Building Your Spiritual Emergency Fund One Prayer at a Time

2015 has started out rough for me.  I have a car that is failing its smog check (okay, that’s trivial but still annoying).  Our old water heater broke and flooded the walls, insulation, and floors of the surrounding rooms.  I am going through my annual January cold (seriously, I think the cold virus is pro-choice because it hits me every year around the Walk for Life).  And my parent company announced that they are shutting down my office as part of a downsizing effort.  That’s just my immediate family’s issues on top of the usual difficulties of raising children.  I then have to pile on the challenges various members of my extended family face as well.  And yet, while I would have every reason to freak out, I’m strangely at calm with my situation right now.  Why?

I think a lot of my calm and acceptance of my situation comes from me praying the rosary regularly.  I’m not saying this to brag or to somehow come across as being holier than others.  I’m saying this as a testament to the power of prayer.  You really have to think of routine prayer as building a spiritual “rainy day” fund.  Financial experts are always saying that you should save money in an emergency fund for unexpected expenses.  So prayer is the emergency fund for your soul.

I know many of us turn to prayer mostly when times get tough.  But that is like only starting to save money after the car broke down or the floors are already flooded.  Not having reserves makes a difficult situation even harder.  So if you don’t have those spiritual reserves to dip in to, turning to prayer for the first time in an emergency almost adds to the burden instead of relieves it.

First there’s the logistical hurdles.  Prayer is frustrating when you haven’t practiced it because it will be hard to get into that state of mind where you are calm and relaxed enough to have a truly open heart to the Holy Spirit.  You’ll be fumbling over words and thoughts instead of getting into the zone and being receptive to how God is leading you.  Second, spirituality accumulates like water in a well — the more you pray the deeper that well becomes.  Sometimes you really just need that large gulp of grace to get you through a difficult situation.  But if you haven’t prayed regularly, you are dipping into a shallow spiritual well that won’t give you the grace you need.

It’s never too late to start building your spiritual emergency fund.  All it takes is five free minutes and a rosary (or your fingers if you don’t have a rosary).  It starts with a single Our Father or Hail Mary or just a free form meditation.  In finance, there is the idea of compounding interest and exponential returns.  You can start with a very small amount of money and over time it can grow to a large amount through compounding.  The same goes with prayer.  Building your spiritual emergency fund can start with a small amount of prayer but if you regularly invest some time here and there, those small prayer moments start to add up to one large pool of grace.

This leads me to the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the rosary, Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven.  She’s the one that compounds our prayers into something more substantial.  There is a reason why Mary is known as the Mediatrix of Grace.  She’s takes our prayers and intentions and places them before her son, Jesus Christ, after she’s cleaned them up and clarified them.  Remember, Mary has a particularly interesting role as being both human like us and going through the human experience but also being singled out as a purified vessel for the Son of God.  So it makes sense that she has the unique role in Heaven of hearing our intentions and, in a way, translating them and amplifying them to God.  Like a good mother, she understands all our little faults of being human.  It doesn’t matter how ineloquent or small your request is, Mary Queen of Heaven will act as your intermediary, your advocate, and your broker in Heaven.

Crowning of the Virgin by Rubens, early 17th c...
Crowning of the Virgin by Rubens, early 17th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again, no matter how small your spiritual emergency fund may be, start building it up with a prayer here and a prayer there.  When you pray the rosary, don’t think of it as a daunting task of 53 Hail Marys, 6 Our Fathers, and a several other prayers.  Just focus on one prayer at a time for however much time you have.  Mary and the Holy Spirit will take it from there.  And over time, you will have that deep well of faith to dip into when times get tough or to give to others who need it in their time of need.

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The Catechism — The Catholic Church’s Silmarillion

Welcome to 2015!  I’m really excited about my new year’s resolution.  I know, I know.  I previously wrote about how new year’s resolutions are bad because labelling them as a resolution almost guarantees that you won’t actually follow through.  But this year, with the help of a little technology, I think I will be able to meet my goal — reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

CCCCBut why?  Isn’t it a bit dry and the spiritual equivalent of reading up on tax law?  Or, isn’t the Catechism more like a reference book that you search through when you have a specific question and not something you read end to end?  To answer that, we’ll need to learn a little literary history.

