Like writer’s block, sometimes I come down with a case of prayer’s block. Prayer’s block manifests itself in mindlessly reciting prayers without any real intention or focus. If you have ever prayed an entire decade of the rosary and upon coming to that gap in the chain you did not know what mystery you were praying, you encountered prayer’s block.
I recently discovered a great way combat prayer’s block. Use Pinterest! For those who do not know what Pinterest is, it’s a website that allows people to post images and videos on virtual “boards” that have a common theme. It’s very popular for finding ideas for home decor, organization and storage ideas, DIY projects, arts and crafts, and recipes. For example, if you want to find a creative way of serving margaritas at your next party, search for “margarita” and Pinterest will show you dozens of pictures of margaritas with links to the website where the image was used.
You can search for any rosary mystery or religious term like Virgin Mary, Rosary Meditation, Rosary Prayer, Catholic Prayer, etc. and see a wall of images. Focus on those images as you pray the rosary. They may help inspire new thoughts, meditations, and intentions. They can help you remain focused on praying and make it more difficult for your mind to wander off.
The link back to the website the image appears on is the important part when it comes to combating prayer’s block. If you can follow a picture of a margarita to a recipe, why not follow an image of the Virgin Mary to a prayer? If you select an image on the board, there is a “Visit” button below it that will take you to the website. Many times these images appear as part of a blog or article that is worth reading for prayer ideas. If you find an article you like, maybe the author wrote more worth reading or bookmarking that website. Maybe that website has links to similarly helpful sites. Following just a few image links on Pinterest can greatly increase your resources if you are ever lacking for prayer ideas.
If you suffer from prayer’s block, give Pinterest (or the Christian themed copycat, Godinterest) a try.
Time for a touchy subject — criticism. Have you noticed how intolerant everyone appears to get at the slightest hint of criticism? I understand that no one enjoys criticism, even constructive criticism. But in the last few years, how society views criticism has changed. Instead of it as something you either accept or ignore, criticising anyone has become tantamount to hate speech that warrants severe repercussions. Just look at some of these headlines about how people react when their views are challenged or someone says something that makes them feel uncomfortable:
What I think is going on is that many people infer that any type of criticism comes from a position of self righteousness or malice. Criticism is interpreted as a passive aggressive way of saying, “I’m better than you.” In today’s world, the greatest act of love and concern appears to be silence and the cardinal sin of secular society is saying or doing anything that might upset someone.
In short, the world of Fahrenheit 451, where books are burned because people may find the ideas in them offensive, has come true. Granted, we do not have firemen raiding homes looking for contraband books. But we do have a culture where people are shouted down and threatened at the slightest implication that someone disagrees with their views or lifestyle.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has this take on criticism and how it is born out of a genuine love for each other. While I encourage you to listen to the two minute audio meditation yourself, the tl;dl version (too long; didn’t listen) is that fraternal correction is a great act of love and mercy. Others often see aspects of us we don’t see ourselves and hence the cycle of continuous and mutual improvement completes us and our relationships with others. He emphasizes that correction must come from a humble heart desiring only what is best for one another, not from thinking of yourself as better than others.
I think Benedict’s statement, that true loving correction does not come from a place of self righteousness, is lost in today’s world. Any attempt to help someone is often immediately dismissed because the person offering the criticism has his own faults and is therefore seen as a hypocrite. It’s the whole, “Oh yeah! Well you’re a …” response. But by that logic, no one can offer advice or help each other because no one is perfect.
I wonder how much unhappiness in the world is born out of people being too afraid to help each other discover the good because doing so may present temporary anxiety or discomfort. If you are on the receiving end of loving criticism, Benedict asks us to consider that not all criticism is malicious but is instead maybe the Holy Spirit working through someone to bring out the best in us.
