The Importance of Reading the Sunday Gospel on Monday

It is honesty time!  When is the first time you typically read or hear the Sunday Gospel reading?  Do you:

  • read it a few days before Sunday?
  • glance over it in the missal before Mass?
  • hear it for the first time as it is being read during Sunday Mass?
  • usually run late and miss the Gospel entirely?

I’m guessing that many of you said that the first time you hear the Sunday Gospel is during Mass.  And that is not bad by any means.  But I think someone can get so much more out of the Sunday Gospel by putting in more time and effort reading it midweek.  This is why I try to prepare an article connecting the Gospel to the rosary so that you have time to meditate on it before Sunday Mass.

I’m going to share with you an analogy on preparation from my experience in software engineering.  Talk to any software programmer and they will tell you how they wish they could go back in time and start their project from scratch in order to correct mistakes based on what they discovered while developing their code.  No matter how experienced we are, our initial drafts of code just never have the same level of polish as later drafts.  There is nothing more valuable than just working out a problem over the course of several days often making new discoveries and having novel insights that do not come in shorter time frames.

I think the same principle applies to the Sunday Gospel reading.  The more times you read it and meditate on it, the more you discover and learn.  It makes intuitive sense that someone who has read and meditated on the Gospel five times will have a deeper understanding of it than someone who hears it once at Mass.  The homily does not become the only reflection on the Gospel, but more of the cherry on top of a week-long exercise of prayer and meditation.

I’ve found that layering the Sunday Gospel, daily readings, and the rosary into my daily prayer routine helps form a much richer spiritual life.  I start to see connections between the rosary mysteries and the Gospel readings that were not immediately apparent in initial readings.  Those repeated readings motivate me to approach God in different ways — asking for forgiveness, thanking Him for His many blessings, asking for His guidance, etc.  I start to see current events through the lens of the Gospel and rosary of Jesus’ teachings.

What are you waiting for?  The daily and Sunday Gospels are readily available for you to read anytime.  I like to view them on the web page of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) but you can choose whatever location that suits you best.  Even better, pick up a lector’s workbook and keep it somewhere visible like on your nightstand.

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Speak Up! — What Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Stating Intentions

Do you remember one of the early scenes in Million Dollar Baby where Client Eastwood’s character kneels in prayer next to his bed? He says something to the extent, “Lord, you know what I want, there’s no use in me repeating myself.” Boy, how often can I relate to that sentiment! I sometimes think to myself that God knows everything and definitely knows my intentions and my needs better than myself so why go through the exercise of formulating them in prayer? The Gospel reading from 10/6/16 addresses this dilemma.

Last Thursday’s Gospel reading included this popular verse from Luke:

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The Regnum Christi website’s meditation on this Gospel reading talks about how we fall into the sin of pride when we don’t explicitly ask God for help through prayer.  From their website:

When I Don’t Ask for What I Need, I Treat God as My Servant: When we expect God to give us all we need without asking, are we not placing the whole burden of our salvation on him and nothing on ourselves? Are we not in a sense being lazy? “You know what I need, Lord. Just give it to me, take care of it, while I focus on my own interests.” Not only is this laziness, it is pride, treating God like a servant whose role is to provide whatever I need. We forget he is God. Certainly God is generous and loving, willing to give us everything that is good for us; but he is still God, and he deserves our respect, adoration, and especially our gratitude.

The rosary connection to this Gospel reading is the Fifth Glorious MysteryMary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven.  Traditionally, the mother of a king held tremendous prestige because while a king may have multiple wives, he only has one mother.  The king’s mother was referred to as the gebira.  It makes sense then that Christ, being King of Heaven, would coronate his mother Mary as Queen of Heaven.

The chief responsibility of the gebira was to act as a mediator and speak on behalf of the king.  When we pray the rosary, we acknowledge Mary as our mediator of our needs and intentions to her son, Jesus Christ.  But she can better mediate on our behalf when we consciously and humbly come to her and ask for her help in prayer.

Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671
Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Think of Mary like a doctor and you are the patient.  Mary is here to help you and she will do whatever she can to cure the illness of sin and bring you into God’s grace.  However, she will be better able to help you if you are forthright and honest with her by humbly stating your needs in prayer.  The better the patient you are, the more effective Mary can be in her role as your Queen of Heaven.  When you can formulate your intentions in prayer then you will be able to understand how God responds to your request.

