How the Rosary Helps Us Avoid The Unforgivable Sin

Last Monday’s Gospel reading contains a verse that has always disturbed me:

He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12:22-32).

I never liked this idea of an unforgivable sin. I was always taught that there was nothing you could do that God could not forgive. Jesus‘ entire ministry focused on redeeming those that Jewish society labeled unredeemable — tax collectors, prostitutes, Romans, and criminals. And while Jesus forgave all these people, He taught that there was a sin that He was unwilling or unable to forgive. That didn’t seem right to me.

Jeromebosch1503
Ummm… no thanks!

I did some digging on this verse and came across an article on EWTN titled THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN written by James Akin. It’s a long read but worth it for an in-depth analysis of Jesus’ words. But Mr. Akin summarizes the unforgivable sin like this:

Jesus asserts (v 30) that one must ally with him or be opposed to him and “through this” he tells us (v 31) that the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Blaspheming the Spirit is thus a failure to repent and ally oneself with Jesus. Since this can always be done during one’s life (cf. 20:1-15), blasphemy against the Holy Spirit must be a final refusal to repent, or final impenitence.

When one refuses to ask for forgiveness, those sins remain unforgiven. The unforgiveness does not come from Jesus as He is always willing to forgive. It comes from us refusing either to acknowledge our sins or refusing to ask for His forgiveness. The comforting fact in all of this is that there are two ways to escape the trap of the unforgiven sin:

1) Do not commit any sins. Unfortunately, this is impossible for any human outside of Mary and Jesus. Everyone from the most devout popes to every saint fell into sin at various points in their lives.
2) Ask for forgiveness. Penitence is the only realistic way to avoid committing the unforgivable sin of impenitence.

There is one more aspect to this topic that I’m hesitant to mention because of its immense risk. Even if you die with unforgiven sins, that does not mean you’re automatically damned.  After all, many good people do die with unforgiven venial sins and the Church teaches that they can go to Heaven. God does have infinite mercy which He can show to anyone. But, as I heard one theologian put it, don’t gamble you soul on God’s mercy when receiving genuine forgiveness is so simple.

Repentance and reconciliation are themes found throughout the rosary. The Fifth Joyful Mystery shows just how far many of us can move away from Jesus and not even realize it.  It is only when we come back looking for Him with a sorrowful (aka, remorseful) heart that we find Him again.  Jesus echoes our battle with sin, a cycle of falling and finding the courage to get back up, in the carrying of the cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  Finally, let’s remember that Mary, assumed into Heaven in the Fourth Glorious Mystery, has constantly taught in her apparitions to approach her Son with a repentant heart.

The unforgiven sin is a serious and scary prospect.  However, avoiding it is completely within our power.  It’s called the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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How to Find Motivation to Pray the Rosary

No matter how regularly and fervently we pray, most of us hit prayer blocks.  Prayer block is similar to writer’s block — you just have a hard time finding the inspiration and motivation to pray.  You know prayer is important but you just can’t get into it like you want to.  It is those times where we need to look to others to give us a pep talk and remind us why we pray.

When it comes to prayer pep talks, the Church is bursting at the seams.  There is no shortage of accounts of saints and papal documents highlighting the importance of prayer and all the miracles that have come from it, especially from rosary prayer.  Catholic Exchange ran an article, The Rosary: The Spiritual Sword of Mary, where Fr. Donald Calloway, author of Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon, briefly explains the impactful nature of the rosary.

English: Prayer in the Dawn Gate (Aušros Varta...
English: Prayer in the Dawn Gate (Aušros Vartai) chapel Lietuvių: Vilniaus Aušros Vartų Švč. Mergelės Marijos Polski: Modlitwa w kaplicy Ostrobramskiej Italiano: Preghiera nella capella di Ostra Brama (Porta dell’Aurora) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have not yet read Champions of the Rosary, but it’s definitely on my reading list.  It looks like just the book to have handy when I’m not feeling it when it comes to rosary prayer.  Fr. Calloway reminds us that the rosary is the saint maker:

The Servant of God Frank Duff — founder of the Legion of Mary — once wondered if there has been a single saint since the 13th century who has not prayed the rosary. Without a doubt, the rosary has been the most frequently mentioned form of Marian devotion by the saints since the 13th century. It would be impossible to list all of these saints.