Turning to the rosary, meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion. Consider this passage taken from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary forces us to consider that Jesus Christ, and by extension His Church, calls us to see those aspects of our lives that are not moving us toward Heaven and to convert. Jesus’ ministry was marked with Him challenging people’s beliefs and wanting them to do better. In the Gospel, Jesus is criticizing the people for thinking that they, and only they, are called to God’s grace. At the idea that there are others in the world deserving of God’s love, the Jews were ready to throw Jesus over a cliff! Of course we shouldn’t forget that Jesus’ teachings so upset the status quo that He was eventually crucified because His truth made many feel uncomfortable or upset.
Ask yourself, how quickly do you make excuses to dismiss God’s plan for you? Or how often do you attack the messenger, who may be acting as an instrument of God’s loving guidance, because you do not like being told that you are doing something wrong or not in accordance with God’s plan? Look, I’m not saying that you should be all smiles and laughter when someone tries to correct your less than perfect ways. And not everyone acts out of love. But we all should ask God in prayer for patience and discernment and not immediately dismiss or attack someone who only wants the best for us.
What’s more important, serving God or serving each other? Patrick Archbold points out in his article on The Remnant that over the last few decades the Church’s focus has shifted from loving God first to primarily loving our fellow brothers and sisters. It’s not that we have to choose one or the other. We are called to do both. But it is a matter of priority and focus. If you accept the premise that Catholic Church has shifted its priorities in the last few generations, ask yourself whether that has strengthened or weakened the Church. Have we veered from what Jesus taught and what has made the Church strong over the centuries? Patrick Archbold thinks so and believes much of the weakness of faith within the Church has to do with this shift. I encourage you to read his article in full. The focus of this article will be on the rosary (naturally). Let’s look at what some of the rosary mysteries teach us about loving God vs. loving our fellow humans.
Look at the order of the first and second Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. In the Annunciation, we see Mary putting God first by accepting his plan for her. We then see in the Visitation Mary going out and helping her cousin Elizabeth. Notice the order? Okay, there is the fact that chronologically, the Annunciation did precede the Visitation. But there is also a spiritual significance in the order as well. When we pray the rosary we meditate first on the love of God as seen in the Annunciation and then the love for our fellow brothers and sisters as represented in the Visitation. In putting our love for God first, we receive his grace and can therefore more fully serve each other just as Mary does in the Joyful Mysteries.
On to the First Sorrowful Mystery. Jesus fears his upcoming arrest and crucifixion. But he prays to God asking God to first find another way he could redeem the world but also submits to God’s Will. Jesus shows his primary love for God by acknowledging God’s authority and humbly submitting to his plan. Later, when he’s arrested, Jesus tells his apostles, who were ready to defend him, to stand down. While Jesus loved his apostles and his apostles loved him, Jesus puts his life not in their hands, but into God’s hands. Again, we see the model Jesus asks us to follow — serve according to God’s Will first.
Finally, take a look at the Third Luminous Mystery. Jesus preaches that we should all convert our ways to God’s ways. We are called to live first for the Kingdom of Heaven. Note that Jesus did not tell us to solely live for the Kingdom of Heaven and forsake our responsibilities and others in this world. But it is a matter of priority — desiring God’s kingdom must come first. And from that desire, not only for ourselves but for others, we better help our fellow brothers and sisters to also come to live in God’s grace.
I will leave you with a quotation from the Council of Trent that Patrick Archbold cites in his article as I think it sums up nicely why the love of God needs to come before our love for our fellow humans.
“Moreover, no honor, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength. The love of our neighbor, on the contrary, has its limits, for the Lord commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To outstep these limits by loving our neighbor as we love God would be an enormous crime.” —Catechism of Trent, Part 3, Chapter 5, Question 5
Welcome to 2016! I know many of us have already formulated a list of resolutions to accomplish in this new year. Personally, I know that I need to continue reading the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church. I made it through Part I in 2015 and I hope that I will at least read Part II this year.
I believe becoming a better Catholic should be on everyone’s “todo” list this year. And I’m not talking about having some sort of abstract and vague goal, but to actually formulate an action plan. The Catholic Exchange provided a great list of steps you can take to become a better Catholic in the new year. While the article focuses on becoming a committed Catholic man, there is nothing in the article that doesn’t apply to women as well.
