Abstaining from Communion: How the Rosary Teaches Humility

I really wanted to get this out Monday night but at least I’m publishing an article within the same week of the Gospel passage I’m referencing.  This is from Tuesday’s Gospel:

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

I’m going to tie this reading to the concept of humility which is one of the themes of the Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist. I think it is important to realize that when you receive the Eucharist, you are encountering Jesus as if he was present in human form. This is not a gift to be received lightly and yet so many of us (myself included) often receive this gift on auto-pilot without the sincere awe, thought, and gratitude Jesus deserves.

3rd quarter of 16th century
3rd quarter of 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I once heard a priest on EWTN radio remark on how short the lines to Confession are on Saturday and how long they are for Communion on Sunday. We either live in an age of saints or many of us are not showing the humility to abstain from receiving the Eucharist when we are not in a worthy state.  We have to remember that receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is not some sort given when you go to Mass but is something that you should put some thought into on whether to receive Him or not.

For those who need a refresher on the requirements to receive Communion, EWTN summarizes the Catechism nicely:

The prerequisites for the reception of Holy Communion are 1) being in the state of grace, 2) having fasted for one hour (for the sick 15 minutes if possible, no fast if fasting is not possible), and 3) devotion and attention.

I think a lot of people feel obliged to get into the Communion line because they feel like people will judge them and assume they did something horrible to fall out of a state of grace.  But that is only one condition for not receiving Communion.  You could just as easily abstain from Communion for non-grave reasons like not fasting or because you came late to Mass and just do not feel like you are in that spiritual zone.  But here’s the point many people miss when they feel like everyone will assume the worst for not receiving Communion.  NO ONE CARES!  I think the number of people that are observing who is not receiving Communion is so incredibly small.  And are they people who you even care what they think about you?  Is it really worth offending God to please a handful of Communion ombudsmen?

I suggest praying the Fifth Luminous Mystery during the presentation of the gifts and really examine your conscience about receiving Communion.  Really, it is okay to occasionally abstain as long as you also make an effort to correct the underlying reasons why you need to abstain from Communion in a timely manner.  Go to Confession, remember to fast, etc.  In short, be humble enough to know when you are not worthy to receive the Eucharist and motivated enough to do everything in your power to return to a state of grace.

Connecting back to the Gospel reading, what is one trait many young children have?  Children are genuine.  They aren’t self-conscious or fake.  They do not have this need to keep up a certain facade to please others.  I’m always amazed how unfiltered small children can be at times.  And maybe that’s what Jesus asks of us adults; to tear down those walls of pride or vanity and do what is right regardless of how others may perceive it.  Another way to think about it is that God is our Father and we are His children.  He sets the rules and expectations and He does it for very good reasons.  And while we may not always like or agree with them, maybe like a child, we need to swallow our pride, accept God’s teachings, and have faith that what He asks is for our ultimate benefit.

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Waiting for the Treasure: How the Rosary Teaches Patience

I really wish I had the time to write a rosary reflection every day based on that day’s Gospel passage.  But given that I’m only one person with a family and full-time job, I guess that will just need to wait another 30 years for my retirement.  But I’ll consider myself successful if I can tie at least one Gospel to the rosary each week.

Let’s look at the Gospel from 7/27/16:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

The theology 101 analysis of this reading is straight forward.  Think of the treasure as God’s grace or Heaven.  Those who understand its value will be willing to give away all their earthly possessions to possess it.  Taking their chances that they will have enough money to buy the field or that the field is still available is comparable to our faith in the joys that await us in Heaven.  We do not have any observable proof of the greatness of Heaven, but our faith tells us that it is something worth forsaking all our worldly comforts to obtain.

The phrase that popped out at me was the person selling all that he has to buy the field containing the treasure.  Why didn’t this person just pocket the treasure and go on his merry way?  That way, he would not have to go through the trouble of selling his possessions and buying the field which would cut into his overall profit from the treasure.  Even when he does go through the effort of buying the field, does it seem dishonest to withhold from the owner that there is something of extreme value on his land?