I’m looking forward to reading this book for sure.  If you have a good book that motivates you to pray, contact me using the form below on this page or on Facebook.  I’m sure many of my readers would love to have a few good books on prayer, especially the rosary, loaded up on their tablets ready to go for when their rosary prayer enthusiasm wanes.

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Committing Ourselves to Victory: October and the Feast of the Rosary

It’s October. For many of us, that means complaining about pumpkin flavored food and drinks being offered everywhere, acting surprised how early the Christmas season starts every year, gloomy weather, and Halloween.  What I often forget is that October is the month of the holy rosary.  That’s extremely embarrassing since I run a rosary website!  May and October should be my rosary playoff season where I give 100% effort praying the rosary as well as writing about it.

I think it is important to understand why October is a month dedicated to the rosary because it highlights the power and importance of the rosary.  You need to go back to October 7, 1571, to the Battle of Lepanto.  This was a huge naval battle between the Christian European nations under the banner of the Holy League and Ottoman Turks that were advancing through the Middle East and across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

The Christian fleet was vastly outnumbered.  Pope Pius V called on the faithful to pray the rosary publicly asking for the intercession of the Blessed Mother to halt the Turkish armies.  Despite all odds, the European fleet defeated the Turkish one and the victory was attributed to Mary’s intercession through rosary prayer.  Pope Pius established an annual commemoration to honor Our Lady of Victory, and his successor, Gregory XIII, decreed that the first Sunday in October would be the feast of the Holy Rosary.  The Church then extended the celebration of the rosary throughout the entire month of October.

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Polish procession – detail of Battle of Lepanto by Tomasz Dolabella

Rosary prayer and asking for Mary’s intercession helped the European navy to overcome overwhelming odds at the Battle of Lepanto.  But the answer to those prayers didn’t come in the form of legions of angels visibility descending from Heaven or God sending a huge title wave swallowing the Turkish fleet.  The rosary did the seemingly impossible by transforming the hearts of minds of those involved in the battle.

Remember, the Turkish ships were mostly powered on the backs of captured Christian slaves.  Many accounts speak of these slaves sacrificing their own lives by intentionally moving and orienting the Turkish vessels in ways that gave the European fleet clear shots and other advantages.  I believe it was rosary prayer and dedication to Mary that gave these slaves and soldiers the courage to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

God’s answers to our prayers are not always what we expect.  In fact, the answer may not be something that is even easy or pleasant.  The victory at Lepanto was achieved through the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers and slaves.  Our redemption was achieved through the sacrifice of God’s only son Jesus Christ.  If you find yourself doubting the effectiveness of prayer, commit yourself to praying the rosary this month asking God for both faith and peace in his divine plan for you.  If rosary prayer changed the course of history at the Battle of Lepanto, surely it can achieve the even more difficult goal of increasing our faith and turning our hearts towards God.

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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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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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The One Rosary Habit You Must Start Now

Despite the wealth of ideas for rosary prayer and meditation, we all hit a prayer block sometimes. Prayer block is like writer’s block when you cannot come up with any good themes to meditate on or intentions. There are plenty of books and websites with rosary meditation ideas (I know two great books off the top of my head… hint hint) and the rosary is a dynamic prayer because we bring new life situations (and hence new intentions and thanksgivings) every time we pray the rosary. And yet, we sometimes hit a rough patch where our rosary prayers turn into mindless repetition.

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 going to share a tip that you all must start doing now. It will dramatically improve your rosary praying experience.  READ THE DAILY BIBLE READINGS BEFORE PRAYING THE ROSARY MYSTERIES.  That’s it!  How does reading some bible verses improve rosary prayer?  I found that, without exception, I always can make a connection between the daily readings and the mysteries I’m praying.  And that makes sense.  After all, the rosary is rooted in the bible and guides you through the Gospels.  The mysteries of the rosary touch on all of the main themes of the Gospel.  The great part is, because the readings change every day, you will make different connections with the rosary mysteries each time you practice this.  You avoid the dreaded auto-pilot praying mode.

Want to make even more connections between the Gospel and the rosary?  Try reading commentary and meditations on the daily readings.  Often, those meditations highlight certain truths of the readings that you may otherwise overlook.