As any regular reader of RosaryMeds can see, I like motivating people to pray the rosary. All too often I go to other rosary websites that just list rosary commentary and meditations. Don’t get me wrong, rosary meditation ideas are very important as I have written twobooks on them. But we also need to find motivation and the will to pray the rosary. Otherwise, the rosary will just collect dust like that exercise equipment everyone tends to have in the back of their closets.
The rosary gives us strength to conquer seemingly impossible challenges
Now I’m going to talk to all of you who already pray the rosary regularly. Look at those ten reasons to pray the rosary. The rosary isn’t something we should keep to ourselves. I’m sure all of us know someone who needs the receive the benefits of rosary prayer. When you pray the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the rosary ask Mary, Queen of the Rosary, to motivate that specific person in your life to pick up and pray the rosary. Even if you think the person you have in mind will never turn to the rosary, it never hurts to ask. What do you have to lose?
I came across this article on Catholic Exchange about how there are many in the Church who want to free Christianity from the cross. And yet, this article makes a good point about how you can’t separate the cross from Christianity because you can’t separate Jesus from the cross. Or, as the article puts it, “There simply cannot be a joyful Easter without there first being a Good Friday.”
The article says that the Church faces a lot of enemies within:
Sadly, at the very highest levels of the Church, there are men who are opposed to the Gospel of Christ. They despise the cross and they want a Christianity free from it. They want a Catholicism sanitized of sacrifice, of repentance, of dying to self, of carrying one’s cross to follow Christ. They want an easy religion—a religion that accommodates us in our sin, that pats us on the back and assures us that everything will be ok, a faith that requires nothing of us.
To create this crossless religion, they believe they must change the Church and her immutable teachings. All their thought is bent upon it, and they are currently using every machination in their power to accomplish their aim. Perhaps their chief method is to question what is settled—to whisper like the serpent of old, “Did God really mean what he said?”
This article seems timely given that the Synod on the Family is taking place. I know that Pope Francis has asked everyone not to politicize the Synod. But I still can’t help but wonder who is more passionate at this point in history — those who want to remove the cross or those who seek to preserve it? I know that preserving the cross won’t make you the most popular. But neither are needles and scalpels and you don’t see doctors giving those up.
The article ends with 4 ways we can keep the cross, and hence our salvation, alive and not be deceived by those who wish to remove it. Here is the summary:
Learn and embrace the teachings and traditions of the Church
Receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist
Stay close to Mary in prayer
Pray and sacrifice
When looking at this list, I can’t help but think about the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary — Mary’s Assumption into Heaven. As I wrote about in The Rosary for the Rest of Us, God set aside a special place for Mary, not just in her earthly lifetime but in ours as well. She has appeared throughout the ages giving us advice and tools with the promise of eternal joy to those who use them. I think Mary’s guidance can be summed up in some simply, yet important, tasks which mirror what was offered in the Catholic Exchange article:
Pray — How can you have a close relationship with Jesus if you don’t take the time to talk to him?
Read the Bible and other Church teachings — How can you love and embrace your faith if you don’t take the time to learn it?
Fast — How can you love God with your whole being if that being is constantly attached to earthly pleasures?
Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation — How can you remain close to God with a barrier of sin between you two?
Receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist — How can you love and embrace the Catholic Church without receiving her cornerstone sacrament?
When you pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery, remember to integrate these five tasks into your routine. Doing so will not only remind you about the importance of the cross but also embrace it. As Jesus commanded, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Jesus didn’t make the cross optional. It’s as fundamental to our spiritual life as air and water are to our physical one. Following these routines will remind you of the cross’ importance and not let you be deceived by those who wish to whitewash it out of Christianity.
I read this article on the Catholic News Agency about just how toxic anger can be in a marriage. It starts:
Of the countless Catholic couples who have come through Father T.G. Morrow’s office in Washington D.C. for marriage counseling, two remain imprinted in the priest’s mind even today.
