How the Rosary Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

I don’t watch a lot of television.  However, when I find a few minutes and don’t feel like doing anything serious, I enjoy watching American Ninja Warrior.  It’s a show where athletes run through an obstacle course trying to complete increasingly more rigorous feats.  Most people fail to complete the entire course.  But those that do are ecstatic because they overcame the temptation to quit even when they were fatigued and were entertaining thoughts that they didn’t have the ability to complete the course.

The same conflict between completing a goal or giving up because the obstacles seem too great appears in many of our spiritual lives.  Many of us have a hard time mustering up enough energy to make it through an entire rosary chaplet or Bible reading.  We all want to do God’s will and form a deep relationship with Him through prayer.  And yet, despite all that we desire, we let trivial obstacles like a television show, website, or video game distract or derail us from doing what we know is good.

Saint Peter highlights what happens when we let obstacles overpower us and distract us from God’s will.  In the Gospel, St. Matthew wrote about Jesus walking on the water in a terrible storm.  Peter also tried walking on the water and was initially successful but then was overcome by fear and doubt and sank (Matthew 14:22-36).

Does Saint Peter’s story sound a lot like yours when it comes to prayer and doing God‘s Will?  I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “This time I’m going to stick to a rigid prayer schedule.”  Or I read a book about the importance and benefits of prayer and get all excited initially only to be overcome by distractions.  Like Saint Peter walking on water, instead of staying focused on my relationship with Jesus Christ I get distracted by the world around me.

But when we make an effort to pray and act according to God’s will, we actually act in a way that is doubly pleasing to God.  Rev. P.J. Michel explains in his book, Temptations:

On this principle, when you observe the law of God and do His will in a way that is displeasing to nature, you acquire a double claim to reward: first, you have obeyed, and secondly, you have obeyed with difficulty and against resistance and combat. The sac­rifice you have made of the natural inclination that solicited and impelled you is rewarded here by new graces and hereafter by an increase of eternal glory and happiness.

Temptations

What does the rosary teach us about praying through distractions and temptations?  You can probably pick any of the Sorrowful Mysteries and see Jesus’ example of doing God’s will despite the pain and suffering.  But that’s too easy of an example for regular RosaryMeds readers!  I want to look at the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation.  Here we have Mary being asked to be the Mother of God.  At first, she focuses on all the earthly limitations of such a request.  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asked (Luke 1:34).  But Mary didn’t let all those concerns distract her from accepting the burden and the honor God wanted to bestow on her.

Now jump to the Fifth Glorious Mystery, Mary’s Coronation in Heaven.  Going back to the passage from Temptations, when you do God’s will in the face of difficulty, you increase your eternal glory and happiness.  What better example is there than seeing Mary crowned Queen of Heaven?  She followed God’s will even when that meant seeing her son rejected and crucified.

When you don’t feel like you have the time or energy to pray the rosary, look to Mary’s example of the grace God gives you when you make the effort to pray and do God’s will despite the difficulty.  It may be hard, but the reward dwarfs the inconvenience.

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What the Gospel and Rosary Teach Us About Good Works

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is from Matthew.  I’m only including the part I’m going to reflect on in this article.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

In this Gospel passage, John the Baptist makes a distinction between piety and good works.  The Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves good people because they followed the Mosaic law to the letter.  But John implies in his comparison to a tree not bearing good fruit that just following rules or having a certain status does not lead to salvation.  One must follow up with good works, charity, and compassion.

Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees
Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good works, charity, and compassion were the cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry.  He came into this world, not as someone of status and authority, but as a servant who ministered to those people society had excluded.  Jesus repeatedly taught that what matters most to God is what someone does, not what their title is.  Whether it was teaching the golden rule or telling the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had to charity, Jesus’ ministry centered around instilling the value of good works and sacrifice.  Inversely, those who only followed rules and sought status and honor He routinely called hypocrites.

This past Thursday’s Gospel from Matthew echoes a very similar message:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Notice how Jesus is saying that just accepting Him as the Savior is not enough.  You have to follow up with action what you proclaim in your words.  To put it in more modern terms (but now maybe ridiculously outdated), you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

When you hear and read this Gospel, meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary, The Visitation.  Think about Mary in this mystery, someone who recently learned that she was to be the mother to the Massiah.  What does she do?  Does she flaunt the fact that an angel visited her?  Does she go about looking for an elevated stature in the community?  No.  Instead, she travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth and helps her through her pregnancy although she herself was pregnant.  Mary’s initial action after the Annunciation was one of charity.

