Why Rosary Meditation is the Best Meditation

If you are a software developer like me then you probably hear this phrase at least once a week — This is how Google does it.  Google, the search engine giant, not only receive accolades for their products but also their development methodology and company culture.  They are the gold standard in just about every category of computing.  It seems like any study or new theory on workplace happiness or productivity must mention how it stacks up against Google’s workforce.

I was not surprised when I came across this Wired article on how Googlers avoid burnout and secretly boost creativity.  Did they discover the perfect work to rest ratio?  Did they find the perfect length of time projects should run?  Do all Googlers receive a therapy dog upon being hired?  It’s actually much simpler.  Google teaches its employees how to meditate.

Like this but probably on mats made of $100 bills.

For once, I can take pleasure knowing that I’ve been teaching you, my readers, something that has Google’s seal of approval.  I’ve previously discussed how rosary meditation has physical and mental benefits.  The science behind the creativity boost is that meditation allows you to switch off conscious thought which is very linear and boost subconscious thinking which taps more areas of the brain to piece together ideas and solutions.

But for once, Google cannot claim founder status on a great idea.  The Jews and the Catholic Church have preached the benefits of meditation and prayer from its earliest days.  And relatively more recently, Mary gave us the ultimate form of meditation through rosary prayer.

Prayerful meditation may not be trendy, but it’s effective.

Like many mysteries of the Catholic faith, the rosary is a paradox.  It is both restful and regenerative while at the same time focused and exhausting.  It’s both relaxing and a workout because it engages the conscious, subconscious, and what I’ll call “other conscious” aspects of our being.

The rosary engages our conscious parts of our brain in that we meditate on specific parts of Jesus’ teachings in the mysteries.  We recite, presumably with some focus and concentration, prayers.  We are recalling all the trials, sorrows, joys, and thanksgivings in our lives and putting them before Mary for her guidance and intercession.  Our brain is actively recalling memories and trying to make connections between our circumstances and what each rosary mystery is trying to teach us.

But in that conscious praying, there is also a lot of subconscious meditation occurring as well.  People talk about getting lost in the rosary where they get into a zone or flow making them much more receptive to how God is trying to direct them. It’s not that you are praying on auto-pilot.  It’s more that the amount of attention you put on thinking about the mysteries, intentions, and prayers gives way to a more subconscious experience where you can better feel God’s presence.

The subconscious meditation of rosary prayer is a lot like riding a bike.  Initially, you are aware of the mechanics of keeping your balance, not falling, and moving forward.  But once you get the hang of it, the mechanics of bike riding become automatic.  It’s not that the mechanics disappear.  They have just become so engrained in your muscle memory that they no longer require conscious focus.  The same can be said for rosary meditation.  The conscious effort of prayer can give way to the subconscious experience of being with God.

Look, no hands!

Finally, there is the other conscious experience of rosary meditation.  And this is what separates rosary meditation from the mindfulness meditation taught by the Googles of the world and is unique to this Catholic prayer.  In no other form of meditation do you have the opportunity to actually ask Mary and the saints for help and guidance and get a response through their intercessions.  The rosary is more than just a mental exercise of balancing conscious and subconscious areas of the brain because there is someone actually listening and responding to you.  Your rosary meditation doesn’t end at your brain’s gray matter but provides an actual opportunity for God to help shape and guide you.  Sorry Google, but the Catholic Church definitely has one-upped you there.

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The Importance of Prioritizing Rosary Prayer

In my previous article, I talked about how we need to make every rosary prayer count by staying focused and engaged instead of just racing through it so that it can be checked off a spiritual to-do list. That naturally leads many people to ask this question, “Should I pray the rosary even when I’m not in the mood?” After all, when you’re sick, do you exercise heavily or get some rest? Is it better to skip rosary prayer if you believe you are just going to say the words on auto-pilot?

About a year ago I gave a lecture titled “Would you pray for a million dollars?” I put forth this theoretical situation. Suppose Pope Francis offered anyone who prayed the rosary every day for a month a million dollars. But you receive nothing if you miss just one day. How high would you prioritize rosary prayer amongst your other daily responsibilities? What would be so important that would cause you to skip a day and lose the big payout?

Do I get paid by the bead or by the chaplet?

For most of us, nothing short of the apocalypse would stand in our way of praying the rosary daily for a million dollars (bad example as I’m sure rosary prayer would increase during the Apocalypse).  But the kicker is that Mary’s 15 promises to those who pray the rosary are infinitely more valuable than any cash payout. And yet, we so quickly tend to find reasons to avoid praying the rosary and miss out on its benefits.

