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.
I came across this article over at the National Catholic Register about how “real men pray.” It’s a commentary on Cardinal Burke’s comments that men have lost their sense of purpose within the Catholic Church. He points to the confusing and often conflicting messages presented by popular culture and the Church and how the Church is often silent addressing what it means to be a moral man.
I keyed in on this part of Cardinal Burke’s comments (I encourage you to read the full article at the National Catholic Register):
The crisis between man and woman has been made much worse by a complete collapse of catechesis in the Church. Young men grew up without proper instruction with regard to their faith and to the knowledge of their vocation. Young men were not being taught that they are made in the image of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These young men were not taught to know all those virtues that are necessary in order to be a man and to fulfill the particular gifts of being male.
Prayer isn’t just for little, old ladies
I found Cardinal Burke’s comments timely because I made my new year’s resolution to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which is going well; I’m on verse 167 of 2865). I want to be better catechized particularly in this world of “soft Catholicism.” I liken myself to a patient wanting the doctor to give me the hard truth about my condition and the prescription for leading a spiritually healthy life. And I’m not looking for what is easy, but what is best for my mind, body, and soul.
Going back to Cardinal Burke’s comment, why do we have such a collapse of catechesis in the Church? I find it interesting that when we learn math, we learn about rules and formulas. When we learn science, we learn about rules and formulas. Economics — rules and formulas. Engineering — yep, rules and formulas. Languages, again with the rules and formulas. But for some reason, many people shy away from educating about the rules and dogmas of the Catholic faith out of a fear that it might upset someone or it may not be politically correct.
This fear of Church dogma wasn’t always the case. My mom told me that growing up the Baltimore Catechism was basically her text book for religious education. But over the years we’ve infantilized religious education to simple platitudes like “God loves you” and “Jesus wants us to be nice to each other.” Yes, it’s good to learn about a loving and merciful God. But that’s the starting point. We can’t stop there. If we want deepen our faith and our relationship with God we need to deepen our understanding of what our faith is. Furthermore, we can’t ignore or disregard the truth we learn because we don’t like it or it’s hard to follow. That’s like saying you don’t believe in gravity or 1+1=3.
One of the goals of RosaryMeds is to motivate you to really take the next steps, whatever that may be, to increase your understanding and love of your faith in Jesus’ church. When you pray the rosary, ask God to show you what those next steps are. Maybe it’s to pray more earnestly. Maybe its to read the Bible or the Catechism. Maybe it’s to read more RosaryMeds articles (hint, hint). Whatever form it may take, try hard to move your understanding of the Catholic Faith forward. We have an infinitely complex God so trust me, there is always something new to learn.
Welcome to 2015! I’m really excited about my new year’s resolution. I know, I know. I previously wrote about how new year’s resolutions are bad because labelling them as a resolution almost guarantees that you won’t actually follow through. But this year, with the help of a little technology, I think I will be able to meet my goal — reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
But why? Isn’t it a bit dry and the spiritual equivalent of reading up on tax law? Or, isn’t the Catechism more like a reference book that you search through when you have a specific question and not something you read end to end? To answer that, we’ll need to learn a little literary history.
Let’s go to 19th century France. The man is Victor Hugo and the book is Les Misérables. This is a looooong book clocking in at nearly 1,500 pages for a standard sized paperback version. The reason why it’s so long is because Hugo went to great lengths to provide a historical context for the events in the book. He dedicates chapters describing the battle of Waterloo, the Parisian sewer system, life in a nunnery, Parisian street slang, 19th century manufacturing processes, etc. These aren’t little Wikipedia like descriptions either but are the size and scope of small books onto themselves. These tangents paint a richer world for the events of the book to take place in. The characters in Les Misérables don’t exist in a vacuum, but live in a bigger world that we can relate to or at least understand because Hugo provides seemingly endless background information.
