The “Hail Mary” — Catholicism’s Push Up

One of the main themes in my postings is that spiritual fitness is an important part of one’s overall health. I discuss the idea of spiritual exercise and being spiritually fit. In this article I’m going to discuss one of the most basic, but also one of the most important elements of spiritual fitness — praying the Hail Mary.

U.S. Marines count out push-ups.
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One of the main themes in my postings is that spiritual fitness is an important part of one’s overall health.  I discuss the idea of spiritual exercise and being spiritually fit.  In this article I’m going to discuss one of the most basic, but also one of the most important elements of spiritual fitness — praying the Hail Mary.

Physical exercise, no matter how complex, breaks down into very basic movements such as push ups, sit ups, squats,  pull ups, etc.  Exercise is a matter of simple mechanics where someone is lifts, lowers, pushes, or pulls some object.  However, an entire industry has emerged selling videos, books, and equipment pushing the idea that being fit is a complex process.  But when you remove all the advertising and spokespeople,  what differentiates a physically fit person from others is that the fit person has discipline to conduct very basic movements aggressively, routinely, and properly.

One of the most basic exercises is the push up.  However, it is also one of the best exercises as it strengthens core muscles, increases metabolism, and requires little space and no equipment.  And yet, so many people avoid doing push ups because they are hard or many believe that such a simple movement cannot be as effective as using a very complex machine at the gym.  But any athlete or soldier will tell you that mastering the push up is an important tool in improving one’s overall health and strength.

Like the push up in physical exercise, the Hail Mary and the rosary are fundamental prayers in staying spiritually fit.  The Hail Mary is 42 words long and takes about 10 seconds to say at a normal pace.  But it should be the cornerstone of everyone’s prayer routine.  After all, why do you think Mary wants you to pray it 53 times in the rosary?  It may be a simple prayer, but Mary and the saints know that it has a proven track record of keeping people in God‘s grace.  And yet so many people tend to avoid praying it.  Like the push up, the Hail Mary and the rosary are often avoided because they are seen as too difficult or not complex enough to have any meaningful result.  But people who are in shape spiritually will probably tell you that the Hail Mary is an important part of their prayer routine and must not be avoided.

Like the push up, you should start praying the Hail Mary slowly, methodically, and routinely.  Even the greatest athletes start with a single push up and then build on it.  Similarly, anyone can start building spiritual muscle with a single Hail Mary and build on that.  Remember, it is a ten second prayer and no one is so busy that you can’t fit in at least one some time during the day.  Like the push up, practice good form which means really concentrating on the words and not rushing through it.  A push up consists of two movements — a downward move followed by an upward one.  Likewise, the Hail Mary consists of two parts.  The first section you acknowledge and praise Mary as the Mother of God.  In the second you ask Her to pray for you, a poor sinner.  Both parts are important and require your attention and concentration.

So don’t be afraid of getting in spiritual shape through simple prayers.  Remember, sometimes the simplest prayers can yield the greatest benefits when they are said with your whole mind and soul.  Does anyone have any Hail Mary or rosary stories that they want to share?  Please leave your story as a comment.

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An Easter Day Prayer

What do you pray for during Easter? Peace? Understanding? Forgiveness? Thanksgiving? There seem to be so many things to ask of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ on Easter. I often have a hard time collecting all my thoughts and putting them into the words of a prayer. But I think my third grade nephew sums it up beautifully in a prayer he wrote in school.

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What do you pray for during Easter?  Peace?  Understanding?  Forgiveness?  Thanksgiving?  There seem to be so many things to ask of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ on Easter.  I often have a hard time collecting all my thoughts and putting them into the words of a prayer.  But I think my third grade nephew sums it up beautifully in a prayer he wrote in school:

God, l love everything you have given me but I would like one more thing. I would like an amazing Easter. Everyone should go to Mass and pray before eating.  I would like people to remember that Easter is the day Jesus died on the cross and not just a day when the Easter Bunny comes to your house to hide eggs so you can find them and open them in the morning. We should spend more time praying than usual because it is Easter. We should share more, pray more, show more respect, help one another, and do something when we are asked the first time. God, can you please help us have a fantastic Easter?   Amen.

I don’t think it can be said any better.  Imagine how great the world would be if we all lived this prayer, not just today but every day.  Happy Easter!

