One of my favorite self improvement blogs is LifeHacker. For those who don’t know, LifeHacker has interesting tips and tricks in all areas of life whether it be career, digital, health, finances, play, or family. They posted a link to a podcast featuring General Stanley McChrystal and his philosophy for success. He said that you have to continuously raise your standards every day. The LifeHacker article states:
You can almost always find something you’re able to improve about your life or your work. The important thing is that concept of eschewing comfort. Success doesn’t consist in finding the right routine to stick with for your whole life. Success comes from changing that routine constantly until your life is better.
This piece of military wisdom applies to so many areas of life. Let’s focus on using it to achieve success with rosary prayer and meditation. In my rosary SEAL post I wrote about how we grow spiritually when we accept the discomforts of rosary prayer and push ourselves to block out easier, but less effective, alternatives. From my experiences with software development I learned that routines lead to optimization. In other words, the more we do the same action over and over again, the faster and more efficient we become at it. That’s great when you want to blast through mundane tasks at work but not so great when it comes to rosary meditation. Becoming comfortable with the rosary is what leads to meditation autopilot, distractions, and less effective prayer.
The bigger the challenge, the bigger the success
Rosary meditation is not about speed. It’s about fostering your friendship with Jesus Christ. Are your best experiences with your friends the times when you are distracted and race through interactions with them? Probably not. My most cherished memories in my friendships involved long and deep conversations where I was actively engaged. The same goes for the time we spend in prayer with our friend, Jesus Christ. Our friendship with Jesus isn’t something static, but one that we should always be improving. That means treating each rosary prayer as something new and distinct from the previous rosaries. Yes, the actual prayers may be the same, but the dialogue with Jesus should be something unique because the circumstances you’re prayer under will be unique.
Here is an excerpt from John’s Gospel that should sound familiar since we read it a few weeks ago on May 10th:
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
Always remember that Jesus considers us his friend. It’s important that friendship is never a one way street. Jesus has reached out to us but we need to reach out to him. And that means never taking the power of prayer for granted.
Rosary prayer: Quality time with our friend Jesus
The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary focuses on conversion and communicates a similar idea about never getting comfortable with a routine. What is conversion other than changing our routines until our life is better? Unfortunately, in our broken human state we never achieve a lasting success of living in God’s grace. It’s a process of falling to sin, receiving forgiveness, and striving to be better. No one on earth has ever obtained a lasting perfection in our human form and isn’t in need of some conversion (our Mother Mary excluded of course). When we meditate on this rosary mystery, let’s remember that there is always something more we can do to improve our friendship with Jesus whether it be praying longer, being more aware of the factors that lead us to sin, attending Adoration, receiving the sacraments more often, being more charitable, or just consciously centering more of our lives around Christ.
What are your comfort points with rosary prayer? What can you do to break through them?
The other day I took a short break at work and went for a walk to clear my head. It was a bright, sunny day so I took a path that followed a small inlet of water from the San Francisco Bay. While I usually listen to an audiobook on my walks (remember, I’m still trying to get through the entire Catechism this year) I discovered that I forgot my headphones. Instead I took my rosary out of my pocket and began to pray it.
As I was taking my prayer walk, I suddenly got a sinking feeling in my stomach. What would happen if someone saw me and was offended by my public display of religion? How would I respond if someone told me to put those beads away? As outrageous as that may sound, remember that I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was very possible to come across an atheist with the ACLU on speed dial in my neck of the woods.
“How dare you pray in public! What if a child saw you?”
I then got my wits together and thought of a more realistic scenario. What if someone saw me walking with my rosary and curiously asked what it was? What if someone asked me to describe rosary prayer or describe the mysteries I was meditating on? That got my mind racing on how I would explain the rosary to a casual passerby.
I rehearsed talking about how I meditate on not being so materialistic when I pray the First Glorious Mystery. I ran a through a small monologue in my head about living a clean life of good works when praying the Second Glorious Mystery. I pictured myself saying how I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me when I pray the Third Glorious Mystery. And so on…
And while I didn’t know it at the time, when constructing my defense for a possible confrontation I was in fact meditating and thinking about the themes and lessons of each rosary mystery. I wasn’t thinking about work. I wasn’t thinking about a movie, tv show, or news article. I wasn’t thinking about any of those topics that usually distract me and put me on prayer “autopilot.” Like a student furiously cramming for a test, I was focused of all the reasons I pray the rosary and what lessons it teaches me. In short, I was praying the rosary correctly.