Fast forward to the 20th century and look at J.R.R. Tolkien. You know his seminal works — The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. What you may not know is that there is a lot of auxiliary writings which describe Middle Earth, the land where the events of those books take place. Tolkien wrote extensively about the culture of hobbits, dwarfs, elves, etc. He wrote a book called The Silmarillion which describes the universe of Eä which contains Middle Earth as well as other lands. Like Victor Hugo, Tolkien wrote the background of the places and characters in his books to provide a much richer reading experience because the events happen within a known context. The Lord of the Rings isn’t a small book or movie because Middle Earth is not a small place. Elves, dwarves, hobbits, humans, and orcs all act the way they do in the books and movies because Tolkien gave them a detailed history. Without that history and culture being spelled out, I bet The Lord of the Rings would not have been the complex, layered, and rich book/movie it turned out to be.
By now it should become increasingly obvious why I want to read the CCC. I want to become more knowledgeable about the Catholic faith so that I can have a richer experience living that faith. When I pray the rosary or listen to a homily I want to have what I learned reading the CCC in the back of my mind to make new mental and spiritual connections. I hope that reading the CCC will generate a whole new level of intentions and meditations when I pray the rosary. I hope that the increased understanding of the Catholic faith will seep into my writings in my future books (fingers crossed) and on RosaryMeds.
Think of it like this. Your average Catholic who hasn’t read the CCC is like someone who has only seen the Les Misérables musical or The Lord of the Rings movies. They have a good understanding of the material and appreciate it but they don’t know the whole picture as envisioned by Hugo and Tolkien respectively. But the person who has read more church documents like the CCC is like the person who has read Les Misérables or The Silmarillion and understands the greater context and all the little details that are left out of the more popular works.
New year’s resolutions fail because many people only define a goal, not a process for achieving that goal. I’m a software engineer and I’m all about defining processes for achieving goals. So here’s how I will achieve my goal of reading the Catechism. Last year I finally bit the bullet and bought my first smartphone. It has opened up a whole new world of productivity, especially during my commute. I spend roughly six hours a week on the road. Thanks to an app called @Voice Aloud Reader I can turn any text into an audio book. Combined with my Catholic prayer app, Laudate, I can listen to the entire Catechism on my commutes. I know I won’t have Doctor of the Church level retention of the information, but I will pick up the major themes and a general understanding.
Here’s wishing you all the best of luck in this new year!
I wanted to write one more post before Christmas. I really thought I would be able to get something out last week but two small boys really just suck up all available time and energy. I don’t have a lot of time and I’m sure many of you are already in party mode. But I would appreciate it if you could just entertain one more rosary insight before diving into the egg nog.
Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherds, still influenced by St. Bridget (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The rosary mystery that relates to Christmas is an obvious one — The Third Joyful Mystery, The Nativity. I want to focus on a group of people in this mystery that I don’t think get a lot of mention in Christmas homilies — the shepherds. To recap from Luke’s Gospel:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.
Remember, being a shepherd nearly 2000 years ago wasn’t an easy job. A shepherd spent day and night taking care of sheep in all sorts of environments. You couldn’t just run off and leave the sheep unattended or else some wolves would have a very grand feast. While they worked in groups, I’m sure a few shepherds leaving created a huge burden on the others. So you have to picture the sense of awe they felt when they saw that great company of the heavenly host in the sky and how deeply the spirit moved them to go and seek out the baby Jesus. They risked their livelihood to catch a glimpse of Jesus, the newborn king. After all, I’m sure the “angel excuse” wasn’t going to hold up very well with their employers if the sheep were eaten by wolves. But they were filled with a sense that seeing Jesus was something unique and important. Their jobs, while important as well, could wait for a bit.
Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the shepherds (1644) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Let’s learn from the Gospel’s shepherds this Christmas. For just a few moments, whether it is a week, day, or just a few hours, cast aside your fears and worries in your life to just bask in Jesus’ presence. Just trust in the Lord that the world won’t come crashing down because you stopped and took a few minutes to pray. Like the shepherds, you don’t need to come bearing great gifts. You just need to give your time and attention and most importantly, show a little faith. Christmas is chaotic, I get that. It’s not always easy to escape our responsibilities of work and family. But I hope we can all just take a few moments to just be with Jesus in prayer and allow Him to remind us what’s truly important — God’s love and a sense of hope for a peace, both inner peace in our souls and an exterior peace with each other.
