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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Eschewing Comfort for Better Rosary Prayer

One of my favorite self improvement blogs is LifeHacker.  For those who don’t know, LifeHacker has interesting tips and tricks in all areas of life whether it be career, digital, health, finances, play, or family.  They posted a link to a podcast featuring General Stanley McChrystal and his philosophy for success.  He said that you have to continuously raise your standards every day.  The LifeHacker article states:

You can almost always find something you’re able to improve about your life or your work. The important thing is that concept of eschewing comfort. Success doesn’t consist in finding the right routine to stick with for your whole life. Success comes from changing that routine constantly until your life is better.

This piece of military wisdom applies to so many areas of life.  Let’s focus on using it to achieve success with rosary prayer and meditation. In my rosary SEAL post I wrote about how we grow spiritually when we accept the discomforts of rosary prayer and push ourselves to block out easier, but less effective, alternatives. From my experiences with software development I learned that routines lead to optimization. In other words, the more we do the same action over and over again, the faster and more efficient we become at it. That’s great when you want to blast through mundane tasks at work but not so great when it comes to rosary meditation. Becoming comfortable with the rosary is what leads to meditation autopilot, distractions, and less effective prayer.

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The bigger the challenge, the bigger the success

Rosary meditation is not about speed. It’s about fostering your friendship with Jesus Christ. Are your best experiences with your friends the times when you are distracted and race through interactions with them? Probably not. My most cherished memories in my friendships involved long and deep conversations where I was actively engaged. The same goes for the time we spend in prayer with our friend, Jesus Christ.  Our friendship with Jesus isn’t something static, but one that we should always be improving.  That means treating each rosary prayer as something new and distinct from the previous rosaries.  Yes, the actual prayers may be the same, but the dialogue with Jesus should be something unique because the circumstances you’re prayer under will be unique.

Here is an excerpt from John’s Gospel that should sound familiar since we read it a few weeks ago on May 10th:

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.

Always remember that Jesus considers us his friend.  It’s important that friendship is never a one way street.  Jesus has reached out to us but we need to reach out to him.  And that means never taking the power of prayer for granted.

Rosary prayer: Quality time with our friend Jesus

The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary focuses on conversion and communicates a similar idea about never getting comfortable with a routine.  What is conversion other than changing our routines until our life is better?  Unfortunately, in our broken human state we never achieve a lasting success of living in God’s grace.  It’s a process of falling to sin, receiving forgiveness, and striving to be better.  No one on earth has ever obtained a lasting perfection in our human form and isn’t in need of some conversion (our Mother Mary excluded of course).  When we meditate on this rosary mystery, let’s remember that there is always something more we can do to improve our friendship with Jesus whether it be praying longer, being more aware of the factors that lead us to sin, attending Adoration, receiving the sacraments more often, being more charitable, or just consciously centering more of our lives around Christ.

What are your comfort points with rosary prayer?  What can you do to break through them?

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Rosary Prayer: Keeping Your Soul Out of Trouble

I have a two and a half year old toddler.  Anyone who has raised kids that age knows that you have to watch them like a hawk.  He will find a new and creative way to either hurt himself or destroy something the instant you turn your attention elsewhere.  I’ve seen water cups poured on tables because he wanted to create a swimming pool for his toys.  Crayons, pens, and markers rarely stay on paper.  Sharp objects on kitchen tables that used to be out of reach are suddenly reachable.  Kids just have the sixth sense of knowing when they aren’t being watched.

Why do I bring this up?  Is it to vent about the challenges of raising kids?  Okay, maybe that’s partially it.  But this isn’t a blog about parenting.  It’s a blog about faith and rosary prayer.  And I see a lot of parallels between practicing the faith and raising a toddler.  Chiefly, if you turn your attention away from your faith, even for a second, trouble will fill the gap.  Like a parent who has to constantly watch a toddler, you have to be constantly aware of your faith and how God’s calls you to live so that you will avoid falling into sinful behavior.  What that means is that you have to routinely pray the rosary so that it will serve as a small check up on the health of your soul.