Also, consider the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary when you reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel.  Mary was assumed into Heaven and now acts as our intermediary to her son, Jesus Christ.  Even when bestowed the title Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery), she has never stopped actively guiding us through the minefield of life.  She protects us from evil, helps those who ask for her assistance, and has continually appeared to many delivering a message similar to John the Baptist in the Gospel — Jesus loves you and wants you close to him, but you must make the effort to love Him through good works, charity, and compassion.

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Speak Up! — What Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Stating Intentions

Do you remember one of the early scenes in Million Dollar Baby where Client Eastwood’s character kneels in prayer next to his bed? He says something to the extent, “Lord, you know what I want, there’s no use in me repeating myself.” Boy, how often can I relate to that sentiment! I sometimes think to myself that God knows everything and definitely knows my intentions and my needs better than myself so why go through the exercise of formulating them in prayer? The Gospel reading from 10/6/16 addresses this dilemma.

Last Thursday’s Gospel reading included this popular verse from Luke:

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The Regnum Christi website’s meditation on this Gospel reading talks about how we fall into the sin of pride when we don’t explicitly ask God for help through prayer.  From their website:

When I Don’t Ask for What I Need, I Treat God as My Servant: When we expect God to give us all we need without asking, are we not placing the whole burden of our salvation on him and nothing on ourselves? Are we not in a sense being lazy? “You know what I need, Lord. Just give it to me, take care of it, while I focus on my own interests.” Not only is this laziness, it is pride, treating God like a servant whose role is to provide whatever I need. We forget he is God. Certainly God is generous and loving, willing to give us everything that is good for us; but he is still God, and he deserves our respect, adoration, and especially our gratitude.

The rosary connection to this Gospel reading is the Fifth Glorious MysteryMary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven.  Traditionally, the mother of a king held tremendous prestige because while a king may have multiple wives, he only has one mother.  The king’s mother was referred to as the gebira.  It makes sense then that Christ, being King of Heaven, would coronate his mother Mary as Queen of Heaven.

The chief responsibility of the gebira was to act as a mediator and speak on behalf of the king.  When we pray the rosary, we acknowledge Mary as our mediator of our needs and intentions to her son, Jesus Christ.  But she can better mediate on our behalf when we consciously and humbly come to her and ask for her help in prayer.

Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671
Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Think of Mary like a doctor and you are the patient.  Mary is here to help you and she will do whatever she can to cure the illness of sin and bring you into God’s grace.  However, she will be better able to help you if you are forthright and honest with her by humbly stating your needs in prayer.  The better the patient you are, the more effective Mary can be in her role as your Queen of Heaven.  When you can formulate your intentions in prayer then you will be able to understand how God responds to your request.

If you know what ails you spiritually, speak up!  Because if can’t form the request in your head, how will you recognize the heavenly response?

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How Rosary Prayer Teaches the Glory of Humility

I’m a lector at my parish.  One of the perks of serving as a lector is that my parish provides me with a workbook for the readings that contain explanations and commentary.  Reading this book during the week helps me obtain a deeper understanding of the readings at Sunday Mass.  I want to start providing you insight into the Sunday Gospels and how they relate to the rosary.  This way, when you pray the rosary, you can integrate the Sunday readings into your meditation as well.  Think of this as doing your Sunday Mass homework.

The Gospel for Sunday, August 28, 2016, is:

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

When I initially read this Gospel passage, I felt like I was reading the biblical equivalent of an Amy Vanderbilt etiquette book on how to politely find your place at a banquet table.  The reading confused me because it seemed like Jesus was giving his disciples a social hack for getting to a place of honor in a disingenuous way.  Is it not false humility to sit at a lowly spot of the table expecting the host to come and fetch you and put you where you think you deserve to be?  I can almost picture that fake humble person sitting next to the stereotypical “chatty lady,” not even listening to her but scanning the room making sure the host sees him so he can “rescue” him from the dregs.