I have a two and a half year old toddler. Anyone who has raised kids that age knows that you have to watch them like a hawk. He will find a new and creative way to either hurt himself or destroy something the instant you turn your attention elsewhere. I’ve seen water cups poured on tables because he wanted to create a swimming pool for his toys. Crayons, pens, and markers rarely stay on paper. Sharp objects on kitchen tables that used to be out of reach are suddenly reachable. Kids just have the sixth sense of knowing when they aren’t being watched.
Why do I bring this up? Is it to vent about the challenges of raising kids? Okay, maybe that’s partially it. But this isn’t a blog about parenting. It’s a blog about faith and rosary prayer. And I see a lot of parallels between practicing the faith and raising a toddler. Chiefly, if you turn your attention away from your faith, even for a second, trouble will fill the gap. Like a parent who has to constantly watch a toddler, you have to be constantly aware of your faith and how God’s calls you to live so that you will avoid falling into sinful behavior. What that means is that you have to routinely pray the rosary so that it will serve as a small check up on the health of your soul.
The more you pray the rosary the more in touch with your faith you will be. Going back to the child analogy. Will a child that is checked on every few minutes get into less trouble than the one checked on every few hours? Probably. Similarly, the soul that is “checked on” more often will less likely fall into sinful behavior. In one of my original posts on the First Luminous Mystery I said how rosary prayer is a lot like brushing your teeth and going to the dentist. You need to brush your teeth regularly and see a dentist so that your teeth remain in the best health and problems can be corrected when they are still small. Similarly, you need good spiritual hygiene of routine prayer — daily prayer if not more often. That allows you to recognize and correct faults and weaknesses while they are small before they escalate into major problems.
The rosary — it’s your soul’s little dentist visit.
Another aspect to keeping a toddler out of trouble is actively engaging them. While sometimes I wish my son would entertain himself with his toys and all I need to do is occasionally correct him if he starts doing something wrong, that is not how raising a child works. Keeping my son out of trouble usually means interacting with him through playing, reading, singing, etc. Sitting down with my son with a bucket of Lego bricks has proved infinitely better at keeping him out of trouble than millions of passively said “no’s”, “don’t touch that”, “and take that out of your mouth.”
The rosary is also something that works best when you’re actively engaged praying it. When you break out of thinking of rosary prayer as a mechanical uttering of words you also forge a more meaningful relationship with God. Rosary prayer isn’t a passive activity, at least it’s not if you want to get something out of it. Like the toddler that needs your engagement more than he needs to hear your rules, the rosary requires active participation to be truly effective. It is your opportunity to really interact with God and lay out your petitions, sorrows, and thanksgivings. It’s not about fulfilling some todo item to make God happy but is your chance to actually learn God’s plan for you.
I understand that making time for rosary prayer is difficult. It’s probably even more difficult than interacting with a toddler. Last time I checked, a rosary doesn’t take a box of crackers out of the cupboard and empties it out on the kitchen floor when you don’t pray it. A rosary can be easily forgotten. After all, bills need to be paid. You need to go to work. You need to sleep. You need to clean. You need to keep your children from painting on the walls. I get it.
I learned in college that you always make time for the activities that are priorities. There are just some activities you cannot ignore because your health, finances, or relationships depend on you making time for them. My challenge to you is to elevate your spiritual well being as a priority in your life and make praying the rosary a routine. It’s Advent now which means it’s a new church year. Make rosary prayer your resolution.