The more you pray the rosary the more in touch with your faith you will be.  Going back to the child analogy.  Will a child that is checked on every few minutes get into less trouble than the one checked on every few hours? Probably.  Similarly, the soul that is “checked on” more often will less likely fall into sinful behavior.  In one of my original posts on the First Luminous Mystery I said how rosary prayer is a lot like brushing your teeth and going to the dentist.  You need to brush your teeth regularly and see a dentist so that your teeth remain in the best health and problems can be corrected when they are still small.  Similarly, you need good spiritual hygiene of routine prayer — daily prayer if not more often.  That allows you to recognize and correct faults and weaknesses while they are small before they escalate into major problems.

English: A little girl has her first visit to ...
The rosary — it’s your soul’s little dentist visit.

Another aspect to keeping a toddler out of trouble is actively engaging them.  While sometimes I wish my son would entertain himself with his toys and all I need to do is occasionally correct him if he starts doing something wrong, that is not how raising a child works.  Keeping my son out of trouble usually means interacting with him through playing, reading, singing, etc.  Sitting down with my son with a bucket of Lego bricks has proved infinitely better at keeping him out of trouble than millions of passively said “no’s”, “don’t touch that”, “and take that out of your mouth.”

The rosary is also something that works best when you’re actively engaged praying it.  When you break out of thinking of rosary prayer as a mechanical uttering of words you also forge a more meaningful relationship with God.  Rosary prayer isn’t a passive activity, at least it’s not if you want to get something out of it.  Like the toddler that needs your engagement more than he needs to hear your rules, the rosary requires active participation to be truly effective.  It is your opportunity to really interact with God and lay out your petitions, sorrows, and thanksgivings.  It’s not about fulfilling some todo item to make God happy but is your chance to actually learn God’s plan for you.

I understand that making time for rosary prayer is difficult.  It’s probably even more difficult than interacting with a toddler.  Last time I checked, a rosary doesn’t take a box of crackers out of the cupboard and empties it out on the kitchen floor when you don’t pray it.  A rosary can be easily forgotten.  After all, bills need to be paid.  You need to go to work.  You need to sleep.  You need to clean.  You need to keep your children from painting on the walls.  I get it.

I learned in college that you always make time for the activities that are priorities.  There are just some activities you cannot ignore because your health, finances, or relationships depend on you making time for them.  My challenge to you is to elevate your spiritual well being as a priority in your life and make praying the rosary a routine.  It’s Advent now which means it’s a new church year.  Make rosary prayer your resolution.

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Come Pray the Rosary

Almost a year ago a visitor left a comment mentioning the website “Come Pray the Rosary” (thanks Jack!). This website is a perpetual, online Rosary prayer session with others around the world. The prayer is set to video of various holy places and works of religious art. You can also leave prayer intentions if you like. You can pray alone and start at the beginning of a mystery instead of joining a mystery already in progress. I know that sometimes we all need a little “kick” to start praying and that is what this site offers. It may sound silly, but sometimes a voice set to a little video is the catalyst I need to get in that praying mood. Guided rosary prayer also helps us focus our minds since they have a tendency to wonder when we pray silently by ourselves (or at least I suffer from this at times).

Mary Magdalene, after a painting by Ary Scheff...
Image via Wikipedia

Welcome to Holy Week!  I hope you have had a productive Lenten season as you prepare for the glorious redemption of Christ our King.  Personally, I prepared well during Lent in certain areas (my Lenten sacrifice, attending Stations of the Cross, etc.) and have not quite lived up in other areas (reading the Bible, fasting, etc.).  But, like in other parts of life (and iterated many times in the Gospels) it is not how you start, but how you end that counts.  So I hope to make this a very productive Holy Week.  In that spirit, I want to introduce you to a little gem of a website called “Come Pray the Rosary.”

A year ago a visitor left a comment mentioning the website “Come Pray the Rosary” (thanks Jack!).  This website is a perpetual, online Rosary prayer session with others around the world.  The prayer is set to video of various holy places and works of religious art.  You can also leave prayer intentions if you like.  You can pray alone and start at the beginning of a mystery instead of joining a mystery already in progress.  I know that sometimes we all need a little “kick” to start praying and that is what this site offers.  It may sound silly, but sometimes all it takes is a voice set to a little video to be a catalyst to get into that praying mood.  Guided rosary prayer also helps us focus our minds since we have a tendency to wonder when we pray silently by ourselves (or at least I suffer from this at times).