How long do I have to listen to you?
How long do I have to listen to you?

The confusion lifted when I realized that Jesus asks us to behave as the guest and the host!  Jesus talks about the host not looking for reciprocity or acknowledgment for his efforts.  But that is also the same requirement for the guest who takes the lowest spot at the table.  He should not be looking for the host to save him from his situation but rather, accept and enjoy his situation regardless of the outcome.  After all, the guest should be thankful and grateful that he was invited to the feast at all.  We too should be grateful for all the blessings God bestows on us even when it seems like others have it better.

The people who are truly humble and accepting of their situation are ultimately the happiest.  They are not always looking for something better but find contentment with what they have.  That is because they do not come with any preconceived notions of their importance but they just do what needs to be done.  They do not worry about who notices them or if they will receive a certain level of reward.  In a sense, the humble person is free from the burden of self-imposed expectations or entitlement.  When you do not feel entitled to that place of honor, being elevated to it makes it that much more glorious.

Just about every mystery of the rosary teaches some aspect of humility and the glory that comes out of it.  The rosary itself is bookended by these two traits by the First Joyful Mystery and the Fifth Glorious Mystery.  In the Annunciation, Mary humbly accepts God‘s plan for her.  She does not turn God down or try to reshape His request into something she would prefer.  God is essentially upending Mary’s life but her humble reply is,  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Thy Will be done.
Thy Will be done

When we walk and talk with Jesus through the rosary, we finish with Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven.  Like the person sitting at the lowest spot of the banquet table only to be seated at the place of honor so was Mary glorified after her lifetime of humbly accepting God’s plan for her and the pain and sorrow that it entailed.  She is our model for our ultimate elevation to a place of honor in Heaven when we live in earnest, humble service of God’s plan for us.

When you pray the First Joyful and Fifth Glorious mysteries of the rosary, pray and ask yourself:

  • Am I living a sincerely humble life or showing a fake sense of humility as a means to more selfish ends?
  • Am I content and satisfied with all God has given me or am I expecting something better?
  • Am I looking to Mary as an example of humility?
  • Am I showing humility by putting my trust in God’s plan or am I trying to avoid or amend it?

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10 Reasons to Pray the Rosary

This image was selected as a picture of the we...
This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Czech Wikipedia for th week, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As any regular reader of RosaryMeds can see, I like motivating people to pray the rosary.  All too often I go to other rosary websites that just list rosary commentary and meditations.  Don’t get me wrong, rosary meditation ideas are very important as I have written two books on them.  But we also need to find motivation and the will to pray the rosary.  Otherwise, the rosary will just collect dust like that exercise equipment everyone tends to have in the back of their closets.

I came across this article about ten reasons to pray the rosary.  For the tl;dr crowd (too long; didn’t read), they are:

  1. Mary asked us to pray the rosary at Fatima
  2. Mary’s title is Our Lady of the Rosary
  3. Pope St. John Paul II asked us to pray the rosary
  4. The rosary is a powerful prayer for family unity
  5. The rosary is a powerful prayer for world peace
  6. The rosary protects youth from the deluge of filth propagated by modern media
  7. The rosary orders our lives that have been disordered by sin
  8. The rosary gives us peace of mind and soul
  9. The rosary is a walk through the Gospel
  10. The rosary gives us strength to conquer seemingly impossible challenges

Now I’m going to talk to all of you who already pray the rosary regularly.  Look at those ten reasons to pray the rosary.  The rosary isn’t something we should keep to ourselves.  I’m sure all of us know someone who needs the receive the benefits of rosary prayer.  When you pray the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the rosary ask Mary, Queen of the Rosary, to motivate that specific person in your life to pick up and pray the rosary.  Even if you think the person you have in mind will never turn to the rosary, it never hurts to ask.  What do you have to lose?

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How the Rosary Helps Control Anger

I read this article on the Catholic News Agency about just how toxic anger can be in a marriage.  It starts:

Of the countless Catholic couples who have come through Father T.G. Morrow’s office in Washington D.C. for marriage counseling, two remain imprinted in the priest’s mind even today.

In many ways, these two Catholic couples were the ideal; they were open to life, they formed their children in the faith and they frequented the sacraments.

But both of these marriages fell apart. The culprit? Anger.