Back to the original question of this article — should you pray the rosary when you don’t feel like it? Is no rosary better than an unfocused rosary? I think this is actually asking the wrong question. In most cases, it’s not that you don’t feel up to praying the rosary. After all, I bet you would find the time and energy for a cash reward. It’s that we tend to de-prioritize the rosary because we don’t appreciate its value. If we did internalize the importance and benefits of rosary prayer then nothing short of death would keep us from praying it (another bad example since you will be more likely to pray the rosary at the hour of your death).

I don’t want to sound sanctimonious because I certainly have days when I talk myself out of praying the rosary for very weak reasons. We all probably have our moments of weakness that allow Satan to convince us to put away our rosaries and do something else.

No, watching a movie starring Jim Caviezel is not the same as praying the rosary.

Before canceling your rosary prayer for the day, ask yourself whether you prioritized it correctly.  Did you put it off all day to a time when you historically don’t focus well?  Did you replace rosary prayer with TV or some other leisurely activity?  In short, did you set yourself up for failing to pray by not giving it the proper priority in your day?  Remember that rosary prayer has incredible benefits that far outweigh any material gain.  Don’t casually convince yourself out of praying it regularly for weak reasons and miss out on all God offers you.

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What the Gospel and Rosary Teach Us About Good Works

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is from Matthew.  I’m only including the part I’m going to reflect on in this article.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

In this Gospel passage, John the Baptist makes a distinction between piety and good works.  The Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves good people because they followed the Mosaic law to the letter.  But John implies in his comparison to a tree not bearing good fruit that just following rules or having a certain status does not lead to salvation.  One must follow up with good works, charity, and compassion.

Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees
Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good works, charity, and compassion were the cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry.  He came into this world, not as someone of status and authority, but as a servant who ministered to those people society had excluded.  Jesus repeatedly taught that what matters most to God is what someone does, not what their title is.  Whether it was teaching the golden rule or telling the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had to charity, Jesus’ ministry centered around instilling the value of good works and sacrifice.  Inversely, those who only followed rules and sought status and honor He routinely called hypocrites.

This past Thursday’s Gospel from Matthew echoes a very similar message:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Notice how Jesus is saying that just accepting Him as the Savior is not enough.  You have to follow up with action what you proclaim in your words.  To put it in more modern terms (but now maybe ridiculously outdated), you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

When you hear and read this Gospel, meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary, The Visitation.  Think about Mary in this mystery, someone who recently learned that she was to be the mother to the Massiah.  What does she do?  Does she flaunt the fact that an angel visited her?  Does she go about looking for an elevated stature in the community?  No.  Instead, she travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth and helps her through her pregnancy although she herself was pregnant.  Mary’s initial action after the Annunciation was one of charity.

Also, consider the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary when you reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel.  Mary was assumed into Heaven and now acts as our intermediary to her son, Jesus Christ.  Even when bestowed the title Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery), she has never stopped actively guiding us through the minefield of life.  She protects us from evil, helps those who ask for her assistance, and has continually appeared to many delivering a message similar to John the Baptist in the Gospel — Jesus loves you and wants you close to him, but you must make the effort to love Him through good works, charity, and compassion.

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How Catholics Should Give and Receive Criticism

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.

Pope Benedictus XVI
Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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The One Rosary Habit You Must Start Now

Despite the wealth of ideas for rosary prayer and meditation, we all hit a prayer block sometimes. Prayer block is like writer’s block when you cannot come up with any good themes to meditate on or intentions. There are plenty of books and websites with rosary meditation ideas (I know two great books off the top of my head… hint hint) and the rosary is a dynamic prayer because we bring new life situations (and hence new intentions and thanksgivings) every time we pray the rosary. And yet, we sometimes hit a rough patch where our rosary prayers turn into mindless repetition.

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 going to share a tip that you all must start doing now. It will dramatically improve your rosary praying experience.  READ THE DAILY BIBLE READINGS BEFORE PRAYING THE ROSARY MYSTERIES.  That’s it!  How does reading some bible verses improve rosary prayer?  I found that, without exception, I always can make a connection between the daily readings and the mysteries I’m praying.  And that makes sense.  After all, the rosary is rooted in the bible and guides you through the Gospels.  The mysteries of the rosary touch on all of the main themes of the Gospel.  The great part is, because the readings change every day, you will make different connections with the rosary mysteries each time you practice this.  You avoid the dreaded auto-pilot praying mode.

