Be Like the Angels This Christmas

Christmas illustration
Christmas illustration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the past I wrote about the under appreciated players in the Nativity story — the shepherds.  This year I’m turning my attention to another group of beings that is often overlooked — the angels.  I’m not going to write a lengthy article on the importance of the angels.  I’m going to leave that to Adam Cavalier over at DesiringGod.  He writes about how we can look at the angels as examples on how we are to praise God.  He writes this about their devotion to God:

Their exemplary devotion should cause Christians to prioritize worship and obedience in every aspect of their lives. Angels carry out their tasks with delight. The Psalms urge us likewise, “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:2). The joyful praise of God is a command, not a piece of advice. It’s not a suggestion or a recommendation. We are called to join the angels in this happy devotion.

As we enter the third week of Advent, let us also meditate on how we can serve God, not with a sense of reluctant obligation, but with a sense of joy like the angels.  We should also remember that in happily loving God we open ourselves to his grace which gives us strength to love each other (yes, even Uncle Joe who always brings up politics at Christmas dinner).  Let’s show the world that being Catholic isn’t something we do out of obligation but is something we do because we understand the joy that comes from God’s grace.

Have a contemplative, faith oriented Advent and a merry Christmas!  And if you’re still looking for a last minute Christmas gift or just something to read while Uncle Joe spouts off about how evil ****** is, I’m offerer 20% my book, The Rosary for the Rest of Us.  Use discount code NJGTZ5WG (only applies for purchases through the CreateSpace EStore)

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5 Ways the Rosary Prepares Your Soul During Advent

It’s that time of year again.  My house is all lit up like a homing beacon for lost aircraft, my browser history is 99% Amazon.com, and Santa is watching my boys’ every move.  It’s Christmas time!  But it is also New Years.  I’m not talking about January 1st.  I’m talking about a new liturgical year that kicked off with Advent this past Sunday.  It’s a time to not only prepare your traditional Christmas cookies, but also time to prepare a place in your heart and mind for Jesus.  Let’s look at the five Joyful Mysteries of the rosary for ideas on how you can supersize your Advent.

#1. In the Annunciation, Mary accepts God’s plan for her.  She said, maybe still afraid and confused, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  This Advent, meditate on what God is asking of you.  You never know what God may ask of you or when.  Advent is a great time to prepare a spot for Jesus Christ in your heart so that you’ll be able to show the same courage Mary showed when God comes knocking on your door.

#2. In the Visitation, Mary exercises God’s grace by helping her older cousin Elizabeth in her pregnancy.  Advent is a time when we can prepare ourselves to best receive God’s grace through good works of kindness and charity.  Remember that in helping others, we are recognizing Jesus in our brothers and sisters.  When we comfort those less fortunate, we are comforting Jesus.  In this season of preparation, make room for Jesus in this world and provide him the comfort, respect, and honor he deserves by providing others comfort, respect, and honor.

Second Advent Week
Second Advent Week (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

#3. In the Nativity, we see shepherds leaving their posts to give homage to the baby Jesus.  Later, the wise men traveled far to honor him.  Both these stories show that people were willing to drop everything and go through some hardship to see Jesus.  In Advent, consider adding a few spiritual challenges like making sacrifices and fasting, receiving the sacraments especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and trying to attend extra Masses.  The Christmas season is a fun time, but remember that is is also a spiritual time.  Imagine how much more joyous Christmas will be if you not only prepared your house and completed your shopping list, but also kept a space for Jesus in your heart and mind by making small sacrifices for him.

#4. In the Presentation in the Temple, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph become one family in the eyes of God.  This mimics how we have a physical birth but also a spiritual one through the Sacrament of Baptism.  Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, but the Holy Family was unified under God in the Presentation of Jesus.  Advent is a good time to prepare a place in your heart for your family.  I know many of us have strained relationships with our families, either immediate or extended.  Maybe a family member has hurt you or you have hurt them.  Make Advent a time for family unity and peace.  Pray and meditate on how to best tear down any walls that separate you from your family.  Not only will it bring peace to your soul, but it will make Christmas dinner so much less awkward.

#5. In the Finding of Jesus of the Temple, Mary and Joseph traveled for many days just assuming Jesus was with them we he really was not.  This reminds me of the modern mindset that assumes we are close to Jesus no matter what we do.  In preparing for Christmas this Advent, stop assuming and start examining.  How central is Jesus in your life?  Have you done anything that has moved you away from God’s grace that requires the healing power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  Even if you don’t have any mortal sins on your conscience, ask yourself what you have done to honor Jesus.  Advent is the start of a new liturgical year.  So like a New Year’s resolution, Advent is a time to analyze where you are in your faith and make a spiritual resolution to improve it.

