The Power of Regular Rosary Prayer

In my work as a software developer, I often run into “walls” when trying to solve difficult problems. Most of the time I get through these blockages by just writing snippets of code no matter how ugly they may seem. But it helps me see the problem and the solution more clearly and provides me something I can shape into a beautiful, optimized solution. Getting to the desired solution is not a straight shot where I code everything perfectly the first time. It is a series of making wrong decisions and correcting them. I call it thinking with my keyboard.

Remember, no one sees your first draft (unless you started the day before the deadline)

Our happiness in life is a lot like the challenges I face when writing software. It’s not always easy to find happiness. It almost seems like life is a rigged game where being happy is something that is always just out of reach at best and an impossibility at worst.  In his article, When you Can’t Hear God, Keep Talking to Him, Dave Zuleger sums up the futility we often feel when we try to find happiness:

We know that our trials will produce a faith that is tested, refined, and full of glorified joy (1 Peter 1:6–7). We know deep realities that can create deep hope beneath even the deepest pain. Except sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we preach these truths to ourselves and our hearts aren’t moved at all. We groan, and wish that life was so different than it is (Romans 8:23). We pray and pray and pray, and things only seem to get more overwhelming and more difficult. Sometimes our hearts simply ache with the pain of broken dreams, broken relationships, broken bodies, and broken sinfulness.

Have you had that experience? Hope doesn’t come. Happiness doesn’t flood your heart. The clouds of depression don’t blow away. Overwhelming struggles simply overwhelm you more. Relationships are not restored.

He concludes that we need to continue to pray and lay out concerns and worries in front of God.  It is in continual prayer that we often hear God.  Like a software engineer needing to just write code to figure out the solution, we often need to just pray and meditate on different things to eventually hear what God is trying to tell us.

This is why praying rosary mysteries daily is such a great form of meditation.  Every day is an opportunity to reflect on the life of Jesus and the Catholic faith through the rosary mysteries and ask for Mary’s help in making sense of it all.  We have to explore our faith through prayer so that we can better understand God’s response.

It may seem doubly painful to dwell on our problems in prayer.  After all, who wants to recall their pain and suffering on a regular basis?  But through the rosary mysteries, we can see that pain through the lens of our faith, not through the lens of our secular world which offers very little in terms of answers and solutions.  You can’t find the true solution to your problems by avoiding laying them before God in prayer.

Look at Jesus in the First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary in the garden of Gesthemene.  He was going through immense agony over his upcoming arrest and crucifixion.  But Jesus did not hide that pain away in an attempt to appear tough or unphased.  He had no issue bringing his concerns and fears before God in prayer saying “Father if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  The agony in the garden of Gesthemene perfectly highlights what we are to do when life has is down — pray, pray, pray, and pray some more!

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

To end on a lighter note, here’s a quotation attributed to St. Francis de Sales for you to you think about.  You could easily substitute the word busy with sad, worried, or any other word that describes your situation:

Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.

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Praying for Those Who Hate the Prayerful

God Isn’t Fixing This! (Article title from the New York Daily News)
I do not want to hear one more politician say that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims and their family.  For the love of God. Do Something (Facebook post from The Coffee Party USA)
“Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again” (Tweet from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.)

We witnessed something new in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack and that is an attack on people who resort to prayer. It is an almost knee jerk reaction that many people have to offer “thoughts and prayers” in the face of tragedy. Whether it was the terrorist attacks in Paris, Fort Hood, World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, tragedy seems to bring out people’s deep rooted, and often suppressed, spiritual side. And for as long as I can remember, offering your thoughts and prayers was as natural and inoffensive as saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes.

But with the San Bernardino attack, I saw the automatic “thoughts and prayers” sentiment immediately shamed by both the media and politicians.  I find it amazing that changing your Facebook profile picture to the Eiffel Tower or the French flag or liking posts is seen as supportive but don’t you dare pray for the victims! As if that wasn’t shocking enough, I was also surprised how quickly that movement got started. To me, it felt like people already had their talking points ready to go and just needed a catalyst to roll it out. Like they say in politics, “never let a crisis go to waste.” And in this case, the San Bernardino tragedy seemed to provide the right setting to attack the idea of finding comfort through faith and spirituality.

When you look at the overall theme of these attacks, they do fall apart and make little sense with even minimal scrutiny. The premise is that we can’t stand around praying but we need to act. The assumption is that prayer and action are mutually exclusive and we aren’t capable of doing both. I have repeatedly said, especially in my meditations on the Second Joyful Mystery, how prayer is not always an end in itself.  Rather, it puts us in the state of mind and heart to more readily receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit to act in a way in accordance with God’s plan for us.  In this light, prayer and action actually go hand in hand.  We pray before we act so that we can act justly.

