What the Rosary Teaches Us About Spiritual Persistence

As a father of two boys, I can sympathize with those who face the never ending battle of trying to keep a clean house.  No sooner have I vacuumed the floor that one of my boys starts jumping on the sofa and knocks down a leftover bowl of cereal.  Or I just finish cleaning a room and they dump a bin of legos on the floor and start building.  On Catholic Exchange, Sam Guzman relates the experience of keeping a clean house to keeping a clean soul in his article:

At any rate, I’ve noticed that, just as a clean house quickly descends into disorder and must be constantly cleaned, so also our souls need constant care and upkeep. We must always be beginning to put them in order again.

There are days when our children have made such a mess of things that cleaning up seems a hopeless task. My wife and I look at each other and don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Yet, we begin again.

In this life, holiness is found in beginning again and again. It is constant examination and conversion and regeneration of heart. Holiness if found in repentance. And repentance is not merely feeling sorry that you sinned. It is rather a re-turning to God—a thousand times a day if necessary.

My kids’ room 5 minutes after cleaning it

I call this never ending practice of conversion spiritual persistence.  Spiritual persistence is continuing to pray and have faith in God’s plan even when it seems fruitless.  When I pray the rosary and ask God for help building my spiritual persistence I meditate on Jesus carrying the cross in The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  Jesus was literally beaten down carrying the cross with no hope for relief.  Each time he fell down and got back up, he only had more cruelty and torture to look forward to.  And yet, Jesus got back up and began walking again towards his crucifixion.

I think we all have moments when we ask ourselves, “what’s the point?”  Why should I suffer for doing the right thing instead of taking ethical or moral shortcuts?  Why should I fast?  Why should I go to Sunday Mass?  Why should I go to Confession?  What good will these do since I’ll just go about sinning again in the future anyway?

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Sometimes we can see our faith more as a cross than a blessing.  We too often focus on what we give up or the effort required and not the benefits.  Part of the challenge is that the sacrifice we feel immediately while the joy and grace are often delayed or is so subtle we don’t feel it.  As an analogy to keeping a clean house, we so often tend to dread the steps needed to make a house clean that it often overshadows the joy of having a clean house.

This is where meditating on the fourth sorrowful mystery of the rosary becomes important.  It puts all these perceived inconveniences into perspective.  Jesus endured far worse doing his father’s will.  If Jesus saw the importance of his Passion, we should ask God to help us see the importance of trying to live a spiritually healthy lifestyle.  We may not always like housework, but we understand the importance of maintaining a clean house.  And we may not always enjoy the obligations our faith puts on us, but we pray the rosary to understand why it is so important that we follow God’s plan.

As we near the end of Lent, many of us probably feel beaten down and tired.  We may be tired of fasting, abstaining from meat, the increased prayer, etc.  But instead of focusing on pain, let’s ask God to help us see the joy that comes from these Lenten practices.  The joy that comes from letting go of some of our worldly pleasures and replacing them with God’s grace.  The joy in understanding that we will one day find true happiness in Heaven due to our spiritual persistence in this lifetime.

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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.

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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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Learning Perseverance Through Rosary Prayer

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

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Feel the burn!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Striving for Manliness, the Catholic Way

Did I miss a memo from the Vatican? I feel like I keep coming across this theme of becoming a better Catholic man all over the place. First I found it on Catholic Exchange when I wrote 12 Ways to be a Better Catholic in 2016. Then a friend sent me a video about the need for authentic Catholic manliness. Was there some sort of synod or papal document released recently on this issue? Or is it the Holy Spirit gently giving me hints that this is a topic I should write about?