Need a little more help getting into the right spiritual mood this Advent?  Try downloading my free rosary guide.  Or purchase my rosary meditations book on Amazon.com.  Heck, maybe all you need is a little coffee to wake you up.  I have you covered.

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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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The Declining Influence of Religion in the United States

I don’t want to spoil anyone’s Christmas cheer, but according to this study I would only be spoiling it for a shrinking number of Americans anyway since it seems like more people are celebrating, not Christmas, but “the holidays.”  Pew Research Center did some analysis of the presidential election and found that Obama captured over 70% of the “not religiously affiliated” vote that makes up 20% of the American electorate.  We are certainly seeing an increasing percentage of the population where traditional religion does not play a part in their lives.  Those numbers increase dramatically when you also take into account those who are affiliated with a particular religion, but aren’t practicing.  This is bad news for those who do take their faith traditions seriously and expect the government to protect the right to live according to the teachings and beliefs of their religion.

If society places less importance on the role religion plays in peoples’ lives then the government will take less interest in protecting our fundamental freedom of religion.  We saw how casually Obama rolled out the Health and Human Services contraception mandate followed by a few “accommodations” such as delaying the enforcement of the mandate for one year or allowing very narrow exceptions.  Instead of outrage, this mandate was met with apathy from the general public.  We shouldn’t be surprised if one in five people don’t belong to any particular religion and many that do aren’t even actively practicing it.  This puts people of faith in a really tight spot because an increasing number of people just don’t understand why having a particular faith and a certain moral code is so important to some of us.  This disconnect will only widen as those who practice their faith become more of the minority and the USA drifts further away from the guiding principles of the Constitution.

The Pew Research Center had this to say about the people who aren’t affiliated with a relgion (known as the “nones”):

He cautions, however, against conflating the “nones” with nonbelievers.

“Those two things are not the same,” Smith says. The “nones’ are certainly less religious than those who say they belong to a religious group, but many are also believers.

“The absence of a connection to an organized religion is not the same as the absence of a religious belief or practice,” he says.

Here’s the problem with “nones” who are supposedly “believers.”  What do they believe?  Are their beliefs just an arbitrary set of guidelines that they will follow or ignore at their convenience?  Are they in that “God loves me and I think He’s cool with how I choose to live my life” group?  Because that’s not belief.  That’s just finding justification for living however one pleases.  It’s a religious foundation built on sand where the slightest disturbance or challenge will knock it over.  Or less poetically, they are beliefs that will change as soon as someone declares them outdated, uncool, or not following the majority in society.  In my experience, not being connected to an organized religion is synonymous with not practicing any religion at all.

I usually don’t like to link to opinion sites like NPR.  But if you have the stomach for it, go read the comments section to this article.  Many of them are openly hostile towards organized religion and portray the faithful as ignorant fools.  It’s a sampling of what a growing portion of America thinks about religion and, by association, what they think about you.  Remember, this is a group that is growing larger and becoming courted by politicians seeking to remain in office.  These are the voices and opinions politicians will hear when they craft our laws.  Scared yet?

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Baptism of a child by affusion

Society has come down with an acute case of non-belief.  Symptoms include empty churches and places of worship, sins being accepted as virtues, and a general apathy towards assaults on religions freedom.  I recommend praying the First Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.  When we meditate on this mystery, we should remember our baptism when we were brought into God’s grace.  Remember what God asks of you when you renew your baptismal promises at Mass and are also stated in the Apostles’ Creed which is the first prayer of the rosary.  You have a better chance of remaining in God’s grace when your baptismal promises are always on your mind and reflected in your actions.  That is why it’s important to pray the rosary each day.  As an added dose of rosary medication, pray for those who are unbelievers, have left the Church, or are openly hostile to her when you meditate on the Fifth Joyful Mystery — The Finding of Jesus in the Temple.  Remember, God doesn’t care how far you stray in life and for how long.  Some of the greatest saints in the Church lived sinful lives before turning around and searching for God’s grace.  You can always come back and find Jesus in your life as Joseph and Mary did in this mystery.  All it takes is a truly repentant heart.  Especially in this season of Advent, pray for those who have strayed from God’s grace that they allow the Holy Spirit to guide them back home.

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Is Jesus on Your Gift List?

