The Rosary is a Means, Not an End

No matter who you are, your goal in life is probably to maximize the quantity and quality of personal happiness. This goal unites nearly all of humanity whether you are an American suburbanite, a nomad in Mongolia, or even a terrorist fighting in Syria.  We all seek to be happy although our means and justifications may differ.

Ven. Fulton J. Sheen provided these three simple rules for finding happiness. The TLDR; summary is:

  1. If you are ever to have a good time, you cannot plan your life to include nothing but good times
  2. Pleasure is deepened and enhanced when it has survived a moment of tedium or pain: this law helps us to make our prized pleasure last for whole lifetime.
  3. Pleasure is a by-product, not a goal.
Fulton J. Sheen, Roman Catholic Bishop and ear...
Fulton J. Sheen, Roman Catholic Bishop and early television preacher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe these happiness principles also apply to prayer, particularly rosary prayer. I think too many times we view rosary prayer as the goal, not the means to something greater. I’m in no way exempt from this way of thinking.  I often tell myself that I’m going to pray the rosary every day but forget to remind myself WHY I want to pray the rosary every day.

Let me be clear.  There is nothing wrong with motivating yourself to pray the rosary regularly as long as you are mindful that praying the rosary is a means, not an end in itself. When rosary prayer is treated as the goal it often becomes rushed and unfocused since we tend to treat it as a check box on our daily todo list.

Rosary prayer requires focus and patience if you want to maximize its benefits.  Let’s be honest, praying the rosary is not always fun and pleasurable.  But as Ven. Fulton J. Sheen said, when you endure a little bit of pain and hardship, it makes the fruits of that hardship that much more prized and treasured.  Keep that in mind the next time you don’t feel like praying the rosary or just want to rush through it.  Mary understands the difficulty and appreciates your desire to reach out to her son, Jesus Christ, in the face of such hardship.

The million dollar question becomes, what benefit am I hoping to maximize by praying the rosary?  What do you hope to gain from it?  Everyone will have a different answer. Here’s mine.  I pray it as a means of deepening my relationship with God. I pray the rosary because my Mother Mary tells me it is the most effective way of living in God’s grace. She promises me 15 benefits if I pray the rosary devoutly.  I believe it also gives me perspective on all the events of my life and seeing what’s truly important and what is not. In short, I want to grow in happiness by living as God asks me to. Those are my true goals that praying the rosary helps me move ever closer to.

Generally available Marian image created in th...
Generally available Marian image created in the 1880s. The white circular text in the halo reads: “Je suis l’Immaculée Conception” (French for “I am the Immaculate Conception”). From Jtdirl’s collection. Copyright long expired. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How about you? What’s your idea of happiness? Are you trying to be happy by living as Ven. Fulton J. Sheen suggests? What do you hope to gain from prayer? Are you treating prayer as a means to happiness by looking for God’s grace or an end in itself?

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The Value of Fasting

I am an avid reader of science and technology articles. I read Wired and Popular Science cover to cover within days of the magazine arriving in my mailbox and I read articles from numerous websites. I get super excited when I notice a link between my two passions — science and technology and prayer and spirituality.

I came across such an article that dived into the science behind fasting. A researcher has a theory that fasting obstructs a hormone responsible for cell growth and makes people more sensitive to insulin. He thinks that periodic fasting could reduce one’s chances of developing diabetes or cancer. The technical details are beyond the scope of this article but it’s an interesting read.

The article mentions that those who fast often feel sharper mentally because of a process called ketosis. It has something to do with a difference in body chemistry when you’re burning fat instead of carbohydrates. But that got me thinking about why the Church recommends fasting in addition to prayer. If fasting sharpens the mind and makes you physically healthier, could it also make you spiritually healthier as well?

The common idea behind fasting is that we give up something physical (such as food) and replace it with something spiritually nourishing. But this isn’t a trade of equal value. The spiritual benefit will always outweigh the physical loss. Think about that for a second. You give up a dessert or your ritual cup of coffee so you can instead better listen to God and form a deeper relationship with Him. Talk about giving up so little to gain so much!  Seems like an easy deal right?