So you will now see a new link on the left-hand side of my website which will open “Come Pray the Rosary” in a new browser window.  Give it a try if you are looking for new ways of rosary meditation and prayer.

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Rosary Meditation — The Third Sorrowful Mystery

This rosary meditation focuses on the Third Sorrowful Mystery — The Crowning of Thorns. The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus by dressing Him in royal purple and crowning Him with thorns (Mk. 15:17). They then mocked Him and pretended to pay Him homage (Mk. 15:19). Would the soldiers have acted so cavalier and arrogant if they truly understood who it was they were mocking? While we are not as brazen as those soldiers, we often mock Jesus by giving lip service to our faith. Instead of faithfully following Jesus, we too often dishonor Him by putting the fleeting treasures of this life in front of the treasures waiting for us in Heaven. Particularly in this time of Lent we must make a sincere effort to put Jesus first in our lives and honor Him the way He deserves.

This rosary meditation focuses on the Third Sorrowful Mystery — The Crowning of Thorns.  The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus by dressing Him in royal purple and crowning Him with thorns (Mk. 15:17).  They then mocked Him and pretended to pay Him homage (Mk. 15:19).  Would the soldiers have acted so cavalier and arrogant if they truly understood who it was they were mocking?  While we are not as brazen as those soldiers, we often mock Jesus by giving lip service to our faith.  Instead of faithfully following Jesus, we too often dishonor Him by putting the fleeting treasures of this life in front of the treasures waiting for us in Heaven.  Particularly in this time of Lent we must make a sincere effort to put Jesus first in our lives and honor Him the way He deserves.

We are often very much like the Roman soldiers who pretended to pay Jesus homage.  Sure, we may say that we are good Christians.  We might recite prayers every night and go to Mass every Sunday.  But do we truly believe that Jesus Christ is our king and savior?  Will we follow Him even when times are difficult and our faith runs contrary to society’s norms?  Or is our faith something done in isolation and detached from our “normal” lives?  For example, how many of your beliefs conflict with the Church’s teachings?  Or, when faced with a difficult situation, how often do you tell a “little white lie” or commit some other easy sin to serve your own ends?  Do you go to Confession without intending to truly turn away from your sins and live with a converted heart?  There are so many ways where we pretend to follow Jesus but our actions tell a different story.  And while our transgressions may seem small and inconsequential, they are like the little thorns on the crown we offer to Jesus.  When meditating upon this mystery think about how sincerely you praise and honor Jesus.  Do you practice and live the faith you profess or are you like the Roman soldiers who only pretended to honor Jesus?

For whose kingdom are you living?  We too often live for this worldly kingdom and not for Jesus’ kingdom of Heaven.  There are so many things that compete for our attention — money, power, possessions, and lust just to name a few.  But we must remember this verse from the Gospel of Matthew (6:24):

No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.

But how we try. However, as the verse says, by trying to serve two masters we often end up serving only one.  Since money and possessions are physical, quantifiable things it is often easier to live for them than it is to live for our treasures in Heaven.  After all, we only have it on faith that the riches of Heaven will far outweigh anything made in this world.  But since our eternal reward isn’t something advertised during the Super Bowl by a fancy advertising agency, we too often kick it aside for the things that we can see, hear, and touch.

Ask yourself in this time of Lent, what master are you serving?  What type of crown do you offer Jesus Christ?

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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
Image via Wikipedia

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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Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing

The rosary has the ability to heal and mend what is broken in our lives. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, on Catholic Online, discusses how praying the rosary brings us inner peace by replacing all that is earthly with what is heavenly.

Blessed Virgin Mary - Mother of God
Image by Ted Abbott via Flickr

The rosary has the ability to heal and mend what is broken in our lives.  Fr. Dwight Longenecker, on Catholic Online, discusses how praying the rosary brings us inner peace by replacing all that is earthly in our life with what is heavenly.

From the article:

In a mysterious way Christ’s perfect life and the perfect love he shared with his mother, flow into the wounded places in our lives. This grace empowers us to return to the confessional with a clearer vision. It helps us to be open to the healing Christ brings through the Eucharist, and it gives us the strength to continue the daily hard work of being transformed into Christ’s image.

