shouted down and threatened at the slightest implication that someone disagrees with their views or lifestyle.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has this take on criticism and how it is born out of a genuine love for each other.  While I  encourage you to listen to the two minute audio meditation yourself, the tl;dl version (too long; didn’t listen) is that fraternal correction is a great act of love and mercy.  Others often see aspects of us we don’t see ourselves and hence the cycle of continuous and mutual improvement completes us and our relationships with others.  He emphasizes that correction must come from a humble heart desiring only what is best for one another, not from thinking of yourself as better than others.

Pope Benedictus XVI
Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think Benedict’s statement, that true loving correction does not come from a place of self righteousness, is lost in today’s world.  Any attempt to help someone is often immediately dismissed because the person offering the criticism has his own faults and is therefore seen as a hypocrite.  It’s the whole, “Oh yeah!  Well you’re a …” response.  But by that logic, no one can offer advice or help each other because no one is perfect.

I wonder how much unhappiness in the world is born out of people being too afraid to help each other discover the good because doing so may present temporary anxiety or discomfort.  If you are on the receiving end of loving criticism,  Benedict asks us to consider that not all criticism is malicious but is instead maybe the Holy Spirit working through someone to bring out the best in us.

Turning to the rosary, meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion.  Consider this passage taken from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.  He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.  Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land.  It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary forces us to consider that Jesus Christ, and by extension His Church, calls us to see those aspects of our lives that are not moving us toward Heaven and to convert.  Jesus’ ministry was marked with Him challenging people’s beliefs and wanting them to do better.  In the Gospel, Jesus is criticizing the people for thinking that they, and only they, are called to God’s grace.  At the idea that there are others in the world deserving of God’s love, the Jews were ready to throw Jesus over a cliff!  Of course we shouldn’t forget that Jesus’ teachings so upset the status quo that He was eventually crucified because His truth made many feel uncomfortable or upset.

Ask yourself, how quickly do you make excuses to dismiss God’s plan for you?  Or how often do you attack the messenger, who may be acting as an instrument of God’s loving guidance, because you do not like being told that you are doing something wrong or not in accordance with God’s plan?  Look, I’m not saying that you should be all smiles and laughter when someone tries to correct your less than perfect ways.  And not everyone acts out of love.  But we all should ask God in prayer for patience and discernment and not immediately dismiss or attack someone who only wants the best for us.

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RosaryMeds Has a New Look!

While I loved my previous WordPress theme that was created by a dating site for some odd reason, it is time RosaryMeds got a fresh coat of paint.  The old theme just wasn’t keeping up and didn’t support many of the modern new features found on other blogs.  One huge new feature is that RosaryMeds is now more mobile friendly.  No more manually zooming in to read text!  So if you are reading this on your phone or tablet, enjoy.

There is still some work to do like tweaking colors, adjusting the formatting, and updating the header image.  But regardless of the look and feel the goal of RosaryMeds remains unchanged — getting you enthused about rosary prayer.

Pope Francis Said What? — Contraception and Catholic Doctrine

Pope Francis. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA.

As well intentioned Pope Francis seems to be, he sure can generate a lot of misunderstandings of Church doctrine. I think it’s important to call out these instances and try to clarify them. After all, I don’t want the secular media, who aren’t the most Catholic friendly, having the final word interpreting the pope’s words.

While the pope’s supposed twitter war with Donald Trump has garnered a lot of attention, he also made statements about the use of contraception to combat the Zika virus in South America.  This didn’t get the amount of attention it deserves as it will live well beyond a few tweets between a presidential candidate and the pope. I fear the media will quote this in the future whenever the Catholic Church and contraception are mentioned.  Here’s the specific part of the transcript I want to focus on (bold is mine):

Paloma García Ovejero, Cadena COPE (Spain): Holy Father, for several weeks there’s been a lot of concern in many Latin American countries but also in Europe regarding the Zika virus. The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoiding pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of “the lesser of two evils?”

Pope Francis: Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.

Here’s the problem. Did Pope Paul VI actually permit nuns in Africa to use contraception? Pope Francis’ argument hangs on the premise that a previous pope had a doctrinally sound reason for doing so. Surely, Pope Francis can refer to some papal document from Pope Paul VI supporting this position right? But it looks like the pope has been hoodwinked by a Catholic urban legend. I came across a great article by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf that examined the root of the “Pope Paul VI permitted nuns to use contraception” myth.

English: picture of pope paul VI Español: foto...
English: picture of pope paul VI Español: fotografia del papa pablo VI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I encourage you to read the entire article, the tl;dr version is that the scenario of nuns in Africa using contraception was written as a hypothetical example in a theological article about the principle of double effect that was published two years before Paul VI became pope. Like any urban legend, it starts based on some actual event and then little changes to the details are applied.  Like a game of telephone, eventually the story the persists is nothing like the original. There’s even a similar version of this story except it’s St. John Paul II instead of Paul VI and Bosnian nuns replace African nuns.

I understand why the New York Times or the Washington Post may mistakenly report this myth as fact. After all, they probably think Nancy Pelosi is an authority on Catholic doctrine. But I would hope that the pope would be better informed and not repeat an urban legend as truth. What’s worse is that while the words attributed to Paul VI or St. John Paul II are myths, the words of Pope Francis are not. He actually said them and believes that they are rooted in Catholic teachings. I fear that over time the Paul VI myth will be replaced with Pope Francis’ own words.  After all, who needs to keep a myth alive when you have the words straight from the pope’s mouth?