The weather is turning cold and crisp.  The leaves are falling off the trees.  Houses are lighted up in the evening.  It’s official.  Christmas is here.  And most of us have a “todo” list a mile long.  There are gifts to buy, travel plans to make, decorations to put up, and a ton of other logistics.  But there are many important tasks that we tend to leave off the Christmas chore list.  While we remember the Christmas season, we often forget that it is also the season of Advent.

Advent

Much like how we clean the house for Christmas guests, our souls could use a little house keeping during Advent.  Think about all the time you will spend making everything “just right” for your guests.  But there is one person you should remember on your guest list — Jesus Christ.  As the saying goes, “He’s the reason for the season.”  And Jesus isn’t awed by the size of your outdoor lighting display, how nice the dining room table is set, or any gifts under the tree.  What He would really like to see is a clean soul.  You want to make Jesus’ Christmas?  Think about receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I’m reminded of the First Luminous Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.  We hear the words of John the Baptist to repent and prepare the way for the Lord.  The whole point of Advent is that it is a time of preparation.  We prepare ourselves to fully celebrate Christmas and receive God‘s grace by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I know many of you are probably thinking that going to Confession is real downer and that I mixed up Advent with Lent.  Many of us want to think about “happy things” during the holidays, not confess what we’ve done wrong.  But if you were willing to fight the crowds at midnight on Black Friday, battle for that last parking space at the mall, and wander throughout town to find the last Elmo doll, then Confession will a breaze.  And unlike some cheaply made trinket that will occupy closet space in a few weeks, the gifts from the Holy Spirit received during Confession is something you can keep for a long time.  Through Reconciliation, you have a brand new start in the Lord’s grace which might be the foundation for leading a holy life.  To borrow another common expression, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  So why not start it on the best foot possible?

If you are scared to go to Confession, try picking up a rosary and praying a few decades every day.  Ask the Holy Spirit, Mary, and all the saints for the courage to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We have a little over three weeks left in Advent.  With a little prayer we can all find that energy to get that one last present on our gift list for Jesus.

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Scary Times

Waaah!.
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We are going into that “scary” period in the liturgical calendar right before Advent where many of the readings and Gospels focus on the end times, persecution, and final judgment.  There are many people who take these apocalyptic verses to extremes.  There is the one camp that just ignores these readings or see them as a lot of hyperbole and not events that will eventually occur.  The other camp thinks the end of the world will occur every day and finds every shred of circumstantial and coincidental evidence to support their claim.  I want to take a more balanced look at these readings and how we can approach them without being hysterical.

The Gospel reading from Luke on November 14, 2010 presents some very grim imagery.  Jesus describes wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and persecution (Lk, 21:5-19).  I do not think anyone would disagree that these are all pretty terrible things and we would be fortunate to avoid them.  In many people’s world view this is how it all ends; people dying in misery and despair.  However, many people do not see that there is light at the end of this dark tunnel we call human existence.  There is the glory, comfort, and joy of eternal life in Heaven.  Last Sunday’s Gospel ends with Jesus saying,  “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Lk, 21:19).  And that is the central message we should take away from these apocalyptic readings — the joy of Heaven is infinitely greater than any suffering here on Earth.

Think back to your childhood.  Do you remember the first time you cut yourself?  Perhaps you fell when you were playing.  Maybe you poked yourself with a sharp object.  I’m sure many of us cried and wailed over that pain as it seemed like the worst torment we would ever encounter.  Now as adults we probably don’t have the slightest recollection of that ordeal.  This is similar to how Heaven will compare to all our Earthly suffering.  The worst wars and tragedies won’t even be a faint memory compared to the joys of Heaven.  This is what Jesus teaches us in the Gospel.  In the end, our faith and perseverance will bring us more happiness than we can possibly imagine and make all our earthly suffering seem like nothing more than a scraped knee.

We can pick any Sorrowful Mystery as an example of  perseverance through hard times.  In this period before Advent, when we pray the rosary, we should ask God for the strength to endure any difficulties in our lives.  Perhaps you are having a hard time at work or at home.  Maybe you are having relationship problems or there are people in your life that bring you nothing but misery.  Take all those challenges and present them to God when you pray.  Try to look past the misery and difficulties of this world by reminding yourself that it is all temporary.  When you put it all in perspective you will realize that life’s biggest obstacles are so small compared to the joy of Heaven and you will wonder why you even worried about them in the first place.