If you don’t feel like reading and just want to veg out for a bit watching a video, here is the one my friend sent me about authentic Catholic manhood:

A few thoughts.  I really like the part in the middle that asks, if you can’t resist all those little temptations how are you going to resist and protect yourself and others from the big ones?  This concept of mastering the small things to prepare for the big ones ties into why I keep pushing on the idea of regular rosary prayer.  I think we all encounter those moments of big crisis, temptation, despair, etc. at some point in our lives.  It’s not a matter of if, but when.  How much harder will overcoming those large challenges be if you haven’t proven to yourself that you have mastered the smaller ones?  How much more difficult will it be to pick up that rosary in your hour of need if you’ve never prayed it?  It’s the regularity of prayer and self-mastery which makes the big challenges in life manageable.  It’s the difference between seeing a large mountain from the base camp vs. already being 90% to the summit.  Start the climb now, whether it means resisting those small sins and temptations, fasting, or praying the rosary so that you won’t be starting from the bottom when life throws a mountain of challenges your way.

Another area I want to explore is why there is a cultural aversion to Catholic (or just spiritual) manliness.  Why is being strong in faith not considered manly?  I think part of it is that faith requires humility.  It requires acceptance that you cannot conquer every challenge on your own but need God’s help.  And like out of every cheesy romantic comedy, REAL MEN DON’T ASK FOR HELP!  Unfortunately, as the movie earlier in this article points out, so much of our image of manhood is shaped by popular culture, not by real interaction with real people.  So we develop this warped view that having a spiritual side somehow makes you weak.

“Put that map down! I know where I’m going.”

Okay, hopefully you’re reading this knowing that popular culture has the concept of manhood all wrong.  But how can the rosary show us what true manliness is?  The answer should be clear as most of the rosary mysteries revolve around Jesus.  What example is he setting before us?  I’m going to focus on the Sorrowful Mysteries given the challenges Jesus faced.  After all, it is in the times of great hardship that our true character shines.

  • First Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus prays for help and for a different fate but also accepts God’s Will.
  • Second Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures suffering.
  • Third Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures humiliation.
  • Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus repeatedly falls but gets back up and moves forward.
  • Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus asks for God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

What picture do the Sorrowful Mysteries paint of manly virtue?  Humility, sacrifice, perseverance, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and conviction.  Those are the attributes everyone, men and women, are called to show.  To steal the quotation from the opening of the movie, “You were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness.”  And greatness comes from embracing your faith and imitating Jesus, not just when it is convenient, but when it is overwhelmingly challenging.

Come on, you all thought of Tim Tebow when you thought of men praying.

We pray for those facing huge life challenges.  But we also pray that we all build up our spiritual strength by praying, faster, receiving the sacraments, and avoid sin.

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5 Ways You Can Keep Religion Relevant

I came across this article the other day on the Drudge Report about how Americans are becoming less religious.  It read:

“The share of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, while still high compared with other advanced industrial countries, slipped to 89 percent in 2014 from 92 percent in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study.  The percentage of Americans who pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion important in their lives are down by small, but statistically significant measures, the survey found.”

Other headlines also found on Drudge:

  • Fatal rush-hour shooting near Penn Station
  • ZombiCon shooting leaves one dead
  • COPS: Thief stole operating room table from hospital!
  • CITY OF HATE: Breast-feeding mom mugged in Manhattan park…
  • COPS: Man killed for grabbing last piece of chicken at dinner

Anyone else making a connection here?  I’m not saying that correlation equals causation and that a loss of religion directly contributes to a raise in tragedies.  After all, the world has never really been a pleasant place.  However, I don’t know about you but I feel like the world is really falling apart at an accelerated pace.  I’m not just talking about large world powers colliding in global conflicts either.  I’m thinking more on a micro scale to individuals.  People seem to be much angrier and unhappy.  Everyone seems to fly into a blind rage at the slightest offense or inconvenience.  Or people are retreating into their own little worlds where they just don’t give much thought about their actions and who they may affect.  And this isn’t just me observing this.  Studies are showing a rise in death rates among middle aged, white Americans due to suicide and substance abuse.

 

While the decline in religion may not have a direct causation to the world’s problems, I bet that a return to religion would help alleviate some of them.  In these dark times we need to pray for those who do not practice their faith whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.  Or we need to pray for those who have twisted their faith into something that it is not.  We do live in dark times globally, but for many, individually as well.  And so we can look at Jesus’ example in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary for how we can approach these dark hours.