And yet, while we all know the tremendous benefit of fasting, it is probably one of the hardest disciplines to practice. I think many of us have no problem saying some extra prayers, reading the bible, or praying the rosary when we put our minds to it. But you might as well suggest amputating a limb at the idea of not having that slice of cheesecake, substituting that mouth watering bacon burger for soup, or cutting out that cup of afternoon coffee. But that’s the point isn’t it? The harder the sacrifice, the more you benefit. When you say, “Okay God, I’m giving this up for you!” the better you will be able to hear God respond with a “thank you” and His grace.

And on Saturday he ate 1 piece of chocolate cake, 1 ice cream cone, 1 pickle…

Fasting amplifies our prayers and our reception of God’s Word.  Compare fasting/prayer to diet/exercise.  Exercise is not as effective without a matching, healthy diet.  All that you gain working out for an hour can be undone with a single cheesecake slice.  Or your health can be further benefited by supplementing exercise with nutritious food.  The same can be said for prayer.  All the benefits of prayer can be undone by a moment of sin or it can be elevated when combined with fasting.  Obviously, if we pray and then turn around and sin we really haven’t let God’s grace into our hearts.  But when we pray and fast, we allow God more room in our hearts to truly transform us.  St. Augustine once said, “Those who sing pray twice.”  If that’s true then I say that those who fast must be praying five-fold.

Jesus in Pray
Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How does fasting connect to the rosary?  Think about one of the themes of the Third Luminous Mystery.  Jesus calls us to focus on living for His Kingdom of Heaven.  That focus manifests itself by active conversion of our ways.  We change our earthly focus to a Heavenly one.  And that is exactly what fasting is all about.  We give up something worldly in exchange for something spiritual.  We intentionally choose the Kingdom of Heaven over delights in this earthly kingdom.  No one accidentally fasts.  Nor do we accidentally live for Heaven.  In the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus puts a choice before us.  Will you live for His kingdom and convert your ways or will you remain chained to the pleasures of this life?

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Gone Fishing

Another Divine Mercy Sunday, another empty church. I am always disheartened to see so many empty pews after the standing room only Easter Mass. Where did everyone go? So much for Easter transforming hearts and minds right?

Seeing all those empty pews reminds me of this reading from John’s Gospel.  One of the first things Peter did after Christ’s death was go fishing. In the Gospel, he says it almost casually — “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). After the drama that he had just encountered, Peter was looking to return to something comfortable and familiar. It’s almost like he was thinking that being one of Jesus’s apostles was great, but that was now something in his past.  Maybe he saw it like we see our teenage or college years — a phase that we grew out of. Peter was picking up his life where he left off before meeting Jesus — as a fisherman.

Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the...
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t we all have a bit of Peter in our hearts? We fasted and sacrificed during Lent and celebrated on Easter Sunday. For 40+ days our hearts were focus on making room for Christ. And then what do we do? Go to work the next day and do the same things we’ve always done as if Easter was just another day on the calendar. Do you even recall what the priest said in his Easter homily? Do you feel fundamentally changed? Probably not. But you seem to be in good company since it seems that many of the apostles initially treated their time with Jesus like it was a passing fad. It had its moments and even some promise, but now it was time to get back to reality.

When I find myself sliding back into routine, I meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple.  I recall how the Holy Spirit promised St. Simeon that he would not die until seeing the chosen one.  Imagine how surprised, joyful, and maybe even a little scared Simeon must have felt upon hearing this news.  Maybe we felt a similar passion and joy towards our faith on Easter Sunday.  Now imagine how many years Simeon must have waited for that promise to be fulfilled.  The Bible doesn’t give an exact count, but all depictions of Simeon show him as an elderly man.  Who would have blamed him if he started to doubt that promise and believed his time would be better spent on something other than his faith?  But did he lose hope or did he let any doubt affect his faith in God’s plan for him?

Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast
Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like St. Simeon, remaining devout to the end of his life, so too must we be devout in our faith long after the immediate joy and glory of Easter fades.  Many times our faith feels challenging like Christ’s last human days on Good Friday and not the celebration of Easter.  But we pray the rosary and focus on imitating those who remained steadfast even in the absence of signs, wonders, and even joy.  We remember St. Mother Teresa who fought a seemingly hopeless battle of helping the poor.  Or we draw inspiration from the martyrs who died without seemingly changing anyone’s heart towards Jesus Christ.  When we pray the rosary, we pray for the faith and hope that Jesus hears our prayers and does answer them even when it seems like we are wasting our time.

Peter may have thought that his time as Jesus’ apostle was in vain.  He may have thought that he would just return to being a fisherman instead of the fisher of men that Jesus promised.  But of course we know that God had a grander plan for St. Peter than just being Jesus’ apostle in Jesus’ earthly life.  And so we pray that we also have the faith, courage, and fortitude to understand that God has a grander plan for all of us even when it seems like our prayers go unheard.

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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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12 Ways to be a Better Catholic in 2016

Welcome to 2016!  I know many of us have already formulated a list of resolutions to accomplish in this new year.  Personally, I know that I need to continue reading the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church.  I made it through Part I in 2015 and I hope that I will at least read Part II this year.

I believe becoming a better Catholic should be on everyone’s “todo” list this year.  And I’m not talking about having some sort of abstract and vague goal, but to actually formulate an action plan.  The Catholic Exchange provided a great list of steps you can take to become a better Catholic in the new year.  While the article focuses on becoming a committed Catholic man, there is nothing in the article that doesn’t apply to women as well.

I encourage you to read the full article but for the “too long; didn’t read” crowd, here’s the summary.

  1. Develop a rousing case for why Jesus Christ is your King
  2. Commit to be a Saint of Christ the King
  3. Go to Reconciliation at least once a month
  4. Pray for 15 minutes every day
  5. Discover the majestic manliness of the Mass
  6. Participate in Sunday Mass + 1
  7. Pray the Rosary regularly and carry the Rosary with you
  8. Get to know your Patron Saint and Guardian Angel
  9. Read Holy Scripture for 15 minutes each day
  10. Be a priest, prophet and king in your home
  11. Build a brotherhood with other Catholic men in your parish
  12. Commit to tithing and begin to work toward it


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5 Ways the Rosary Helps us be Thankful Every Day

English:
English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the United States, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It is a time to give thanks for all that God has given us. And yet for many, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of be thankful about. Family, financial, spiritual, work, and global worries are in abundant supply. But for one day out of the year, we manage to push those aside and focus on our good graces. But that’s one day. What about the other 364? Here’s five ways the rosary can help you be thankful every day.

The Third Joyful Mystery

For thousands of years and hundreds of generations, people’s notion of God was one of a supreme being that was very distant and often very angry. The God as the Israelites knew him was a god of rules, laws, and punishments. But we have the grace to have what millions of people never had — God made man through the being of Jesus Christ. When we pray this mystery, give thanks that we have the opportunity to know God as someone who walked with us, laughed with us, cried with us, and died for us. Unlike millions of people who lived before Jesus’ birth, we have a face to put on God. And while we may be removed from Jesus by nearly 2000 years, we should rejoice that we have the benefit of coming 2000 years after Jesus’ birth, not before.