Let’s go to 19th century France.  The man is Victor Hugo and the book is Les Misérables.  This is a looooong book clocking in at nearly 1,500 pages for a standard sized paperback version.  The reason why it’s so long is because Hugo went to great lengths to provide a historical context for the events in the book.  He dedicates chapters describing the battle of Waterloo, the Parisian sewer system, life in a nunnery, Parisian street slang, 19th century manufacturing processes, etc.  These aren’t little Wikipedia like descriptions either but are the size and scope of small books onto themselves.  These tangents paint a richer world for the events of the book to take place in.  The characters in Les Misérables don’t exist in a vacuum, but live in a bigger world that we can relate to or at least understand because Hugo provides seemingly endless background information.

Fast forward to the 20th century and look at J.R.R. Tolkien.  You know his seminal works — The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  What you may not know is that there is a lot of auxiliary writings which describe Middle Earth, the land where the events of those books take place.  Tolkien wrote extensively about the culture of hobbits, dwarfs, elves, etc.  He wrote a book called The Silmarillion which describes the universe of Eä which contains Middle Earth as well as other lands.  Like Victor Hugo, Tolkien wrote the background of the places and characters in his books to provide a much richer reading experience because the events happen within a known context.  The Lord of the Rings isn’t a small book or movie because Middle Earth is not a small place.  Elves, dwarves, hobbits, humans, and orcs all act the way they do in the books and movies because Tolkien gave them a detailed history.  Without that history and culture being spelled out, I bet The Lord of the Rings would not have been the complex, layered, and rich book/movie it turned out to be.

By now it should become increasingly obvious why I want to read the CCC.  I want to become more knowledgeable about the Catholic faith so that I can have a richer experience living that faith.  When I pray the rosary or listen to a homily I want to have what I learned reading the CCC in the back of my mind to make new mental and spiritual connections.  I hope that  reading the CCC will generate a whole new level of intentions and meditations when I pray the rosary.  I hope that the increased understanding of the Catholic faith will seep into my writings in my future books (fingers crossed) and on RosaryMeds.

Think of it like this.  Your average Catholic who hasn’t read the CCC is like someone who has only seen the Les Misérables musical or The Lord of the Rings movies.  They have a good understanding of the material and appreciate it but they don’t know the whole picture as envisioned by Hugo and Tolkien respectively.  But the person who has read more church documents like the CCC is like the person who has read Les Misérables or The Silmarillion and understands the greater context and all the little details that are left out of the more popular works.

New year’s resolutions fail because many people only define a goal, not a process for achieving that goal.  I’m a software engineer and I’m all about defining processes for achieving goals.  So here’s how I will achieve my goal of reading the Catechism.  Last year I finally bit the bullet and bought my first smartphone.  It has opened up a whole new world of productivity, especially during my commute.  I spend roughly six hours a week on the road.  Thanks to an app called @Voice Aloud Reader I can turn any text into an audio book.  Combined with my Catholic prayer app, Laudate, I can listen to the entire Catechism on my commutes.  I know I won’t have Doctor of the Church level retention of the information, but I will pick up the major themes and a general understanding.

Here’s wishing you all the best of luck in this new year!

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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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Do you Pray with Purpose?

The Magi Journeying

Do you have a plan when you pray the rosary and for incorporating what you learn from prayer in your life?  Do you pray with purpose?  I thought about how I  pray the rosary while thinking about the three magi honoring Jesus in the Epiphany.  The three wise men didn’t just set out into the desert without a plan.  They did not wander aimlessly and happen to come across Jesus by chance.  And it wasn’t by chance that they had gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh on their arrival.  They observed, prepared, and followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit by following the star.  And all their hard work paid off as they were among the first to honor Christ our King and Savior.