When you see the link between prayer and action I think it becomes clearer why the media and politicians want to shame those who turn to prayer in the face of tragedy.  If you are trying to push through an agenda the last thing you want to do is have people stop and meditate on it.  By saying that we need immediate action with no time for serious contemplation, politicians are actually saying, “Don’t think about it.  Don’t debate it.  Let’s just get this 1000 page bill signed into law.”  And then the politicians (and the special interests they are beholden to) can celebrate how they alone did something to address the problem without the help from that rule-laden man in the clouds.

“Sorry God, I issued an executive order overriding you”

Let’s suppose we could remove the link between prayer and right action.  Is there still value in praying in the wake of tragedy?  You bet!  Prayers open a dialog with God and makes you more open to his grace and comfort.  It doesn’t change what happened but it can provide an understanding deep in your heart (even if it’s one your mind can’t comprehend).  Think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary).  His prayers did not stop the authorities from arresting and ultimately crucifying him.  But it did put Jesus into a state of mind and heart to endure the upcoming hardship.  And so when we are faced with tragedy, prayer can help us cope with the overwhelming sorrow.  And let’s also remember that tragedy usually involves the loss of life.  The recently departed need prayers too both for God’s mercy and to decrease their time in Purgatory.

It’s time to double down.  If you see someone mocking prayer, that should be your call to action.  You don’t have to engage them on social media since their little soundbite quip requires a larger response and dialog than what social media usually affords.  Instead, think of their comment as a cry for help.  Those who mock prayer are the ones who need it most.  Give them what they need.

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What Athletes Can Teach Us About the Rosary

Scandals in professional sports is nothing new.  Every few weeks we hear about an athlete cheating on a spouse, using drugs, squandering money on an extravagant lifestyle, or being arrested for any number of crimes.  And yet, if you were to take the secular media’s take on professional sports, the most scandalous and controversial athlete of the last few months was Tim Tebow because he (gasp) prays publicly!  And now there is another devout Christian in pro sports making news headlines.  Basketball star, Jeremy Lin, of the New York Nicks has been on fire lately; helping his team to seven victories in a row.  And like Tebow, Lin does not hide his religion either.  So what can Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin teach us about prayer and the rosary?

Unless prayer is part of your life, you probably won’t understand people who pray publicly.  Many people see Tebow’s taking a knee in a game as some sort of act of self-righteous piety.  But to Tebow, turning to prayer is just as natural as saying “please,” “thank you,” or “sorry” when the situation calls for it.  When something great happens, Tebow turns to God and thanks Him.  In any situation, whether it be a call for help or in thanksgiving, God is Tebow and Lin’s almost-instinctual “go to” person.  The fact that their faith seems weird and out of place tells more about our society and our values rather than their character.  But they can’t hide their faith or “tone it down” any more than we can stop our hearts from beating.  Prayer is just part of their DNA.  And in my opinion, that is something to be praised and admired, not mocked.

Jeremy LinTebow and Lin’s focus on their faith and prayer reminds me of the First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary — the Agony in the Garden.  Jesus was scared before His arrest and crucifixion.  And when He found Himself in a difficult situation, Jesus’ immediate reaction was to turn to God and ask for help through prayer.  I’m sure that those who arrested Jesus, the pharisees that tried him, and Pontius Pilot who condemned Him probably all wished that Jesus would have “toned down” all that Messiah talk much like how many of us wish that some outwardly religious people would just shut up.  But being connected to God through prayer was an integral part of who Jesus was.  And, as followers and imitators of Jesus, we are called to make prayer an integral part of our lives too.  When we pray the First Sorrowful Mystery we should ask God for the strength and wisdom to constantly turn to Him in prayer regardless of the worldly consequences.

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in...Another aspect of the Agony in the Garden is how God chooses to answer our prayers.  While Jesus asked that God find another way to bring salvation to the world besides crucifixion and death, Jesus did yield to God’s ultimate wisdom.  It may seem that God did not answer Jesus’ prayer since He asked to be spared but was ultimately crucified.  But God did answer Jesus’ prayer by giving Him the strength and courage to face His physical and mental torture.  When we pray, we should realize that God does answer us and leads us, but probably not in the way we expect.  Tebow won’t win a football game because he asks God for victory.  Lin won’t always score 20+ points every game because he asks God for it.  We won’t win the lottery or get a promotion at work because we pray for it.  God knows that winning a football game, winning the lottery, or receiving that promotion won’t make us ultimately happy.  In fact, given our innate human weakness, the more worldly success we have the more likely we are to move away from God’s grace and true happiness.  God wants us to be ultimately happy by living forever in His heavenly kingdom.  And so we should look for the answers to our prayers that will meet that goal instead of the short term, and often short sighted, happiness we seek in life.

And so, when we see an athlete like Tebow take a knee and thank God, we should aim to imitate that behavior, not ridicule it.  We should be always conscious of our relationship with God which means constantly talking to God in prayer.  It seems like we spend so much time announcing to the world what we are doing through Twitter and Facebook.  Well, perhaps we should also remember to update God about our joys, sorrows, and worries.  Because ultimately, having a close relationship with God is all that really matters.  When you have that, everything else falls into place.