I was never cornered by atheist. I didn’t have anyone come up and ask questions. I didn’t get any odd stares from people I passed. But by preparing for the worst I did experience one of my deeper, least interrupted rosary meditations.
Are you prepared to explain what you’re meditating on if someone asks? Suppose you had an apparition of the Virgin Mary while you were praying. Sound crazy? Remember, you don’t pray the rosary in a vacuum. Who do you think you’re asking to intercede for you when you pray the rosary? What if Mary vocally responded as she’s done to a select few throughout history. What if Our Lady first thanked you for praying the rosary and then quizzed you on what exactly you were praying for. Would you be ready to answer or scrambling because you zoned out?
Believe it or not, I do have other interests besides rosary prayer. I enjoy watching movies, reading Wired and Popular Science, and learning about the stock market and personal finance. And while every aspect of life does have some implicit connection to prayer, it brightens my day when I see someone write about the power of prayer and meditation in a non-religious blog. In this case, I follow a personal finance blog called The Simple Dollar. Trent Hamm wrote an interesting piece about the power of prayer and meditation when it comes to making financial decisions. He writes:
Meditation and focused prayer provides us with an opportunity to mentally focus on what we need to change in our lives. Regardless of whether we’re focused on financial success or any other aspect of our life, both prayer and meditation give us a chance to mentally focus on those things.
Well said Mr. Hamm. This is the idea I’ve always tried to get across in my RosaryMeds articles. The rosary gives us an opportunity to meditate and inspect how we live and treat others and focus on how we can do better. By meditating on the lives of Mary and Jesus in the rosary mysteries we see examples of perfection that we can strive to imitate. The more we pray the rosary, the more we focus on those images of perfection and the more they will influence us.
When I think about mental focus and change, the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary comes to mind. The full title of this mystery is The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion. I read so many rosary websites and guides that leave out the second part of the title about conversion. That is unfortunate because I like that direct call to action. God asks us to convert all our earthly ways into heavenly ways. He wants us to look at all the ways we separate ourselves from his grace and to make an effort to remove those barriers. But how can we lead a life of conversion if we don’t know what we need to convert? As The Simple Dollar article points out, meditation helps us mentally focus on what we need to change in our lives. Mary gave us the rosary for just that purpose — to focus on moving closer to her son, Jesus Christ.
The article ends with a nice prayer about finances and faith that I will leave you with:
I ask that you remove my worries, anxieties, and fears about money, and replace them with faith.
I ask you to help me understand my purpose in life and to act on that purpose with courage and strength. I know that prosperity will come, in part, by doing work I love. Please help me use my skills and knowledge to be of service in the world.
I ask you for the strength I need to make difficult financial choices, to change my daily money decisions, and to get rid of my debts and build for my future.
I ask you to help me release all negative thoughts about money, and know that prosperity is my true state.
I know and trust that my debts will be paid and money will flow into my life. I have only to look to nature to see proof of the abundance you provide.
I commit to being grateful for all that I now have in my life.
I started listening to The School of Greatness podcasts which focus on self improvement. In one episode, host Lewis Howes interviewed retired Navy SEAL, Eric Greitens. Greitens talked about resiliency and how to overcome monumental challenges. As an example, he used his experience of SEAL training‘s “Hell Week” which is the toughest week of the toughest military training program. Greitens said that the recruits who focused on the enormity of the challenges of Hell Week became overwhelmed and rang out (quit). Those who survived focused on accomplishing smaller goals whether it be doing one more push up, running one more mile, or making it one more hour. Greitens referred to this tactic as segmenting where you keep your focus on a small task you can accomplish rather than focusing and becoming overwhelmed by the big picture.
I really like the idea of segmenting especially when it comes to rosary prayer. I think too often people avoid praying the rosary because praying five decades seems like a large task that will require too much time and energy. How many times have you thought:
“I don’t have 20 minutes for prayer!”
“I’m just not in the right mood for prayer”
“I’ll pray later after I…”
“I don’t know how to pray the rosary correctly.”
“I’ll just pray something easier.”
