Get Up and Make the Most of Lent

My wife turned to me the other day and said, “I really don’t feel like it’s Lent right now.” I replied that I felt the same way. As parents, every day of our lives feels a bit “Lentish.” We continuously sacrifice our time, money, sleep, and freedom to raise our boys the best we can. For 365 days a year parents have to sacrifice those little luxuries that others just put off for 40 days.

But before I give myself a Purple Heart for the sacrifices I’ve made in the parenting line of duty, I have to recall the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus Carrying the Cross. I don’t think anyone would disagree that Jesus endured and sacrificed a lot during His ministry and particularly during His Passion. No one would have been too critical of Jesus if He never got up from one of His falls under the weight of the cross. After all, He was in a human body that could only take so much punishment. And yet, He dug down deep, got up, and kept moving knowing that His earthly life was only going to get worse.  Why?  Because His love of God and doing His Father’s will outweighed all the pain and suffering.

Icon of Jesus being led to Golgotha, 16th cent...
Icon of Jesus being led to Golgotha, 16th century, Theophanes the Cretan (Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We should follow Jesus’ example in His Passion and dig down deep and find that extra spiritual energy during Lent. It’s not like we have a sacrificial quota and those who make sacrifices all year are exempt or can take it easy during Lent. It’s actually just the opposite. God calls the spiritually fit and conditioned to push themselves even further.  Jesus was the most spiritually fit person to walk the earth and He pushed Himself through the Passion and ultimately Crucifixion.  God asked that of His son so surely we can do whatever small things God asks of us this Lent.

Even if you pray, fast, and live a Catholic life all year around, Lent is the time to go that extra mile.  Like Jesus getting up after a fall and carrying His cross, we can all do a little more to better connect with a God who loves us and we should love in return. It doesn’t matter whether practicing your faith begins and ends one hour every Sunday or if you are Pope Francis, there is always a little something more you can do during Lent that you don’t do other times of the year.

To help, I found this article on Catholic Exchange about making the most of Lent. It’s still early in the Lenten season so if you’re off to a slow start (I’ve accidentally forgot that I gave up snacking twice already), give this a read and hopefully it will jumpstart your Lent.

For the impatient, here’s the article’s outline:

  1. Prayer
  2. Reconciliation and Peace
  3. Penance
  4. The Bible,The Word of God
  5. Almsgiving
  6. The Three T’s
  7. Joy
  8. Daily Mass and Communion
  9. Conquer Your Own Devil
  10. Mary and Lent

Catechism Thoughts: Living for Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go to Bethlehem” — The Shepherds’ Tale

I wanted to write one more post before Christmas.  I really thought I would be able to get something out last week but two small boys really just suck up all available time and energy.  I don’t have a lot of time and I’m sure many of you are already in party mode.  But I would appreciate it if you could just entertain one more rosary insight before diving into the egg nog.

Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherd...
Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherds, still influenced by St. Bridget (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rosary mystery that relates to Christmas is an obvious one — The Third Joyful Mystery, The Nativity.  I want to focus on a group of people in this mystery that I don’t think get a lot of mention in Christmas homilies — the shepherds.  To recap from Luke’s Gospel:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.

Remember, being a shepherd nearly 2000 years ago wasn’t an easy job.  A shepherd spent day and night taking care of sheep in all sorts of environments.  You couldn’t just run off and leave the sheep unattended or else some wolves would have a very grand feast.  While they worked in groups, I’m sure a few shepherds leaving created a huge burden on the others.  So you have to picture the sense of awe they felt when they saw that great company of the heavenly host in the sky and how deeply the spirit moved them to go and seek out the baby Jesus.  They risked their livelihood to catch a glimpse of Jesus, the newborn king.  After all, I’m sure the “angel excuse” wasn’t going to hold up very well with their employers if the sheep were eaten by wolves.  But they were filled with a sense that seeing Jesus was something unique and important.  Their jobs, while important as well, could wait for a bit.

Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the shepherds...
Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the shepherds (1644) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s learn from the Gospel’s shepherds this Christmas.  For just a few moments, whether it is a week, day, or just a few hours, cast aside your fears and worries in your life to just bask in Jesus’ presence.  Just trust in the Lord that the world won’t come crashing down because you stopped and took a few minutes to pray.  Like the shepherds, you don’t need to come bearing great gifts.  You just need to give your time and attention and most importantly, show a little faith.  Christmas is chaotic, I get that.  It’s not always easy to escape our responsibilities of work and family.  But I hope we can all just take a few moments to just be with Jesus in prayer and allow Him to remind us what’s truly important — God’s love and a sense of hope for a peace, both inner peace in our souls and an exterior peace with each other.

Merry Christmas!

Rosary Prayer: Keeping Your Soul Out of Trouble

I have a two and a half year old toddler.  Anyone who has raised kids that age knows that you have to watch them like a hawk.  He will find a new and creative way to either hurt himself or destroy something the instant you turn your attention elsewhere.  I’ve seen water cups poured on tables because he wanted to create a swimming pool for his toys.  Crayons, pens, and markers rarely stay on paper.  Sharp objects on kitchen tables that used to be out of reach are suddenly reachable.  Kids just have the sixth sense of knowing when they aren’t being watched.

Why do I bring this up?  Is it to vent about the challenges of raising kids?  Okay, maybe that’s partially it.  But this isn’t a blog about parenting.  It’s a blog about faith and rosary prayer.  And I see a lot of parallels between practicing the faith and raising a toddler.  Chiefly, if you turn your attention away from your faith, even for a second, trouble will fill the gap.  Like a parent who has to constantly watch a toddler, you have to be constantly aware of your faith and how God’s calls you to live so that you will avoid falling into sinful behavior.  What that means is that you have to routinely pray the rosary so that it will serve as a small check up on the health of your soul.

The more you pray the rosary the more in touch with your faith you will be.  Going back to the child analogy.  Will a child that is checked on every few minutes get into less trouble than the one checked on every few hours? Probably.  Similarly, the soul that is “checked on” more often will less likely fall into sinful behavior.  In one of my original posts on the First Luminous Mystery I said how rosary prayer is a lot like brushing your teeth and going to the dentist.  You need to brush your teeth regularly and see a dentist so that your teeth remain in the best health and problems can be corrected when they are still small.  Similarly, you need good spiritual hygiene of routine prayer — daily prayer if not more often.  That allows you to recognize and correct faults and weaknesses while they are small before they escalate into major problems.

English: A little girl has her first visit to ...
The rosary — it’s your soul’s little dentist visit.

Another aspect to keeping a toddler out of trouble is actively engaging them.  While sometimes I wish my son would entertain himself with his toys and all I need to do is occasionally correct him if he starts doing something wrong, that is not how raising a child works.  Keeping my son out of trouble usually means interacting with him through playing, reading, singing, etc.  Sitting down with my son with a bucket of Lego bricks has proved infinitely better at keeping him out of trouble than millions of passively said “no’s”, “don’t touch that”, “and take that out of your mouth.”

The rosary is also something that works best when you’re actively engaged praying it.  When you break out of thinking of rosary prayer as a mechanical uttering of words you also forge a more meaningful relationship with God.  Rosary prayer isn’t a passive activity, at least it’s not if you want to get something out of it.  Like the toddler that needs your engagement more than he needs to hear your rules, the rosary requires active participation to be truly effective.  It is your opportunity to really interact with God and lay out your petitions, sorrows, and thanksgivings.  It’s not about fulfilling some todo item to make God happy but is your chance to actually learn God’s plan for you.

I understand that making time for rosary prayer is difficult.  It’s probably even more difficult than interacting with a toddler.  Last time I checked, a rosary doesn’t take a box of crackers out of the cupboard and empties it out on the kitchen floor when you don’t pray it.  A rosary can be easily forgotten.  After all, bills need to be paid.  You need to go to work.  You need to sleep.  You need to clean.  You need to keep your children from painting on the walls.  I get it.

