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.

matterhorn-968_1280
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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Catechism Thoughts: Living for Heaven

As I read the Catechism as part of my new year’s resolution I’m going to share little insights and passages that I find relevant to rosary prayer. I came across this prayer in section 260 which I think highlights the power and peace that comes from prayer.  It’s part of the prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity:

O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.

In business there is a saying — work the job you want, not the job you have. In other words, if you want to receive a promotion or have greater responsibilities at work, then take the initiative to display your skills now in your current role. Otherwise, you’ll always stay where you are because no one will see that you have the abilities or desire for anything greater.

A businessman's silhouette.
A businessman’s silhouette. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer is the spiritual equivalent of that business philosophy. Act like you’re already one of the saints at peace in God’s Kingdom. After all, Heaven is our ultimate goal (or at least it should be) where we will realize how inconsequential and petty many of our problems really are. Why focus so much time and energy on the problems of this life?  This life is temporary and fleeting and is not where God calls us.  God calls us to look past our earthly selves and look towards raising to new life with Him in Heaven.  If you want your soul to live in Heaven, then act heavenly while on earth.

This prayer’s message is echoed in the First Glorious Mystery, Jesus’ Resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead He showed us that our earthly death is not the end, but only a transition.  In His resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of Heaven and provided a place for us. Our souls are not temporary and bound only to this life but will live on for eternity. But how do we want to live that eternity? In the grace and joy of Heaven or in the despair and anguish of Hell? When we pray this rosary mystery, we should meditate and examine how much we are truly living for the place in Heaven Jesus prepared for us in His resurrection.

English: Resurrection of Christ
English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer also recalls themes from the Third Luminous MysteryJesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion.  She talks about how our journey into God’s grace is achieved “each minute.”  In other words, grace is achieved in small steps, not in one fell swoop.  It’s not like we fall asleep one night wallowing in sin and wake up the next day a saint.  Conversion is a process made up of a lifetime of small steps into God’s grace.  We should take that to heart when we pray this mystery because it can be so easy to become discouraged when it seems like no matter how hard we try we don’t find that peace we so desperately crave.  Remember, Jesus didn’t find peace here on earth either.  True peace is found only in Heaven.  And you find Heaven only when you convert your earthly ways into heavenly ones.

If you want peace and you want Heaven, work towards it now.  Pray, confess, fast, receive the sacraments, and learn and follow Jesus’ teachings.  You don’t have to be officially recognized a saint to act like one.

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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: Teaching What Is Right, Not What Is Easy

I came across this article over at the National Catholic Register about how “real men pray.”  It’s a commentary on Cardinal Burke’s comments that men have lost their sense of purpose within the Catholic Church.  He points to the confusing and often conflicting messages presented by popular culture and the Church and how the Church is often silent addressing what it means to be a moral man.

I keyed in on this part of Cardinal Burke’s comments (I encourage you to read the full article at the National Catholic Register):

The crisis between man and woman has been made much worse by a complete collapse of catechesis in the Church. Young men grew up without proper instruction with regard to their faith and to the knowledge of their vocation. Young men were not being taught that they are made in the image of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These young men were not taught to know all those virtues that are necessary in order to be a man and to fulfill the particular gifts of being male.

Prayer isn’t just for little, old ladies

I found Cardinal Burke’s comments timely because I made my new year’s resolution to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which is going well; I’m on verse 167 of 2865).  I want to be better catechized particularly in this world of “soft Catholicism.”  I liken myself to a patient wanting the doctor to give me the hard truth about my condition and the prescription for leading a spiritually healthy life.  And I’m not looking for what is easy, but what is best for my mind, body, and soul.

Going back to Cardinal Burke’s comment, why do we have such a collapse of catechesis in the Church?  I find it interesting that when we learn math, we learn about rules and formulas.  When we learn science, we learn about rules and formulas.  Economics — rules and formulas.  Engineering — yep, rules and formulas.  Languages, again with the rules and formulas.  But for some reason, many people shy away from educating about the rules and dogmas of the Catholic faith out of a fear that it might upset someone or it may not be politically correct.