The pope’s off the cuff statements create a challenge for those who want to show the world the reality, truth, and beauty of the Catholic Church.  When the truth in areas like contraception are blurred, it waters down the appeal of authentic Catholicism.  Going back to the book, Rome Sweet Home, that I wrote about recently, part of the reason the Hahn’s left the protestant church was because they started to see inconsistencies and too much gray area in the doctrine.  They saw the Catholic Church as an unwavering rock of well reasoned, biblical doctrine that created an opportunity to truly live in the fullness of God’s grace.  Catholic doctrine may not be the easiest to understand and follow, but at least it’s true.  Speaking of rocks, the office of the pope should be acting as the doctrinal cornerstone as Jesus commanded Peter.  That is why Pope Francis’ interviews, where he creates a lot of confusion, bothers me so much.  When the pope gives off the cuff comments, I feel like he weakens the divinely appointed role and power of the papacy.

Retable de l’Agneau mystique

Whenever I think of Church doctrine, my thoughts go towards the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary — Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.  I think that one of the reasons God assumed Mary into Heaven is because her duties as our mother extended beyond her earthly life.  God chose her to be our mother for all ages to come.  And like a good mother, Mary desires us to know our faith and see its depth and beauty.  There is so much misinformation out there about the Catholic Church, both intentionally and unintentionally spread.  It’s our responsibility to learn all that we can so we aren’t led astray into a false or watered down sense of our rich faith.  Holy Mary, we pray to you for guidance to learn as much as we can about the Heavenly Kingdom you so greatly want us to enjoy.  Amen.

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Rome Sweet Home

There is a saying that to truly understand a city you have to have lived in it for twenty years or two weeks. The two weeks part of that saying means that someone with a fresh set of eyes sees aspects of a city that locals have overlooked or just grown used to. I think the same idea applies to Catholicism. To truly understand the Catholic faith you have to have faithfully studied and practiced it for decades or be a recent convert. Recent converts usually see the beauty and understand the theological framework of the Church that cradle Catholics may overlook or take for granted.  For this article, I am going to write about a book I just finished which focuses on Catholicism through the eyes of recent converts.

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Want the book? Click on the image for purchasing options.

I just finished reading Rome Sweet Home which is the story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn.  Many of you may recognize those names because Scott often speaks on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) about he and his wife’s conversion to Catholicism.  The book is a good read that takes you through their lives at devout and well educated Presbyterians to Scott’s conversion (to Kimberly’s anguish), and then Kimberly’s conversion.  It’s a fascinating read where each chapter first tells Scott’s story and ends with Kimberly’s take on the same events.  It almost reads like a mystery where Scott’s story often ends with some sort of cliffhanger which is later filled in by Kimberly’s story.

There are two aspects of the book that I’m going to touch on briefly.  First, I was amazed by the intellectual honesty Scott and Kimberly showed in their conversion process.  When confronted with information about the Catholic Church’s teaching on various subjects, Scott couldn’t escape how well reasoned they were and how much he agreed with them.  It would have been very easy for Scott to turn a blind eye to the Church’s teachings and return to the comfort of his protestant lifestyle.  But instead he kept digging; wanting to find the truth regardless of where it led him.  The more he read and discussed Catholicism to find that large logic gap to disprove it, the more he fell in love with it.

You have to admire that dedication to the finding truth.  Scott and Kimberly’s story should serve as an inspiration to us all in this season of Lent as we fast, pray, and meditate on finding truth in our lives.  Are you dedicated to finding and then living the truth?  Or will you turn a blind eye to the Church’s teaching when it throws up challenges or conflicts with societal norms?  When you pray the rosary, meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries and think about the giant price Jesus paid by not bending to the expectations of others.  Ask yourself whether you have truly dedicated yourself to the truth and the way Jesus is asking you to live.  That’s okay if you do not meet that high bar.  It is why we pray in the first place — to ask God for the strength to seek out and live according to His Will, not ours.

The second aspect of the book which touched me was how deeply the Hahn’s longed for Eucharist after their conversation.  They appreciate the power of this great gift from God.  They were dismayed about how casually many Catholics receive Communion.  They reasoned that many people truly do not understand who they are receiving in the Eucharist.  Otherwise they would approach it with far more reverence and also a profound joy.  I guess it takes a lifetime as a protestant with the host being just a wafer to truly stand in awe of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.

Girl receiving first Holy Communion, Sicily
Girl receiving first Holy Communion, Sicily (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we continue our Lenten prayers and fasting, meditate on the Fifth Luminous Mystery, The Institution of the Eucharist.  Ask God for the faith to see the Eucharist like someone receiving Him for the first time.  Imagine being a recent convert where you have gone your entire life denying your soul of that spiritual banquet of the Eucharist and now you are finally able to celebrate.  So deep should our joy of the Eucharist be whether we have received it a few times or thousands of times.  We pray for those going through RCIA as we lead up to their full membership in the Catholic Church this Easter.  And finally, pray for those who receive communion without truly understanding what it is, especially if they receive it with mortal sins on their souls.

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