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Remembering the True Gift of Christmas

I would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas! All through human existence people have been searching for meaning; to make sense of everything in this world. In other words, we have been searching for God and trying to know His ways. On Christmas, God answered that eternal question through the birth of Jesus Christ.

img_2639I would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas!  All through human existence people have been searching for meaning; to make sense of everything in this world.  In other words, we have been searching for God and trying to know His ways.  On Christmas, God answered that eternal question through the birth of Jesus Christ.  He became flesh so that we could try to comprehend His incomprehensible nature.  And we find that God is not distant, petty, or power-hungry like the false gods people worshiped in ages past, but is as innocent and humble as a newborn baby.  May we embrace this great gift from God by increasing our faith and love for Jesus.

On the practical side, let us remember to take advantage of Christmas Mass whether that be on Christmas eve, midnight, or Christmas day.  I know all too often Christmas Mass is seen as something to “get out of the way” if we even go at all.  And often we spend our time at Mass thinking, “I wonder what is in that big box under the tree?”  Or, “I need to get home and start on that turkey!”  I know sometimes I just “zone out” and start scanning the congregation for friends I have not seen in a long time.  I just want to remind you that the Mass is the high point of this holiday.  As I mentioned in my Third Joyful Mystery Meditation, let us not be consumed by the “trappings” of Christmas even if it can only be for that one hour during Mass (hey, it’s a start).  Really take in the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament and reflect on the greatest gift humanity has ever received — a personal and loving relationship with God.

Merry Christmas!

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Advent — 60 Things to Remember

This year Advent feels like it is one week longer. In the past week I’ve gone to a 50th wedding anniversary, a wedding, and had a great time with my wife’s family for Thanksgiving. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to friends and family at the various events. At the anniversary, my cousin and I talked about prayer and the rosary. We touched on many ideas and I can’t go into detail on all of them in this post (but I will probably bring them up in the future). However, there was one rosary prayer of her’s that I found particularly interesting that seemed relevant to Advent and preparing our souls for the Lord.

Advent wreath, Frist Advent Sunday
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Welcome to the wonderful season of Advent!  My wife and I were so happy about the start of this blessed season that we tore into our closet, took out all our Christmas supplies, and got busy decorating.  I hope that everyone feels energized and excited about the best four weeks of the year.

This year Advent feels like it is one week longer.  In the past week I’ve gone to a 50th wedding anniversary, a wedding, and had a great time with my wife’s family for Thanksgiving.  I’ve spent a lot of time talking to friends and family at the various events.  At the anniversary, my cousin and I talked about prayer and the rosary.  We touched on many ideas and I can’t go into detail on all of them in this post (but I will probably bring them up in the future).  However, there was one rosary prayer of her’s that I found particularly interesting that seemed relevant to Advent and preparing our souls for the Lord.

The prayer is simple.  On each bead of the rosary you remember someone who needs prayers, something you are thankful for, something you are sorry for, or any other situation that you feel needs remembering.  You don’t need to say a long prayer on each bead.  Just saying someone’s name will suffice.  So that is sixty thoughts total (counting the small beads at the start and the crucifix).  The point is to just think about people and situations so that they go to the front of your mind, heart, and hopefully your actions.  I think this helps prevent us from making our prayers too general.  When we say someone’s name, we attach a face and a real soul to our prayers.  It gives our prayers, sacrifices, and offerings a real, human dimension that we sometimes miss when we just pray generally.

What do you think is more effective?  Saying, “Lord please help those in need” or, “Lord, please look over my aunt during her surgery?”  Now, God knows everyone’s needs whether we voice them our not.  But we don’t need to be specific for God’s sake, but for ours.  Suppose you really do have a family member going in for surgery.  Perhaps actually thinking and voicing his/her name will remind you to give that person a phone call or visit in the hospital.  Or maybe you can fast specifically for that person.  In other words, by thinking of specific people you focus your prayers and spiritual energy towards their specific needs.

Sounds easy?  That’s what I thought until I gave it a try.  Sure, the first twenty or thirty beads are simple enough since I can rattle off friends and family members.  However, I found it quite challenging to think of sixty people and circumstances that are in need of prayer.  That is a little disappointing considering the millions of things to be thankful for, people to pray for, and sins to feel genuine remorse for.  So that will be my challenge for this Advent — to say my sixty small prayers after praying the rosary so that I may remember the needs of those for whom I haven’t prayed enough.  In doing so, in making room for others in my prayers, I will also be making room for Jesus when Christmas arrives.

Give this a try and let me know what you think.  Have a great Advent!