First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in...

When the world or our individual lives feel like it’s in a downward spiral, we need to follow Jesus’ example and turn to God in earnest prayer like he did in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We ask God for the strength to endure whatever is ahead.  Keep in mind that Jesus was still arrested and crucified despite his prayers.  Those prayers didn’t result in God removing hardship but helped Jesus find strength.  Maybe he found comfort and courage talking to God in prayer, like a child holding a parent’s hand when they are scared or upset.  And so we can also find comfort talking to God in prayer in a world hostile to hearing and living the truth.

Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

When I think of all the anger and misery in the world, I wonder how much of it is self inflicted because people have turned away from their faith.  How many people find themselves unhappy for reasons they can’t explain because they stopping listening to the source of truth for true happiness, Jesus Christ?  We pray for those who suffer because they have turned away from their faith.  May they find that practicing their faith can provide the answer to their unhappiness and suffering.

Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning of Thorns

The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus because they did not understand him or his teachings.  And so we find ourselves in a world that mocks Jesus and his truth because they do not know him.  Fewer people are taking the time to know Jesus through living their faith and turn to practices that dishonor him such as premarital sex, pornography, substance abuse, lying, cheating, stealing, cursing, and greed (to name a very small few).  We pray for a realization of the effects our actions have on others and a conversion of heart to Jesus’ truth.

Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross

How hard must it have been for Jesus to carry his cross among a crowd of people, many who supported him and many who had turned against him.  As we journey through this world, let’s not be discouraged by those who are mean to us, attack our values, or wish us harm.  Rather, may we find strength in those who want us to keep fighting the good fight, get up when we fall, and continue living our faith.  While it may seem like the Church is beaten down and her critics are winning, so did it seem like the Romans and pharisees had their victory the many times Jesus fell under his cross.  But we all know that in the end, Jesus found strength in his weakness and those who tried to hurt him ultimately failed.

Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion

Christ on the Cross cropped. Crop of old Mass ...

So many people stood before Jesus at the cross mocking him.  Today, so many people stand in front of his Church and mock her by living contrary to the truth.  But when the centurion, a Roman, at the cross witnessed Jesus’ death, he exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!”  Jesus, at his death and supposed victory of the pharisees over him, showed a glimmer of the victory that was yet to come by converting the heart of an unbeliever.  And so we hope that through our tireless example of living for Jesus we too can turn even the most hardened skeptics into believers.

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Get Up and Make the Most of Lent

My wife turned to me the other day and said, “I really don’t feel like it’s Lent right now.” I replied that I felt the same way. As parents, every day of our lives feels a bit “Lentish.” We continuously sacrifice our time, money, sleep, and freedom to raise our boys the best we can. For 365 days a year parents have to sacrifice those little luxuries that others just put off for 40 days.

But before I give myself a Purple Heart for the sacrifices I’ve made in the parenting line of duty, I have to recall the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus Carrying the Cross. I don’t think anyone would disagree that Jesus endured and sacrificed a lot during His ministry and particularly during His Passion. No one would have been too critical of Jesus if He never got up from one of His falls under the weight of the cross. After all, He was in a human body that could only take so much punishment. And yet, He dug down deep, got up, and kept moving knowing that His earthly life was only going to get worse.  Why?  Because His love of God and doing His Father’s will outweighed all the pain and suffering.

Icon of Jesus being led to Golgotha, 16th cent...
Icon of Jesus being led to Golgotha, 16th century, Theophanes the Cretan (Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We should follow Jesus’ example in His Passion and dig down deep and find that extra spiritual energy during Lent. It’s not like we have a sacrificial quota and those who make sacrifices all year are exempt or can take it easy during Lent. It’s actually just the opposite. God calls the spiritually fit and conditioned to push themselves even further.  Jesus was the most spiritually fit person to walk the earth and He pushed Himself through the Passion and ultimately Crucifixion.  God asked that of His son so surely we can do whatever small things God asks of us this Lent.