Excuses like those definitely swirl in my mind whenever I have a few minutes and I haven’t prayed my daily rosary yet. And it’s easy to let those thoughts consume me and prevent me from praying the rosary. But if I commit to praying just one decade I find that I will actually pray another, then three, four, and eventually an entire set of mysteries. Instead of telling myself that I need to pray a whole set of rosary mysteries, I tell myself I’m going to pray a few Hail Marys. That segmenting mindset breaks that initial set of excuses and in a way allows the Holy Spirit room to work and help me pray the entire rosary.
Jesus teaches us a lot about segmenting in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary. When he took up the cross, he had a long road to walk and fell multiple times. In order to die so that he could rise again and redeem us all, he had to walk step by painful step under the cross. As the First Sorrowful Mystery shows us, Jesus was scared of his coming crucifixion. But he didn’t let that fear overwhelm him and prevent him from doing God’s will. He endured the abuse one step at a time.
Jesus showed us that it’s okay to stumble and fall as he did three times under the cross. But each time Jesus got back up and put one foot in front of the other. Through his painful example, Jesus shows us how to approach life’s challenges. While they can appear overwhelming when thought about in their entirety, we can endure by segmenting our fears, worries, and anxiety of the big picture into smaller, more achievable chunks. Instead of giving up in despair, we just need to tell ourselves to first stand up, and then take one step, and another, and another just as Jesus did under the cross.
Jesus carrying cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Segmenting has positive results beyond rosary prayer and spirituality. It’s a lifestyle choice. Let’s face it, life can be overwhelming when you think about everything you need to do. I constantly face pressures from large work projects and family life. I’m often alone taking care of my two boys. Initially, the prospect of feeding, changing, clothing, and playing with them is enough to turn my hair gray. I can work myself up into a stressed state if I start thinking about all the things that could go wrong (or at least become difficult). But when I focus on making it to lunch, or a nap, or the next bottle then before I know it I’ve managed to make it through the entire day. It really all comes down to how we choose to perceive our world. We can work ourselves up and turn any project or task into a monumental and unbeatable challenge. Or we can choose to just tackle it in small chunks. I’ve found that regular rosary prayer really helps keep all of life’s challenges in perspective and prevents me from stirring myself up to the point where I feel overwhelmed.
Here’s a final thought coming from St. Francis (I think). When someone asked him how to best work towards peace, St. Francis told him that closing the door softly would be a great start. I don’t know if loud, slamming doors was an issue for St. Francis, but it’s a great lesson — if you want to accomplish large goals, start with small acts.
April 16 2015 | catholic | Comments Off on Stop Rosary Prayer Procrastination Through Segmenting
Easter Sunday has come and gone which means life can get back to normal right? No more Lenten sacrifices so the donuts, chocolate, and beers can come out of the hiding spots. No more meatless Fridays. No more long Gospel readings. No more stations of the cross, rosaries, and being hounded to go to Confession. Time to shelve that piety until Advent yes?
Don’t start making plans for that vice-filled weekend quite yet. Lent was a time of preparation. But preparation for what? What happened on Easter Sunday that required 40 days of training? Surely Lent wasn’t about fine tuning your egg finding abilities or expanding your sugar tolerance. In terms of process, the Easter Mass wasn’t any different than other Sunday Masses. There really wasn’t anything different on Easter Sunday than any other Sunday. What was all the preparation for?
Technically, Easter isn’t a day but a whole season. It lasts 50 days starting with Easter Sunday and ending at Pentecost. Did we spend 40 days of Lent preparing for 50 days of Easter? Do we just have to practice our faith extra hard for three months and then we don’t have to think about it until Christmas? Of course not. In fact, there is no end date or time limit to what we profess during Easter.
When we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, we acknowledge the truth of his ministry. Jesus said that he would die and rise again and we celebrate the reality of that claim on Easter. But it’s not just about celebrating that single promise, but all of his promises. Easter is a celebration of the entire Gospel where we rejoice in all the promises and teachings Jesus gave us. If Jesus was right about the outlandish claim of raising from the dead then he was right about everything else he preached. And we celebrate and give honor to Jesus’ resurrection by promising to go out and live according to his teachings. Jesus asked us to go out and love our neighbors and our enemies. He asked us to show compassion to the suffering and less fortunate. He asked us to forgive those who wronged us. He asked us to turn away from sin. He promised eternal joy in Heaven. He fulfilled that promise on Easter by rising from the dead and opening those gates for all of us.