The Fourth Luminous Mystery

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

Following a similar theme from the birth of Jesus Christ, how lucky are we that God humbled himself and took on a human form so that we can come to know him more intimately?  As we see with Jesus’ clothes turning dazzling white and God’s voice telling the apostles to listen to his son, we get an idea of the majesty in Christ.  Jesus could have come into this world floating down from Heaven in dazzling glory as witnessed in the Transfiguration.  But he didn’t.  And we should be ever thankful about that.  Jesus, the human, wasn’t “God Lite” who wasn’t any less approachable or mysterious as God himself.  No, he was a human like all of us who we could relate with and listen to his teachings in plain, not intimidating speech.  Of all the ways God chose to manifest himself, we should give thanks that he chose the person of Jesus Christ.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery

I always associate the Finding of Jesus in the Temple with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Mary and Joseph’s searching for Jesus and then finding him in his father’s house is a nice analogy to how we rediscover God’s grace, which we lose through sin, through Confession.  But where does thanksgiving come into this mystery?  I don’t know about you, but I’m thankful that every day is a day to live in God’s grace but also another opportunity to rediscover that grace through Confession if I’ve lost it (either in part through venial sin or whole through mortal sin).  Once you die, you no longer have that ability to seek forgiveness.  Be thankful that no matter how deep in sin or despair you are, as long as you can draw breath you have an opportunity to rediscover God’s grace and achieve the same glory in Heaven as the saints.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery

How can we not be eternally thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake?  Through his crucifixion, Jesus redeemed all of mankind for the disobedience of Adam and Eve — the original sin.  We are thankful that through his sacrifice, Jesus made Heaven a possibility for all humanity, something that wasn’t open to us before.  Humans failed God through Adam and Eve and we continue to fail through sin.  And we would live in despair if there was no way to set things right.  And that is exactly what Jesus’ crucifixion was — setting things right that were once broken.

The Fourth Glorious Mystery

How fortunate we are that God set aside Mary to serve a special role, not just in her earthly life, but in her heavenly one too.  She was assumed into Heaven and acts as our mediatrix to her son, Jesus.  But what do we mean by mediatrix?  That’s just a special way of saying that Mary is our spiritual lawyer (but with a heart).  Like how a legal lawyer helps us navigate the often confusing laws and regulations, Mary helps us navigate the often difficult spiritual waters.  She helps us understand what is not understandable — God.  We should be thankful that God, knowing that we need some help understanding his truth, set aside Mary to act as our guide.

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5 Ways to Become a Happier Person

Evenings in my household are busy.  We have a kitchen to clean, toys to pick up, books to read, pajamas to put on, teeth to brush, prayers to say, milk to warm up, and boys to put to bed who don’t always go quietly into the night.  So it’s no doubt that my wife and our savor the time between when the house is finally settled and we fall asleep.  And how to we savor it?  By sitting in bed with both of us staring at our smartphones.  And then we complain that there just isn’t any time to relax and talk.

English: lonely, unhappiness sp: tristeza, des...

Evidently we’re not the only ones substituting conversation for screen time.  I came across this article, 5 reasons why Americans are unhappy, that really hit a nerve.  Americans live in the most prosperous country in what is probably the easiest time in the history of the world.  And yet many of us find ourselves constantly unhappy.  Here is what some financial experts have to say are the causes.

  1. We are zoning out with gadgets — This lowers our emotional cognition and our ability to relate with one another.
  2. 50% of people feel stressed — We stress about the wrong things — missing a green light, less than ideal weather, or someone’s post on Facebook.
  3. Lifestyles of the rich and famous — We get a constant stream through TV and social networks of others living glamorous lives making us depressed and jealous.
  4. There are no siestas in the U.S. — We just work long hours without many vacations.
  5. Many Americans are unhealthy — This is almost a result of the previously mentioned unhappiness causes.  We just aren’t eating healthy because we are tired, stressed, and depressed.

Looking at the list above one thing becomes quite clear to me.  This unhappiness is something we bring upon ourselves.  It is a self-inflicted wound that we make worse either by trying to ignore it or by inflicting more wounds in different ways.  Fortunately, there are ways to counter these habits which lead to unhappiness.  And yes, this is where the rosary comes into play.