Even if you pray, fast, and live a Catholic life all year around, Lent is the time to go that extra mile.  Like Jesus getting up after a fall and carrying His cross, we can all do a little more to better connect with a God who loves us and we should love in return. It doesn’t matter whether practicing your faith begins and ends one hour every Sunday or if you are Pope Francis, there is always a little something more you can do during Lent that you don’t do other times of the year.

To help, I found this article on Catholic Exchange about making the most of Lent. It’s still early in the Lenten season so if you’re off to a slow start (I’ve accidentally forgot that I gave up snacking twice already), give this a read and hopefully it will jumpstart your Lent.

For the impatient, here’s the article’s outline:

  1. Prayer
  2. Reconciliation and Peace
  3. Penance
  4. The Bible,The Word of God
  5. Almsgiving
  6. The Three T’s
  7. Joy
  8. Daily Mass and Communion
  9. Conquer Your Own Devil
  10. Mary and Lent

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Heaven is Other People

Want to know the secret to a long and healthy life?  I’ll give you a clue, it doesn’t come from some pill derived from a Far Eastern plant root.  It doesn’t come from a self-help book containing “ancient” wisdom kept secret by the Masons.  It doesn’t come from going to the gym five days a week or sticking to a paleo diet.  It comes from… people!  And no, I’m not talking about Soylent Green.  I’m talking about marriage, family, community, and prayer.  The Catholic San Francisco ran this interesting little piece last week where they talk about how marriage and religiosity are important factors in living a long life.

“The health benefits of marriage are so strong that a married man with heart disease can be expected to live, on average, 1,400 days (nearly four years) longer than an unmarried man with a healthy heart,” said Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

“This longer life expectancy is even longer for a married man who has cancer or is 20 pounds overweight compared to his healthy but unmarried counterpart,” Haltzman added. “The advantages for women are similar.”

Couples with higher levels of religiosity “tend to enjoy greater marital satisfaction, fidelity and stability, with less likelihood of domestic violence,” according to a compilation of studies by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

Right now I’m taking this research on faith since I’m a father of two boys that are sending me on the express lane to gray hair.  I’m not quite sure how being a human jungle gym and getting no sleep will exactly extend my life expectancy.  Then again, maybe chasing after my toddler and rocking my infant to sleep does have a healthy workout aspect to it so maybe there is a grain of truth to the health benefits of married and family life.

These studies showing the countless benefits of marriage, family, and prayer make intuitive sense to me.  When you feel like you are part of a community, whether it be the small family circle or a large parish, you belong to a group of people who mutually reinforce and support each other.  In other words, you don’t face life’s struggles alone and you don’t don’t live solely for yourself and your desires.  We need that occasional second opinion that pushes us to try harder or put the brakes on our impulses.  Personally, I know that I act differently now that I’m a husband and a father then when I was single because I know there is a lot more depending on me to be my very best.

This is also why the rosary is such a powerful prayer for both your physical and spiritual health.  When you pray the rosary and meditate on its mysteries, you hopefully arrive at an understanding that you are also part of a larger community — the community of Christ.  You are connected to our Mother Mary, the saints, angels, and the departed in Heaven.  You are also connected to all the other people united in prayer.  I truly believe that the rosary helps you realize that there is so much more to your life than just your immediate needs and desires.  You not only understand that there are others looking out for you, but you also realize that there are opportunities for you to help someone else.

For example, when I pray the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, Jesus taking his cross, my initial intentions revolve around asking the Lord for strength to do his will even when my crosses weigh me down.  But then I remember that I have the ability to help others carry their crosses and lighten their burden.  I ask God to give me an awareness of how I can help others in my life.  My rosary prayer may start with asking God to help me but they often end with me thinking how I can help others.  To put it another way, my rosary prayers usually start with an inward focus but end with me thinking outwardly about my role in the greater community of humanity.  And when millions of people do the same in their prayers, we become a huge community of individuals helping each other and bringing out the very best in each other.