If you know what ails you spiritually, speak up!  Because if can’t form the request in your head, how will you recognize the heavenly response?

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Would You Pray for a Million Dollars? The Value of the Rosary Prayer

On July 6, 2016, the St. Thomas More Society of Orange County, CA invited me to speak at their monthly meeting. It is an organization dedicated to strengthening the faith of Catholic lawyers. I naturally talked about the importance and benefits of daily rosary prayer by walking them through Mary’s 15 rosary promises as well as providing hints and tips that have helped me make the most of rosary prayer.

I’ve published a video recording of my presentation for you to watch when convenient.  I know I’m violating some sort of universal law of the internet by publishing a video that is longer than three minutes but I do encourage you to watch the entire presentation even if you have to break it up into multiple viewings.  I think it ties together a lot of the themes I’ve been trying to communicate on RosaryMeds over the last few years.  Also, for those of you who live in California (especially the Bay Area), please get in touch with me about speaking at your school, parish, or organization if you like what you see.  Or if you have connections at EWTN or Immaculate Heart Radio, consider this my demo reel.

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Learning Perseverance Through Rosary Prayer

Perseverance is not a word exactly tied to pleasant thoughts.  The definition is “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or despair.”  One does not persevere unless there is an element of unpleasantness.  Take physical exercise for example.  You gain strength only by working through pain and fatigue.  Or think about a healthy diet.  You have to deny yourself the temporary pleasures of cookies, cakes, and other sweets to achieve the more long term goal of staying fit and avoiding diseases.  What about our spirituality?  Does perseverance play a role in praying the rosary?

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Feel the burn!

I’m not going to get all kumbaya on you.  Yes, I know that the rosary is a great prayer and I’ve spoken about its benefits for the last six years.  But that doesn’t mean the rosary is an easy prayer or very relaxing for that matter.  It is a prayer where we must demonstrate perseverance.  And as time goes on, it seems like persevering through rosary prayer becomes an even larger challenge than in past generations.  We live in an age where attention spans are narrowing.  If a three minute YouTube video is considered long, then 20 minutes of rosary prayer is an eternity.  The rosary can become repetitive and boring when compared to the instant gratification most of us have at our fingertips via our smartphones, computers, and televisions.

Now before you start saying that I’m a rosary hater, keep in mind that I’m echoing the same sentiment as St. Louis de Montfort in The Secret of the Rosary.  He writes in his 43rd rose about how we have to fight distractions and persevere through the rosary to strengthen our faith:

Even if you have to fight distractions all through your whole Rosary be sure to fight well, arms in hand: that is to say, do not stop saying your Rosary even if it is hard to say and you have absolutely no sensible devotion. It is a terrible battle, I know, but one that is profitable to the faithful soul. If you put down your arms, that is, if you give up the Rosary, you will be admitting defeat and then, having won, the devil will leave you alone. But at the Day of Judgment he will taunt you because of your faithlessness and lack of courage. “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater.” He who fights even the smallest distractions faithfully when he says even the very smallest prayer he will also be faithful in great things. We can be absolutely certain of this because the Holy Spirit has told us so.

I’ve said it before, rosary prayer is a spiritual exercise.  Much like running that extra mile even when you’re tired, praying the rosary devoutly in the face of the seemingly boring repetition will strengthen you spiritually.  Perseverance isn’t the act of enduring one large hardship.  Many of us can muster the strength to face one large challenge.  It’s the act of overcoming a series of hardships, both large and small, over a long period of time.  But if you can persevere in praying the rosary devoutly day in and day out, then you’ve proved to yourself that you have the ability to persevere in resisting sin and temptation as well.  Like exercise,  rosary prayer’s little gains start to show incremental, if not exponential, returns in the long run.

Not only is praying the rosary itself an exercise in perseverance, the mysteries also teach us that perseverance brings us closer to God’s grace.  The most obvious one is the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus taking up his cross.  Three of the stations of the cross explicitly call out Jesus falling and getting back up.  Jesus endured the pain and hardship because he understood the importance of doing God’s Will.  Similarly, we are called to live God’s Will even when it proves difficult or the rationale is incomprehensible.  When life gets difficult, many of us give up and become angry with God because the suffering makes no sense to us.  But the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery teaches us to instead put our trust in God’s plan even when we cannot understand it.