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Souls Need Our Prayers More than Once a Year

The Catholic Church celebrated All Souls Day on November 2. On that day we prayed for the souls in Purgatory who are undergoing their final purification before entering Heaven. However, I want to remind everyone that these souls are in constant need of our prayers. Praying for them should not be something we do once a year after we come down from our Halloween sugar high. We should remember the deceased every day throughout the year in all our prayers.

A Procession in the Catacomb of Callistus
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The Catholic Church celebrated All Souls Day on November 2.  On that day we prayed for the souls in Purgatory who are undergoing their final purification before entering Heaven.  However, I want to remind everyone that these souls are in constant need of our prayers.  Praying for them should not be something we do once a year after we come down from our Halloween sugar high.  We should remember the deceased every day throughout the year in all our prayers.

The Church’s tradition is that the souls in Purgatory need our prayers to complete their purification.  They no longer have the ability to pray for themselves so they are completely dependent on God’s mercy and our prayers.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church recommends “almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” (CCC #1032).

To think of it another way, one day you will be completely dependent on others’ prayers just as the dead are dependent on your prayers today.  So don’t just pray alone for the deceased, but ask other people to pray for souls as well.  As more people pray, the more souls will enter into God’s kingdom for all eternity.  And one day, the people who you teach to remember the deceased in their prayers will be helping you enter into Heaven.

Purgatory must be a crowded place.  Our Lord dictated the following prayer to St. Gertrude the Great to release 1,000 Souls from Purgatory each time it is said.  Imagine how great it would be if we all prayed this every day so that millions of souls could enter into eternal rest?

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.

PS: Sorry for the long delay between postings.  I’m trying to finish up some rosary meditations but I’m having problems finding the right message.

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The Rosary: Heavenly Medicine

If you notice, the tag line for my website is, “A rosary a day keeps the devil away.” As clever as that sounds, there is a great deal of truth in that statement. The rosary is not a piece of fashion or some sort of magical talisman. It is more like medicine or a vitamin that helps fight off the devil who is as real as any disease but many orders of magnitude deadlier. It is extremely important to use the rosary and pray to Mary for She is incredibly powerful and will keep you safe.

In Christianity, Satan is considered the being...
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If you notice, the tag line for my website is, “A rosary a day keeps the devil away.”  As clever as that sounds, there is a great deal of truth in that statement.  The rosary is not a piece of fashion or some sort of magical talisman.  It is more like medicine or a vitamin that helps fight off the devil who is as real as any disease but many orders of magnitude deadlier.  It is extremely important to use the rosary and pray for Mary’s intercession for She is incredibly powerful against evil and will keep you safe.

Why is the devil deadlier than any physical disease?  He is such a grave threat because he can kill something far more precious than your body and that is your eternal soul.  Keep in mind that your physical body only exists for an instant when compared to the eternity of the afterlife.  Any physical pain and suffering endured in this world is minuscule compared to the joy or torment in the afterlife.   But in that instant you are in this world, the devil is actively trying to claim your soul for all eternity.  It is an ongoing battle and you must be prepared to fight and resist sin.

But like many diseases, there is a very effective, preventative medicine to prevent ESD (eternal soul death).  In case you didn’t guess, it’s the rosary.  It may be made of simple rope or a chain, but it is your life line to keep your soul healthy and resistant to the devil.  Praying it will build up your immunity to evil and prevent you from falling into mortal sin.  When you focus on the rosary, you focus on God and doing His will, not indulging in sinful activity.  By praying routinely the temptation to fall into sin will diminish.  However, even the best medicine is useless if you never take it.  For the rosary to be effective, you need to take it off your rear view mirror of your car or out of your desk drawer and pray it.  And you have to match that prayer with a spiritually healthy lifestyle with the intent to do God’s will.

Prayer is an effective antidote to sin because it was given to us from the Mother of God.  The Virgin Mary gave us the rosary like a good mother gives medicine to a child.  She intends for us to use it so that we may live in a state of grace.  The Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, had this to say about appealing for Mary’s intercessions to fight the devil:

She brings us to Jesus, she protects us and cares for us in this difficult ministry … Mary also participates in exorcisms. She herself is an exorcist and expels the devil through her sanctity.

Mary is our heavenly mother and one tough opponent for the devil.  With Her, our Lord Jesus Christ, the saints, and the angels in Heaven, you are well protected from the devil and anything he may throw at you.  So let’s take advantage of this great, heavenly medicine and pray regularly because our immortal souls depends on it.