Want to make even more connections between the Gospel and the rosary?  Try reading commentary and meditations on the daily readings.  Often, those meditations highlight certain truths of the readings that you may otherwise overlook.

Don’t have time to read, why not listen instead?  There are plenty of audio recordings and podcasts for daily scriptural reading and meditation.  My favorite Android app for listening to the daily Gospel and meditations is Laudate, specifically the Regnum Christi Daily Meditations podcast.

Lent just stared.  Give this strategy a try for the next 40 days and see for yourself how much more you get out of your rosary prayer.

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Praying for Those Who Hate the Prayerful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Ways the Rosary Prepares Your Soul During Advent

It’s that time of year again.  My house is all lit up like a homing beacon for lost aircraft, my browser history is 99% Amazon.com, and Santa is watching my boys’ every move.  It’s Christmas time!  But it is also New Years.  I’m not talking about January 1st.  I’m talking about a new liturgical year that kicked off with Advent this past Sunday.  It’s a time to not only prepare your traditional Christmas cookies, but also time to prepare a place in your heart and mind for Jesus.  Let’s look at the five Joyful Mysteries of the rosary for ideas on how you can supersize your Advent.

#1. In the Annunciation, Mary accepts God’s plan for her.  She said, maybe still afraid and confused, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  This Advent, meditate on what God is asking of you.  You never know what God may ask of you or when.  Advent is a great time to prepare a spot for Jesus Christ in your heart so that you’ll be able to show the same courage Mary showed when God comes knocking on your door.

#2. In the Visitation, Mary exercises God’s grace by helping her older cousin Elizabeth in her pregnancy.  Advent is a time when we can prepare ourselves to best receive God’s grace through good works of kindness and charity.  Remember that in helping others, we are recognizing Jesus in our brothers and sisters.  When we comfort those less fortunate, we are comforting Jesus.  In this season of preparation, make room for Jesus in this world and provide him the comfort, respect, and honor he deserves by providing others comfort, respect, and honor.

Second Advent Week
Second Advent Week (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

#3. In the Nativity, we see shepherds leaving their posts to give homage to the baby Jesus.  Later, the wise men traveled far to honor him.  Both these stories show that people were willing to drop everything and go through some hardship to see Jesus.  In Advent, consider adding a few spiritual challenges like making sacrifices and fasting, receiving the sacraments especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and trying to attend extra Masses.  The Christmas season is a fun time, but remember that is is also a spiritual time.  Imagine how much more joyous Christmas will be if you not only prepared your house and completed your shopping list, but also kept a space for Jesus in your heart and mind by making small sacrifices for him.

#4. In the Presentation in the Temple, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph become one family in the eyes of God.  This mimics how we have a physical birth but also a spiritual one through the Sacrament of Baptism.  Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, but the Holy Family was unified under God in the Presentation of Jesus.  Advent is a good time to prepare a place in your heart for your family.  I know many of us have strained relationships with our families, either immediate or extended.  Maybe a family member has hurt you or you have hurt them.  Make Advent a time for family unity and peace.  Pray and meditate on how to best tear down any walls that separate you from your family.  Not only will it bring peace to your soul, but it will make Christmas dinner so much less awkward.

#5. In the Finding of Jesus of the Temple, Mary and Joseph traveled for many days just assuming Jesus was with them we he really was not.  This reminds me of the modern mindset that assumes we are close to Jesus no matter what we do.  In preparing for Christmas this Advent, stop assuming and start examining.  How central is Jesus in your life?  Have you done anything that has moved you away from God’s grace that requires the healing power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  Even if you don’t have any mortal sins on your conscience, ask yourself what you have done to honor Jesus.  Advent is the start of a new liturgical year.  So like a New Year’s resolution, Advent is a time to analyze where you are in your faith and make a spiritual resolution to improve it.

Need a little more help getting into the right spiritual mood this Advent?  Try downloading my free rosary guide.  Or purchase my rosary meditations book on Amazon.com.  Heck, maybe all you need is a little coffee to wake you up.  I have you covered.

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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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Did Pope Francis Really Say it is Bad to be “Very Catholic?”

I almost feel like I need to start a What Pope Francis Means is… section on RosaryMeds.  It’s not that I think what Pope Francis says is wrong.  In fact, both Pope Benedict and Saint John Paul II also said many things that, without looking through a well formed theological lens, one could interpret as going against Catholic doctrine.  But because of Pope Francis’ off the cuff style, he opens more doors than his predecessors for incorrect justifications of uncatholic behavior for those who wish to take it.