This fear of Church dogma wasn’t always the case.  My mom told me that growing up the Baltimore Catechism was basically her text book for religious education.  But over the years we’ve infantilized religious education to simple platitudes like “God loves you” and “Jesus wants us to be nice to each other.”  Yes, it’s good to learn about a loving and merciful God.  But that’s the starting point.  We can’t stop there.  If we want deepen our faith and our relationship with God we need to deepen our understanding of what our faith is.  Furthermore, we can’t ignore or disregard the truth we learn because we don’t like it or it’s hard to follow.  That’s like saying you don’t believe in gravity or 1+1=3.

One of the goals of RosaryMeds is to motivate you to really take the next steps, whatever that may be, to increase your understanding and love of your faith in Jesus’ church.  When you pray the rosary, ask God to show you what those next steps are.  Maybe it’s to pray more earnestly.  Maybe its to read the Bible or the Catechism.  Maybe it’s to read more RosaryMeds articles (hint, hint).  Whatever form it may take, try hard to move your understanding of the Catholic Faith forward.  We have an infinitely complex God so trust me, there is always something new to learn.

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Synod on the Family — A Messy Process

As many of you know, I’m a software engineer.  My career revolves around analyzing the business needs of my employer and designing and implementing a software solution.  Although my job title has the word engineer in it and my degree is in a science, the software development world can be an undisciplined, unscientific mess.  Someone who doesn’t understand software development might be a little uneasy with the number of bugs that are introduced in the process, the amount of code that gets thrown out or rewritten, and how different a final product will look from the initial concept or prototype.  Personally, every good idea I have usually stems from five bad ones — some being immediately dismissed while others I worked on a bit before realizing they weren’t a good fit for what I was trying to accomplish.

I see a lot of parallels between my experience in writing software and the recent Synod on the Family.  A lot of commentary and fuss has been made over the midterm report.  It shows a process where it may appear bishops are make statements and decisions contrary to Church doctrine in topics like divorce and homosexuality.  We have to remember that this report isn’t the finished product nor a definitive statement upholding or changing Church doctrine.

The synod is like a piece of code in progress.  Sometimes I just have to write a few lines of code to steer my thinking in the right direction.  Similarly, I think the bishops have to bring up topics and lines of thought, not with the intent of those thoughts becoming the final word.  Rather, it steers the dialog in different directions to find the right path — the truth of Jesus Christ.

While I’m a little uneasy about the statements being reported, I’m also glad that they are at least being mentioned.  It wouldn’t be much of a synod if the bishops sat down and just regurgitated Church teaching, patted each other on the back for their rote knowledge, and went home.  Again, in the software world I would be highly skeptical of a code’s quality that was completed quickly with no revisions.  How do we know that the developer took into account all the scenarios and details?  Why didn’t he integrate any feedback from his colleagues?  Similarly, the mentioning of ideas that run counter to the Church’s teachings shouldn’t be seen as a challenge to the doctrine but as part of the exploration of these broad and complex topics.  I want my bishops to leave no stone unturned in their search for truth.

Father Robert Barron, who is often very level-headed about topics like this says it best in his recent article:

One of the great mysteries enshrined in the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church is that Christ speaks through the rather messy and unpredictable process of ecclesiastical argument. The Holy Spirit guides the process of course, but he doesn’t undermine or circumvent it. It is precisely in the long, laborious sifting of ideas across time and through disciplined conversation that the truth that God wants to communicate gradually emerges.

The interim report on the Synod represents a very early stage of the sausage-making process and, unsurprisingly, it isn’t pretty. Two more weeks of discussion will follow; then a full year during which the findings of the Synod will be further refined, argued about, and clarified; then the Ordinary Synod on the Family will take place (the one going on now is the Extraordinary Synod), and many more arguments and counter-arguments will be made; finally, some months, perhaps even a year or so, after that, the Pope will write a post-Synodal exhortation summing up the entire process and offering a definitive take on the matter. At that point, I would suggest, something resembling edible sausage will be available for our consumption; until then, we should all be patient and refrain from bloviating.

Now, I would also be naive to think that there aren’t some bishops guided more by politics than the Holy Spirit in this process.  I think that’s part of the reason why this interim report was released to the public — so that some bishops could score some political points with the Church’s critics.  It’s their way of getting some political cover by implying, “You see!  I did try to represent your viewpoints but the magisterium didn’t listen.”  Unfortunately, I think some bishops are aiming more to increase the Church’s likability by bending her teachings to the whims of society and not through explaining her truths.