For those of you who visit RosaryMeds regularly, there is a link on the left-hand side you may have overlooked.  The site is called “Come, Pray the Rosary” and is a 24/7 rosary prayer that you can join in at any time and also post intentions.  When I first came across it, the site maybe had a dozen people praying together at any given time but now it always well over 100 (140 at the time of this writing).  It really drives home that the rosary is a community prayer.  Plus I love the almost hypnotic quality of the website’s intro music.

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A World on Fire

There has been so much happening at the intersection of politics and religion lately (it’s a block down the road from the intersection of crazy and truth).  We have the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, abortion standoffs, international issues in the Middle East, Obamacare’s HHS mandate, scandal after scandal, and immigration reform debates.  Political developments seem to come in so fast that if I took the time to write in depth about any one issue, a dozen more would come to the forefront before I could publish it.  So I will leave it to the political news sites to report on the details of these stories.  They have the resources and the audience to go into much more detail than I ever can.  I will stick with what I know — rosary prayer and meditation.

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Overwhelmed by all the bad news lately?

I think it is so easy to read the current headlines and get discouraged.  One would think that the world is on the brink of falling apart completely.  What is wrong or evil are considered virtues.  What was once thought of as good and decent are now seen as hateful and intolerant.  Common sense seems to be in rare supply.  Humanity appears to be in a tailspin from which there is no recovery.  But that type of thinking assumes that the current state of the world is somehow drastically different from the past.  It assumes that there was a time when all was good and peaceful in the world and that recent conflicts are the exception to history.  But can you think of a time in human history when everything was fine?  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the world has always been a violent, hostile, and illogical place, especially towards truth, values, and faith.

If you want to see how cruel this world can be to those of faith, you don’t need to look any further than the mysteries of the rosary.  First start with the easy ones — the Sorrowful Mysteries.  Each mystery shows how humanity treats the source of truth and love, Jesus Christ.  He’s betrayed in the First Sorrowful Mystery, scourged in the Second, crowned with thorns in the Third, carries a cross in the Fourth, and is crucified in the Fifth.  Not exactly a pleasant view of how humanity treats people of faith is it?  You can look at other mysteries too if you want to see how hard it has been to live morally.  When you pray the First Joyful Mystery, imagine how difficult it must have been for Mary, an unwed teenager, to learn that God called her to bear His Son.  Meditate on the Third Glorious Mystery and picture the apostles locked in a room out of fear of being found and killed by those who crucified Jesus.  History shows that following God’s plan often presents more challenges and defeats than victories.

End the end, we win!
How does it end? We win!

So what are we, as people of faith, to do?  Do we cast off our religious values and embrace the trends society embraces?  Do we hide our faith so that we don’t offend anyone?  Do we go on the offensive and use every dirty trick in the book to force a better world?  Again, we only need to look as far as the rosary.  When confronted with the difficult challenge of God choosing Mary to bear His son, she humbly puts her faith in His plan.  The apostles, when confronted by a hostile world, found strength in the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus, in the Sorrowful Mysteries, endured the torture and insults the world flung at Him.  Even at His lowest moment in His Passion, Jesus never stopped loving and forgiving.  Jesus practiced what He preached even in His most difficult moments.  And so God calls us to act like Mary and say yes to His plan even when in conflicts with the social norms of our society.  We must remember, like the apostles, the Holy Spirit empowers us to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus calls us to imitate Him and live according to His truth despite the suffering the world will heap upon us for doing so.

It isn’t all suffering and defeat.  To end on a positive note, remember that this world and our lives are only temporary.  The entirety of human history is but a blink of an eye compared to the enormity of the afterlife.  The problems and turmoil of today, while they may seem large to us now, are nothing compared to the joy and happiness of Heaven.  That isn’t to say that we can turn a blind eye to this world and its problems.  But we must keep everything in perspective.  We fight the good fight but our goal is Heaven, not this world.  Remember, the crucifixion isn’t the last rosary mystery.  We have the entire Glorious Mysteries after that where Jesus conquered death and prepared a place for us in His kingdom.  Our end is not tied to a Supreme Court ruling or the HHS mandate.  Our end is not summed up by bills, laws, and elections.  Our final end is praising God forever in Heaven.  Keep that in mind the next time you read the Drudge Report and feel like throwing your chair out the window in despair.

