No matter how regularly and fervently we pray, most of us hit prayer blocks. Prayer block is similar to writer’s block — you just have a hard time finding the inspiration and motivation to pray. You know prayer is important but you just can’t get into it like you want to. It is those times where we need to look to others to give us a pep talk and remind us why we pray.
I have not yet read Champions of the Rosary, but it’s definitely on my reading list. It looks like just the book to have handy when I’m not feeling it when it comes to rosary prayer. Fr. Calloway reminds us that the rosary is the saint maker:
The Servant of God Frank Duff — founder of the Legion of Mary — once wondered if there has been a single saint since the 13th century who has not prayed the rosary. Without a doubt, the rosary has been the most frequently mentioned form of Marian devotion by the saints since the 13th century. It would be impossible to list all of these saints.
I’m looking forward to reading this book for sure. If you have a good book that motivates you to pray, contact me using the form below on this page or on Facebook. I’m sure many of my readers would love to have a few good books on prayer, especially the rosary, loaded up on their tablets ready to go for when their rosary prayer enthusiasm wanes.
At my parish, Father Tony talked about the importance of asking Mary for help with all the challenges and concerns in our lives. He iterated the Church’s teaching that Mary will clarify and amplify your intentions before her son, Jesus Christ, and act as your mediator. You may only have a vague notion of what you want or need but Mary will help you better understand those needs and help you present them to Jesus.
That homily got me thinking about new year’s resolutions. What if they don’t fail because they are often rather vague promises made on a somewhat arbitrary day on a calendar? Instead, maybe new year’s resolutions do not stick because people try to accomplish them on their own without any help. Maybe we should ask Mary for her assistance in trying to accomplish our resolution. After all, she desperately wants to help all of us achieve true happiness by eventually living in God’s Kingdom of Heaven.
But how will Mary help me lose weight? How will Mary help me earn $10k in the stock market? Does she really care about helping you achieve any non-spiritual goals? Probably not. And maybe she wants us to take a hint. If certain goals are not a priority to Mary, maybe they shouldn’t be a priority for us either. Like I said earlier, part of Mary’s intercession is to clarify what we truly need. Finding a meaningful resolution is just as important as following through on one.
In the spirit of including Mary in helping me throughout my life in all important matters, not just a single new years resolution, I’m going to try to remember to add the Memorare prayer to my daily routine. I invite you to do the same.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but, in your mercy, hear and answer me.
The Bible is full of parallels. It may be parallel themes between Old and New Testament readings or accounts of different people having similar encounters with God. We see one such parallel between the story of Mary in the Annunciation and that of Zechariah, husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. We pray and meditate on these readings, which make up the first two Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, all this week leading up to Christmas.
In both accounts, the angel Gabriel comes with news of a pregnancy. Mary is told she will give birth to a son through the Holy Spirit and Zechariah is told that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist. Furthermore, the announcement is initially met by disbelief. Mary’s amazement comes because she is not married and Zechariah’s stems from Elizabeth’s old age.
The difference in these two accounts comes next. In Mary’s case, she praises God and humbles herself saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” But in Zechariah’s case, the angel Gabriel takes away his ability to speak because of his disbelief.
What confused me about these two accounts was that according to the text, it appears as if Mary and Zechariah both show a very similar reaction, one of amazement and disbelief. Why was Zechariah punished and not Mary? I think the key is understanding Gabriel’s ability to see into someone’s heart and not just hear their words.
While Mary was confused initially, in her heart she truly believed and accepted God’s Will for her. But I think that Gabriel must have sensed that Zechariah did not fully believe the news he had just heard. To put it another way, Mary’s initial reaction may have been out of shock and quickly passed while Zechariah harbored a real sense of disbelief. Maybe, while he was in the holy sanctuary, Zechariah was going through the motions of prayer but not fully open to God’s grace. It is fitting that he was punished with speechlessness as a sign that maybe he was giving more lip service to his faith rather than truly internalizing it.
As we prepare in these final days of Advent, let us remember to have an open heart like Mary and not a closed one like Zechariah. Pray that you don’t go through the motions of spirituality by treating Christmas Mass like a mere formality before the real celebration can begin. Mass is the real celebration! I know many of you have large dinners to attend, guests to entertain, and presents to open. And while you may say you believe and celebrate Jesus’ birth, how much of your heart is centered around Him? God knows what is in our hearts and you can’t fool him.
This Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ birth. The best birthday present you can give Him is an honestly open heart. Don’t go through the motions of prayer and practicing your faith but earnestly make room in your heart for God’s grace manifested in His son, Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!
When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
In this Gospel passage, John the Baptist makes a distinction between piety and good works. The Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves good people because they followed the Mosaic law to the letter. But John implies in his comparison to a tree not bearing good fruit that just following rules or having a certain status does not lead to salvation. One must follow up with good works, charity, and compassion.
Good works, charity, and compassion were the cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry. He came into this world, not as someone of status and authority, but as a servant who ministered to those people society had excluded. Jesus repeatedly taught that what matters most to God is what someone does, not what their title is. Whether it was teaching the golden rule or telling the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had to charity, Jesus’ ministry centered around instilling the value of good works and sacrifice. Inversely, those who only followed rules and sought status and honor He routinely called hypocrites.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Notice how Jesus is saying that just accepting Him as the Savior is not enough. You have to follow up with action what you proclaim in your words. To put it in more modern terms (but now maybe ridiculously outdated), you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
When you hear and read this Gospel, meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary, The Visitation. Think about Mary in this mystery, someone who recently learned that she was to be the mother to the Massiah. What does she do? Does she flaunt the fact that an angel visited her? Does she go about looking for an elevated stature in the community? No. Instead, she travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth and helps her through her pregnancy although she herself was pregnant. Mary’s initial action after the Annunciation was one of charity.
Also, consider the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary when you reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel. Mary was assumed into Heaven and now acts as our intermediary to her son, Jesus Christ. Even when bestowed the title Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery), she has never stopped actively guiding us through the minefield of life. She protects us from evil, helps those who ask for her assistance, and has continually appeared to many delivering a message similar to John the Baptist in the Gospel — Jesus loves you and wants you close to him, but you must make the effort to love Him through good works, charity, and compassion.
I read this great article about the role of women in the Catholic Church and how women not being ordained priests should not be equated with having a lesser status or role within the Church. From the Catholic News Agency, Ana Cristina Villa, a consecrated laywoman with the Marian Community of Reconciliation, writes:
“I think that is a big distortion for the vocation of women, because women are obviously not the clergy,” she said, explaining that “when you get into this discussion about women in the Church you have to understand that there is a wider context.”
In her view, Catholic faithful need to grow in their understanding that, “according to their own vocation,” all “baptized are the Church and all baptized are called to feel the Church as their own and to contribute to the Church.”
When I read the CNA article, my mind immediately recalled this upcoming Sunday’s Gospel. We will be celebrating Jesus as King and yet the Gospel for Sunday focuses on His crucifixion. This highlights how people’s expectations of Christ the King did not match up with the reality — one of the suffering servant. They expected an earthly king with all the power that they envisioned. What they got, but many did not see, was someone infinitely more powerful; not bounded by worldly power but possessing salvational power.
The reason why the CNA article relates to this Sunday’s Gospel is that God created a special role for all of us in His Church. Just because women aren’t intended for the priesthood does not make them any less important. Jesus was not the worldly king people envisioned but that did not make Him any less powerful. When it comes to how we envision women’s role in the Church, we should not limit our thinking to titles and responsibilities. Otherwise, we fall into the same narrow-minded thinking as those who crucified Jesus for not meeting their pre-conceived notion of a king.
What I want to call your attention to is the importance of reading the Gospel daily and the Sunday Gospel a few days in advance. If I had not read this Sunday’s Gospel, I would have missed some of the deeper meaning in the article. By reading scripture and praying the rosary, I can put all the news and events in my life into a perspective that I otherwise might miss. If you don’t already pray the rosary and read scripture regularly, give it a try. Advent is right around the corner and it would be a good time to start.
This Sunday we celebrate The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The Gospel is from St. Luke:
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The rosary connection is fairly obvious as St. Luke writes about Jesus’ crucifixion which is the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery. Here we see Jesus’ divine power amidst His human weakness. Battered and broken, Jesus is minutes away from shedding His humanity by dying on the cross. But almost like a scale, what Jesus loses through his physical body is counter-balanced by His authority and power in the spiritual realm. He shows us He is king, not by any earthly standard, but by redeeming us all through suffering and death.