“Anger is a poison,” Fr. Morrow, a moral theologian and author of “Overcoming Sinful Anger” (Sophia Press, 2014) told CNA. “If a husband and a wife are angry with each other a lot, it destroys the relationship. It makes it so painful that people want to get out of that relationship.”

I’m going to broaden the conversation to not only talk about anger, but general self-imposed unhappiness.  I think a lot of anger stems from losing sight of what’s really important.  When we put a little perspective on our lives it’s almost humorous in hindsight what we get so upset about.  We get all tied up in knots over traffic, a late flight, a sink of dirty dishes, a slow loading web page, no cell signal, etc.  And why?  How is stewing over all these little annoyances going to make life any better?  How is lashing out at someone over a pet peeve going to foster the good in that relationship?

Angry Talk (Comic Style)
Angry Talk (Comic Style) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I wrote in the introduction to The Rosary for the Rest of Us, one of the main benefits of praying the rosary is that it offers me the proper perspective on life.  The rosary reminds me that our world isn’t perfect, but that’s okay because this world is only temporary.  We are meant to spend eternity in the joy of God’s heavenly kingdom.  Rosary prayer is all about focusing on that glorious kingdom to come, not dwelling on the imperfect worldly kingdom that is.

I picture our Mother Mary in Heaven shaking her head in disbelief when she sees what we get so upset about.  She must think what I think when one of my kids melts down over nothing.  The other day my three-year old son had a fit because I dared serve him a waffle cut in half instead of whole.  My explanation that the waffle would taste the same didn’t comfort him.  All I could think was, “Really?  All this unhappiness over a cut up waffle?”  I think Mary must be sitting in Heaven also asking herself, “Really?” Because from her perspective, we must come across like little three-year olds — bringing so much unhappiness on ourselves over ultimately trivial problems.  Even the “big” problems in life such as finances and health are as significant in the heavenly perspective as a waffle cut in half.

Mary Queen of Heaven
Mary Queen of Heaven (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s look at the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  When we meditate on Mary crowned Queen of Heaven, let’s ask for her intercession, especially when it comes to controlling anger and gaining a more heavenly perspective.  She wants nothing more than for us to live for her son, Jesus Christ.  And when we humbly ask for her help, she will gladly offer it.  But the key is that we have to understand what holds us back from truly living for Heaven.  We must realize that when we’re angry about the trivial aspects of this world, we really don’t have a heavenly perspective because we are worrying too much about the here and now.

I’m not saying that keeping a heavenly perspective is easy.  If it was then there really wouldn’t be much need to regularly pray the rosary.  But because living for God’s kingdom is difficult, we have the rosary, our gift from Mary Queen of Heaven, to help manage our anger and keep us focused on what’s really important.

I’ll leave you with this last piece of advice from the Catholic News Agency article.  If the Golden Rule is about treating others as you want to be treated, then I believe this should be the Silver Rule:

“People get angry about little, trifling things,” Father T.G. Morrow said. “You have to say “Is this worth getting angry about?” If not, then you have to let it go. Just forget it.

Want more help controlling anger and living happier?  My free e-book of rosary intentions can help.

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5 Ways the Rosary Offers Relief from Today’s Headlines

Meditation ideas on the Glorious Mysteries of the holy rosary for dealing with all the troubling news the world is encountering right now.

Lately there has been a lot of news that has many people thinking the world is falling apart. We hear of people suffering from natural disasters across the globe, atrocities committed by groups like ISIS across the Middle East, silly presidential election news (Trump?  Hillary Clinton’s favorite ice cream flavor?), and troubling social/political news about Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage and ObamaCare. Basically, if you’re looking to get worried and upset about something, you don’t have to look much further than your Facebook news feed to grow a few gray hairs.

To me, praying the rosary is all about gaining perspective. And I think everyone could use a little perspective right now. I try to remember that the world has never been a perfect place and has been marked by problems both natural and man made. However, we live in a time when news has never been more accessible which means we get more bad news at an accelerated pace. Or we get a distorted view of the scope of outrage or support on any given issue. But thinking society is falling apart isn’t new.  Mankind has always had its share of problems.