  1. Don’t zone out on gadgets.  Smartphones are great tools, but they aren’t everything.  It’s fine to watch a movie or read an article when you’re waiting alone for a train.  But the movie can wait when you have an opportunity to actually talk to a human being like a parent, spouse, sibling, or friend.  Or better yet, squeeze in a rosary decade or two to center yourself.
  2. Feeling stressed?  Try prayer and rosary meditation.  There are so many studies showing the benefits of rest and meditation on the brain.  And as I’ve said many times, praying the rosary helps keeps life’s challenges in perspective.  Pray regularly and you’ll start to see some of the triggers of unhappiness as being rather silly.
  3. Acknowledge that what you mostly see on TV and social media is a heavily edited highlight reel of people’s lives.  While you may see a new vacation picture from a friend every day, keep in mind that most of your friends are just doing “normal” things like you — work, kids, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc.  You just aren’t seeing that.  Does your Facebook feed still get you down?  Turn it off.  Trust me, the world won’t come to a crashing halt because you didn’t like someone’s posted picture.
  4. Need a break?  You may not have the luxury of going on vacation or reducing your work hours.  You may not get much of a break from family and household chores.  But that just means you need to make the most of the down time you do have.  Again, try spending some of that time praying and meditating.  It does help put your life and priorities in perspective.  And maybe this is the software engineer in me, but also look to optimize, automate, and schedule.  Auto pay bills, set up email filters, and try to minimize the time needed on routine chores (visit Lifehacker as they have great ideas).  One thing that makes people stressed is that they focus on the work that is yet to be done.  Guess what?  THERE IS ALWAYS WORK TO BE DONE!  Don’t try to aim your happiness metric at a life free of work.  Instead, plan and schedule your work and spread it out.
  5. Eating healthier is a matter of education and self control.  But it’s also a result of working on other aspects of your health like sleep, workload, and stress.  I don’t think you can achieve a healthy diet if you don’t address these other aspects.  But also approach eating like you approach exercise.  The goal of exercise is to push yourself — one more push up, just another quarter mile, an extra rep.  Food can be treated the same way — another hour without a snack, an apple instead of a cookie, going for a walk outside instead of walking to the breakroom.  One way I combat unhealthy eating choices is to say a small prayer when I’m hungry and see an unhealthy snack.  I tell God that instead of satisfying my hunger with a guilty pleasure, I’m going to satisfy my soul with His grace.

English: Happy face

Happiness and unhappiness are conscious choices we make dozens of times every day.  Since they are choices, we have to educate and condition ourselves to make the ones that lead to happiness.  When we incorporate the rosary into our lives we do gain that insight on putting all of life’s challenges into perspective.  We also ask and receive help from our Mother Mary, the Holy Spirit, the dearly departed, the saints, and angels to find ways to increase happiness regardless of what the world throws our way.

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God the Parent

Labor Day weekend came and went here in the US. For many, it’s an extended weekend full of fun and relaxation. For me, it was also an extra day of family time which was exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my family. But I have a quota of how many times I can tell my boys “no!” and “stop!” and still keep up my cheerful disposition. As any parent knows, it is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining to fight the same battles day after day over eating, sleeping, sharing, and teaching general manners to kids.

No matter how many times I have to say “no” or “stop!” or “wait,” I of course will always love my family. Yes, I wish one of my boys would sit at the table for breakfast and eat without me constantly reminding him to take a bite (I also think he would love to actually experience his food warm for a change). I would also love my other son to not cry when my wife has to put him down so I could give her a break now and then. But my love for them overwhelmingly dwarfs the day-to-day challenges they present.

That just about sums up how my youngest son sees me.

My experience as a husband and father teaches me a lot about God’s nature. God must be like a parent who at times is frustrated with our lack of cooperation.  He is constantly repeating himself in trying to raise us well.  He teaches the same lessons of love and compassion through Scripture, Mary, the saints, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.  But because of our human nature, we often just don’t get it and repeatedly commit the same sins.  Spiritually, many of us our like toddlers who just don’t see the big picture as God sees it.  But God is the always patient father who understands that our hearts and minds aren’t mature enough to fully grasp the goodness he has prepared for us.  But he always waits, calmly repeats himself, and gives us many chances to “get it.”