Do we show that same level of preparation and intent when we pray the rosary?  Often times we pray the rosary without a lot of intent or purpose.  We just think that if we recite all the Our Fathers and Hail Marys that something good will magically happen to us.  That isn’t prayer.  That is more akin to reciting incantations and spells.  We too should follow some sort of guidance and have a purpose to praying the rosary.  That guidance can come from the divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit or we can get ideas from a prayer-book (hint, hint).  We should lay before God our personal concerns, intentions, sorrows, and thanksgivings while praying.  Say the words to the standard prayers, but back them up with your personal thoughts.  That is what makes prayer meaningful and truly a personal conversation between you and God.  The three magi reached their goal by putting in the effort to follow the star God put before them.  We reach our spiritual goals when we intentionally follow the Holy Spirit in prayer, really concentrate and think about what God tells us, and let Him guide our actions.

And what results from our prayers?  Do we glorify God with love, good works, and avoiding sin?  Or do we offer God lip service in our prayers without any intention of truly living as He calls us?  Do we treat prayer as our license to commit sin?  Do we think we are good and holy people because we pray when our actions might paint a different story?  Imagine if the three wise men did not adequately prepare themselves for meeting Jesus and forgot their gifts or did not give any respect to the baby Jesus.  That would make all their hard work look like a waste of time.  And yet we often do this when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist with sins on our soul or our stubborn pride prevents us from admitting our faults and receiving absolution through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Let us not pray in vain by ignoring how God asks us to live.  Rather, take to heart God’s words so that only good will come from your actions.

We should remember to pray the rosary with a purpose.  Prayer is a means of helping us live as one of Jesus’ disciples and isn’t an end in itself.  We should recall the Fifth Luminous Mystery and remember that we should approach Jesus in the Eucharist only when our souls are cleansed of all mortal sin.  We should remember the Second Joyful Mystery and how Mary put God’s grace to work by visiting and helping her cousin Elizabeth.  And we should remember the Fifth Glorious Mystery and how Mary, Queen of Heaven, is there to guide us always closer to Her son, Jesus Christ.  She is our guiding star to God’s heavenly kingdom.  The question is, are we observant, prepared, and have the resolve to follow the path God lays before us like the three magi?

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Our Lady’s Messages: December 2010

Our Lady’s December 2nd,  2010 Message to Mirjana:

Dear children; Today I am praying here with you that you may gather the strength to open your hearts and thus to become aware of the mighty love of the suffering God. Through this His love, goodness and meekness, I am also with you. I invite you for this special time of preparation to be a time of prayer, penance and conversion. My children, you need God. You cannot go forward without my Son. When you comprehend and accept this, what was promised to you will be realized. Through the Holy Spirit the Kingdom of Heaven will be born in your hearts. I am leading you to this. Thank you.

Mary talks about gathering strength and becoming aware of the love of a suffering God.  Any of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the holy rosary fit this theme.  Jesus suffered in the garden, was scourged, crowned with thorns, carried the cross, and eventually crucified.  He is the greatest model of showing strength in the midst of difficulty and suffering.  Mary asks all of us to think about Jesus’ suffering when we encounter difficult times in our lives.

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove above the H...
Image via Wikipedia

When faced with difficult challenges it might seem so easy to “run away” and hide whether that be physically, mentally, or spiritually.  Maybe we hide from our troubles with drugs, alcohol, or deviant behavior.  Maybe we avoid attending Mass, praying, and receiving the sacraments in order to avoid taking a deep look at ourselves and realizing where we fail to live as Jesus calls us.