Jesus Resurrection 1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It’s spring so I’m going to use a baseball analogy. Think of Lent as the pre-season. We exercise and got into spiritual shape through fasting and prayer. It was a time where we worked extra hard to shed those bad habits that crept in over the past year. But if Lent is pre-season, Easter Sunday is opening day. Yes, it’s a grand event filled with joy, hope, and optimism. But it’s one day of many. And it is one Easter season of many. Following Jesus’ teachings doesn’t end on Easter Sunday any more than the baseball season ends after the first game. Instead, it is a time of hope and renewal as we look towards living out the Gospel in its entirety for the rest of our lives.
Easter Sunday has come and gone. The candy will disappear over the next few days. The pastel decorations and colorful eggs will be takn down. But the celebration continues and requires your active participation. Continue praying the rosary. Continue attending Mass. Continue fasting (maybe after indulging a little on the things you gave up during Lent). When you meditate on the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary, picture Jesus opening the gates of Heaven in his resurrection. He showed us that there is so much more to our lives than just what we experience on earth. We are eternal beings with souls destined for Heaven if we choose. Our praying, fasting, penance, and charity doesn’t end on Easter. It ends when the Lord welcomes us into his kingdom that he made available to us through his resurrection. Keep your rosaries close and God even closer!
In my last post I talked about how Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco was battling opponents over his additions to the high school teachers’ hand book about leading a Catholic example while on the job. He wrote a fantastic clarification about why he added the new clauses and what he hopes to accomplish. You can read the full letter at Catholic Minority Report. I know that for many of you who don’t live in the archdiocese of San Francisco, or even the USA, the details of this battle may not hold much interest. But like many things in life, this controversy does tie back to the rosary (and hence the RosaryMeds website) and provides some thoughts for meditation. Let’s take a look at the Joyful Mysteries.
I said in my previous post that teaching at a Catholic school is as much of a vocation as it is a career. I do think God calls people to use their talents specifically at a Catholic school instead of a secular or public school. The First Joyful Mystery is all about vocations and reflecting on how God calls us to follow the path He sets before us. We may have our doubts about God’s plan, similar to Mary questioning the angel Gabriel about how she could become the mother of God since she was an unwed virgin. But like Mary, when we put our faith in God’s plan for us, no matter how outrageous it may seem, He will bestow upon us the graces to triumph. We pray that we all reflect on our vocation and do what God asks of us even if we have our doubts.
To me, the Visitation is primarily about ministry. I’ve said in many past articles how Mary had every right to feel like she was a queen to be pampered and honored because she was to become the Mother of God. But instead she headed off to the countryside proclaiming how she is the handmaiden of the Lord. Her initial instinct was to go out proclaiming the glory of God when bestowed with God’s grace. Similarly, Catholic schools are a ministry as well. They are a place where young minds come to learn, not just reading, science, and mathematics, but also about what it means to be Catholic. We pray that we remember to show what the Catholic faith professes through our words and actions in a direct, unambiguous way.
The birth of Jesus revolves around the theme of humility. God humbled himself by not only taking shape in the imperfect human form, but also as a lowly peasant. And yet, through this unexpected person came God’s perfect revelation as taught by Jesus. I think the archbishop is asking teachers and also the entire Catholic community in the archdiocese to show a lot of humility for the Church’s teachings as revealed by Jesus Christ and handed down over the years by the Magisterium. It is difficult to accept and promote teachings that you may personally disagree with or are contrary to societal norms. I’m not just talking about high school teachers either. We all probably have a hard time accepting some of the Church’s teachings. When we pray this mystery of the rosary, we should ask God for the humility to accept His perfect teachings although we may have an imperfect understanding of them.
Jesus’ presentation in the temple focuses on adherence and obedience to the law. Mary and Joseph waited the prescribed forty days before taking Jesus to the temple. They also offered a sacrifice of turtledoves as was the custom. Later, Jesus insists that John baptizes him although Jesus needed no purification. When I think about many of the objections over the additions to the faculty handbook, I see an absence of the respect of an ancient institution. The Church hasn’t been secretive about her teachings over the last few millennia nor has it dramatically changed them. And yet so many people complain about the archbishop’s request to honor the sacred traditions of the Catholic Church in a Catholic school.