I often tell my older son not to play too rough with his younger brother, not because I want to kill his fun, but because I know that my older son doesn’t yet have the maturity to understand that he can hurt his brother.  Likewise, God tries to set some ground rules through his Church by identifying what is sinful and evil and what is good.  He doesn’t do this to prevent us from having any fun, but instead he knows what will bring true happiness and what will bring ultimate despair.  Like a toddler, without developing our spiritual maturity, we often cannot understand why God does what he does and become frustrated with him.  But it is through regular prayer that we develop that level of understanding and faith.  We may not understand God’s reasons for his laws, but we take it on faith that following them will bring about the greatest good.

The Rosary Connection

Speaking of faith, let’s turn to the Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist.  I think one of the greatest acts of faith Catholics show is accepting that Jesus is present in the Eucharist.  I think this is pretty hard to swallow at times.  After all, the Eucharist looks and tastes like bread and wine.  You wouldn’t be able to identify a consecrated host from a non consecrated host in a blind taste test.  But the Eucharist is the cornerstone of the Catholic faith.  Hence faith, the unquestioning belief in truth, needs to be a fundamental part of our spirituality.  We must accept that God’s laws cannot be fully quantized and explained; that there will always be aspects of his nature that our beyond our understanding.  We also must take it on faith that the Church’s rules and teachings will lead us to everlasting joy.

The other part of faith is humility.  I don’t think you can have true faith without also showing humbleness.  Because you must humble yourself to accept that there are truths beyond your understanding.  We pray the Fifth Luminous Mystery for those who do not show humility and hence cannot fully form their faith.  We also pray for those times when we have shown pride and not humility and closed ourselves off from receiving God’s grace.  But remember, even when we are stubborn, prideful, and close ourselves off to God, he will be the always patient parent waiting for us and sending small hints to help us come around.

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5 Ways the Rosary Offers Relief from Today’s Headlines

Meditation ideas on the Glorious Mysteries of the holy rosary for dealing with all the troubling news the world is encountering right now.

Lately there has been a lot of news that has many people thinking the world is falling apart. We hear of people suffering from natural disasters across the globe, atrocities committed by groups like ISIS across the Middle East, silly presidential election news (Trump?  Hillary Clinton’s favorite ice cream flavor?), and troubling social/political news about Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage and ObamaCare. Basically, if you’re looking to get worried and upset about something, you don’t have to look much further than your Facebook news feed to grow a few gray hairs.

To me, praying the rosary is all about gaining perspective. And I think everyone could use a little perspective right now. I try to remember that the world has never been a perfect place and has been marked by problems both natural and man made. However, we live in a time when news has never been more accessible which means we get more bad news at an accelerated pace. Or we get a distorted view of the scope of outrage or support on any given issue. But thinking society is falling apart isn’t new.  Mankind has always had its share of problems.

Picture back to the time Jesus lived. If Facebook existed then people’s walls would have been filled with complaints about cheating tax collectors, Roman occupation, and corrupt pharisees. Furthermore, people were probably praying for the same types of solutions we pray for today.  Something to the tune of “Please God, make all our problems go away.”

Jesus did not come into this world to magically change the world with a wave of his hand.  He didn’t make all the Jews’ problems go away. But he did answer the people’s prayers. He did that not by making things easier but by challenging people to look beyond the troubled state of the world and their immediate, physical needs. He wanted them to concentrate more on the state of their souls rather than the actions of Cesar.  For example, he told the rich man to look beyond earthly wealth and to gain riches in Heaven by being charitable (Mark 10:17-31).  He said that those who are persecuted in this world will find glory in Heaven (Matthew 5:10).  He said that we all have to take up our crosses in this life so that we may find comfort in the next (Matthew 16:24-27).