I really like this idea of replacing our “wounded places” with Christ’s love.  It goes hand-in-hand with many of the message from Mary at Medjugorje when she asks us to clean out all that prevents us from fully accepting God’s graces.

The article also discusses how our lives mimic the values and themes seen in each mystery of the rosary:

Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae writes, “The rosary marks the rhythm of human life, bringing it into harmony with the rhythm of God’s own life.”

Pope John Paul II said that we can reflect on all the joys, sorrows, and challenges in our lives by looking at the ones shown in the mysteries of the rosary.  Over time, through rosary prayer, our ways begin to mimic Jesus’ ways revealed in those mysteries.  For example, we see Jesus taking up the cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  We know that Jesus fell down repeatedly and yet He always got back up and continued on.  We can learn that we all have our “crosses” in life and at times we might fall (either by sin or just lacking faith and spiritual energy).  However, to imitate Jesus we must get up and continue working towards His kingdom.

The next time we pray the rosary, let us ask ourselves what each mystery reveals about our own lives.  Are we imitating what Jesus did in those mysteries or are we ignoring His teachings and example?

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The Pope Asks for Meditations on Persecuted Christians

One of my previous rosary meditations was on The Second Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus’ Scourging. I discussed how I see suffering broken down into different groups; one of them being actively-persecuted Christians. Pope Benedict XVI also calls us to mediate on the persecuted Christians in our world. We are called to not only pray for them, but to really contemplate deeply how their experiences mirror the Passion of Jesus Christ. This article discusses how the strength and faith of persecuted Catholics around the world shows us the power of the Holy Spirit that is in all of us.

BookOne of my previous rosary meditations was on The Second Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus’ Scourging.  I discussed how I see suffering broken down into different groups; one of them being actively-persecuted Christians.  Pope Benedict XVI also calls us to meditate on the persecuted Christians in our world.  We are called to not only pray for them, but to really contemplate deeply how their experiences mirror the Passion of Jesus Christ.  This article discusses how the strength and faith of persecuted Catholics around the world shows us the power of the Holy Spirit that is in all of us.

I think it is very easy for people in the Western world, the United States in particular, to overlook that many Christians around the world are persecuted in their countries.  Many of us tend to see persecution as something from a previous era.  The first image that comes to my mind is one of people being fed to lions in an arena while a Roman emperor watches.  Not exactly a modern example now, is it?  Perhaps we may not want to think about persecution and instead focus on happier topics such as our Lord’s resurrection.  Many of us also have no idea what real persecution and suffering is.  For those of us living in relative safety, persecution means receiving an odd look or a condescending comment if you tell someone you are a practicing Catholic.  I personally have a hard time praying for the needs of people around the world who actually face the same threats and challenges as early Christians.  And unfortunately, because I do not actively suffer for my faith, those who do are quickly forgotten during the course of my day.  Sure, I may think about them momentarily during a small prayer, but sometimes their problems just seem too big and it is far easier for me to retreat to Facebook or television.

We cannot turn a blind eye to those who actively suffer because of their faith.  Of course we must keep them in our prayers and help them any way possible (probably by supporting a charitable, relief organization) to relieve or eliminate their suffering.  Charity is always a great way to put our faith into practice.  But we also must remember the persecuted because they are a very real example of following Christ’s path.  Their suffering and faith reminds us just how real and relevant Jesus’ teachings in our lives.  Through their faith in Jesus Christ these people have the strength to overcome their hardships.  By meditating and praying for the persecuted we not only give them the hope and power to overcome their terrible situation, but we also prepare ourselves for the difficult moments in our lives.  If the persecuted Catholics in places like China, India, and the Sudan can find the strength to practice their faith then that should be a sign that ALL of us have that same strength.  The persecuted are evidence that the God did not only come into this world thousands of years ago and then left us to fend for ourselves.  Their perseverance shows that God has always been with us through the very real prescience of the Holy Spirit to give us the guidance and strength to overcome any obstacle this world has to offer.