I don’t think there will be a radical rewriting of Church doctrine when this is all over and many of the bishops know that.  So those who may have ulterior motives other than fostering dialog may want their viewpoints made public so that they can become a talking point or be used in a counter argument in future debates.  Unfortunately, our society (the media in particular) has an uncanny way of turning “this was mentioned in the synod” into “this is what the Catholic Church believes.”  And over time, the context certain statements were made in will be completely lost and all you’re left with is a soundbite from Nancy Pelosi quoting the interim synod report and misrepresenting Church doctrine.

Nancy Pelosi, Representative from California.
The media’s “goto” person for Catholic teaching.

Like St. Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary, we must show patience for this process.  St. Simeon had faith that he would one day see God’s Chosen One.  We too must have faith that the truth of Jesus Christ will not only reveal itself, but will burn more brightly when held up against weaker ideas.  We pray for patience with the Church, both personally and for a patience from the greater society to not misrepresent the Church’s teachings.  We also need to pray for the bishops and all those taking part in the synod that they let the Holy Spirit guide their thoughts and actions.  And we must pray especially for those bishops who may treat their vocation as a political office rather than spiritual shepherds.

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The Rosary — The (Not So) Secret to Happiness

Last week at work I had the privilege of attending a class on the science of happiness.  I find topics about brain and neuroscience fascinating probably because I haven’t studied it to death.  A two hour seminar from a former software developer fits nicely into my mosaic of brian knowledge formed from Ray Kurzweil books and Wired magazine articles.

Why would my company want me to learn about the science of happiness?  According to various studies and polls, happy people are about 12 to 25% more productive in their work.  Furthermore, much of what makes people happy revolves around them choosing actions that lead towards happiness.  Therefore, a company has a vested interest in its employees choosing routines that lead to happiness and hence, more productivity.

I’m going to spare you the details of the seminar.  If you want to learn more, just go to HappyBrainScience.com.  I bring up this seminar for one reason — readers of RosaryMeds already know many of the choices that lead to happiness.  For example, in the class we learned about the value of meditation as a way to combat the negative effects of stress.  Guess what?  Many of us who pray the rosary regularly already experience the positive effects rosary meditation has on combating the stress of everyday life.  I’ve mentioned a study in a previous post about the cardiovascular benefits of rosary prayer.  I’ve also talked about how people are happiest when they find “flow” or are “in the zone.”  Many people who pray the rosary regularly find it comforting because they can more easily get in the zone of deep meditation and prayer.

Going back to my happiness seminar, I also learned how we all have a bias towards focusing on the negative.  I think we all know how difficult it is to concentrate or be happy in a group of people if you find even just one person in that group annoying.  Instead of focusing on the people whose company we enjoy or the good situations around us, we too often dwell on what’s wrong and foment a bitterness, if not an outright hatred, of those people who we don’t get along with for some reason or another.  Similarly, we also tend to dwell on our weaknesses more than our strengths.  “I’m overweight.”  “I’m not smart enough.”  “I work too slowly.”  “I don’t have enough patience.”  “I don’t have enough energy.”  Sound familiar?

When I heard about our negative bias and some of the tricks to combat it (you can get a taste of it from the HappyBrainScience blog), I immediately thought this all sounded vaguely familiar.  I then remembered the introduction to my rosary book, The Rosary for the Rest of Us, where I explained the main benefit I get from rosary prayer — perspective.  Praying the rosary helps me understand that all the negative things in life we often dwell on aren’t that big of a deal in the big picture.  By praying the rosary every day, I manage to keep all my problems, stresses, and worries in perspective.  Rosary prayer also reminds me of God’s awesome power to forgive me for all my mistakes, no matter how big.  Rosary prayer reminds me that the Holy Spirit is present and always trying to lead me on the path of true happiness.  Rosary prayer reminds me that no matter how terrible the world appears, there is hope for a better tomorrow.

A rosary crucifix.
This can bring more happiness than winning any lottery.