In many ways, these two Catholic couples were the ideal; they were open to life, they formed their children in the faith and they frequented the sacraments.
But both of these marriages fell apart. The culprit? Anger.
“Anger is a poison,” Fr. Morrow, a moral theologian and author of “Overcoming Sinful Anger” (Sophia Press, 2014) told CNA. “If a husband and a wife are angry with each other a lot, it destroys the relationship. It makes it so painful that people want to get out of that relationship.”
I’m going to broaden the conversation to not only talk about anger, but general self-imposed unhappiness. I think a lot of anger stems from losing sight of what’s really important. When we put a little perspective on our lives it’s almost humorous in hindsight what we get so upset about. We get all tied up in knots over traffic, a late flight, a sink of dirty dishes, a slow loading web page, no cell signal, etc. And why? How is stewing over all these little annoyances going to make life any better? How is lashing out at someone over a pet peeve going to foster the good in that relationship?
As I wrote in the introduction to The Rosary for the Rest of Us, one of the main benefits of praying the rosary is that it offers me the proper perspective on life. The rosary reminds me that our world isn’t perfect, but that’s okay because this world is only temporary. We are meant to spend eternity in the joy of God’s heavenly kingdom. Rosary prayer is all about focusing on that glorious kingdom to come, not dwelling on the imperfect worldly kingdom that is.
I picture our Mother Mary in Heaven shaking her head in disbelief when she sees what we get so upset about. She must think what I think when one of my kids melts down over nothing. The other day my three-year old son had a fit because I dared serve him a waffle cut in half instead of whole. My explanation that the waffle would taste the same didn’t comfort him. All I could think was, “Really? All this unhappiness over a cut up waffle?” I think Mary must be sitting in Heaven also asking herself, “Really?” Because from her perspective, we must come across like little three-year olds — bringing so much unhappiness on ourselves over ultimately trivial problems. Even the “big” problems in life such as finances and health are as significant in the heavenly perspective as a waffle cut in half.
Let’s look at the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the rosary. When we meditate on Mary crowned Queen of Heaven, let’s ask for her intercession, especially when it comes to controlling anger and gaining a more heavenly perspective. She wants nothing more than for us to live for her son, Jesus Christ. And when we humbly ask for her help, she will gladly offer it. But the key is that we have to understand what holds us back from truly living for Heaven. We must realize that when we’re angry about the trivial aspects of this world, we really don’t have a heavenly perspective because we are worrying too much about the here and now.
I’m not saying that keeping a heavenly perspective is easy. If it was then there really wouldn’t be much need to regularly pray the rosary. But because living for God’s kingdom is difficult, we have the rosary, our gift from Mary Queen of Heaven, to help manage our anger and keep us focused on what’s really important.
I’ll leave you with this last piece of advice from the Catholic News Agency article. If the Golden Rule is about treating others as you want to be treated, then I believe this should be the Silver Rule:
“People get angry about little, trifling things,” Father T.G. Morrow said. “You have to say “Is this worth getting angry about?” If not, then you have to let it go. Just forget it.”
In my last post I talked about how Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco was battling opponents over his additions to the high school teachers’ hand book about leading a Catholic example while on the job. He wrote a fantastic clarification about why he added the new clauses and what he hopes to accomplish. You can read the full letter at Catholic Minority Report. I know that for many of you who don’t live in the archdiocese of San Francisco, or even the USA, the details of this battle may not hold much interest. But like many things in life, this controversy does tie back to the rosary (and hence the RosaryMeds website) and provides some thoughts for meditation. Let’s take a look at the Joyful Mysteries.
I said in my previous post that teaching at a Catholic school is as much of a vocation as it is a career. I do think God calls people to use their talents specifically at a Catholic school instead of a secular or public school. The First Joyful Mystery is all about vocations and reflecting on how God calls us to follow the path He sets before us. We may have our doubts about God’s plan, similar to Mary questioning the angel Gabriel about how she could become the mother of God since she was an unwed virgin. But like Mary, when we put our faith in God’s plan for us, no matter how outrageous it may seem, He will bestow upon us the graces to triumph. We pray that we all reflect on our vocation and do what God asks of us even if we have our doubts.