I learned in college that you always make time for the activities that are priorities.  There are just some activities you cannot ignore because your health, finances, or relationships depend on you making time for them.  My challenge to you is to elevate your spiritual well being as a priority in your life and make praying the rosary a routine.  It’s Advent now which means it’s a new church year.  Make rosary prayer your resolution.

Hell is for Real, aka The Fatima Prayer

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.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Madonna of Car...
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo – The Madonna of Carmel and the Souls of the Purgatory – WGA22270 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, what is the Fatima Prayer?

While not part of the original tradition of the Rosary or in the original text of the vulgate, many Roman Catholics choose to add it after the Glory Be to the Father after the Blessed Virgin Mary was said to have requested its use during her apparition at Fátima, a miracle deemed “worthy of belief” by the Church. The following text of the prayer appears first in Latin and then in English.

Domine Iesu, dimitte nobis debita nostra, libera nos ab igne inferiori, perduc in caelum omnes animas, praesertim eas, quae misericordiae tuae maxime indigent. Amen.
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen.

Wikipedia

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.

My Concealed Sidearm

I always leave the house armed. In this world I think you are naive, if not a little crazy, if you don’t carry some sort of personal protection. Of course, given that I live in the Bay Area, I don’t carry my sidearm openly. It’s usually concealed but I’m ready and willing to use it if the situation calls for it. Don’t worry, I have plenty of practice using it. I’ve gone with a standard, white model. It isn’t very fancy, but it packs a punch with a 60 round capacity.

Wait, what? Take a look… yes, you’re still on RosaryMeds and not the NRA website.  And no, I’m not delirious from a lack of sleep.  But I am talking about weaponry in this post; very powerful weapons that pack more punch than what any Colt or Gloc could possibly deliver. If you haven’t guessed, my weapon of choice is the rosary. Of course, the 60 rounds should have been the give away (5*10 Hail Marys + 5 Our Fathers + 3 Hail Marys + 1 Our Father + 1 Crucifix = 60). For the last 8 years, since I started praying the rosary seriously and routinely, my rosary has been in my pocket wherever I go.

English: A sterling silver Catholic rosary. Fr...
My sidearm, always ready for action.

I mention this in the wake of the gruesome execution of James Foley at the hands of Islamic radicals.  One of the lesser known facts about James Foley was his devotion to rosary prayer and how it helped in through his captivity in Libya in 2011.  In a letter to Marquette University (his alma mater) after his Libyan release, Foley wrote:

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.  Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.

And this is why I think carrying a rosary is so important.  You never know what life is going to throw at you when you will need to respond with the power of prayer.  Granted, most of us won’t be captured by radicals, imprisoned, or martyred.  But we don’t have to go to those extremes to understand the importance of carrying a rosary.  How many times have you received bad news about a friend, family, your job, your city, your neighbors, your country, your parish, or anything that is important to you?  How many times have you faced a difficult challenge in your life?  Or what about the times when something great has happened?  Those are all perfect opportunities to reflect and meditate on some rosary mysteries.  I think we come across opportunities on a daily basis for praying the rosary but maybe we miss them because we aren’t physically carrying one that we can whip out when we need to.

Prepared for every situation.
Prepared for every situation.

I’m not saying that you can’t pray the rosary unless you are physically carrying beads.  James Foley prayed the rosary counting on his knuckles.  When I can’t physically hold a rosary (usually because I’m rocking an infant to sleep) I will often look for something in the room that is in a group of five or ten so I  can keep track of where I am within a decade.  Maybe there is a flower pattern on the rug with five petals that I can stare at.  Maybe the door or window has 10 sections that I can focus on.  But I do find that actually carrying a rosary is a great reminder of the importance of integrating prayer into my daily routine.  I take my phone, keys, and wallet with me because they will be useful tools throughout my day.  The same can be said about my rosary.