Let us pray for those who live out the Second Sorrowful Mystery every day.  While we may never know their suffering, they are proof on how strong our faith in God can be.  Let us pray that we let the Holy Spirit penetrate our hearts and minds and guide us through whatever hard times we may encounter.  We know that the world can be a cruel and difficult place, but at the same time we have faith that God will see us through it.  While some events do not go as we wish, let us pray that we truly have faith that God has a plan for all of us that lead us into His Heavenly kingdom.  While it is easy to say that we have faith in God’s divine plan when everything goes smoothly, the real test is to trust in God when life turns difficult.  But if the faith of the persecuted Christians is any indication, we know we can endure whatever challenges the world may bring.

It’s always a good time to visit and shop in the RosaryMeds Store.

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Rosary Meditation: The Second Sorrowful Mystery

My rosary meditation on the Second Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus’ Scourging. I reflect on how, through suffering, we mimic the ways of Jesus Christ.

This week’s rosary meditation focuses on The Second Sorrowful Mystery — The Scourging.  Before being condemning Jesus to death, the Roman authorities brutally whipped Him as was the sentence for various crimes at that time.  While innocent of any wrongdoing, Jesus suffered greatly for preaching God’s truth which undermined any human authority, particularly the Roman’s.  Scourging, like other forms of corporal punishment, helped cement Roman dominion over their territories and deter anyone who dared to speak out against them.

Jesus’ suffering is one of the harder aspects of His ministry to understand.  It is easy to think of Jesus as the great teacher or the miracle worker.  It is much more difficult to picture Him, God made man, as someone battered and bruised like any one of us.  So why does He choose this time of great suffering and hardship to be the most human instead of showing His divine nature?  After all, would not more people come to believe in Him and His way if He miraculously stopped His torturers from harming Him?  Wouldn’t a legion of angels descending from Heaven to defend Jesus turn the most skeptical into believers?

Jesus’ suffering and death mimic His ministry.  While I often wish that Jesus’ message was, “follow me and you will be on easy street for the rest of your life,” I know that He doesn’t let us off that easy.  He did not teach that no harm will ever come to those who believe in Him.  In fact, He taught repeatedly that following His way would be fraught with inconveniences, hardship, and suffering.  It is an unfortunate that our earthly kingdom and God’s kingdom are largely incompatible and you can only live for one of them.  But Jesus repeated that those who kept the faith, despite any suffering, would find their reward in Heaven.  Like His parables, His message through the scourging was that those who endure great hardship by living for His kingdom will be the first to inherit it.

When I think about those who suffer I break them down into three main groups.  There are those who are actively persecuted, suffer, and even face martyrdom for their unrelenting faith in Jesus’ word.  In many places such as Africa, the Middle East, India, and China, being Catholic is incredibly dangerous.  But these people are our greatest example of living Jesus’ way since they face physical suffering and even death because they keep the promise of one day coming into the kingdom of Heaven.  While many of us will never face such extreme hardship we should pray that we can learn from their example of faith and commitment.

The second group is lot larger, but I fear that its membership numbers are dwindling.  These are the people who suffer small hardships in their daily lives in order to live their Catholic faith.  These hardships include small sacrifices such as not eating meet on Fridays, taking time out for Mass, and fasting.  However, in more extreme cases they risk losing friends, quitting jobs, or moving away because they find themselves in situations that are in direct opposition to their faith.  While I would like to say that giving to charity and praying should always be moments of great comfort and happiness, in reality those can be times of small difficulty and hardship.  Sometimes turning off the television to pray or putting some more money in the collection basket at church are incredible challenges.  After all, those who do not live by any faith do not have these obligations and can watch as much television as they want or spend their money on themselves.  But we should pray that we live the truth of Jesus Christ always despite the perceived hardships it puts on us.  We must remain strong to His message despite the increasing volume of society’s message that faith in God is not important and is just silly superstition.

I fear this last group grows by leaps and bounds daily.  These are the people who suffer because they have lost their faith.  They suffer because they make bad decisions that, while marketed as making life better, actually make their lives worse.  Sure, many of them have nice homes, plenty of money, and fancy clothes.  While they laugh at the rules and regulations of organized religion and seem to be perfectly content with life, they are often the most unhappy.  Basically, the message of a better world to come is drowned out by the message of “do whatever you want whenever you want.”  You only have to look at their faces or hear the anger or despair in their voices to know that their lifestyle has only brought them nothing but anguish and misery.  And because sometimes our pride is greater than our faith, we do not admit that our decisions are wrong, ask Jesus for forgiveness, and try to find the correct path of His truth.  For obvious reasons, these people need the most prayers.  Let us pray that they find the courage towards taking that first step in reconnecting to their faith and filling that void with Jesus’ love instead of easy choices and material possessions.