What is amazing is that Jesus’ kingly authority is so transparent to one criminal and opaque to the other. One challenges Jesus to save them while the other humbly asks Jesus to simply remember him. And doesn’t the difference in the two criminals interaction with Jesus remind us of how we often treat Jesus? One day we humbly ask Him for guidance and protection and other days we are challenging Him to prove Himself by answering our every wish and desire. Sometimes we treat Jesus as King of Heaven and humbly submit to His will. And other times we come close to threatening Him if He does not give us what we want.
When you reflect on this Gospel and pray the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, ask yourself, how much of your life is spent treating Jesus as your king and how much as your servant? Do you have the strength to look past your immediate circumstances and see that Jesus is willing to offer you something so much better — eternal joy in His Heavenly Kingdom? Instead of telling Jesus what you want Him to do, do you have the faith to just ask Him to remember you knowing that He will take care of you?
The Church is celebrating the year of mercy. Consider this. Both criminals crucified next to Jesus were sinners. But Jesus showed mercy telling one that he would be with Jesus in paradise that day. Jesus’ power and mercy are so great, there is no amount or type of sin that it cannot overpower. All you have to do is humbly ask the Lord to remember you.
Hopefully, you can take a break from all the election related news and meditate on this Sunday’s Gospel. It’s a long one so I’m just pasting the part I want to focus on in this post.
“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
This Gospel reading focuses on the importance of having faith by putting your life entirely in God’s hands. We all too often think that we can manage our lives on own without help from anyone, including God. When faced with challenges, many of us have a tendency to try to fight it on our own because we would think of ourselves as weak by admitting that we need help. Or we will think that we somehow cheated by receiving assistance.
Jesus tells us not to be foolish. God offers us not only His assistance but is willing to take the entire burden if only we let Him. Jesus told his disciples to not prepare a defense for He would provide wisdom. That promise is not just true for times of persecution, but for all our challenges, big and small, we encounter daily.
So many of us only tentatively accept God’s help and usually only on our terms. We tend to treat God’s help as a last resort. We come to Him in prayer when all else seems to have failed. This creates a manager/employee relationship where we falsely take the role of manager and God exists to take direction from us. The Gospel tells us that we need to put God 100% in control of our lives. Any other amount shows arrogance on our part believing that we can manage our lives any better than God can.
When I think about the power of faith, the Fifth Luminous Mystery of the rosary comes to mind. Jesus asks us to have incredible faith in His presence in the Eucharist. He asks us to put away that idea that what we see, smell, feel, and taste is not a piece of bread but is entirely Him! That is a tall order and similar to the amount of faith He asked of His disciples to let Him guide them when faced with challenges and persecution.
When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we should remember that all things good come from God. A reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us of that fact:
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
If God wants nothing but the best for you, do you have enough faith to yield to His Will 100%? Or are you holding anything back? Jesus tells us he will take care of us. Is your faith strong enough that you believe Him?
reads the Bible? Are you spending time reading Scripture every day? Are you living with the mindset, “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed?”
surrenders to the Holy Spirit? Do you make a commitment to say a daily prayer of submission to the Holy Spirit?
takes responsibility for your life and your past and not blame others?
Those are three of thirty tasks that Father Larry Richards asks of his readers in his book, Be a Man: Becoming the Man God Created you to be. In this book, he explores how one grows strong in faith by imitating the manly example of Jesus Christ. Through stories of his ministry and personal experiences, Fr. Larry breaks down the popular misconception that being deeply spiritual and close to God is something weak or passive. His book reflects an attitude of a drill instructor or fitness coach telling people to “man up” and actively embrace their faith.
Despite its title, Be a Man is a great guide book for all Catholics, not just men. Except for a few stories and maybe a few male-specific words of advice, this book will just as easily appeal to women as well as men. To me, the title seems more like a marketing gimmick to separate itself from all the other “how to live a Catholic lifestyle” books that are available.
Father Larry Richards’ advice is not an easy one. He is very up front that living a truly Catholic life is difficult. But he stresses the importance of “manning up” and tackling those challenges because it will ultimately benefit you and the ones you love. At its core, he lays down arguments on the importance of dedicating your life to God. Contrary to popular belief, lay people are called to lead a fully spiritual life of prayer, fasting, chastity, charity, and dedication to following God’s will just like any ordained priest. God does not let us off easy just because we happen to be on the other side of the alter during Mass.