Try this.  Add a rosary to your other daily essentials that your carry in your pocket or purse.  Or attach a rosary ring to your keychain.  More importantly, instead of reaching for your smartphone when you have five minutes to burn, reach for that rosary and pray.

What is a Black Mass?

Unfortunately, the media has been reporting so much bad news lately that many Catholics may have missed this one among the headlines about Ferguson or ISIS.  A group of satanists were going to hold a black mass using a stolen Eucharist in Oklahoma City.  The bishop successfully sued them for theft and the satanists returned the blessed host.  They will still hold their black mass as is their Constitutional right but without the Eucharist.  For those who don’t know, a black mass is one that follows the same routine as a Catholic Mass, but in honor of Satan.  In other words, they make a mockery of Catholic Church to please the devil.

Believe it or not, this was the only depiction of a black mass that didn’t involve nudity.

When I heard about the black mass using a stolen host I wasn’t too shocked or appalled.  After all, the holy Eucharist often falls into the hands of people undeserving to receive it.  At Mass every Sunday, I see nearly everyone in the church receiving communion.  But how many of them are really deserving to receive it by having no mortal sins on their souls and having fasted appropriately beforehand?  I’m not making judgements on anyone, but the numbers just don’t add up.  I once heard a priest remark, “Isn’t it interesting how short the lines to confession are on Saturday and how long the lines for communion are on Sunday?  Either we live among a huge number of saints or some people are receiving the Eucharist who should not.”  So in that light, if so many people within the Catholic Church aren’t showing the Eucharist the respect it deserves, why should I be upset about a group of satanists getting their hands on it?  

But then what did appal me was the fact that I wasn’t too appalled by the satanists’ theft and intention to use it in their black mass.  My lack of shock and sadness reminded me of just how weak my faith is at times.  After all, the Eucharist is the true presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  A consecrated host is no different than Jesus being present in bodily form.  It is one of the cornerstones of the Catholic faith and is one of the main differences between Catholics and protestants.  And yet my apathy towards this instance in Oklahoma City does reveal the gaps in my faith.

The good news is that we can work towards bridging that faith gap.  I start where I always start — the rosary.  Particularly, in this case, I focus on the Fifth Luminous Mystery, The Instantiation of the Eucharist.  I meditate on how faith isn’t something that just happens instantaneously, but something that requires work and an open heart.  Think about the apostles at the Last Supper.  They witnessed the first Eucharist from Jesus himself and yet their faith was shaken in the proceeding days of Jesus’ crucifixion.  They betrayed him, abandoned him, and denied that they knew him.  Bridging that faith gap was something they all needed to work on just like we do today.  And all of the apostles, with the exception of Judas, earned their way into sainthood.  That should give all of us hope that no matter how weak or shaken our faith may be, all of us have an opportunity to improve it through prayer, the sacraments, fasting, good works, and God’s grace.

3rd quarter of 16th century
3rd quarter of 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another rosary mystery that comes to mind when I think about the black mass and the stolen Eucharist is the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, Jesus’ Crucifixion.  The Romans put Jesus to death in the most horrific way possible and yet that couldn’t break Jesus’ resolve.  Nor could they suppress his message that was spread throughout the world by his followers fueled by the Holy Spirit.  Like the Eucharist, the cross became a cornerstone of the Christian faith and there is nothing the world can do that will stop God’s truth from being heard.  There is nothing that will break the spirit of God’s Church.  And so I see these satanists in a similar light as the Romans.  There is nothing they can do in a black mass, even if they had the stolen Eucharist, that will have any effect on God and His Church.  The world has tried numerous times to crush Christianity going all the way back to Jesus’ crucifixion.  Satanists and their black masses just continue that fruitless tradition.  Should we feel saddened by their actions and pray for their conversion?  You bet.  Should we feel scared that their actions weaken God or His Church?  Not in the least.

