Enjoy the Silence

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general auditionThere are so many events in the news that I could write about in today’s post.  I could continue talking about the Health and Human Services contraception mandate, Proposition 8 being ruled unconstitutional in California, or the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s flip-flop on sending money to Planned Parenthood.  It seems like everywhere I turn, whether it be the internet, television, or radio there is someone talking about these issues and other assaults on religious freedoms.  I feel like it’s a full-time job consuming all this information, signing and promoting petitions, and writing emails and comments.  It is so easy to get lost in the daily “noise” of living in the digital age where we are often “plugged in” 24/7.  But it is important to remember to unplug for a little while to hear what God is saying to us and learn how He wants us to live.

Pope Benedict released his theme for World Communications Day titled “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization.”  Here is what the Pope had to say in an article from Vatican Radio:

In silence – Benedict explains – we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself. We avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas. In this way,- the Pope points out – space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible.

I believe the Pope’s words are particularly relevant to our relationship with God and His Church.  How many times do we set aside time in our busy lives to talk to God?  More importantly, amongst our prayers and petitions how often do we calm our hearts and minds to listen to God’s response?  I know many times I rush through my prayers and don’t allow any time to actually listen to God.  It’s like I’m conversing with God but I keep cutting Him off when He wants to respond.  How rude of me!  Not listening to God isn’t good because, as the Pope says, we tie ourselves to our own words and ideas.  When we don’t pray or pray hastily, we don’t open our heart to the Holy Spirit‘s influence and learn how God calls us to live.  Instead, we just focus inwardly on how we want to live which may not be in accordance with God’s plan for us.

I echo several of the themes the Pope expressed on my website and in my book on the rosary.  I see the value of silence and praying the rosary as being linked closely together.  I would say 20 minutes is a good average for praying five rosary decades.  That is a perfect amount of time to let your mind settle down and focus on your relationship with God and contemplate who you are.  You can’t have a productive dialog with God if you don’t put enough time into prayer.  Rushing prayer is like trying to take shortcuts in exercise.  You don’t get any stronger if you just periodically do one push up.  You must allow yourself time to get into “the zone.”  In the end, it isn’t God who needs prayers.  His power and glory does not depend on the quantity of prayers He receives.  To think about it another way, God doesn’t need 53 “Hail Marys” and 6 “Our Fathers” from the rosary.  Those prayers are for our benefit.  We need them because they allow sufficient time to warm up, find that meditative state, and become attentive to how God calls us to live in His grace.

I have little doubt that we live in a troubled world where people of faith are finding themselves constantly under attack.  And I’m all for taking proper actions whether it is donating money to legal funds to fight these attacks or signing petitions.  But we must set aside time to listen to God and learn how He wants us to act.  Fighting all these assaults on religious liberty without prayer is like someone rushing on to the field of battle without adequate armor and weapons.  We must first know God’s truth through prayer before we can fight to defend it.

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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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Remember the Rosary

October is Mary’s month and so the Catholic Church is particularly interested in spreading knowledge of the holy rosary. Since this is a Catholic blog site, I want to do my part and share with you some thoughts on the importance and power of the rosary. But why listen to me when you can read about the rosary from people who understand it infinitely better.

Rosary
Image via Wikipedia

October is Mary’s month and so the Catholic Church is particularly interested in spreading knowledge of the holy rosary.  Since this is a Catholic blog site, I want to do my part and share with you some thoughts on the importance and power of the rosary.  But why listen to me when you can read about the rosary from people who understand it infinitely better.

On October 6, Pope Benedict, in his general audience, said that the rosary was a “simple but efficient prayer” and “a spiritual weapon for each of us.”  Upon reading this I couldn’t help but think of my article on the Hail Mary as our spiritual push up.  Like the push up, the rosary is an incredibly simple prayer in its design.  However, its simplicity is what makes it so powerful in that anyone can pray it.  Since anyone can pray it, anyone can communicate with God and receive His graces.