Don’t have time to read, why not listen instead?  There are plenty of audio recordings and podcasts for daily scriptural reading and meditation.  My favorite Android app for listening to the daily Gospel and meditations is Laudate, specifically the Regnum Christi Daily Meditations podcast.

Lent just stared.  Give this strategy a try for the next 40 days and see for yourself how much more you get out of your rosary prayer.

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God Must Come First!

Love
Love (Photo credits: PB Teen)

What’s more important, serving God or serving each other?   points out in his article on The Remnant that over the last few decades the Church’s focus has shifted from loving God first to primarily loving our fellow brothers and sisters.  It’s not that we have to choose one or the other.  We are called to do both.  But it is a matter of priority and focus.  If you accept the premise that Catholic Church has shifted its priorities in the last few generations, ask yourself whether that has strengthened or weakened the Church.  Have we veered from what Jesus taught and what has made the Church strong over the centuries?  Patrick Archbold thinks so and believes much of the weakness of faith within the Church has to do with this shift.  I encourage you to read his article in full.  The focus of this article will be on the rosary (naturally).  Let’s look at what some of the rosary mysteries teach us about loving God vs. loving our fellow humans.

Look at the order of the first and second Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.  In the Annunciation, we see Mary putting God first by accepting his plan for her.  We then see in the Visitation Mary going out and helping her cousin Elizabeth.  Notice the order?  Okay, there is the fact that chronologically, the Annunciation did precede the Visitation.  But there is also a spiritual significance in the order as well.  When we pray the rosary we meditate first on the love of God as seen in the Annunciation and then the love for our fellow brothers and sisters as represented in the Visitation.  In putting our love for God first, we receive his grace and can therefore more fully serve each other just as Mary does in the Joyful Mysteries.

On to the First Sorrowful Mystery.  Jesus fears his upcoming arrest and crucifixion.  But he prays to God asking God to first find another way he could redeem the world but also submits to God’s Will.  Jesus shows his primary love for God by acknowledging God’s authority and humbly submitting to his plan.  Later, when he’s arrested, Jesus tells his apostles, who were ready to defend him, to stand down.  While Jesus loved his apostles and his apostles loved him, Jesus puts his life not in their hands, but into God’s hands.  Again, we see the model Jesus asks us to follow — serve according to God’s Will first.

Finally, take a look at the Third Luminous Mystery.  Jesus preaches that we should all convert our ways to God’s ways.  We are called to live first for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Note that Jesus did not tell us to solely live for the Kingdom of Heaven and forsake our responsibilities and others in this world.  But it is a matter of priority — desiring God’s kingdom must come first.  And from that desire, not only for ourselves but for others, we better help our fellow brothers and sisters to also come to live in God’s grace.

I will leave you with a quotation from the Council of Trent that Patrick Archbold cites in his article as I think it sums up nicely why the love of God needs to come before our love for our fellow humans.

“Moreover, no honor, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength. The love of our neighbor, on the contrary, has its limits, for the Lord commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To outstep these limits by loving our neighbor as we love God would be an enormous crime.” —Catechism of Trent, Part 3, Chapter 5, Question 5

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5 Ways to Make the Rosary a Priority

An exclamation point in a Red Circle

I’m going to forgive the “mom centric” tone of this article considering that the source is a website called CatholicMom.com.  But her advice on squeezing the rosary into your daily routine was just too good that I felt like I had to post and comment on it.  Of course, long time RosaryMeds readers will probably find her advice very similar to what I’ve been saying.  In short, 5 ways to squeeze the rosary into your life are:

  1. Commit to trying.
  2. Space it out
  3. Seize the moment
  4. Keep Rosaries in various places
  5. Don’t give in to discouragement

The best part of the article for me was when she said, “Rather than the laundry, the dishes, or checking Facebook, make a decade of the Rosary your first priority when you have a moment to breathe.”  How many times do we make the rosary a priority in our lives on par with our work, our home, and our families?  I know most of us can’t stand that pile of dirty dishes in the sink, the crumbs on the floor, the dust on the tables, or the toys on the floor.  It haunts us until we do something about it.  But how many of us feel that same sense that something is out of place when we haven’t prayed all day long?