In today’s article, let’s look at this report from the National Catholic Reporter about Pope Francis’ remarks during his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square:

“We all know in our communities, in our parishes, in our neighborhoods how much hurt they do the church, and give scandal, those persons that call themselves ‘Very Catholic,'” the pontiff said Sunday.

Francis was speaking Sunday in an off-the-cuff moment during his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square, which focused on one of Jesus’ teachings about the role of the proscribed laws of the faith of his time.

“The literal observance of the precepts is something sterile if it does not change the heart and is not translated into concrete attitudes,” he said, giving examples: “Opening yourself to the encounter with God and God’s word in prayer, searching for justice and peace, giving help to the poor, the weak and the oppressed.”

“The exterior attitudes are the consequence of what we have determined in the heart,” said the pope. “Not the opposite! With outside attitudes, if the heart does not change we are not true Christians.”

What Pope Francis Did NOT Say

Some people could take Pope Francis’ words to mean that it is okay to not embrace all the teachings of the Catholic Church.  After all, you don’t want to be that goody-goody who is “very Catholic” or “too Catholic” as I’ve heard some refer to those who try to follow the precepts of the Church.  Without proper reflection, the pope’s comments could be taken as an endorsement of “cafeteria Catholicism” where you can pick what part of the doctrine you want to follow.  As long as you have a good heart or a just cause it’s alright to skip Mass on Sunday, support pro-choice causes, and not really buy into the “we are sinners in need of forgiveness” idea.  After all, the pope says that being very Catholic can be a bad thing right?

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Sorry Nancy, the pope isn’t saying those who are pro-life are bad Catholics

Of course Pope Francis is not saying that you can embrace uncatholic behaviors and still be a Catholic in God’s grace.  Nor is he telling practicing Catholics to butt out of the lives of those who have fallen away from the Church.  Unfortunately, for those looking for excuses for their behavior and shortcomings, you can easily pick and choose the pope’s words to support your actions.

What is Pope Francis Saying?

In my view, Pope Francis’ comments come down to a single word: PRIDE.  It’s not that trying to be a very good Catholic is a bad thing, but you start getting into sinful territory when you start to believe that  you’ve achieved some state of heavenly perfection in this lifetime because you follow all the rules.  You give scandal when you try to lord that false perception of perfection over others.  The very act of believing you are a better person than others because you follow the rules prevents you from being a fully realized Catholic because you fail to acknowledge your sinful act of pride.

My search for “pride” didn’t turn up any family friendly pictures. Here’s a cat instead.

There is an old saying that I’m going to paraphrase — being wise means understanding that there is a lot you do not know.  I think that’s important to meditate on when thinking about how good of a Catholic you are.  Someone who is truly very Catholic understands that they have a lot of sins and shortcomings that they need to work on.  No one can achieve perfect Catholicism in this world (Mary and Jesus excluded of course).  That is a state reserved for the souls in Heaven.  Even the saints acknowledged that they were poor sinners who had to battle various imperfections throughout their lives.  Even those who were the most holy among us like Saint Pope John Paul II went to confession weekly because he had the humility to know he could still be a better Catholic.

The Rosary Connection

The rosary relates to Pope Francis’ comments in two ways.  First, we pray it so that we can more humbly approach our faith.  When I meditate on the various mysteries and think about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, I understand the long road I have before me in areas of my life where I need to improve.  I don’t think anyone who earnestly prays the rosary can believe they are very Catholic when compared to the lives of Mary and Jesus or even the martyrs, apostles, and saints.  If I ever do start to feel prideful and that there isn’t any more I  can do to be a great Catholic, meditating on the rosary brings me back to reality.

The rosary also helps me become very Catholic, but very Catholic in the right way.  As Pope Francis said, we should focus on changing our hearts, not just our exterior attitudes.  Think about the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary.  Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven and calls us to a life of conversion.  This conversion is a conversion of heart, not actions.  Because when we do have a true conversion of heart and orient ourselves towards God, the actions will naturally follow.

Think of it like this, you aren’t very Catholic because you go to Mass on Sunday.  You are very Catholic because you love God with all your heart and want to embrace Him by listening to His Word and celebrating the Eucharist at Mass.  True conversion and becoming very Catholic starts from within with regular prayer and reflecting on what areas of your life need improvement.  The rosary is a great tool that leads you to true Catholicism, not a false, prideful one.

Most people won’t have a “Road to Damascus” moment like St. Paul. Conversion is a lifelong process.

Need more help getting the most out of the rosary?  Download my free ebook chock full of rosary intentions to meditate on.

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