There is a best selling book titled Heaven is for Real about a young child’s glimpse of Heaven. You may have heard of it since it was also made into a movie. But have you heard about the much darker prequel, Hell is for Real? Okay, it’s not really a prequel and it doesn’t go by that title. I’m talking about the first secret of Fatima when in 1917 Mary showed three Portuguese children a glimpse of Hell. Since November is dedicated to praying for souls, I want to focus on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory and how the Fatima Prayer in the rosary is a great tool for praying for souls in need.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo – The Madonna of Carmel and the Souls of the Purgatory – WGA22270 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
And now a flashback to my childhood. In my grade school I remember we had “rosary afternoons” in May where we broke up into small groups to pray the rosary. The groups were led by an eighth grader who explained how the rosary worked and led a group of seven other students, one from each grade 1st through 7th, through five decades. When I think back to those childhood rosary days I now recall one prayer being noticeably absent — the Fatima Prayer.
I think my early experience with the rosary was typical for a lot of kids. Someone thought it was best to shield us from the “scary prayer” that mentions the fires of Hell. I don’t believe this was done out of a disbelief of the reality of Hell, but more out of a concern of not opening that door of fear or questions from the inquisitive youth. I’m sure the school didn’t want to receive calls from angry parents about how their kid came home and said everyone is going to Hell or asked if Uncle Barney, who never went to church, was in Hell.
But the avoidance of talking about the afterlife, particularly Purgatory and Hell, didn’t end with the omission of the Fatima Prayer from my grade school’s rosary education. To this day, it’s a topic that most priests don’t touch with a ten foot pole. When was the last time you heard a homily about the eternal consequences of sin or the need to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Over the decades, talking about sin and its consequences was unofficially deemed offensive speech. A priest cannot teach about sinful behavior without being labeled intolerant, self righteous, and uncompassionate. That is truly unfortunate because pretending that sin and Hell don’t exist does not make them any less real. Instead of explaining these scary aspects of reality and providing people with the knowledge, prayers, and the will to confront them, we sweep them under the rug. Instead of urging people to pray and help those “souls in most need of Thy mercy” we, as a Church in general, let people just dive into the fire because we’re afraid of offending someone.
Praying the rosary is a great way of meditating on the afterlife and praying for souls. Because talking about sin and Hell may be a taboo topic we have to put extra emphasis on them in our rosary intentions. After you pray each decade, that Fatima Prayer is that little reminder of Heaven, Hell, and even Purgatory (more on this in a bit). It encompasses asking for the intercession of the saints in Heaven, praying for at risk souls on earth, and those souls in Purgatory. Unfortunately, I too often race through the Fatima prayer. I treat it more like a placeholder while I think about my intentions for the upcoming decade. But slow down because there’s some heavy stuff in this prayer.
“O my Jesus” — God sent his only son for our benefit. He wants us to have a personal relationship with him. You don’t say, “O Jesus.” That “my” is in there for a reason.
“Forgive us our sins” — We all sin and are in need of reconciliation. There is nothing wrong acknowledging that we aren’t perfect and we screw up at times. We are asking for Jesus’ mercy for all peoples’ sins, hence the word “our” and not “my.”
“Save us from the fires of Hell” — Again, we are asking Jesus for his mercy on all souls. The fact that this phrase comes after “forgive us our sins” highlights that connection between sin and Hell. We implicitly acknowledge that sin is the cause of going to Hell.
“Lead all souls to Heaven” — This is where we want to go! Everything we do in life should be aimed towards one day living in God’s glory in Heaven.
“Especially those in most need of Thy mercy” — There are many people on that edge of eternal damnation. But there is still hope for them. They need our prayers and the intercession of Mary, the saints, and the Holy Spirit.
Where does Purgatory factor into the Fatima Prayer? There is a bit of a mistranslation of this prayer from Portuguese into English according to Br. Alexis Bugnolo:
I would point out that this English translation is not exactly correct; because the Portuguese does not say “souls”, but “little souls”, a term of endearment among Portuguese Catholics for the souls in Purgatory, equivalent to our phrase “poor souls”. The the context of the phrase refers to the deliverance of all souls from purgatory into heaven; and thus never signified universal salvation.