When we pray this mystery, we should remember that the Church is an institution that teaches what it teaches for a reason. Church Scholars have pondered and written brilliant defenses for the Church’s teachings and its rituals over the years. These “rules” and doctrine of the Church are not arbitrary but are insights into the natural law imprinted on our hearts. By following those rituals and taking them seriously we follow in Jesus’ footsteps when he, who is the Law, also respected the Law.
When I think about Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the temple I recall Jesus’ words about needing to be in his father’s house. What is amazing to me was Mary’s reaction of not understanding what Jesus meant. What!?? An angel came to Mary and told her she would be the Virgin Mother of God! Angels proclaimed his birth. Wise men followed a star and paid homage to him. What part of Jesus being special does Mary not yet understand?
This painting is on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) in Vienna, Austria (site). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I think about those protesting the archbishop’s words I also wonder what part of teaching Catholicism at a Catholic school are they not understanding? Through all the prayers, Masses, retreats, and religion classes, how are the archbishop’s words, which are essentially the Apostles’ Creed, something new and shocking?
Like the other mysteries, I pray this one for an understanding and acceptance of the Church’s teachings. I also pray that I see those teachings even in the most unlikely of places. The scholars were amazed by the knowledge of Jesus Christ as a young boy. It goes to show that God tries to teach us in many different ways. We should look for God’s Truth not just in the readings on Sunday, but everywhere around us. Even a letter of clarification from the archbishop may hold wisdom and offer new insights.
Huzzah to San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone! For those of you who don’t live in the California Bay Area, the Archbishop has come under attack for clarifying specific teachings of the Catholic faith that high school faculty in the archdiocese must not publicly confuse or contradict. You can read the full text of what will be included in the teachers’ handbook. However, you might as well recite the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments because that’s basically what the archbishop is asking teachers to uphold in Catholic high schools.
This additional wording to the faculty handbook has caused quite a stir. Archbishop Cordileone was already under attack from various groups because of his vocal stance on traditional marriage in the very liberal Bay Area. Now many are upset because of his request that high school teachers not confuse or dilute the teachings of the Catholic Church in Catholic schools. He’s not asking teachers to be saints or even practicing Catholics, but merely keep in mind who their employer is and what is expected of them in the workplace. But in today’s world, asking Catholic schools to espouse Catholic teachings is considered controversial.
Let’s back up and look at other work environments. Suppose I worked at a factory that made crackers. I would have to follow the guidelines outlined by my employer and not do things that harm my company or consumers. I couldn’t modify the cracker recipe to my liking. I couldn’t tamper with the machinery. I couldn’t sabotage or undermine the company because I personally don’t like the crackers being made or I prefer a different company’s crackers. I would be fired for such things. Most of us would be fired if our employers caught us saying anything nasty about them on social networks.
Now look at Catholic schools. What is their product? I would say it’s a Catholic education. So employees (the teachers) have a duty to produce the best possible product for their employer. Teaching personal opinions that are contrary to the Church’s teachings or watering them down sabotages that product and undermines the employer. In other professions, such behavior would land you a pink slip.
I can sympathize on how difficult it must feel to work for an employer you may personally disagree with. Or it may be tough to accept rules that have always been in place but never really clarified or enforced. But no lay person has ever been forced to work at a Catholic school. Working at a Catholic school truly is a vocation because teachers generally make less money and benefits than their public school counterparts. And some people, who may be great teachers, just won’t flourish and be happy working under a Catholic employer. Like with any form of employment, you have to ask yourself if it’s truly an environment you want to work in or if there is something else that would be a better fit.
I completely understand what Archbishop Cordileone wants to avoid. I went to a Catholic high school with a very confusing Catholic identity. It was a great school and didn’t do anything in open defiance to Catholic teaching. But the focus on a truly Catholic education was missing. We had a one priest and one nun so there wasn’t an overt Catholic presence on campus. Furthermore, many masses on holy days of obligation were optional and held in the morning before classes started. Good luck getting a teenager to school on time, let alone an hour early. The masses that were held with the full student body were more like mandatory choir concerts as no one would be actively participating except those singing. High school students are just at that age where expressing faith isn’t very cool and doing so makes you about as popular as the student who sits in the front row of the class, raises his hand for all the questions, and gets A’s on all the tests.