Helping Iraq’s (Forgotten) Christians

I know many readers are probably put off by now about my recent political commentary even if you sit on the same side of the political aisle as I do.  But like I said in previous posts, we live in the real world and rosary prayer and meditation need to play a part in it.  Rosary prayer cannot be something detached and isolated from the other parts of our lives.  It is meant to fuel us and guide us through our our lives, especially the hard parts.

We should turn our prayers toward what is happening in Iraq right now.  Since January, 1.2 million people have been displaced by ISIS and other radical groups.  One group that was already being actively persecuted in the region before January, but are now targeted to a heightened degree is the region’s Christian communities.  Rev. Andrew Write, an Anglican pasture in Baghdad, said “It is as if hell has broken out here and nobody cares.  The situation is so serious and it is very easy to feel forgotten.”

The ultimatum imposed by militants for Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed has passed with the collapse of communities that have existed for millennia

Iraq is just one of many places where Christians have been driven from their homes with nothing but the shirts on their backs.  In some places, they are beheaded or even crucified!  Over the last few years churches that have stood for hundreds of years were shut down, vandalized, or destroyed throughout Syria, Egypt, Libya, and other countries.  By some measures, Christians are now the most persecuted group in the world, but as Rev. Write said, nobody cares.

I’m really not qualified to give a detailed analysis of international politics and why there isn’t a more vocal outrage over the world’s besieged Christians.  But here are some of my thoughts.  In the developed world, when we think of Christians we have the image of nicely dressed people attending a suburban church and then going to a nearby coffee house for pancakes and omelets.  Or we think of the majesty of St. Peter’s Square.  Some stereotypical images of the Spanish inquisition, European witch hunts, or the Crusades might come to mind.  Throw all these perceptions together and it forms a picture of a group of people who don’t need any help at best, or are getting what they deserve at worst.

But in much of the world, the Christian communities are no different from the non-Christian communities around them.  It’s not like Christians in Iraq are some wealthy, powerful group that are being toppled by a desperate underclass.  They are farmers, shopkeepers, employees in some business, mothers, fathers, and children just like everyone else.  Their day to day lives are no different from those around them except maybe they have different diets and worship habits.  They don’t have a direct connection to the politics or history of Christianity.  And yet, in their moment of need, many in the international community are silent because of their perception of who Christians are.

This Iraqi Christian should consider himself lucky.  He was only driven from his home and wasn’t beheaded.

Jesus challenges us to help one another personally.  One of my readers commented about my previous article on how Jesus offered a place for those who were left out of the normal hierarchy.  Jesus didn’t espouse politics nor catered to a specific group of people.  Yes, he taught mostly amongst the Jews, but His message was for everyone regardless of religion, ethnicity, time, or place.  We look at the Third Glorious Mystery, Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the courage to go out and teach Jesus’ message to all the world.  And while they preached the Word to religious and political leaders (since they would have the most influence) they also taught to the masses and spread the Word as individuals to individuals.

St. Paul teaching the masses about Jesus Christ

Individuals helping individuals is the core of Jesus’ ministry.  Yes, we still must lean on our governments and religious leaders to help.  After all, it’s religious and government institutions that have the best infrastructure to deliver aid effectively.  And yes, we must pray for those who are feeling so alone and abandoned as forces of evil drive them from their homes and kill them.  But prayer is not the end of our role in helping those in need, it’s the beginning.  Jesus didn’t want people to pray and then wait for governments and religious leaders to officially adopt His Word before living the Gospel.

Now it’s not like we can jump on the nearest plane to Iraq and drive from the airport to the area where Christians have fled.  But we can still help on a personal level.  Please consider donating to the Catholic Relief Services as they do have the means of reaching out to those undergoing hardships that we will (hopefully) never know.