In that spirit, let’s take a look at the Glorious mysteries of the rosary and meditate on gaining a more heavenly perspective instead of dwelling so much on the today’s troubling issues.

#1. Live for something more than this earthly world

The First Glorious Mystery is about Jesus rising from the dead.  The perspective gained from this mystery is that our earthly death is not an end.  Jesus’ crucifixion and death was only a transition from his earthly life to his true, heavenly one.  Jesus’ rising proved that there is so much more to us than the physical realities of this world.

When we think about all the injustice, death, and suffering in this world we should remember that none of it will persist after our earthly death as we rise to new life in Jesus’ kingdom.  And while a lifetime of pain and suffering may seem like an awfully huge cross to carry, it isn’t even a measurable instant of time compared to the eternal joy and happiness Jesus prepared for us in Heaven through his resurrection.

#2. Pray for those have fallen

The Second Glorious Mystery is about Jesus ascending into Heaven.  The perspective gained from this mystery is that Jesus sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, and will judge the living and the dead.  This is important to understand because we need to pray for the repentance and conversion of those who live in sin and cause so much scandal, misery, and unhappiness.  It may seem easy to complain and become stressed over others’ misdeeds.  It’s also easy to ignore them and focus only at our own salvation.  But we do need to pray for them and always be an example to the world of Jesus’ Truth.  Because everyone, including those who live in sin, will one day stand before the Lord with their sins in plain view.  Since we are called to love one another, we should do whatever is possible so that everyone, saint and sinner alike, will enjoy eternal happiness in Heaven.

#3. Let the Holy Spirit guide you

The Third Glorious Mystery is about the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles after Jesus’ ascension.  We live in a difficult world but we can look to the Holy Spirit to give us the strength and courage to persevere and maybe even change the hearts of others.  I don’t think any of the apostles would have thought that they were going to change the world when Jesus first called them to put down their nets and become fishers of men.  But with the guidance of the Holy Spirit they did just that by boldly venturing out and spreading Jesus’ truth.

We too may not think that there is much we can do when we see what appears to be impossible situations to fix or the deep seated hatred in people’s hearts.  But the Holy Spirit does give us the power to live according to Jesus’ truth and to lovingly bring people into God’s grace.  Like when Jesus was here in this world, he did not provide a quick fix to humanity’s problems.  Similarly, the Holy Spirit won’t give us a quick fix either.  But if we have faith and let the Holy Spirit guide us, we can personally thrive and bring others to know Jesus Christ.

#4. Follow our mother Mary’s roadmap for happiness

The Fourth Glorious Mystery is about Mary’s assumption into Heaven.  God had a very special plan for Mary and her assumption shows just how revered and elevated she is.  She was not only set aside to be the vessel through which God would manifest himself in human form, but she was also set aside to be our guide and mediatrix after her earthly death.  Like with the Third Glorious Mystery, the perspective we should gain from this mystery is that Mary is always there to help guide us closer to her son’s love.  She has appeared many times with a message of hope, love, and a call to action for conversion.  Over the generations, she has laid out a roadmap of prayer, fasting, and repentance which we should follow.  While it’s easy to get down and think nothing we do can do that will make much difference, Mary says otherwise.  And we should all listen to our mother.

#5. Remember that you are protected

The Fifth Glorious Mystery is Mary’s coronation in Heaven.  We have to understand that there are evil force at work.  And Satan and his minions are playing the long game where they want you to focus all your energy on this world in the hopes that you will be led astray and become his slave for eternity.  He wants you to “go with the crowd” even if what is popular in modern society goes against God’s plan.  Or he wants you to fall into despair, blame God for all that is wrong with the world, and turn away from your faith. But Mary is a powerful queen who reigns in Heaven.  When we accept and live for God’s Heavenly Kingdom then we fall under Mary’s protection against evil and Satan’s influence.  No matter what transpires in our world we know that we will have protection for what matters most — our eternal soul.

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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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