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Transforming the Rosary from Chore to Joy

“But I don’t want to clean my room!”
“Do I have to clean the dishes now?”
“But this show is almost over! I’ll take out the trash once it’s done.”
“But I’m not tired!”

I think nearly all parents hear excuses like these on a near daily basis. They engage in a constant struggle to instill a solid work ethic in their children and have them focus on others’ needs and not just what they want. But it is just as easy for adults to fall into periods of laziness when we don’t always choose what is best for us or for others. We cheat on our diets, we skip exercise, and we procrastinate on tasks like paying bills or conducting household maintenance in favour of watching television or browsing the internet. And I think we all have a tendency to skip or race through our prayers, especially the rosary. Although we may love the rosary generally, we are often no better than children when we find excuses to avoid praying it.

English: A sterling silver Catholic rosary. Fr...

This past Lent I felt like I received a lot more value from my rosary meditations all thanks to a few simple tweaks to my prayer routine. The biggest change came from thinking of a specific intention for each “Hail Mary” I recite. Praying for a specific intention combated that tendency to go into mental “auto-pilot” and start reciting the words more as worthless incantations than focused prayer. This habit of offering specific intentions started in earnest when I adopted a Catholic cardinal for the papal conclave. While I was praying for Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez of Mexico, I also offered intentions for family members, friends, and priests as well as presented my thanks for all that is good in my life and remorse for my sins.

Are you scared about the seemingly daunting prospect of coming up with an intention for each bead in a rosary? You would be surprised how easily one intention acts as a seed for many others. For example, when I pray the Second Joyful Mystery, The Visitation, I start by praying that all expectant mothers raise their children to know God’s love. That intention leads me to pray for the change of heart of all expectant mothers who are considering abortion. I then find myself praying for sidewalk counselors and those who pray in front of abortion clinics. That leads me to think about the change of heart of those working in the abortion industry. I follow with prayers that politicians (particularly Catholic ones) who publicly support the abortion industry let the Holy Spirit into their hardened hearts. Once I started attaching a few intentions to those “Hail Marys,” the rest came pouring in.

This Lent I also rekindled my love of rosary guides that contain scripture passages and commentary on each mystery. When I’m tired and feel like racing through the rosary, I often want to hide my rosary books in a drawer and forget they exist. I rationalize that I have already read them repeatedly and cannot derive much more use from them. Why do I need to reread the Bible verses of the Transfiguration or the Miracle at Cana? Why do I need to read commentary and meditations I’ve read a dozen times already?

Prayer

I am so glad when I do convince myself to read and integrate a guide into my rosary prayers because I discover something new every time. While the text stays the same, it speaks to me differently because I live through new experiences and the world at large changes every day. For example, I never would have thought back in January that I would now be praying for Pope Francis. Or maybe the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of Jesus carrying His cross will have a more personal significance to me after a difficult day at work. The same scriptural passages, commentaries, and meditations take on different meanings each time I read them. And these new ideas then manifest themselves as new intentions that I pray on each rosary bead which in turn makes me think of even more intentions, thanksgivings, and remorses. The rosary is no longer a static set of prayers, but is a dynamic dialog with Jesus, Mary, and the saints.

Looking for a good rosary prayer guide?  Try mine!

I believe that when people criticize rosary meditation, they envision someone mindlessly chanting the same phrases repeatedly. They invoke Matthew 6:7 — “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” What the critics do not understand is that the rosary is not “babble” when you put forth specific intentions, sorrows, and thanksgivings before our Mother Mary who then strengthens your prayers before her Son, Jesus Christ. When Mary gave humanity the rosary, she did not intend it to act as a medium for mindless incantations but instead she wants us to really make it our own. And when we pray the rosary as Mary intended, we no longer see it as a chore to avoid, but as a moment of peace and joy in our busy lives.

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