A Rosary SEAL Never Quits

“Just ring the bell and this will all be over.”  That must be a common phrase many potential Navy SEALs either hear or think in their initial phase of training called BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL).  This is the stage that whittles down hundreds of candidates to only a select few who can tolerate weeks of physical and mental exhaustion.  While some are cut from the program for underperformance, many voluntarily quit when they ring a brass bell mounted in the barracks three times (hence the term “ringing out”).  When doing hundreds of pushups at night as freezing ocean waves crash overhead, many SEAL recruits question whether the pain and misery is really worth it.

English: Coronado, Calif. (Aug. 23, 2005) &nda...
“Someone remind me why I volunteered for this?”

When I read Saint Louis de Montfort‘s book, The Secret of the Rosary, many chapters really rang true about the mental exhaustion and tediousness of praying the rosary.  I think nearly all of us at some point in our spiritual life begin to feel like a beaten down SEAL recruit and ask, “Why should I continue?”  I know in theory we all love and see value in rosary prayer and meditation.  Many of us set some rosary praying goal whether that is five mysteries a day or all 20 mysteries every week.  We may even start with an abundance of energy.  But over time that initial enthusiasm wears off.  We start to skip a day here and a day there.  We begin to race through rosary decades without even realizing the mystery they represent.  And after a while, whether consciously or unconsciously, we “ring out” and just give up rosary prayer.

When a SEAL recruit quits, he doesn’t quit the armed services.  Quitting BUD/S doesn’t mean one is a bad soldier or isn’t committed to serving this nation.  He just couldn’t find that anchor reason in his heart to keep going through the pain.  And similarly, people aren’t giving up the Catholic faith when they give up the rosary.  They aren’t bad Catholics because they find the rosary repetitive or exhausting.  They are human.  Being human means you probably want a calm, happy, and gratifying life that you don’t immediately feel by reciting 50 Hail Marys.  Fighting our earthly desire that finds the rosary repetitive and tedious and remembering all the benefits of it is a constant battle we all face.  I recall the verse from the Gospel where Jesus tells His apostles, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

But there is also something else at play besides our own human frailties that pushes people to give up rosary prayer.  St. Louis de Montfort clearly states in his writings that Satan is actively working to make people want to give up rosary prayer.  Satan hates the rosary because he knows just how powerful it defends our souls from his lies and influence.  But he’s very crafty when it comes to weaning people off the rosary.  He starts small and simple by implanting the desire to pray something a little less tedious like a little free-form meditation or read some psalms from the Bible.  Those aren’t bad prayer habits in themselves but they do plant a little seed of doubt about keeping a rosary routine.  It’s that little seed that, much like a SEAL recruit first contemplating quitting, Satan hopes will spread throughout your thoughts.

St. Louis de Montfort says it best:

Being human, we easily become tired and slipshod—but the devil makes these difficulties worse when we are saying the Rosary. Before we even begin he makes us feel bored, distracted or exhausted—and when we have started praying he oppresses us from all sides. And when, after much difficulty and many distractions, we have finished, he whispers to us: “What you have just said is worthless. It’s useless for you to say the Rosary. You had better get on with other things. It’s only a waste of time to pray without paying attention to what you’re saying; half an hour’s meditation or some spiritual reading would be much better. Tomorrow when you’re not feeling so sluggish you’ll pray better; don’t finish your Rosary until tomorrow.”

Saint Louis de Montfort (2013-03-10). The Secret of the Rosary (p. 89). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Like a recruit in some sort of spiritual BUD/S training, we have to ignore that little voice and not let Satan’s little pestering derail us.  Satan wants us to “ring out” of rosary prayer by falsing promising us an easier and more gratifying life.  And, depending on our mood, his lies about the rosary being a waste of time might sound tempting.  But we have to keep our guard up and not let momentary inconveniences dominate our thoughts or overshadow our prayers.

Vincent Vidal (1811-1887): Young lady saying t...
A rosary SEAL (Soul Enthusiastically Approaching the Lord)

Much like an elite Navy SEAL, we do have to dig down deep to overcome that urge to quit or take a more casual approach.  Mary gave us 15 great reasons to pray the rosary continuously.  Saint Louis de Montfort gave us many reasons more.  We know deep down how great the rosary is for our spiritual well being.  So treat Satan like that little gnat that he is and just swat his little nagging voice out of your mind when you pray the rosary.