Perseverance, whether it’s praying the rosary routinely or continuing to love God in times of great hardship is the ultimate form of faith.  You tell God, “I may not understand why you asking me to endure these hardships, but I will because I love you and I know they will ultimately bring me closer to you and your kingdom of Heaven.”  That is the essential nature of faith — loving God even when he asks you to persevere through hardship.

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Slow Down! — Rosary Prayer isn’t a Hot Dog Eating Contest

I read this article about the value of reading the Bible slowly and contemplatively. The author, David Mathis, compared meditating on the Bible to enjoying a well crafted meal as opposed to trying to scarf it down quickly like you’re in a hot dog eating contest. This article got me thinking that the same principle of meditative bible reading applies to rosary prayer and relates to what I wrote in my last post about finding happiness.

World-class eaters would never stuff themselves at top speed at every meal, but many of us are prone to come to Bible intake like we’re scarfing cheap hot dogs. When morning devotions are simply our first to-do of the day, and we set out simply to read a chapter, check a box, and complete the task, we end up putting ourselves through something more like a hot dog eating contest than an enjoyable, nourishing, life-giving meal.

You can basically replace the word “Bible” in the article with “rosary” and the overall message remains the same. This echoes what I said about how not understanding the why behind rosary prayer reduces it to a check box on your daily to-do list.

What I’m going to do going forward is really take my time praying the rosary and emphasize quality over quantity. I don’t think Mary sits all day on a cloud in Heaven with a clip board making notes on how many rosaries I complete. The rosary isn’t an all or nothing proposition where it doesn’t count if you don’t complete the entire rosary. After all, what does a complete rosary even mean? Five mysteries in a 24 hour period? Five mysteries in a single sitting? All 20 mysteries? The 15 original mysteries? The meaning of a whole rosary can vary greatly depending on the individual. So why race through a rosary to met some arbitrary standard?

English: A Discalced Carmelite nun sits in her...
English: A Discalced Carmelite nun sits in her cell, praying, meditating on the Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not saying that you should just give up praying the rosary or not set a goal of praying it. What I am asking is that you don’t water down your rosary praying by racing through it in order to meet that goal. I think Mary appreciates a single decade prayed earnestly over five decades prayed hastily. Some days you may manage a single decade. Other days you may have the energy and concentration for all 20 mysteries. The idea is to not go through the motions to reach a goal but also don’t stop just because you prayed a certain number of mysteries. It’s not like you or Mary are trying to meet some sort of monthly rosary quota. In short, use your rosary prayer time to its fullest by making the most of each prayer.

Did you just rattle off 10 Hail Marys while thinking about last night’s hockey game?  Stop!  Do it again.  Did you just completely forget what mystery you were praying?  Stop!  Take a break and come back when you have more focus.  Where is the downside to acknowledging that you actually weren’t praying for the last five minutes and trying again?  There is no downside if the purpose of your rosary prayer is to pray it earnestly, not to complete the loop.

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Praying with Pinterest

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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.

Welcome to Margaritaville

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.

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Gone Fishing

Another Divine Mercy Sunday, another empty church. I am always disheartened to see so many empty pews after the standing room only Easter Mass. Where did everyone go? So much for Easter transforming hearts and minds right?

Seeing all those empty pews reminds me of this reading from John’s Gospel.  One of the first things Peter did after Christ’s death was go fishing. In the Gospel, he says it almost casually — “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). After the drama that he had just encountered, Peter was looking to return to something comfortable and familiar. It’s almost like he was thinking that being one of Jesus’s apostles was great, but that was now something in his past.  Maybe he saw it like we see our teenage or college years — a phase that we grew out of. Peter was picking up his life where he left off before meeting Jesus — as a fisherman.

Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the...
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t we all have a bit of Peter in our hearts? We fasted and sacrificed during Lent and celebrated on Easter Sunday. For 40+ days our hearts were focus on making room for Christ. And then what do we do? Go to work the next day and do the same things we’ve always done as if Easter was just another day on the calendar. Do you even recall what the priest said in his Easter homily? Do you feel fundamentally changed? Probably not. But you seem to be in good company since it seems that many of the apostles initially treated their time with Jesus like it was a passing fad. It had its moments and even some promise, but now it was time to get back to reality.