Mary wants us to take a deep look on how we live and notice areas where we do not live as Jesus desires.  She says that we need to realize our deficiencies if we are to convert and start living for Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven.  There is an obvious reference to the Third Luminous Mystery in Mary’s message.  But much like many people in Jesus’ time we have a tendency to back away from this challenge of conversion.  When Jesus stopped healing people and giving out free bread and fish people quickly abandoned Him.  Even His apostles fled and hid when the Romans arrested Jesus.  Mary asks us to resist that temptation to run and hide from the path Jesus lays before us.  Even when the entire world seems against you for following Jesus’ Will remember that Mary, the saints, and the Holy Spirit are in your corner to support you.  With their help, you will have enough energy to conquer whatever the world throws at you.  All you need to do is supply the will to face those challenges instead of running and hiding.

Message, 25. December 2010:

Dear children! Today, I and my Son desire to give you an abundance of joy and peace so that each of you may be a joyful carrier and witness of peace and joy in the places where you live. Little children, be a blessing and be peace. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Mary’s message if short and sweet.  She asks us to rejoice in the Third Joyful Mystery — Jesus’ birth.  And while She delivers this message on Christmas, we should remember Jesus’ birth throughout the year.  God did not take on human form so that we may remember Him and live according to His Will for just one day.  Jesus didn’t teach us about His Heavenly Kingdom, suffer, die, and rise again only so we would have a reason to decorate our houses with light displays and hit the malls to buy gifts for people.  Jesus came into this world so that we may follow His message of joy and peace every day of our lives.  Mary asks us to spread that peace and joy by first embracing it in ourselves.  So as we start a new year ask yourself, “are you a living blessing and sign of peace?”  If not, how can you convert your heart to live as Mary asks us to live?

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Medjugorje Message — October 2, 2009

This is Mary’s message from Medjugorje on October 2, 2009. Unlike the messages on the 25th, these messages focus on those who are have drifted far from God’s love. The tone is a little harsher, almost like a mother scolding a misbehaving child. However, even if you do try to live a life free of sin, you should listen to these messages since we all have moments of sin which separate us from God’s grace.

Virgin taken from a mural in the Iglesia de Je...
Image via Wikipedia

This is Mary’s message from Medjugorje on October 2, 2009.  Unlike the messages on the 25th, these messages focus on those who have drifted far from God’s love.  The tone is a little harsher, almost like one of a mother scolding a misbehaving child.  However, even if you do try to live a life free of sin, you should listen to these messages since we all have moments of sin which separate us from God’s grace.  Furthermore, even if your soul is as clean as one fresh out of the sacrament of Confession, you probably know someone who is separated from God’s love.  You need to read them to understand the danger people are in when they sin and pray extra hard for their conversion towards our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I also want to reiterate that even if you do not believe in the events at Medjugorje this is still an important message.  Mary offers nothing different or contrary to what the Catholic Church already teaches so this message could easily have come from a priest’s Sunday homily, the commentary from a Bible study, or the teachings of a saint.

Dear Children, As I look at you, my heart seizes with pain. Where are you going my children? Have you sunk so deeply into sin that you do not know how to stop yourselves? You justify yourselves with sin and live according to it. Kneel down beneath the Cross and look at my Son. He conquered sin and died so that you, my children, may live. Permit me to help you not to die but to live with my Son forever. Thank you!

Mary’s message sounds very much like a mother who sees all the ignorant and dangerous things her children do and wonders what could possibly be going through their young minds.  She has the benefit of seeing the splendor and glory of God’s kingdom and she tells us that all the sins that we commit are not worth losing the gift of Heaven for all eternity.  She wants us to take a hard look at our lives and ask ourselves why we sin.  Sure, certain sins may make us a little happier temporarily, make our lives a little easier, make us a little more popular, or richer.  But all those small gains in this world will cost us much more in the next.  In the best case we will serve more time in Purgatory for those sins.  At worst, we lose the gift of Heaven forever.  Mary does not want any of us to miss out on what awaits us in Heaven and that is why it pains her so much to see people living only for this world without regard for the next.

We should listen to Mary and turn away from sin.  Jesus taught that all are welcome into His kingdom as long as we have the courage and strength to turn away from sin.  We should lay all our worries and weaknesses before the Cross and ask for greater faith in God’s loving mercy.

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