Not all of us can attend a happiness seminar.  But you don’t have to attend one or buy a “secret of life” type book to start choosing a lifestyle that yields increased happiness.  Want to be happier?  Turn off the TV and computer, silence your phone, pick up a rosary, and pray!  Oh, and reading my rosary book and telling others about this website wouldn’t hurt ;-).

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The Dulling of Faith

We just remembered the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing on Normandy in WWII.  Operation Overlord, or D-Day, was a massive operation that forever changed the face of our world.  Thousands of men stormed the beaches and for many of them, the flashes of German gunfire from concrete bunkers was the last thing they would ever see and the deafening sounds of mortar shells was the last thing they would ever hear.

But like many historical events, even the big ones like D-Day, time erodes our memories and emotions of these events.  As the people who experienced these events pass away and all we’re left with are pictures and videos, these world changing moments start to feel less real and meaningful to us.  Washington D.C. burning to the ground in 1812, thousands of men dying at Gettysburg, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and one day, 9/11, almost start to have as much impact as a work of fiction as time goes on.

D-DAY IMAGE ...
D-DAY IMAGE … (Photo credit: mrbill78636)

I think we often suffer from time diminishing our faith.  Many of us read the Bible and listen to the Gospels at least once a week during Sunday Mass.  We may pray routinely.  We know what Jesus taught and what He expects of us.  We know the high bar He sets for us to get into His kingdom of Heaven.  And I bet, if Jesus walked into your room and repeated what He said in the Gospels, He would have your complete attention.  You would run out and change anything and everything in your life that didn’t line up with His teaching.

And yet, we often ignore, trivialize, or give lip service to Jesus’ message because He said it nearly 2000 years ago and we didn’t witness it firsthand.  We are like St. Thomas who doubted Jesus’ resurrection when the other disciples told him about it because he didn’t personally see Him.  But Jesus’ teachings are no different today than when He walked this earth.  His teachings are no different through the Gospel than if He came walking through your door right now.  And yet we too allow the trivialities of our present situation to overshadow the greater truths Jesus taught us.

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

I think about my lack of appreciation of Jesus’ truth most when I pray the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary, The Transfiguration.  I think about how awe inspiring it must have been for the apostles to witness Jesus transform into a figure of dazzling light and to hear God say, “LISTEN TO HIM.”  If we truly believe in the authenticity of the Catholic faith, then we know the Transfiguration was a real event.  God didn’t just tell the apostles to listen to Jesus.  He told all of us!  But ask yourself, do you live with an awareness of that reality?  Or do you often ignore or trivialize the truths of the Catholic faith because you didn’t personally witness Jesus saying them?  Why does a difference of time and place have such a dramatic effect on our willingness to follow Jesus’ teachings?

Before you beat yourself up, remember that even the apostles failed to truly believe in Jesus’ teachings when confronted with the realities around them.  Judas betrayed Jesus.  Peter, who witnessed the Transfiguration, denied Him.  And all of them, except for John, went into hiding during Jesus’ crucifixion.  They didn’t even have the excuse of being separated from Jesus by thousands of years like we do.  Their cowardice shows just how powerful our human weaknesses are and how they can dominate over our desire to live for God’s eternal kingdom.

And while we may fail to truly believe in Jesus’ message like the apostles did, God came into our lives in yet another form — as the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gave the apostles that shot of courage and conviction to go out and live and preach the Jesus’ message.  While they may have been lukewarm in their faith while Jesus was alive, they were transformed into true believers on Pentecost.  Even in their fear, the Holy Spirit penetrated their souls and gave the apostles a needed spiritual “kick.”

The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Ant...
The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1618. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us are in need of a spiritual kick.  We may not live in fear of practicing our faith (although more and more Christians are being persecuted and martyred throughout the world).  But many of us do suffer from a sense of passivity in our faith because we haven’t heard Jesus’ teachings directly from His mouth.  But the Holy Spirit, the same one that roused the scared apostles into action, rouses us into action as well.  We only have to provide that small bit of kindling in our souls for the fire of the Holy Spirit to erupt into a bright flame of faith.  That kindling is something as small and as easy as focused prayer, rosary meditation, participating at Mass, and receiving the sacraments.  It doesn’t matter that Jesus walked this earth nearly 2000 years ago.  His message is still the same and the Holy Spirit burns just as bright!

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