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Medjugorje Message: July 25, 2009

Our Lady’s message from Medjugorje on July 26, 2009. Mary calls us all to a life of prayer. Sometimes the simplest message is often the hardest to carry out. After all, how much time do you spend in prayer every day? Or better yet, do you make your entire life a living prayer where you put God first above all other things?

Medjugorje Mary Statue

Our Lady‘s message on July 25, 2009 is short and simple:

Dear children! May this time be a time of prayer for you. Thank you for having responded to my call.

That’s it.  Of course, the simplest message is often the hardest to carry out.  After all, how much time do you spend in prayer every day?  Do you think you could stand before God and honestly tell Him that you spent enough of your life in prayer?  Or better yet, do you make your entire life a living prayer where you put God first above all other things?  I know that I have a tendency to isolate my faith where I set aside some time for God but then go about my day focused (or obsessed over) other things.

So ask yourself, do you make your entire life about loving God and having His love shine forth through you in all that you do?  Or is there a disconnect between your prayers and how you live your life?  Let us remember that prayer is more than just reciting an “Our Father” or “Hail Mary.”  It is a time for us to talk to God and learn how we can incorporate His will into our lives.  May our prayers bare fruit by living as God calls us to live.

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Rosary Meditation: The Second Joyful Mystery

Today’s rosary meditation is the Second Joyful Mystery — The Visitation. After accepting God’s will in the Annunciation, Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist. This mystery is one of the best examples of using God’s grace to help others. As the Mother of God, Mary chose to use God’s grace to serve others and not to be served. This is a theme seen in Jesus’ ministry as well as the lives of the saints.

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Today’s rosary meditation is the Second Joyful Mystery — The Visitation.  After accepting God’s will in the Annunciation, Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist.  Mary came with this message, “My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my savior.  For He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness; all ages to come shall call me blessed” (Lk 1:46-48, emphasis mine).  She stayed with Elizabeth for three months presumably offering a helping hand whenever needed.

This mystery is one of the best examples of using God’s grace to help others.  Keep in mind that traveling to see relatives in the time of the Roman Empire was no easy task.  It would take weeks, if not months, to travel between villages.  Traveling was a challenge and dangerous for the very strong let alone a pregnant teenager.  Despite the hardship, Mary made the journey in order to share the good news with her cousin and help in any way she could.  As the Mother of God she chose to use God’s grace to serve others and not to be served.  As she said in Luke’s Gospel, God’s greatness is found in His lowly servants doing His will, not those who try to be masters.   We see this same theme through Jesus who is King of Heaven and yet came into this world as a humble servant.

When I meditate on this mystery I’m often reminded about the difference between acquiring God’s grace and using it.  I know that prayer, fasting, and receiving the Sacraments (particularly washing away sin during Confession) all help me achieve God’s grace.  However, I often fail in using grace to help others in need.  I could help others more whether it be donating some of my time for charitable causes to just making myself available when friends or family need me.  I’m sure I miss great opportunities to actually put my faith into practice all the time.   Ask yourself, are you using all of your God-given gifts to their full potential?  Are you choosing to serve others as Mary did or are you expecting to be served?

The lesson behind The Visitation is that God calls on us all to put our faith into action.  Yes, our faith is something that is deeply personal.  But it is also something that should be very public.  God gives us grace not only for our own sake, but to also help others in their conversion towards God’s love and their ultimate salvation.  I’m reminded of the saying, “actions speak louder than words.”  Let us remember that about prayer.  Let us not just pay lip service to God, but actually put into action what we believe.  Prayer is good and necessary, but it is the foundation for good works and not an end in itself.

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Rosary Meditation: The Third Luminous Mystery

Today’s rosary meditation focuses on the Third Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God with a call to conversion. We should remember that Jesus is the Word made Flesh who brought the power and glory of Heaven into this world. However, in order to celebrate in God’s graces we must first approach Jesus with a humble heart open to conversion. By conversion, Jesus asks us to put away our worldly and sinful ways and truly embrace His teachings of goodness and mercy.

Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator ...
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Today’s rosary meditation focuses on the Third Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God with a call to conversion. We should remember that Jesus is the Word made Flesh who brought the power and glory of Heaven into this world.  However, in order to celebrate in God’s graces we must first approach Jesus with a humble heart open to conversion.   By conversion, Jesus asks us to put away our worldly and sinful ways and truly embrace His teachings of goodness and mercy.