Picture back to the time Jesus lived. If Facebook existed then people’s walls would have been filled with complaints about cheating tax collectors, Roman occupation, and corrupt pharisees. Furthermore, people were probably praying for the same types of solutions we pray for today.  Something to the tune of “Please God, make all our problems go away.”

Jesus did not come into this world to magically change the world with a wave of his hand.  He didn’t make all the Jews’ problems go away. But he did answer the people’s prayers. He did that not by making things easier but by challenging people to look beyond the troubled state of the world and their immediate, physical needs. He wanted them to concentrate more on the state of their souls rather than the actions of Cesar.  For example, he told the rich man to look beyond earthly wealth and to gain riches in Heaven by being charitable (Mark 10:17-31).  He said that those who are persecuted in this world will find glory in Heaven (Matthew 5:10).  He said that we all have to take up our crosses in this life so that we may find comfort in the next (Matthew 16:24-27).

In that spirit, let’s take a look at the Glorious mysteries of the rosary and meditate on gaining a more heavenly perspective instead of dwelling so much on the today’s troubling issues.

#1. Live for something more than this earthly world

The First Glorious Mystery is about Jesus rising from the dead.  The perspective gained from this mystery is that our earthly death is not an end.  Jesus’ crucifixion and death was only a transition from his earthly life to his true, heavenly one.  Jesus’ rising proved that there is so much more to us than the physical realities of this world.

When we think about all the injustice, death, and suffering in this world we should remember that none of it will persist after our earthly death as we rise to new life in Jesus’ kingdom.  And while a lifetime of pain and suffering may seem like an awfully huge cross to carry, it isn’t even a measurable instant of time compared to the eternal joy and happiness Jesus prepared for us in Heaven through his resurrection.

#2. Pray for those have fallen

The Second Glorious Mystery is about Jesus ascending into Heaven.  The perspective gained from this mystery is that Jesus sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, and will judge the living and the dead.  This is important to understand because we need to pray for the repentance and conversion of those who live in sin and cause so much scandal, misery, and unhappiness.  It may seem easy to complain and become stressed over others’ misdeeds.  It’s also easy to ignore them and focus only at our own salvation.  But we do need to pray for them and always be an example to the world of Jesus’ Truth.  Because everyone, including those who live in sin, will one day stand before the Lord with their sins in plain view.  Since we are called to love one another, we should do whatever is possible so that everyone, saint and sinner alike, will enjoy eternal happiness in Heaven.

#3. Let the Holy Spirit guide you

The Third Glorious Mystery is about the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles after Jesus’ ascension.  We live in a difficult world but we can look to the Holy Spirit to give us the strength and courage to persevere and maybe even change the hearts of others.  I don’t think any of the apostles would have thought that they were going to change the world when Jesus first called them to put down their nets and become fishers of men.  But with the guidance of the Holy Spirit they did just that by boldly venturing out and spreading Jesus’ truth.

We too may not think that there is much we can do when we see what appears to be impossible situations to fix or the deep seated hatred in people’s hearts.  But the Holy Spirit does give us the power to live according to Jesus’ truth and to lovingly bring people into God’s grace.  Like when Jesus was here in this world, he did not provide a quick fix to humanity’s problems.  Similarly, the Holy Spirit won’t give us a quick fix either.  But if we have faith and let the Holy Spirit guide us, we can personally thrive and bring others to know Jesus Christ.

#4. Follow our mother Mary’s roadmap for happiness

The Fourth Glorious Mystery is about Mary’s assumption into Heaven.  God had a very special plan for Mary and her assumption shows just how revered and elevated she is.  She was not only set aside to be the vessel through which God would manifest himself in human form, but she was also set aside to be our guide and mediatrix after her earthly death.  Like with the Third Glorious Mystery, the perspective we should gain from this mystery is that Mary is always there to help guide us closer to her son’s love.  She has appeared many times with a message of hope, love, and a call to action for conversion.  Over the generations, she has laid out a roadmap of prayer, fasting, and repentance which we should follow.  While it’s easy to get down and think nothing we do can do that will make much difference, Mary says otherwise.  And we should all listen to our mother.