I really wish there was a strong statement like the one delivered by the archbishop when I was in high school. I think a lot of students would have benefited from going to a Catholic school rather than a secular school (in practice) that had mandatory religion classes. Since espousing the Catholic faith wasn’t a priority at my high school I learned that it wasn’t something I should make as a priority in my life. I basically bought into the idea that faith was something practiced in a church on Sundays and shouldn’t be made public out of the fear of offending someone. It took me a long time to realize the joy and freedom that comes with actively participating and celebrating the faith because of my experience attending a high school with a muddled Catholic identity.
I was in high school before the internet took off and no one had ever said the words social network. Now we live in a world where there is a constant drumbeat of ideas that run counter to the Catholic Church’s. I applaud Archbishop Cordileone for not allowing the Church’s core teachings to be drowned out by popular culture. If the world is screaming and attacking the Church, the Church has every right, even duty, to shout back.
Do you stand with Archbishop Cordileone? Take 30 seconds to sign this petition.
My wife turned to me the other day and said, “I really don’t feel like it’s Lent right now.” I replied that I felt the same way. As parents, every day of our lives feels a bit “Lentish.” We continuously sacrifice our time, money, sleep, and freedom to raise our boys the best we can. For 365 days a year parents have to sacrifice those little luxuries that others just put off for 40 days.
But before I give myself a Purple Heart for the sacrifices I’ve made in the parenting line of duty, I have to recall the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus Carrying the Cross. I don’t think anyone would disagree that Jesus endured and sacrificed a lot during His ministry and particularly during His Passion. No one would have been too critical of Jesus if He never got up from one of His falls under the weight of the cross. After all, He was in a human body that could only take so much punishment. And yet, He dug down deep, got up, and kept moving knowing that His earthly life was only going to get worse. Why? Because His love of God and doing His Father’s will outweighed all the pain and suffering.
Icon of Jesus being led to Golgotha, 16th century, Theophanes the Cretan (Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We should follow Jesus’ example in His Passion and dig down deep and find that extra spiritual energy during Lent. It’s not like we have a sacrificial quota and those who make sacrifices all year are exempt or can take it easy during Lent. It’s actually just the opposite. God calls the spiritually fit and conditioned to push themselves even further. Jesus was the most spiritually fit person to walk the earth and He pushed Himself through the Passion and ultimately Crucifixion. God asked that of His son so surely we can do whatever small things God asks of us this Lent.
Even if you pray, fast, and live a Catholic life all year around, Lent is the time to go that extra mile. Like Jesus getting up after a fall and carrying His cross, we can all do a little more to better connect with a God who loves us and we should love in return. It doesn’t matter whether practicing your faith begins and ends one hour every Sunday or if you are Pope Francis, there is always a little something more you can do during Lent that you don’t do other times of the year.
To help, I found this article on Catholic Exchange about making the most of Lent. It’s still early in the Lenten season so if you’re off to a slow start (I’ve accidentally forgot that I gave up snacking twice already), give this a read and hopefully it will jumpstart your Lent.
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.
In business there is a saying — work the job you want, not the job you have. In other words, if you want to receive a promotion or have greater responsibilities at work, then take the initiative to display your skills now in your current role. Otherwise, you’ll always stay where you are because no one will see that you have the abilities or desire for anything greater.
A businessman’s silhouette. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I think Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer is the spiritual equivalent of that business philosophy. Act like you’re already one of the saints at peace in God’s Kingdom. After all, Heaven is our ultimate goal (or at least it should be) where we will realize how inconsequential and petty many of our problems really are. Why focus so much time and energy on the problems of this life? This life is temporary and fleeting and is not where God calls us. God calls us to look past our earthly selves and look towards raising to new life with Him in Heaven. If you want your soul to live in Heaven, then act heavenly while on earth.
This prayer’s message is echoed in the First Glorious Mystery, Jesus’ Resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead He showed us that our earthly death is not the end, but only a transition. In His resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of Heaven and provided a place for us. Our souls are not temporary and bound only to this life but will live on for eternity. But how do we want to live that eternity? In the grace and joy of Heaven or in the despair and anguish of Hell? When we pray this rosary mystery, we should meditate and examine how much we are truly living for the place in Heaven Jesus prepared for us in His resurrection.
