I hope your summers are going well. Remember to pack that rosary wherever your summer adventures may take you. There’s no such thing as a summer vacation from prayer and living a holy life.
Pope Pius XII is often regarded as “Hitler’s pope” because of his silence on the autocracies committed by the Nazis in WWII, particularly the Holocaust. However, the book Church of Spies presents a different side of the story where the Vatican’s silence was not born out of indifference or antisemitism, but one of strategy. In fact, letters and other documents cited in the book reveal that the Catholic Church was working covertly to protect not only Jewish people but anyone who found themselves in the cross-hairs of the Nazis.
To understand Pope Pius’ situation, you have to think like someone living in Hitler’s occupied Europe, not someone looking at the events 60 years after the fact. Imagine living in a world where international law was virtually non-existent and one of the world’s most powerful armies was controlled by a mad man. Hitler needed very little motivation to destroy any institution that even hinted at challenging him. Would you, as the head of the Catholic Church, deliberately put all Catholics living in Germany and occupied Europe under the scrutiny of the Gestapo by delivering grand speeches denouncing the Nazis? Pius understood that the Church could best help people everywhere through covert action, not blustery speeches.
And so Church of Spies talks about the Church’s role mostly from the point of view of individuals within Germany — priests and lay people alike. It follows the Church’s role in coordinating some of the famous attempts to assassinate Hitler such as Operation Valkyrie. Yes, you heard correctly. The Vatican was aware and helped orchestrate some of the attempts to assassinate Hitler and broker a peaceful transition of power in Germany. The fact that Pope Pius’ involvement in subverting the Nazi regime was not well known and he is known more as a Nazi appeaser goes to show just how well the Vatican spy network was able to keep its cover in a time of intense scrutiny where anyone could be hauled away, tortured, and killed for the slightest hint of plotting against the Nazis.
As much as we love the idea of heroes publicly denouncing and actively fighting the bad guys, Church of Spies shows a Church that needed to be much more nuanced in an atmosphere of utter chaos. Remember, because the Catholic Church had dioceses throughout the world including within Nazi-controlled areas, it was best positioned to act as a spy network during WWII. They could provide intelligence on the Nazis within occupied countries that no other organization could. The Church and the allies did not want to jeopardize this advantage by needlessly antagonizing Hitler. This meant utilizing deception and secrecy, not brashness.
I highly suggest Church of Spies, especially if you are interested in WWII history. It will present to you a view of the war from a different, not very well known perspective. The book is well researched using letters, jounal entries, Vatican documents, and other historical documents. It’s not a dry retelling of facts but has a narrative worthy of any Hollywood screenplay. It’s engaging, suspenseful, and informative. But don’t just take my word for it, check out the numerous awards and 5 star reviews this book has received on Amazon.
I’m not going to get all kumbaya on you. Yes, I know that the rosary is a great prayer and I’ve spoken about its benefits for the last six years. But that doesn’t mean the rosary is an easy prayer or very relaxing for that matter. It is a prayer where we must demonstrate perseverance. And as time goes on, it seems like persevering through rosary prayer becomes an even larger challenge than in past generations. We live in an age where attention spans are narrowing. If a three minute YouTube video is considered long, then 20 minutes of rosary prayer is an eternity. The rosary can become repetitive and boring when compared to the instant gratification most of us have at our fingertips via our smartphones, computers, and televisions.
Now before you start saying that I’m a rosary hater, keep in mind that I’m echoing the same sentiment as St. Louis de Montfort in The Secret of the Rosary. He writes in his 43rd rose about how we have to fight distractions and persevere through the rosary to strengthen our faith:
Even if you have to fight distractions all through your whole Rosary be sure to fight well, arms in hand: that is to say, do not stop saying your Rosary even if it is hard to say and you have absolutely no sensible devotion. It is a terrible battle, I know, but one that is profitable to the faithful soul. If you put down your arms, that is, if you give up the Rosary, you will be admitting defeat and then, having won, the devil will leave you alone. But at the Day of Judgment he will taunt you because of your faithlessness and lack of courage. “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater.” He who fights even the smallest distractions faithfully when he says even the very smallest prayer he will also be faithful in great things. We can be absolutely certain of this because the Holy Spirit has told us so.
I’ve said it before, rosary prayer is a spiritual exercise. Much like running that extra mile even when you’re tired, praying the rosary devoutly in the face of the seemingly boring repetition will strengthen you spiritually. Perseverance isn’t the act of enduring one large hardship. Many of us can muster the strength to face one large challenge. It’s the act of overcoming a series of hardships, both large and small, over a long period of time. But if you can persevere in praying the rosary devoutly day in and day out, then you’ve proved to yourself that you have the ability to persevere in resisting sin and temptation as well. Like exercise, rosary prayer’s little gains start to show incremental, if not exponential, returns in the long run.
Not only is praying the rosary itself an exercise in perseverance, the mysteries also teach us that perseverance brings us closer to God’s grace. The most obvious one is the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus taking up his cross. Three of the stations of the cross explicitly call out Jesus falling and getting back up. Jesus endured the pain and hardship because he understood the importance of doing God’s Will. Similarly, we are called to live God’s Will even when it proves difficult or the rationale is incomprehensible. When life gets difficult, many of us give up and become angry with God because the suffering makes no sense to us. But the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery teaches us to instead put our trust in God’s plan even when we cannot understand it.
Perseverance, whether it’s praying the rosary routinely or continuing to love God in times of great hardship is the ultimate form of faith. You tell God, “I may not understand why you asking me to endure these hardships, but I will because I love you and I know they will ultimately bring me closer to you and your kingdom of Heaven.” That is the essential nature of faith — loving God even when he asks you to persevere through hardship.
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?
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.
- If you are ever to have a good time, you cannot plan your life to include nothing but good times
- 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.
- Pleasure is a by-product, not a goal.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
- Ohio State student threatened for writing pro-life column…
- Hillary Compares Pro-Life Republicans To ‘Terrorist Groups’…
- UPDATE: Feminist Studies Professor to be Prosecuted for Assaulting Pro-Life Student…
- Pro-life display vandalized at public university…
- Audio: IRS agent tells pro-life group: ‘Keep your faith to yourself’…
- College Professor Arrested for Profane Rant at Pro-Life Students…
- Actress Hopes Hurricane Kills ‘Every Pro-Life, Xenophobic, Gay-Bashing SOB’?
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.
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.