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Book Review: The Secret of the Rosary

I recently finished reading The Secret of the Rosary by Saint Louis de Montfort.  In short, I think this is a terrific book that anyone who regularly prays the rosary should read and share with others.  First, who was Saint Louis de Montfort?  The wikipedia summary is:

Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (31 January 1673 – 28 April 1716) was a FrenchRoman Catholic priest and Confessor. He was known in his time as a preacher and was made a missionary apostolic by Pope Clement XI.[1]

As well as preaching, Montfort found time to write a number of books which went on to become classic Catholic titles and influenced several popes. Montfort is known for his particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the practice of consistently praying the Rosary.

Keep in mind that the average Catholic in the 17th century didn’t have EWTN media, the internet, and RosaryMeds to help them learn about the beauty and power of rosary prayer.  Saint Louis de Montfort basically wrote one of the first howto guides to praying the rosary and spelled out its benefits by telling stories of miraculous events people experienced when they devoted themselves to rosary prayer.

Not to be overly self-promoting, but I was amazed by the similarities between my book, The Rosary for the Rest of Us, and The Secret of the Rosary.  Both books touch on recommended ways of praying the rosary, the benefits Mary promised those who pray it, and even some of the challenges you might face trying to form a rosary praying routine.  Of course, Saint Louis de Montfort had years of theological study in a seminary and was a librarian so he had a lot more spiritual and historical knowledge to draw from for The Secret of the Rosary than I have for RosaryMeds.  Still, I am proud that The Rosary for the Rest of Us overlaps in subject matter with a book written by a saint!  Also, you won’t find commentary on each rosary mystery (not to mention that the Luminous Mysteries didn’t even exist in de Montfort’s time) in The Secret of the Rosary like you find in The Rosary for the Rest of Us.

Buy “The Secret of the Rosary from Amazon.com
Buy “The Rosary for the Rest of Us” from Amazon

The Secret of the Rosary provides a nice little kick of motivation to those who may feel a bit weary after praying the rosary day after day, week after week, and year after year.  Saint Louis de Montfort acknowledges many of the challenges associated with praying the rosary such as finding the time, finding it tedious, mindlessly going through the prayers, wanting to give it up, etc.  Evidently, a 17th century Catholic faced nearly all the same challenges a 21st century Catholic faces about achieving fruitful prayer.  But he offers a sense of hope and infuses a sense of pride for keeping up with rosary prayer even when it is hard.  In the book, he writes:

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.

He often talks about the struggle of good vs. evil, God’s final judgement, and other personal encounters people had with Mary about rosary prayer.  Unlike today’s white-washed view of evil, 17th century Catholics weren’t afraid to acknowledge the terrible reality of Satan and Hell.  When de Montfort writes about the dire consequences of falling into sin and the rewards for remaining in God’s grace, you can’t help but see the rosary in a new light.  No one who reads The Secret of the Rosary can possibly think of the rosary as a silly little necklace or just mindless repetition of prayers when you know all the good it has produced and how many souls it has saved.

I think everyone will take away at least one action item from this book.  For example, I realized that I need to slow down and take my time praying the rosary.  Often, I try to “beat the clock” and get through all five mysteries and additional prayers before arriving at work on my morning commute.  When I know I’m getting close to my office complex, I tend to speed up the prayers in a mad dash.  After reading The Secret of the Rosary, I now realize that there isn’t really no point in racing through Hail Marys so I can check off praying the rosary on my daily todo list.  Essentially, Mary cares more about the quality of your prayers, not the quantity.

Oh, one last point about The Secret of the Rosary.  It’s a fast read.  Each chapter (or Rose as de Monfort calls them) is only a few paragraphs.  So you really don’t have to dedicate a lot of time to the book.  You can read a few chapters a day almost like a daily prayer book.

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