Going through the exercise of selling what you have and buying the land demonstrates that effort is needed on your part to obtain what is valuable.  Just taking the treasure without working for it implies a sense of entitlement; that God owes us his love.  Or, it leads us to believe we are entitled to the glory of Heaven now, in this life.  But Jesus tells us no, you have to be patient and work on your relationship with God and your reward will be found in Heaven.  That treasure must remain buried in this life because we do not yet have the right or the ability to fully possess it.

Saint Matthew’s gospel reading reminds me of the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Presentation in the Temple.  I think about Saint Simeon who met the infant Jesus after what I assume was years of waiting.  Although God promised Saint Simeon a great gift of seeing the Savior before dying, it was still something he could not possess immediately and had to show patience.  He knew God was going to fulfill that promise and he could have done anything with his life.  But the fact that Saint Simeon was in the temple on the day of Jesus’ presentation implies that he was probably a regular worshiper and spend a lot of time in prayer.

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now connect the dots between Saint Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary and Matthew’s gospel.  While we have the promise of God’s grace, we have to put ourselves in the right frame of mind and spirit to fully receive it.  I imagine that Saint Simeon wanted to accept God’s gift in the fullest manner possible and worked hard living righteously.  Otherwise, I could envision him having regrets if he was to receive Jesus in an unworthy state.  The same goes for us receiving the treasure that God freely offers us — the ability to spend eternity with him in Heaven.

Are we putting in the effort to fully receive that gift by living a spiritual and righteous life and avoiding sin?  Or do we pass up that treasure in the field because we are still uncertain it’s worth the effort to obtain it?  Or do we feel bitter and resentful because we cannot have it now?  The next time you pray the rosary and meditate on the Gospel, ask God for the patience and perseverance to live for his Kingdom and the understanding that it is not something we can fully grasp in this life.

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Creating a Rosary Prayer Plan

As a supervisor managing a software engineering team, schedules are my life.  If a meeting or a task is not scheduled, it does not really exist.  I’ve learned, sometimes painfully, that thinking, “I don’t need to write that down; of course I’ll remember it” is a recipe for dropping tasks and missing meetings.

The same idea of scheduling that applies to work can also apply to rosary prayer.  If praying the rosary is not part of your daily routine it will very often be skipped.  Even when you say, “it’s important, I’ll find the time,” without a clear plan you’ll just fill the time with any number of other important tasks.

I’m not saying that you need to have a block of time listed on your calendar and alarms on your smartphone for rosary prayer time.  Although, if that level of specificity works for you then, by all means, use it.  But you do need to have some plan for integrating the rosary in your daily routine.  It may be waking up earlier, replacing TV/internet/Pokemon Go time with it, or praying it on your commute.

Time for prayer!

My daily rosary praying routine looks something like this. I pray the initial prayers (Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, three Hail Marys, and a Glory Be) before I leave the house for work in the morning.  I try to pray two decades on my morning commute.  If I go to the gym, I’ll pray another decade on my walk over and then on my walk back.  I’ll complete the remaining decades and closing prayers on my commute home from work. What I’ve done is create rosary prayer insertion points throughout my day.  This creates some flexibility in my schedule where if I cannot pray the rosary at a specific time I know there will be other opportunities throughout the day.

If you want to pray the rosary regularly but are having a hard time finding the time, start to identify insertion points in your daily routine to pray a decade or two.  Create as many opportunities as possible so that if you miss one you will still have more than enough time slots to make it up.  If you a struggling praying the rosary and do not have a plan for it, try making one today.  As I learned in software engineering, if it’s important enough to do then it’s important enough to plan.