Let us remember that life involves suffering in some way or another.  Jesus did not come into this world to eliminate suffering as seen in His own suffering through His scourging.  We should pray that we gather the strength to follow Jesus’ example whether that means enduring life’s small hardships of living the faith or reconnecting with the Church after following a more worldly path.  Remember, we do not suffer alone but are called to a life where we share these burdens together along with Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, and the saints and angels.  Have no fear; you have a great support group!

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Rosary Meditation: The First Sorrowful Mystery

This rosary meditation reflects on the First Sorrowful Mystery — The Agony in the Garden.  Before Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, He prayed in a garden for strength.  First, He prayed that God would let this horrible ordeal pass over Him.  He later found his apostles asleep after he asked them to pray with Him.  Finally, Jesus said that He would do God’s will despite any fears He had.

This mystery revolves around prayer as well as the lack of it.  First we see Jesus facing His certain death.  But what does He do in that situation?  Does He run and hide?  Does He ask the apostles to fight and protect Him?  Does he complain endlessly and ask, “why me?”  No, instead He prays and prays earnestly.  Jesus prays so hard that He starts sweating blood.  That make me wonder, have I every prayed so hard for anything in my life?  When I face large challenges, do I first turn to prayer and ask God for strength and guidance or do I try to figure out some way to avoid them?  Or do I just throw out a quick “God, help me!” without much effort or faith that God will actually do anything.

This rosary mystery really forces us to focus on the quality of our prayers.  Ask yourself, do you earnestly lay your soul before God in prayer or do you just go through the words and motions?  I know from my experience that when I pray I am often thinking of other things.  I’m thinking about work, a television show or movie, finances, something someone said, or politics.  When we pray are we like Jesus laying ourselves out before God or are we like the apostles — physically there but spiritually asleep?

We also see the dichotomy of Jesus being both fully human and fully God.  He shows us very human emotions such as the fear of being tortured and killed and disappointment upon discovering His apostles sleeping instead of praying.  He pleads with God that this terrible fate not befall Him.  Fear and desperation are not exactly traits we associate with God but ones we use to describe ourselves.  And there lies the reason why we see Jesus in this very human state.  If we saw the fully divine Jesus go to His death, fully at peace because He knew about His ultimate resurrection and redemption, we would not be able to relate to Him much less imitate Him.  Seeing Jesus scared reminds us that being scared is a normal human response when facing monumental obstacles and challenges in our lives.  However, Jesus shows us that we cannot let those emotions impede us from doing God’s will.  We truly follow in Jesus’ footsteps when we imitate His ways despite our human fears and doubts that make us want to do otherwise.

Jesus’ experience in the garden mirrors the apostles’ experience in the Third Glorious Mystery – The Decent of the Holy Spirit.  The apostles were scared of the fate that might befall them but God gave them strength and guidance through the Holy Spirit.  Their worldly circumstances did not change and they still faced some rather monumental challenges.  Similarly, God did not change the world so that Jesus could escape crucifixion.  God knew, as Jesus did, that ultimate salvation could only be found at the cross.  We should remember that the reason God does not remove obstacles and challenges in our lives is so that we can grow closer to Him and become better people by enduring those challenges.  In other words, God shows His might, not by removing obstacles, but by giving us the strength to overcome them.

What can we do to put this mystery into practice?  For starters, let us try to pray earnestly with our whole heart, mind, and soul.  Our relationship with God is something too important for Him to occupy our thoughts alongside the latest episode of “American Idol”, a funny joke, or where the stock market is currently trading.  Wherever we are in our prayer life I know we can all probably step up our intensity.  That might mean trying to concentrate harder when praying the rosary, taking time out to say grace before a meal, or really focusing on prayers during Mass.  Perhaps we can take the time to go to Adoration and really focus and building a stronger relationship with God.  We should also pray for those who are feeling scared and trapped by life’s obstacles.  Whether they know it or not, they follow in Jesus’ footsteps and God will give them strength and guidance just as He gave those gifts to Jesus in that lonely garden.

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