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Medjugorje Message Dec. 2, 2009

Mother Mary’s message at Medjugorje on Dec. 2, 2009:

Dear children. At this time of preparation and joyful expectation I, as a mother, desire to point you to what is the most important, to your soul. Can my Son be born in it? Is it cleansed by love from lies, arrogance, hatred and malice? Above all else does your soul love God as your Father and does it love your fellow brother in Christ? I am pointing you to the way which will raise your soul to a complete union with my Son. I desire for my Son to be born in you. What a joy that would be for me as mother. Thank you.

Chadstone Shopping Centre during busy all-nigh...
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Mother Mary’s message at Medjugorje on Dec. 2, 2009:

Dear children. At this time of preparation and joyful expectation I, as a mother, desire to point you to what is the most important, to your soul. Can my Son be born in it? Is it cleansed by love from lies, arrogance, hatred and malice? Above all else does your soul love God as your Father and does it love your fellow brother in Christ? I am pointing you to the way which will raise your soul to a complete union with my Son. I desire for my Son to be born in you. What a joy that would be for me as mother. Thank you.

You cannot help but notice that obvious Advent and Christmas theme in Mary’s message as She talks about Jesus being born in your soul.  Like Her previous messages, Mary asks that we make room in our hearts for Jesus by clearing away the “junk” of sin.  We do this house cleaning through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I know that for most people between the Christmas shopping, work, and getting ready for that huge family gathering, going to Confession is probably the last thing on “TO DO” list.  However, a clean soul would be the perfect Christmas gift for Mother Mary this year.  And like a selfless mother, Mary does not ask this of us for Her sake, but for ours.  She desires nothing more than seeing us, side-by-side with Jesus, in His Heavenly kingdom.  So as we flock to the malls, let us also remember to flock to our churches as well and really receive the gift that keeps on giving — God’s grace.

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Medjugorje Message Nov. 25, 2009

Oh boy, I have fallen very behind on my commentary on Mary’s messages at Medjugorje as well as other posts to RosaryMeds. With Thanksgiving, catching a cold, and now Christmas, I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time reading Her messages, much less meditating on them. This is doubly-bad considering Her message asks us to make more room for Jesus in our lives. This time you all receive a special “double feature” of Mary’s messages on Nov. 25 and then Her Dec. 2 message in a post in the very near future.

Our Lady’s message on Nov. 25:

Dear children! In this time of grace I call you all to renew prayer in your families. Prepare yourselves with joy for the coming of Jesus. Little children, may your hearts be pure and pleasing, so that love and warmth may flow through you into every heart that is far from His love. Little children, be my extended hands, hands of love for all those who have become lost, who have no more faith and hope. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Međugorje
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Oh boy, I have fallen very behind on my commentary on Mary’s messages at Medjugorje as well as other posts to RosaryMeds.  With Thanksgiving, catching a cold, and now Christmas,  I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time reading Her messages, much less meditating on them.  This is doubly-bad considering Her message asks us to make more room for Jesus in our lives.  This time you all receive a special “double feature” of Mary’s messages on Nov. 25 and then Her Dec. 2 message in a post in the very near future.

Our Lady’s message on Nov. 25:

Dear children! In this time of grace I call you all to renew prayer in your families. Prepare yourselves with joy for the coming of Jesus. Little children, may your hearts be pure and pleasing, so that love and warmth may flow through you into every heart that is far from His love. Little children, be my extended hands, hands of love for all those who have become lost, who have no more faith and hope. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Mary calls us to have a renewal of prayer.  That seems like a perfect message during this time of Advent.  I feel that we too often get so consumed with the Christmas shopping season that we forget about the Advent praying season.  Everyone looks for that perfect gift, the perfect tree, the perfect dinner, and tasty treats.  And yet, we often forget to perfect our prayer lives.  Mary reminds us that this is a time of prayer.  Don’t forget to do your Christmas shopping but also don’t neglect your Advent praying.

Mary further asks us to help those who are far from God‘s grace.  But she asks us to do more than just remember the lost souls in our prayers (although that is very helpful).  She asks us to be an example of God’s love for those who have no hope.  In other words, Mary asks us to follow up our prayers with good works and action.  She does not say that we should come down hard on those who have strayed from God’s path with words of judgment and condemnation.  Instead, she asks us to remain in a state of grace so that those who are lost will be attracted to God’s ways through our example.  Basically, Mary is reiterating the old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”  Let us remember that those who have fallen into a life of sin need more of our love,  not less of it.

May we all strive to be beacons of God’s grace so that we may guide those who are lost back to God’s love this Advent season.  May we strengthen ourselves through prayer and make room for Jesus in our lives.  Basically, may we all have the strength to live according to the spirit and meaning of Advent.

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Advent — 60 Things to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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