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Would You Pray for a Million Dollars? The Value of the Rosary Prayer

On July 6, 2016, the St. Thomas More Society of Orange County, CA invited me to speak at their monthly meeting. It is an organization dedicated to strengthening the faith of Catholic lawyers. I naturally talked about the importance and benefits of daily rosary prayer by walking them through Mary’s 15 rosary promises as well as providing hints and tips that have helped me make the most of rosary prayer.

I’ve published a video recording of my presentation for you to watch when convenient.  I know I’m violating some sort of universal law of the internet by publishing a video that is longer than three minutes but I do encourage you to watch the entire presentation even if you have to break it up into multiple viewings.  I think it ties together a lot of the themes I’ve been trying to communicate on RosaryMeds over the last few years.  Also, for those of you who live in California (especially the Bay Area), please get in touch with me about speaking at your school, parish, or organization if you like what you see.  Or if you have connections at EWTN or Immaculate Heart Radio, consider this my demo reel.

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I’m Back!

Wow, it’s embarrassing to see that I published my last article over a month ago. How time flies right? I’ve been busy with a family vacation and preparing and delivering a presentation on the importance of rosary prayer. But I’m back now. After a little editing, a video of my presentation will be available online soon. Working on that presentation also gave me some great ideas for future articles so hopefully, I will end the summer strong.

English: A sunny August day at the beach at Jo...
English: A sunny August day at the beach at Joss Bay, a rural beach not far from Broadstairs in Kent, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope your summers are going well. Remember to pack that rosary wherever your summer adventures may take you. There’s no such thing as a summer vacation from prayer and living a holy life.

Pope Pius XII: Hitler’s Pope Debunked

Pope Pius XII is often regarded as “Hitler’s pope” because of his silence on the autocracies committed by the Nazis in WWII, particularly the Holocaust. However, the book Church of Spies presents a different side of the story where the Vatican’s silence was not born out of indifference or antisemitism, but one of strategy. In fact, letters and other documents cited in the book reveal that the Catholic Church was working covertly to protect not only Jewish people but anyone who found themselves in the cross-hairs of the Nazis.

To understand Pope Pius’ situation, you have to think like someone living in Hitler’s occupied Europe, not someone looking at the events 60 years after the fact. Imagine living in a world where international law was virtually non-existent and one of the world’s most powerful armies was controlled by a mad man.  Hitler needed very little motivation to destroy any institution that even hinted at challenging him. Would you, as the head of the Catholic Church, deliberately put all Catholics living in Germany and occupied Europe under the scrutiny of the Gestapo by delivering grand speeches denouncing the Nazis? Pius understood that the Church could best help people everywhere through covert action, not blustery speeches.

And so Church of Spies talks about the Church’s role mostly from the point of view of individuals within Germany — priests and lay people alike. It follows the Church’s role in coordinating some of the famous attempts to assassinate Hitler such as Operation Valkyrie. Yes, you heard correctly. The Vatican was aware and helped orchestrate some of the attempts to assassinate Hitler and broker a peaceful transition of power in Germany. The fact that Pope Pius’ involvement in subverting the Nazi regime was not well known and he is known more as a Nazi appeaser goes to show just how well the Vatican spy network was able to keep its cover in a time of intense scrutiny where anyone could be hauled away, tortured, and killed for the slightest hint of plotting against the Nazis.

As much as we love the idea of heroes publicly denouncing and actively fighting the bad guys, Church of Spies shows a Church that needed to be much more nuanced in an atmosphere of utter chaos. Remember, because the Catholic Church had dioceses throughout the world including within Nazi-controlled areas, it was best positioned to act as a spy network during WWII. They could provide intelligence on the Nazis within occupied countries that no other organization could.  The Church and the allies did not want to jeopardize this advantage by needlessly antagonizing Hitler.  This meant utilizing deception and secrecy, not brashness.

I highly suggest Church of Spies, especially if you are interested in WWII history. It will present to you a view of the war from a different, not very well known perspective. The book is well researched using letters, jounal entries, Vatican documents, and other historical documents. It’s not a dry retelling of facts but has a narrative worthy of any Hollywood screenplay. It’s engaging, suspenseful, and informative.  But don’t just take my word for it, check out the numerous awards and 5 star reviews this book has received on Amazon.