#5. Remember that you are protected

The Fifth Glorious Mystery is Mary’s coronation in Heaven.  We have to understand that there are evil force at work.  And Satan and his minions are playing the long game where they want you to focus all your energy on this world in the hopes that you will be led astray and become his slave for eternity.  He wants you to “go with the crowd” even if what is popular in modern society goes against God’s plan.  Or he wants you to fall into despair, blame God for all that is wrong with the world, and turn away from your faith. But Mary is a powerful queen who reigns in Heaven.  When we accept and live for God’s Heavenly Kingdom then we fall under Mary’s protection against evil and Satan’s influence.  No matter what transpires in our world we know that we will have protection for what matters most — our eternal soul.

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Building Your Spiritual Emergency Fund One Prayer at a Time

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 c...
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.

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Is Pope Francis Really That Different?

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I want to comment on Pope Francis’ latest interview in American Magazine that raised a stir. It has more progressively minded Catholics giving the pope a big thumbs up while traditional Catholics are squirming in their seats. Some people think that Pope Francis is undoing decades of zealotry and adherence to dogma while others see him simply rephrasing long-held teachings of the faith. In a way, the pope’s comments are a spiritual Rorschach test. Otherwise known as an inkblot test, a subject sees pictures of generic shapes and says the first thing that comes to mind. It helps psychologists determine someone’s state of mind. Like the Rorschach test, Pope Francis’ comments almost reveal more about our perceptions of the Church than what the Church actually teaches.

the ninth blot of the Rorschach inkblot test
What Catholic Church do you see?

Pope Francis’ interview is about 12,000 words long (please read it). The mainstream media and blog outlets mostly fixated on a few statements about how the Church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” And that “the church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” Just look at the headlines:

  • Huffington PostPope Francis: Gays, Abortion Too Much Of Catholic Church’s Obsession
  • New York Times — Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control
  • The Daily BeastThe Pope Confesses Church’s ‘Obsession’ With Gays, Abortion (I was amused by the use of the word “confesses”)

Taken on its own, it sounds like Pope Francis is casting off all those stuffy, cold-hearted rules that previous popes enforced to the letter. But when viewed in the context of the whole interview, you see that he’s saying that our faith and evangelization isn’t primarily about beating people over the head with rules and guidelines. The pope does not want people to blindly obey because people will never embrace the true Catholic Church that way. Instead, he wants people to know that God loves them and the Church dogma and doctrines exist to bring people closer to God’s grace. Essentially, the pope hopes that people will want to follow the Church’s guidelines out of love, not offer blind allegiance. CatholicVote.com has a good article that summarizes the pope’s interview if you want more analysis.

To their credit, many of the mainstream media articles do say that Pope Francis didn’t change Church teaching. This is the same message previous popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests have taught (or should have taught) for years. But when I read the comments in these online articles, I do get the sense that people are projecting their desires on what they would like the Church to be and not actually hearing what the pope says the Church actually is. They only see the aspects of the pope or the Catholic Church that fit their worldview and filter out anything that does not fit. For example, did you know that Pope Francis recently excommunicated a priest for promoting gay marriage and women’s ordination? You probably did not because that doesn’t fit the narrative of the compassionate pope the media portrays and is more in line with Pope Benedict‘s image as “God’s pit bull.”

Same Church, different world, different strategies, different media.

A writer for one of my favorite Catholic blogs, Creative Minority Report, demonstrated how easy it is to sway people’s perceptions of the pope depending on how his words are reported and filtered. I urge you to read this article that has quotes by the pope on the importance of women in the Church, how the Church should focus on helping the poor, how She embraces other faiths, and how humble he is. That describes Pope Francis to a tee right? But the M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end is that those quotes all come from Pope Benedict. Yeah, that supposedly detached, rule-oriented pope according to many media outlets. So this is a word of warning that you should perceive the pope or the Catholic faith with caution. Are your views based on your own conscience or on the narrative someone is trying to push?

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

I think we all need a healthy dose of the Fifth Glorious Mystery — Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven. In the interview, Pope Francis said, “Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity.” We should pray for help and guidance from Mary, Queen of Heaven. Remember, media outlets and blogs are in the business of selling products and advertisements and making profits. Mary is in the business of saving souls and making sure that as many people as possible will one day live in the peace of happiness of Heaven. When it comes to matters of faith, perhaps we should put down the New York Times, turn off Fox News, and pick up a rosary if we want to know the true Catholic Church.

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