The rosary is also a weapon in that praying it defends us and others from the evils of satan.  Think about it.  When you are praying the rosary earnestly, you are communicating with God and not engaging in any sinful behavior even if it is just for a short time.  For many, it is about as close to God as we can possibly get throughout the day as we are distracted or busy in so many other ways (work, home, family, friends, etc.).  But even a precious few minutes spent praying the rosary can give you enough strength to resist evil and live according to God’s plan for us.

On October 8, Bishop Jorge Luis Lona of San Luis, Argentina praised rosary prayer because  of its “repetitive rhythm of praise and supplication, like a sort of spiritual breathing.”  This really drives home the idea that praying the rosary gets us into a spiritual state similar to how an athletes “get into the zone” and enter a deeper state of focus and concentration.  Breathing is something we do without thinking — it is just something that comes naturally to us.  Similarly, once we really dive into praying the rosary regularly, living in a constant state of prayer, like the Good Samaritan, becomes second nature to us.  It takes practice to get the most out of the rosary.  You may not feel its benefits the first few times you pray it, but every saint in Heaven will tell you just how powerful the rosary is and how it can help bring you into God’s grace.

The bishop went on to say, “God gives us an immense aid. In order to be able to recognize and receive His gifts, He teaches us to practice praise and supplication.”  Let’s take the bishop’s words to heart and take advantage of this great tool.  We have about half of October left.  If you haven’t done so already, give daily rosary prayer a try.  Priests, bishops, popes, and saints all say that it is one of our best tools in achieving holiness.  How many other endorsements do you need?

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Perfect Prayer

I came across this article on Catholic Exchange. It discusses the idea of “perfect prayer” and how the Holy Spirit guides us in our spiritual life. It also dives into the idea of how reciting prayers, like the “Hail Mary” repetitively in the Catholic rosary, is different from the mindless incantations that Jesus warns us against in the Gospel. Many of the ideas put forth by the article’s author, Mark Shea, run along similar lines as many of my articles so I thought this was worth further commentary.

A dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, who is be...
Image via Wikipedia

I came across this article on Catholic Exchange.  It discusses the idea of “perfect prayer” and how the Holy Spirit guides us in our spiritual life.  It also dives into the idea of how reciting prayers, like the “Hail Mary” repeatedly in the Catholic rosary, is different from the mindless incantations that Jesus warns us against in the Gospel.  Many of the ideas put forth by the article’s author, Mark Shea, run along similar lines as many of my articles so I thought this was worth further commentary.

The article starts by explaining to us the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer:

Because we don’t know what we are doing when we pray, God sends us help. The principal help he gives is the Spirit who, if you will, prays through us and in union with us.

Naturally, this calls to mind the Third Glorious Mystery, the Coming of the Holy Spirit.  This same gift given to the apostles is also available to us to help guide us through life.  Remember, the purpose of prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is not to erase all of life’s problems.  The world will always be an imperfect place where there is sadness, sickness, cruelty, war, and suffering.  The world moves like raging, white water rapids where it is so easy to lose control and smash upon the rocks.  But the Holy Spirit helps us navigate those rapids so that we make it through intact.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t make the rapids go away but gives us the strength and knowledge to survive and even thrive among the chaos of this world.

The article moves on to discuss repetitive prayer and cites Jesus in Matthew 6:7:

And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

I always found this warning against “empty phrases” interesting because people always ask this about praying the rosary.  Many people feel like repeating the Hail Mary ten times for each decade is just the recitation of empty phrases.  And surely, it can become that if we say them without any focus or conviction.  But Mark Shea makes a good point that we do not recite the Hail Mary or the Our Father as if it is some sort of magic spell and hence reduce God to a genie who grants us wishes.  Instead, reciting these prayers repeatedly moves us into a more meditative and receptive state to hear God’s will.  And this brings us back to the earlier part about letting the Holy Spirit guide us.  By praying and meditating we prepare ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  In a way, its not the words of the prayer that are important.  Rather, it’s the frame of mind that prayer puts us in since it shows an effort to really have a closer relationship with God.