When I find myself sliding back into routine, I meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple.  I recall how the Holy Spirit promised St. Simeon that he would not die until seeing the chosen one.  Imagine how surprised, joyful, and maybe even a little scared Simeon must have felt upon hearing this news.  Maybe we felt a similar passion and joy towards our faith on Easter Sunday.  Now imagine how many years Simeon must have waited for that promise to be fulfilled.  The Bible doesn’t give an exact count, but all depictions of Simeon show him as an elderly man.  Who would have blamed him if he started to doubt that promise and believed his time would be better spent on something other than his faith?  But did he lose hope or did he let any doubt affect his faith in God’s plan for him?

Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast
Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like St. Simeon, remaining devout to the end of his life, so too must we be devout in our faith long after the immediate joy and glory of Easter fades.  Many times our faith feels challenging like Christ’s last human days on Good Friday and not the celebration of Easter.  But we pray the rosary and focus on imitating those who remained steadfast even in the absence of signs, wonders, and even joy.  We remember St. Mother Teresa who fought a seemingly hopeless battle of helping the poor.  Or we draw inspiration from the martyrs who died without seemingly changing anyone’s heart towards Jesus Christ.  When we pray the rosary, we pray for the faith and hope that Jesus hears our prayers and does answer them even when it seems like we are wasting our time.

Peter may have thought that his time as Jesus’ apostle was in vain.  He may have thought that he would just return to being a fisherman instead of the fisher of men that Jesus promised.  But of course we know that God had a grander plan for St. Peter than just being Jesus’ apostle in Jesus’ earthly life.  And so we pray that we also have the faith, courage, and fortitude to understand that God has a grander plan for all of us even when it seems like our prayers go unheard.

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Striving for Manliness, the Catholic Way

Did I miss a memo from the Vatican? I feel like I keep coming across this theme of becoming a better Catholic man all over the place. First I found it on Catholic Exchange when I wrote 12 Ways to be a Better Catholic in 2016. Then a friend sent me a video about the need for authentic Catholic manliness. Was there some sort of synod or papal document released recently on this issue? Or is it the Holy Spirit gently giving me hints that this is a topic I should write about?

If you don’t feel like reading and just want to veg out for a bit watching a video, here is the one my friend sent me about authentic Catholic manhood:

A few thoughts.  I really like the part in the middle that asks, if you can’t resist all those little temptations how are you going to resist and protect yourself and others from the big ones?  This concept of mastering the small things to prepare for the big ones ties into why I keep pushing on the idea of regular rosary prayer.  I think we all encounter those moments of big crisis, temptation, despair, etc. at some point in our lives.  It’s not a matter of if, but when.  How much harder will overcoming those large challenges be if you haven’t proven to yourself that you have mastered the smaller ones?  How much more difficult will it be to pick up that rosary in your hour of need if you’ve never prayed it?  It’s the regularity of prayer and self-mastery which makes the big challenges in life manageable.  It’s the difference between seeing a large mountain from the base camp vs. already being 90% to the summit.  Start the climb now, whether it means resisting those small sins and temptations, fasting, or praying the rosary so that you won’t be starting from the bottom when life throws a mountain of challenges your way.

Another area I want to explore is why there is a cultural aversion to Catholic (or just spiritual) manliness.  Why is being strong in faith not considered manly?  I think part of it is that faith requires humility.  It requires acceptance that you cannot conquer every challenge on your own but need God’s help.  And like out of every cheesy romantic comedy, REAL MEN DON’T ASK FOR HELP!  Unfortunately, as the movie earlier in this article points out, so much of our image of manhood is shaped by popular culture, not by real interaction with real people.  So we develop this warped view that having a spiritual side somehow makes you weak.

“Put that map down! I know where I’m going.”

Okay, hopefully you’re reading this knowing that popular culture has the concept of manhood all wrong.  But how can the rosary show us what true manliness is?  The answer should be clear as most of the rosary mysteries revolve around Jesus.  What example is he setting before us?  I’m going to focus on the Sorrowful Mysteries given the challenges Jesus faced.  After all, it is in the times of great hardship that our true character shines.