Do you want to learn more about the First Sorrowful Mystery and other rosary mysteries?  Read “The Rosary for the Rest of Us.”  Available now on Amazon.

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Blessed are the Students…

Grinnell College Gates Tower
Image via Wikipedia

For many of us, September means the start of a new school year.  And perhaps one of the largest transitions students face is going off to college.  I know this is “so last month” for those on the semester system, but I was a quarter system guy when I was in school.  Regardless of whether you are just moving in for orientation or are a few short months away from graduation, I want to share this article I came across in the Catholic San Francisco and how it relates to the First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary.

The article is the Beatitudes for College Students and it outlines eight smart tips for thriving in college.  Some of them like staying away from drugs and going to class are just part of being a good student and a responsible adult.  But other ones like making sure you attend Mass, pray regularly, and keep in touch with family are often swept aside in pursuit of higher education.  While many people may do well on the academic, social, and career fronts, some often stumble spiritually during their college years.  For those who do fall away, hopefully it is just a temporary bump in the road.  But unfortunately, many become spiritually derailed in college.  We should pray for all of those in college as many schools (even Catholic ones) have become extremely hostile environments for practicing religion and spirituality.

One of the college student beatitudes is “Blessed are students who pray about and think through important decisions.”  People make very important decisions during their college years.  They must decide what to study, how to support themselves after graduation, where to live, how to manage finances, who will be their friends (or possibly spouse), and just how manage life as a responsible adult.  Furthermore, college is often a time to decide how much of a priority you will make living according to your faith and values.  For example, as many students find themselves living away from home for the first time, the question arises on whether to continue praying or attending Mass.  Often, we come to these decisions after consulting with friends, professors, family, and counselors.  We read articles, attend lectures, and try to research these life-altering decisions as best we can.  And yet we often forget to ask God for guidance by praying.  This not only applies to college students, but all of us.  Do you pray earnestly and listen to God before making large decisions?

We should remember the First Sorrowful Mystery where Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus prayed so hard to God on the eve of His death that He started sweating blood.  He begged God to find another way to redeem us other than crucifixion.  Ultimately, crucifixion was God’s will and Jesus followed it faithfully.  But Jesus’ prayers were answered in that God gave Him strength to endure crucifixion and peace knowing that through His death and resurrection He would ultimately open the gates of Heaven and give us the opportunity for eternal joy and happiness.

And so college students can learn a lot from Jesus’ example of praying earnestly when facing big decisions.  God does have a plan for each one of us but we have to listen carefully through prayer.  We must be particularly vigilant in those times when it seems like God does not answer our prayers.  Perhaps He did but in a different way than what we were expecting.  Sometimes, instead of removing obstacles in our lives, God gives us the strength to overcome them.

College saddles students with many questions and decisions.  For those starting college, take time to reflect on what people are of good quality and what activities will ultimately make you a better person (hint: it’s not drinking and partying).  For those in the middle of their college years, ask God for guidance before declaring a major.  And for those in the final years of school, consider praying for insight on how you will spend the rest of you life after you get that diploma.  And important decisions don’t end after graduation.  Your will need to make decisions your entire life whether it be about work, family, finances, and politics.  You will have challenges but don’t think you’re alone in facing them.  God is always one prayer away and will always lead you in making the right decision if you listen to Him.

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Medjugorje Message — March 25, 2010

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on March 25, 2010: Dear children! Also today I desire to call you all to be strong in prayer and in the moments when trials attack you. Live your Christian vocation in joy and humility and witness to everyone. I am with you and I carry you all before my Son Jesus, and He will be your strength and support. Thank you for having responded to my call.

If Jesus was God, why did he pray to himself?
Image by Zombie Inc. Wholesale zombies for over 20 years via Flickr

Mary‘s message at Medjugorje on March 25, 2010:

Dear children! Also today I desire to call you all to be strong in prayer and in the moments when trials attack you. Live your Christian vocation in joy and humility and witness to everyone. I am with you and I carry you all before my Son Jesus, and He will be your strength and support. Thank you for having responded to my call.

This message ties nicely with many of the Sorrowful Mysteries.  First, Mary asks us to be strong in prayer in times of great difficulty.  This sounds very much like the First Sorrowful Mystery where Jesus prayed to the Father for strength before Judas betrayed Him and handed Him over to the authorities to be crucified.  All too often we tend to move away from God in our trials of life or blame Him when bad things befall us.  But Mary asks us to not only pray in these times, but remain joyful and humble in our faith for all to see.

Mary also talks of “carrying” us before Jesus Christ who will provide us strength and support.  This reminds me of the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery where Jesus took up His cross.  In my meditation on this rosary mystery I discuss how our love of God will help us through the difficult times in our life.  Jesus ultimately overcame the pain and torment of the crucifixion by rising from the dead.  Likewise, Mary reminds us that our faith and love in Jesus Christ will ultimately help us overcome any problems we encounter in this world.  While some will overcome these trials in this life through the intercession of miracles, others may need to be patient as their comfort will come in the next one in the kingdom of Heaven.

Pray on!

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