English: A rosary found on board the carrack M...
English: A rosary found on board the carrack Mary Rose. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many correct ways to pray the rosary and not too many wrong ways.  The main point of the CatholicMom article was that God cherishes your effort to pray even if the quality is less than ideal.  So stop waiting for the perfect time, place, and inspiration to rattle off a few Hail Marys when you find the time.  Much like getting that quick bite to eat for physical energy to get through the day, the rosary can serve as your quick spiritual recharge.  And often you will find that a spiritual renewal drives a renewed sense of physical energy and motivation.

When’s the perfect time to pray the rosary?  Anytime.  Where’s the perfect place?  Anywhere.  What’s the correct length of time for the rosary?  However much you can find.  Stop finding excuses, start finding Jesus.  Start right now before moving on to the next email, website, or Facebook post with one Hail Mary.  Need help?  There’s a free guide for rosary prayer.

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Rosary SEAL: The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”

This is a very well known Navy SEAL motto.  If it sounds familiar, it’s because the book written by the SEAL who killed Osama Bin Laden was titled No Easy Day which echos the same sentiment.  There are multiple meanings behind this Navy SEAL motto. In training, it means that each day will be more challenging than the previous one. This is due to increased expectations from the instructors, greater scrutiny because of the increasingly smaller class, the elevated competition because those left in training are able to perform at a high level of intensity, and that the drills become more difficult as recruits get more fatigued.

English: CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Aug. 14, 2008...

The physicality of SEAL training is one aspect behind that motto. But it also points to the state of mind a Navy SEAL brings with him, not only in training but throughout his career. It’s a state of mind that is always focused on tackling the challenges at hand and always pushing yourself to do your job better. A SEAL never thinks that the worst is behind him and that it is clear sailing after a certain point. To a SEAL, there is no such thing as resting on your laurels.  Even when things are going well the SEAL always searches for ways he can do better.

SEALS must adopt this motto because their lives, and the lives of others, depend on it. They must approach each mission with the utmost focus and intensity to succeed and stay alive another day. And while a SEAL may conduct a certain type of mission, such as a rescue operation, dozens of times, it is the first and only mission for these SEALS from the point of view of those being rescued. They put themselves and the people around them in great danger if these soldiers treated any operation as something they could just coast through because they’ve done it a dozen times before.

Like a SEAL approaching a mission, we must also treat each time we pray the rosary with a fresh and focused mind.  We cannot get lulled into a state where we just “coast” or go on “automatic pilot” with our prayers.  What’s the point of praying if we just race through the words without any thought?  Is that pushing ourselves to get the most out of each rosary?  This Navy SEAL motto fits in well with my previous post, almost from the military, about always setting higher standards each day.  Otherwise we stop growing our spirituality and could even lose a bit of our faith through complacency.

The rosary isn’t a magical chant or incantation like a spell.  In other words, it’s not the quantity of prayers that matter rather it’s the quality.  This is why the rosary doesn’t fall into the category of “mindless repetition” that Jesus warns us about in the Gospel (Matthew 6:7).

Saint Francis in Meditation

What is a good quality rosary prayer?  It’s focused prayer backed up with specific intentions that is said slowly and deliberately.  To focus on the rosary means to consciously block out all those other thoughts that may distract us.  You first have to acknowledge when you are distracted and then stop, take a few deep breaths, and resume.  If you go through an entire decade without even realizing what mystery you were praying, back up and start that decade over again.  Mary will be more pleased with one decade said with focus than an entire month’s worth of hollow prayers.

We can achieve better focus by turning our distractions into intentions.  Do you have worries about members of your family?  Offer those worries to Jesus in your rosary prayers.  Perhaps the best way to do this is to actually say out loud your concern and that it will be your intention for the decade.  And while it may seem silly to vocalizing your intentions, especially if you are praying alone, it really does help bring focus to your prayers.

As you practice on more focused rosary prayer, always try to push yourself.  Remember the SEAL motto that the only easy day was yesterday.  It’s not just that the situation a SEAL finds himself in gets more difficult, but they expect more from themselves over time.  They look forward to that next challenge because they want to prove to themselves that they have the strength of mind and body to overcome it.  Similarly, we should be pushing ourselves to get more out of the rosary each time we pray it.  While at first it may be enough to remember to pray a rosary every day, later we need to push ourselves to deeper meditative states and really open our hearts to what God is trying to tell us through the rosary.

Pray like you’ve never prayed before.  It’s go time Rosary SEAL!

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