Remember, souls in Purgatory rely on your prayers to get into Heaven. Imagine knowing that you are saved and you’re so close to entering God’s kingdom but there is nothing you can do unless people on earth pray for you. That frustration alone must be part of the purification process in Purgatory for your sins. But now you have a reason to remember those souls in Purgatory every time you pray the Fatima Prayer. Time to pray it forward because hopefully someday we all may be in a position where we will need those prayers.
As many of you know, I’m a software engineer. My career revolves around analyzing the business needs of my employer and designing and implementing a software solution. Although my job title has the word engineer in it and my degree is in a science, the software development world can be an undisciplined, unscientific mess. Someone who doesn’t understand software development might be a little uneasy with the number of bugs that are introduced in the process, the amount of code that gets thrown out or rewritten, and how different a final product will look from the initial concept or prototype. Personally, every good idea I have usually stems from five bad ones — some being immediately dismissed while others I worked on a bit before realizing they weren’t a good fit for what I was trying to accomplish.
I see a lot of parallels between my experience in writing software and the recent Synod on the Family. A lot of commentary and fuss has been made over the midterm report. It shows a process where it may appear bishops are make statements and decisions contrary to Church doctrine in topics like divorce and homosexuality. We have to remember that this report isn’t the finished product nor a definitive statement upholding or changing Church doctrine.
The synod is like a piece of code in progress. Sometimes I just have to write a few lines of code to steer my thinking in the right direction. Similarly, I think the bishops have to bring up topics and lines of thought, not with the intent of those thoughts becoming the final word. Rather, it steers the dialog in different directions to find the right path — the truth of Jesus Christ.
While I’m a little uneasy about the statements being reported, I’m also glad that they are at least being mentioned. It wouldn’t be much of a synod if the bishops sat down and just regurgitated Church teaching, patted each other on the back for their rote knowledge, and went home. Again, in the software world I would be highly skeptical of a code’s quality that was completed quickly with no revisions. How do we know that the developer took into account all the scenarios and details? Why didn’t he integrate any feedback from his colleagues? Similarly, the mentioning of ideas that run counter to the Church’s teachings shouldn’t be seen as a challenge to the doctrine but as part of the exploration of these broad and complex topics. I want my bishops to leave no stone unturned in their search for truth.
One of the great mysteries enshrined in the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church is that Christ speaks through the rather messy and unpredictable process of ecclesiastical argument. The Holy Spirit guides the process of course, but he doesn’t undermine or circumvent it. It is precisely in the long, laborious sifting of ideas across time and through disciplined conversation that the truth that God wants to communicate gradually emerges.
The interim report on the Synod represents a very early stage of the sausage-making process and, unsurprisingly, it isn’t pretty. Two more weeks of discussion will follow; then a full year during which the findings of the Synod will be further refined, argued about, and clarified; then the Ordinary Synod on the Family will take place (the one going on now is the Extraordinary Synod), and many more arguments and counter-arguments will be made; finally, some months, perhaps even a year or so, after that, the Pope will write a post-Synodal exhortation summing up the entire process and offering a definitive take on the matter. At that point, I would suggest, something resembling edible sausage will be available for our consumption; until then, we should all be patient and refrain from bloviating.
Now, I would also be naive to think that there aren’t some bishops guided more by politics than the Holy Spirit in this process. I think that’s part of the reason why this interim report was released to the public — so that some bishops could score some political points with the Church’s critics. It’s their way of getting some political cover by implying, “You see! I did try to represent your viewpoints but the magisterium didn’t listen.” Unfortunately, I think some bishops are aiming more to increase the Church’s likability by bending her teachings to the whims of society and not through explaining her truths.
I don’t think there will be a radical rewriting of Church doctrine when this is all over and many of the bishops know that. So those who may have ulterior motives other than fostering dialog may want their viewpoints made public so that they can become a talking point or be used in a counter argument in future debates. Unfortunately, our society (the media in particular) has an uncanny way of turning “this was mentioned in the synod” into “this is what the Catholic Church believes.” And over time, the context certain statements were made in will be completely lost and all you’re left with is a soundbite from Nancy Pelosi quoting the interim synod report and misrepresenting Church doctrine.