To me, the Visitation is primarily about ministry. I’ve said in many past articles how Mary had every right to feel like she was a queen to be pampered and honored because she was to become the Mother of God. But instead she headed off to the countryside proclaiming how she is the handmaiden of the Lord. Her initial instinct was to go out proclaiming the glory of God when bestowed with God’s grace. Similarly, Catholic schools are a ministry as well. They are a place where young minds come to learn, not just reading, science, and mathematics, but also about what it means to be Catholic. We pray that we remember to show what the Catholic faith professes through our words and actions in a direct, unambiguous way.
The birth of Jesus revolves around the theme of humility. God humbled himself by not only taking shape in the imperfect human form, but also as a lowly peasant. And yet, through this unexpected person came God’s perfect revelation as taught by Jesus. I think the archbishop is asking teachers and also the entire Catholic community in the archdiocese to show a lot of humility for the Church’s teachings as revealed by Jesus Christ and handed down over the years by the Magisterium. It is difficult to accept and promote teachings that you may personally disagree with or are contrary to societal norms. I’m not just talking about high school teachers either. We all probably have a hard time accepting some of the Church’s teachings. When we pray this mystery of the rosary, we should ask God for the humility to accept His perfect teachings although we may have an imperfect understanding of them.
Jesus’ presentation in the temple focuses on adherence and obedience to the law. Mary and Joseph waited the prescribed forty days before taking Jesus to the temple. They also offered a sacrifice of turtledoves as was the custom. Later, Jesus insists that John baptizes him although Jesus needed no purification. When I think about many of the objections over the additions to the faculty handbook, I see an absence of the respect of an ancient institution. The Church hasn’t been secretive about her teachings over the last few millennia nor has it dramatically changed them. And yet so many people complain about the archbishop’s request to honor the sacred traditions of the Catholic Church in a Catholic school.
When we pray this mystery, we should remember that the Church is an institution that teaches what it teaches for a reason. Church Scholars have pondered and written brilliant defenses for the Church’s teachings and its rituals over the years. These “rules” and doctrine of the Church are not arbitrary but are insights into the natural law imprinted on our hearts. By following those rituals and taking them seriously we follow in Jesus’ footsteps when he, who is the Law, also respected the Law.
When I think about Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the temple I recall Jesus’ words about needing to be in his father’s house. What is amazing to me was Mary’s reaction of not understanding what Jesus meant. What!?? An angel came to Mary and told her she would be the Virgin Mother of God! Angels proclaimed his birth. Wise men followed a star and paid homage to him. What part of Jesus being special does Mary not yet understand?
When I think about those protesting the archbishop’s words I also wonder what part of teaching Catholicism at a Catholic school are they not understanding? Through all the prayers, Masses, retreats, and religion classes, how are the archbishop’s words, which are essentially the Apostles’ Creed, something new and shocking?
Like the other mysteries, I pray this one for an understanding and acceptance of the Church’s teachings. I also pray that I see those teachings even in the most unlikely of places. The scholars were amazed by the knowledge of Jesus Christ as a young boy. It goes to show that God tries to teach us in many different ways. We should look for God’s Truth not just in the readings on Sunday, but everywhere around us. Even a letter of clarification from the archbishop may hold wisdom and offer new insights.
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.
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.
There is a best selling book titled Heaven is for Real about a young child’s glimpse of Heaven. You may have heard of it since it was also made into a movie. But have you heard about the much darker prequel, Hell is for Real? Okay, it’s not really a prequel and it doesn’t go by that title. I’m talking about the first secret of Fatima when in 1917 Mary showed three Portuguese children a glimpse of Hell. Since November is dedicated to praying for souls, I want to focus on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory and how the Fatima Prayer in the rosary is a great tool for praying for souls in need.