Personally, my largest takeaway from the book is the need to go to church more than once a week on Sunday. As Fr. Larry says, the Our Father says “give us our daily bread.” It does not say “weekly bread.” Even if you cannot attend daily Mass, it is important to try to go into a church, say a few prayers, and tell God that you are starting your day as his disciple. While I have not been able to go to church every day, I do try to find times to squeeze it in when I can. I hope, much like rosary prayer, it provides a sense of peace knowing that God is in control and is guiding me regardless of the chaos of our world.
This book has been out for seven years and has a 5-star rating on Amazon. It is that good and is something you will want to give away to your friends and family after you read it. Buy a copy and be the one who starts a new chain of lending of this powerful book.
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”
What I find most interesting is how St. Luke makes specific mention of Zacchaeus’ short stature and how he climbed a tree to see Jesus. He could have just as easily started this story with “Jesus encountered a tax collector named Zacchaeus.” Why the inclusion of the tree climb?
Zacchaeus did not let his short height dissuade him from seeing Jesus. Instead, he did whatever he could because seeing Jesus was important to him. And because of his conviction and conversion, Jesus gives Zacchaeus the gift of salvation. Zacchaeus’ introduction shows us that we all have our limitations and hardships in this life. And yet, we must find a way to “see” Jesus in our lives despite life’s challenges and distractions. When seen through this lens, Zacchaeus’ story sounds more like this popular teaching from Jesus:
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Might as well add, “Climb and you will be seen.”
I think many times we let our situation dissuade us from truly embracing and practicing out faith. I know I often fall into the thinking of, “well, I’m not a priest,” to justify times when I have not tried hard enough to further my relationship with Jesus. It is so easy to blame work, health, family, or financial difficulties for not praying more often, not going to Mass, not receiving the sacraments, and not being charitable. But as Zacchaeus’ story indicates, those are excuses and not very good ones at that. We need to make our relationship with Jesus a priority and do whatever it takes to receive His grace. Sometimes the road will be easy but other times we need to be like Zacchaeus and think outside the box.
Zacchaeus’ story ties nicely with the Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Nativity. The shepherds in the fields dropped what they were doing to go praise the newborn savior. I previously wrote about how risky it was for shepherds to leave their flock. But they understood the importance of seeing Jesus much like Zacchaeus. They did not allow doubt or concern over their jobs dissuade them from encountering Christ.
When we pray and meditate on the Third Joyful rosary mystery, let us ask God for strength and maybe even a little knowledge to break out of our routines and doubts so that we can truly encounter Jesus. He’s there; always waiting for us and will welcome us into communion with Him. But maybe we just need to get over our worries and maybe put a little more effort to go to Him.
It is honesty time! When is the first time you typically read or hear the Sunday Gospel reading? Do you:
read it a few days before Sunday?
glance over it in the missal before Mass?
hear it for the first time as it is being read during Sunday Mass?
usually run late and miss the Gospel entirely?
I’m guessing that many of you said that the first time you hear the Sunday Gospel is during Mass. And that is not bad by any means. But I think someone can get so much more out of the Sunday Gospel by putting in more time and effort reading it midweek. This is why I try to prepare an article connecting the Gospel to the rosary so that you have time to meditate on it before Sunday Mass.
I’m going to share with you an analogy on preparation from my experience in software engineering. Talk to any software programmer and they will tell you how they wish they could go back in time and start their project from scratch in order to correct mistakes based on what they discovered while developing their code. No matter how experienced we are, our initial drafts of code just never have the same level of polish as later drafts. There is nothing more valuable than just working out a problem over the course of several days often making new discoveries and having novel insights that do not come in shorter time frames.
I think the same principle applies to the Sunday Gospel reading. The more times you read it and meditate on it, the more you discover and learn. It makes intuitive sense that someone who has read and meditated on the Gospel five times will have a deeper understanding of it than someone who hears it once at Mass. The homily does not become the only reflection on the Gospel, but more of the cherry on top of a week-long exercise of prayer and meditation.
I’ve found that layering the Sunday Gospel, daily readings, and the rosary into my daily prayer routine helps form a much richer spiritual life. I start to see connections between the rosary mysteries and the Gospel readings that were not immediately apparent in initial readings. Those repeated readings motivate me to approach God in different ways — asking for forgiveness, thanking Him for His many blessings, asking for His guidance, etc. I start to see current events through the lens of the Gospel and rosary of Jesus’ teachings.
What are you waiting for? The daily and Sunday Gospels are readily available for you to read anytime. I like to view them on the web page of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) but you can choose whatever location that suits you best. Even better, pick up a lector’s workbook and keep it somewhere visible like on your nightstand.