The media’s “goto” person for Catholic teaching.
Like St. Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary, we must show patience for this process. St. Simeon had faith that he would one day see God’s Chosen One. We too must have faith that the truth of Jesus Christ will not only reveal itself, but will burn more brightly when held up against weaker ideas. We pray for patience with the Church, both personally and for a patience from the greater society to not misrepresent the Church’s teachings. We also need to pray for the bishops and all those taking part in the synod that they let the Holy Spirit guide their thoughts and actions. And we must pray especially for those bishops who may treat their vocation as a political office rather than spiritual shepherds.
Want to know the secret to a long and healthy life? I’ll give you a clue, it doesn’t come from some pill derived from a Far Eastern plant root. It doesn’t come from a self-help book containing “ancient” wisdom kept secret by the Masons. It doesn’t come from going to the gym five days a week or sticking to a paleo diet. It comes from… people! And no, I’m not talking about Soylent Green. I’m talking about marriage, family, community, and prayer. The Catholic San Francisco ran this interesting little piece last week where they talk about how marriage and religiosity are important factors in living a long life.
“The health benefits of marriage are so strong that a married man with heart disease can be expected to live, on average, 1,400 days (nearly four years) longer than an unmarried man with a healthy heart,” said Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
“This longer life expectancy is even longer for a married man who has cancer or is 20 pounds overweight compared to his healthy but unmarried counterpart,” Haltzman added. “The advantages for women are similar.”
Couples with higher levels of religiosity “tend to enjoy greater marital satisfaction, fidelity and stability, with less likelihood of domestic violence,” according to a compilation of studies by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
Right now I’m taking this research on faith since I’m a father of two boys that are sending me on the express lane to gray hair. I’m not quite sure how being a human jungle gym and getting no sleep will exactly extend my life expectancy. Then again, maybe chasing after my toddler and rocking my infant to sleep does have a healthy workout aspect to it so maybe there is a grain of truth to the health benefits of married and family life.
These studies showing the countless benefits of marriage, family, and prayer make intuitive sense to me. When you feel like you are part of a community, whether it be the small family circle or a large parish, you belong to a group of people who mutually reinforce and support each other. In other words, you don’t face life’s struggles alone and you don’t don’t live solely for yourself and your desires. We need that occasional second opinion that pushes us to try harder or put the brakes on our impulses. Personally, I know that I act differently now that I’m a husband and a father then when I was single because I know there is a lot more depending on me to be my very best.
This is also why the rosary is such a powerful prayer for both your physical and spiritual health. When you pray the rosary and meditate on its mysteries, you hopefully arrive at an understanding that you are also part of a larger community — the community of Christ. You are connected to our Mother Mary, the saints, angels, and the departed in Heaven. You are also connected to all the other people united in prayer. I truly believe that the rosary helps you realize that there is so much more to your life than just your immediate needs and desires. You not only understand that there are others looking out for you, but you also realize that there are opportunities for you to help someone else.
For example, when I pray the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, Jesus taking his cross, my initial intentions revolve around asking the Lord for strength to do his will even when my crosses weigh me down. But then I remember that I have the ability to help others carry their crosses and lighten their burden. I ask God to give me an awareness of how I can help others in my life. My rosary prayer may start with asking God to help me but they often end with me thinking how I can help others. To put it another way, my rosary prayers usually start with an inward focus but end with me thinking outwardly about my role in the greater community of humanity. And when millions of people do the same in their prayers, we become a huge community of individuals helping each other and bringing out the very best in each other.
For those of you who visit RosaryMeds regularly, there is a link on the left-hand side you may have overlooked. The site is called “Come, Pray the Rosary” and is a 24/7 rosary prayer that you can join in at any time and also post intentions. When I first came across it, the site maybe had a dozen people praying together at any given time but now it always well over 100 (140 at the time of this writing). It really drives home that the rosary is a community prayer. Plus I love the almost hypnotic quality of the website’s intro music.