And now a flashback to my childhood. In my grade school I remember we had “rosary afternoons” in May where we broke up into small groups to pray the rosary. The groups were led by an eighth grader who explained how the rosary worked and led a group of seven other students, one from each grade 1st through 7th, through five decades. When I think back to those childhood rosary days I now recall one prayer being noticeably absent — the Fatima Prayer.
I think my early experience with the rosary was typical for a lot of kids. Someone thought it was best to shield us from the “scary prayer” that mentions the fires of Hell. I don’t believe this was done out of a disbelief of the reality of Hell, but more out of a concern of not opening that door of fear or questions from the inquisitive youth. I’m sure the school didn’t want to receive calls from angry parents about how their kid came home and said everyone is going to Hell or asked if Uncle Barney, who never went to church, was in Hell.
But the avoidance of talking about the afterlife, particularly Purgatory and Hell, didn’t end with the omission of the Fatima Prayer from my grade school’s rosary education. To this day, it’s a topic that most priests don’t touch with a ten foot pole. When was the last time you heard a homily about the eternal consequences of sin or the need to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Over the decades, talking about sin and its consequences was unofficially deemed offensive speech. A priest cannot teach about sinful behavior without being labeled intolerant, self righteous, and uncompassionate. That is truly unfortunate because pretending that sin and Hell don’t exist does not make them any less real. Instead of explaining these scary aspects of reality and providing people with the knowledge, prayers, and the will to confront them, we sweep them under the rug. Instead of urging people to pray and help those “souls in most need of Thy mercy” we, as a Church in general, let people just dive into the fire because we’re afraid of offending someone.
Praying the rosary is a great way of meditating on the afterlife and praying for souls. Because talking about sin and Hell may be a taboo topic we have to put extra emphasis on them in our rosary intentions. After you pray each decade, that Fatima Prayer is that little reminder of Heaven, Hell, and even Purgatory (more on this in a bit). It encompasses asking for the intercession of the saints in Heaven, praying for at risk souls on earth, and those souls in Purgatory. Unfortunately, I too often race through the Fatima prayer. I treat it more like a placeholder while I think about my intentions for the upcoming decade. But slow down because there’s some heavy stuff in this prayer.
“O my Jesus” — God sent his only son for our benefit. He wants us to have a personal relationship with him. You don’t say, “O Jesus.” That “my” is in there for a reason.
“Forgive us our sins” — We all sin and are in need of reconciliation. There is nothing wrong acknowledging that we aren’t perfect and we screw up at times. We are asking for Jesus’ mercy for all peoples’ sins, hence the word “our” and not “my.”
“Save us from the fires of Hell” — Again, we are asking Jesus for his mercy on all souls. The fact that this phrase comes after “forgive us our sins” highlights that connection between sin and Hell. We implicitly acknowledge that sin is the cause of going to Hell.
“Lead all souls to Heaven” — This is where we want to go! Everything we do in life should be aimed towards one day living in God’s glory in Heaven.
“Especially those in most need of Thy mercy” — There are many people on that edge of eternal damnation. But there is still hope for them. They need our prayers and the intercession of Mary, the saints, and the Holy Spirit.
Where does Purgatory factor into the Fatima Prayer? There is a bit of a mistranslation of this prayer from Portuguese into English according to Br. Alexis Bugnolo:
I would point out that this English translation is not exactly correct; because the Portuguese does not say “souls”, but “little souls”, a term of endearment among Portuguese Catholics for the souls in Purgatory, equivalent to our phrase “poor souls”. The the context of the phrase refers to the deliverance of all souls from purgatory into heaven; and thus never signified universal salvation.
Remember, souls in Purgatory rely on your prayers to get into Heaven. Imagine knowing that you are saved and you’re so close to entering God’s kingdom but there is nothing you can do unless people on earth pray for you. That frustration alone must be part of the purification process in Purgatory for your sins. But now you have a reason to remember those souls in Purgatory every time you pray the Fatima Prayer. Time to pray it forward because hopefully someday we all may be in a position where we will need those prayers.