  • First Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus prays for help and for a different fate but also accepts God’s Will.
  • Second Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures suffering.
  • Third Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures humiliation.
  • Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus repeatedly falls but gets back up and moves forward.
  • Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus asks for God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

What picture do the Sorrowful Mysteries paint of manly virtue?  Humility, sacrifice, perseverance, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and conviction.  Those are the attributes everyone, men and women, are called to show.  To steal the quotation from the opening of the movie, “You were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness.”  And greatness comes from embracing your faith and imitating Jesus, not just when it is convenient, but when it is overwhelmingly challenging.

Come on, you all thought of Tim Tebow when you thought of men praying.

We pray for those facing huge life challenges.  But we also pray that we all build up our spiritual strength by praying, faster, receiving the sacraments, and avoid sin.

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Be Like the Angels This Christmas

Christmas illustration
Christmas illustration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the past I wrote about the under appreciated players in the Nativity story — the shepherds.  This year I’m turning my attention to another group of beings that is often overlooked — the angels.  I’m not going to write a lengthy article on the importance of the angels.  I’m going to leave that to Adam Cavalier over at DesiringGod.  He writes about how we can look at the angels as examples on how we are to praise God.  He writes this about their devotion to God:

Their exemplary devotion should cause Christians to prioritize worship and obedience in every aspect of their lives. Angels carry out their tasks with delight. The Psalms urge us likewise, “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:2). The joyful praise of God is a command, not a piece of advice. It’s not a suggestion or a recommendation. We are called to join the angels in this happy devotion.

As we enter the third week of Advent, let us also meditate on how we can serve God, not with a sense of reluctant obligation, but with a sense of joy like the angels.  We should also remember that in happily loving God we open ourselves to his grace which gives us strength to love each other (yes, even Uncle Joe who always brings up politics at Christmas dinner).  Let’s show the world that being Catholic isn’t something we do out of obligation but is something we do because we understand the joy that comes from God’s grace.

Have a contemplative, faith oriented Advent and a merry Christmas!  And if you’re still looking for a last minute Christmas gift or just something to read while Uncle Joe spouts off about how evil ****** is, I’m offerer 20% my book, The Rosary for the Rest of Us.  Use discount code NJGTZ5WG (only applies for purchases through the CreateSpace EStore)

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5 Ways to Make the Rosary a Priority

An exclamation point in a Red Circle

I’m going to forgive the “mom centric” tone of this article considering that the source is a website called CatholicMom.com.  But her advice on squeezing the rosary into your daily routine was just too good that I felt like I had to post and comment on it.  Of course, long time RosaryMeds readers will probably find her advice very similar to what I’ve been saying.  In short, 5 ways to squeeze the rosary into your life are:

  1. Commit to trying.
  2. Space it out
  3. Seize the moment
  4. Keep Rosaries in various places
  5. Don’t give in to discouragement

The best part of the article for me was when she said, “Rather than the laundry, the dishes, or checking Facebook, make a decade of the Rosary your first priority when you have a moment to breathe.”  How many times do we make the rosary a priority in our lives on par with our work, our home, and our families?  I know most of us can’t stand that pile of dirty dishes in the sink, the crumbs on the floor, the dust on the tables, or the toys on the floor.  It haunts us until we do something about it.  But how many of us feel that same sense that something is out of place when we haven’t prayed all day long?

English: A rosary found on board the carrack M...
English: A rosary found on board the carrack Mary Rose. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many correct ways to pray the rosary and not too many wrong ways.  The main point of the CatholicMom article was that God cherishes your effort to pray even if the quality is less than ideal.  So stop waiting for the perfect time, place, and inspiration to rattle off a few Hail Marys when you find the time.  Much like getting that quick bite to eat for physical energy to get through the day, the rosary can serve as your quick spiritual recharge.  And often you will find that a spiritual renewal drives a renewed sense of physical energy and motivation.

When’s the perfect time to pray the rosary?  Anytime.  Where’s the perfect place?  Anywhere.  What’s the correct length of time for the rosary?  However much you can find.  Stop finding excuses, start finding Jesus.  Start right now before moving on to the next email, website, or Facebook post with one Hail Mary.  Need help?  There’s a free guide for rosary prayer.

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