Reciting the Hail Mary as a form of rosary meditation is our spiritual exercise.  In a past article, I liken rosary prayer to doing push ups.  You don’t get in shape physically by doing a single push up periodically.  Similarly, you don’t get spiritually healthy by praying a single Hail Mary once in a while.  So what some see as mindless incantations in praying the rosary, I see as a healthy spiritual workout regiment.  Very few of us can get “in the zone” with a few seconds of praying.  It takes time to organize our thoughts and present them to the Lord.  And that is why God designed the rosary the way it is.  It allows us to take our time, warm up a little, and really focus on trying to build our relationship with the Lord.

It takes discipline to pray the rosary and stay focused and receptive to the Holy Spirit.  Anyone who has meditated deeply will tell you it is anything but the recitation of easy, mindless phrases.

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The “Hail Mary” — Catholicism’s Push Up

One of the main themes in my postings is that spiritual fitness is an important part of one’s overall health. I discuss the idea of spiritual exercise and being spiritually fit. In this article I’m going to discuss one of the most basic, but also one of the most important elements of spiritual fitness — praying the Hail Mary.

U.S. Marines count out push-ups.
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One of the main themes in my postings is that spiritual fitness is an important part of one’s overall health.  I discuss the idea of spiritual exercise and being spiritually fit.  In this article I’m going to discuss one of the most basic, but also one of the most important elements of spiritual fitness — praying the Hail Mary.

Physical exercise, no matter how complex, breaks down into very basic movements such as push ups, sit ups, squats,  pull ups, etc.  Exercise is a matter of simple mechanics where someone is lifts, lowers, pushes, or pulls some object.  However, an entire industry has emerged selling videos, books, and equipment pushing the idea that being fit is a complex process.  But when you remove all the advertising and spokespeople,  what differentiates a physically fit person from others is that the fit person has discipline to conduct very basic movements aggressively, routinely, and properly.

One of the most basic exercises is the push up.  However, it is also one of the best exercises as it strengthens core muscles, increases metabolism, and requires little space and no equipment.  And yet, so many people avoid doing push ups because they are hard or many believe that such a simple movement cannot be as effective as using a very complex machine at the gym.  But any athlete or soldier will tell you that mastering the push up is an important tool in improving one’s overall health and strength.

Like the push up in physical exercise, the Hail Mary and the rosary are fundamental prayers in staying spiritually fit.  The Hail Mary is 42 words long and takes about 10 seconds to say at a normal pace.  But it should be the cornerstone of everyone’s prayer routine.  After all, why do you think Mary wants you to pray it 53 times in the rosary?  It may be a simple prayer, but Mary and the saints know that it has a proven track record of keeping people in God‘s grace.  And yet so many people tend to avoid praying it.  Like the push up, the Hail Mary and the rosary are often avoided because they are seen as too difficult or not complex enough to have any meaningful result.  But people who are in shape spiritually will probably tell you that the Hail Mary is an important part of their prayer routine and must not be avoided.

Like the push up, you should start praying the Hail Mary slowly, methodically, and routinely.  Even the greatest athletes start with a single push up and then build on it.  Similarly, anyone can start building spiritual muscle with a single Hail Mary and build on that.  Remember, it is a ten second prayer and no one is so busy that you can’t fit in at least one some time during the day.  Like the push up, practice good form which means really concentrating on the words and not rushing through it.  A push up consists of two movements — a downward move followed by an upward one.  Likewise, the Hail Mary consists of two parts.  The first section you acknowledge and praise Mary as the Mother of God.  In the second you ask Her to pray for you, a poor sinner.  Both parts are important and require your attention and concentration.

So don’t be afraid of getting in spiritual shape through simple prayers.  Remember, sometimes the simplest prayers can yield the greatest benefits when they are said with your whole mind and soul.  Does anyone have any Hail Mary or rosary stories that they want to share?  Please leave your story as a comment.

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