Early in His ministry, Jesus proclaimed the Word had been fulfilled through Him.  In a synagogue, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah how “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.”  He followed up the reading saying how that passage was now fulfilled.  As Christians who already believe in the Jesus’ divinity, this passage reads more as a statement of fact rather than a radical proclamation.  However, this would have been difficult to hear for those gathered in the synagogue at that time.  Instead of accepting Jesus as the Word made Flesh, they chased Him out of town.  This reminds me of the times when God calls me to follow His ways, but instead of accepting God’s call, I reject it.  Often we tell ourselves that what God asks of us doesn’t make any sense, is difficult, or impossible. It is always easier to find excuses and justifications rather than accept God’s Word. After all, the people who chased Jesus out of the temple reasoned that He was just the son of Joseph the carpenter and couldn’t possibly be the Messiah.  We must ask ourselves, how often do we try to reason away God’s Word, transform it, or revise it in order to suit our notions of how to live?

Jesus’ ministry of healing and miracles showed the power and glory of God’s kingdom.  He gave sight to the blind, healed the sick, and restored movement to the paralyzed.  Through his acts people came to believe and follow Him.  Jesus did indeed bring the kingdom of Heaven to the world for wherever He traveled people felt the true presence of God.  But I find it amazing how quickly the people who followed Jesus abandoned Him.  They praised Him one day only to call for His crucifixion the next.  For many, Jesus was just a man who made their lives easier through physical healing.  But when confronted with the difficult reality of following a man who was condemned by the ruling Roman authorities and Jewish leaders, people quickly, as they say in politics, “threw Him under the bus.”  Unfortunately, today we carry on that legacy of human weakness of praising God when life is good and abandoning Him when life becomes difficult.  How often have we become angry with God because something bad happened to us or we didn’t receive an outcome that we expected?  Life is not always easy or fair but those with strong faith know that God is present when we need Him the most.  Those other moments when we abandon God amongst hardship should serve as a reminder on just how much more work we need to do in order to prepare our souls to receive God’s kingdom in our lives.

How do we prepare ourselves to fully receive God’s graces?  Jesus asks us to convert.  There are two aspects to conversion.  First, we need to have a humble spirit.  Too often, we let our pride get in the way of really living as God asks us.  We naively say that God needs to change since we cannot possibly change our lives.  We proclaim that the Church and Her rules need to “get with the times” and be more progressive.  Our pride leads us to believe that our ways are perfect and God’s ways need reformation.  However, it is not God who needs conversion, but us.  As I wrote previously, God’s laws are not subject to a straw poll.  We are the ones who needs to show humility, take a hard look at ourselves, and find those aspects of our lives that need to change.

The other aspect of conversion is reconciliation.  If we really want to receive God’s kingdom we need to wash away our sins through the Sacrament of Confession.  I like the term “washing away” because it implies cleaning something that is dirty.  That “dirt” is sin and by the power of the Holy Spirit we cleanse our souls of all those things that prevent us from fully embracing God.  Very few of us like to live in dirtiness.  We spend huge amounts of time, money, and energy cleaning our clothes, homes, cars, and bodies.  And yet, we do not take the time to clean what is most important — our eternal souls.  The Sacrament of Confession is free and requires very little time and energy.  All it takes is an open heart to truly examine our conscience to make a good confession.  After all, we want to make sure we clean every nook and cranny.

I want to end with a challenge.  Every day ask yourself, “How can I be a better person today than I was yesterday?”  Find those aspects of your life that prevent you from truly embracing God’s kingdom and change them.  Conversion is not a one-shot deal.  It takes time and patience through small steps.  The road of conversion is one of triumphs as well as defeats.  But we’ll never make any progress if our pride prevents us from admitting that we can do better.  The kingdom of God is here with us now and the doors are wide open.  God invites all of us to celebrate in His grace.  The obligation is on us to prepare ourselves in order to fully embrace the power and glory that can only come through God.

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Random Thought: Call Your Mother

Remember to call your mother today. But do not forget Mary, our heavenly mother. Honor her by praying the rosary and moving closer to her son, Jesus Christ. That would make her so proud.

In honor of Mother’s Day:

Remember to call your mother today.  But do not forget Mary, our heavenly mother.  Honor her by praying the rosary and moving closer to her son, Jesus Christ.  That would make her so proud.

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