 

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Learning Perseverance Through Rosary Prayer

Perseverance is not a word exactly tied to pleasant thoughts.  The definition is “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or despair.”  One does not persevere unless there is an element of unpleasantness.  Take physical exercise for example.  You gain strength only by working through pain and fatigue.  Or think about a healthy diet.  You have to deny yourself the temporary pleasures of cookies, cakes, and other sweets to achieve the more long term goal of staying fit and avoiding diseases.  What about our spirituality?  Does perseverance play a role in praying the rosary?

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Feel the burn!

I’m not going to get all kumbaya on you.  Yes, I know that the rosary is a great prayer and I’ve spoken about its benefits for the last six years.  But that doesn’t mean the rosary is an easy prayer or very relaxing for that matter.  It is a prayer where we must demonstrate perseverance.  And as time goes on, it seems like persevering through rosary prayer becomes an even larger challenge than in past generations.  We live in an age where attention spans are narrowing.  If a three minute YouTube video is considered long, then 20 minutes of rosary prayer is an eternity.  The rosary can become repetitive and boring when compared to the instant gratification most of us have at our fingertips via our smartphones, computers, and televisions.

Now before you start saying that I’m a rosary hater, keep in mind that I’m echoing the same sentiment as St. Louis de Montfort in The Secret of the Rosary.  He writes in his 43rd rose about how we have to fight distractions and persevere through the rosary to strengthen our faith:

Even if you have to fight distractions all through your whole Rosary be sure to fight well, arms in hand: that is to say, do not stop saying your Rosary even if it is hard to say and you have absolutely no sensible devotion. It is a terrible battle, I know, but one that is profitable to the faithful soul. If you put down your arms, that is, if you give up the Rosary, you will be admitting defeat and then, having won, the devil will leave you alone. But at the Day of Judgment he will taunt you because of your faithlessness and lack of courage. “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater.” He who fights even the smallest distractions faithfully when he says even the very smallest prayer he will also be faithful in great things. We can be absolutely certain of this because the Holy Spirit has told us so.

I’ve said it before, rosary prayer is a spiritual exercise.  Much like running that extra mile even when you’re tired, praying the rosary devoutly in the face of the seemingly boring repetition will strengthen you spiritually.  Perseverance isn’t the act of enduring one large hardship.  Many of us can muster the strength to face one large challenge.  It’s the act of overcoming a series of hardships, both large and small, over a long period of time.  But if you can persevere in praying the rosary devoutly day in and day out, then you’ve proved to yourself that you have the ability to persevere in resisting sin and temptation as well.  Like exercise,  rosary prayer’s little gains start to show incremental, if not exponential, returns in the long run.

Not only is praying the rosary itself an exercise in perseverance, the mysteries also teach us that perseverance brings us closer to God’s grace.  The most obvious one is the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus taking up his cross.  Three of the stations of the cross explicitly call out Jesus falling and getting back up.  Jesus endured the pain and hardship because he understood the importance of doing God’s Will.  Similarly, we are called to live God’s Will even when it proves difficult or the rationale is incomprehensible.  When life gets difficult, many of us give up and become angry with God because the suffering makes no sense to us.  But the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery teaches us to instead put our trust in God’s plan even when we cannot understand it.

Perseverance, whether it’s praying the rosary routinely or continuing to love God in times of great hardship is the ultimate form of faith.  You tell God, “I may not understand why you asking me to endure these hardships, but I will because I love you and I know they will ultimately bring me closer to you and your kingdom of Heaven.”  That is the essential nature of faith — loving God even when he asks you to persevere through hardship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Rosary is a Means, Not an End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Praying with Pinterest

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

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

Welcome to Margaritaville

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

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

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

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