English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer also recalls themes from the Third Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion. She talks about how our journey into God’s grace is achieved “each minute.” In other words, grace is achieved in small steps, not in one fell swoop. It’s not like we fall asleep one night wallowing in sin and wake up the next day a saint. Conversion is a process made up of a lifetime of small steps into God’s grace. We should take that to heart when we pray this mystery because it can be so easy to become discouraged when it seems like no matter how hard we try we don’t find that peace we so desperately crave. Remember, Jesus didn’t find peace here on earth either. True peace is found only in Heaven. And you find Heaven only when you convert your earthly ways into heavenly ones.
If you want peace and you want Heaven, work towards it now. Pray, confess, fast, receive the sacraments, and learn and follow Jesus’ teachings. You don’t have to be officially recognized a saint to act like one.
2015 has started out rough for me. I have a car that is failing its smog check (okay, that’s trivial but still annoying). Our old water heater broke and flooded the walls, insulation, and floors of the surrounding rooms. I am going through my annual January cold (seriously, I think the cold virus is pro-choice because it hits me every year around the Walk for Life). And my parent company announced that they are shutting down my office as part of a downsizing effort. That’s just my immediate family’s issues on top of the usual difficulties of raising children. I then have to pile on the challenges various members of my extended family face as well. And yet, while I would have every reason to freak out, I’m strangely at calm with my situation right now. Why?
I think a lot of my calm and acceptance of my situation comes from me praying the rosary regularly. I’m not saying this to brag or to somehow come across as being holier than others. I’m saying this as a testament to the power of prayer. You really have to think of routine prayer as building a spiritual “rainy day” fund. Financial experts are always saying that you should save money in an emergency fund for unexpected expenses. So prayer is the emergency fund for your soul.
I know many of us turn to prayer mostly when times get tough. But that is like only starting to save money after the car broke down or the floors are already flooded. Not having reserves makes a difficult situation even harder. So if you don’t have those spiritual reserves to dip in to, turning to prayer for the first time in an emergency almost adds to the burden instead of relieves it.
First there’s the logistical hurdles. Prayer is frustrating when you haven’t practiced it because it will be hard to get into that state of mind where you are calm and relaxed enough to have a truly open heart to the Holy Spirit. You’ll be fumbling over words and thoughts instead of getting into the zone and being receptive to how God is leading you. Second, spirituality accumulates like water in a well — the more you pray the deeper that well becomes. Sometimes you really just need that large gulp of grace to get you through a difficult situation. But if you haven’t prayed regularly, you are dipping into a shallow spiritual well that won’t give you the grace you need.
It’s never too late to start building your spiritual emergency fund. All it takes is five free minutes and a rosary (or your fingers if you don’t have a rosary). It starts with a single Our Father or Hail Mary or just a free form meditation. In finance, there is the idea of compounding interest and exponential returns. You can start with a very small amount of money and over time it can grow to a large amount through compounding. The same goes with prayer. Building your spiritual emergency fund can start with a small amount of prayer but if you regularly invest some time here and there, those small prayer moments start to add up to one large pool of grace.
This leads me to the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the rosary, Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven. She’s the one that compounds our prayers into something more substantial. There is a reason why Mary is known as the Mediatrix of Grace. She’s takes our prayers and intentions and places them before her son, Jesus Christ, after she’s cleaned them up and clarified them. Remember, Mary has a particularly interesting role as being both human like us and going through the human experience but also being singled out as a purified vessel for the Son of God. So it makes sense that she has the unique role in Heaven of hearing our intentions and, in a way, translating them and amplifying them to God. Like a good mother, she understands all our little faults of being human. It doesn’t matter how ineloquent or small your request is, Mary Queen of Heaven will act as your intermediary, your advocate, and your broker in Heaven.
Crowning of the Virgin by Rubens, early 17th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Again, no matter how small your spiritual emergency fund may be, start building it up with a prayer here and a prayer there. When you pray the rosary, don’t think of it as a daunting task of 53 Hail Marys, 6 Our Fathers, and a several other prayers. Just focus on one prayer at a time for however much time you have. Mary and the Holy Spirit will take it from there. And over time, you will have that deep well of faith to dip into when times get tough or to give to others who need it in their time of need.