The Rosary is a Means, Not an End

No matter who you are, your goal in life is probably to maximize the quantity and quality of personal happiness. This goal unites nearly all of humanity whether you are an American suburbanite, a nomad in Mongolia, or even a terrorist fighting in Syria.  We all seek to be happy although our means and justifications may differ.

Ven. Fulton J. Sheen provided these three simple rules for finding happiness. The TLDR; summary is:

  1. If you are ever to have a good time, you cannot plan your life to include nothing but good times
  2. Pleasure is deepened and enhanced when it has survived a moment of tedium or pain: this law helps us to make our prized pleasure last for whole lifetime.
  3. Pleasure is a by-product, not a goal.
Fulton J. Sheen, Roman Catholic Bishop and ear...
Fulton J. Sheen, Roman Catholic Bishop and early television preacher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe these happiness principles also apply to prayer, particularly rosary prayer. I think too many times we view rosary prayer as the goal, not the means to something greater. I’m in no way exempt from this way of thinking.  I often tell myself that I’m going to pray the rosary every day but forget to remind myself WHY I want to pray the rosary every day.

Let me be clear.  There is nothing wrong with motivating yourself to pray the rosary regularly as long as you are mindful that praying the rosary is a means, not an end in itself. When rosary prayer is treated as the goal it often becomes rushed and unfocused since we tend to treat it as a check box on our daily todo list.

Rosary prayer requires focus and patience if you want to maximize its benefits.  Let’s be honest, praying the rosary is not always fun and pleasurable.  But as Ven. Fulton J. Sheen said, when you endure a little bit of pain and hardship, it makes the fruits of that hardship that much more prized and treasured.  Keep that in mind the next time you don’t feel like praying the rosary or just want to rush through it.  Mary understands the difficulty and appreciates your desire to reach out to her son, Jesus Christ, in the face of such hardship.

The million dollar question becomes, what benefit am I hoping to maximize by praying the rosary?  What do you hope to gain from it?  Everyone will have a different answer. Here’s mine.  I pray it as a means of deepening my relationship with God. I pray the rosary because my Mother Mary tells me it is the most effective way of living in God’s grace. She promises me 15 benefits if I pray the rosary devoutly.  I believe it also gives me perspective on all the events of my life and seeing what’s truly important and what is not. In short, I want to grow in happiness by living as God asks me to. Those are my true goals that praying the rosary helps me move ever closer to.

Generally available Marian image created in th...
Generally available Marian image created in the 1880s. The white circular text in the halo reads: “Je suis l’Immaculée Conception” (French for “I am the Immaculate Conception”). From Jtdirl’s collection. Copyright long expired. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How about you? What’s your idea of happiness? Are you trying to be happy by living as Ven. Fulton J. Sheen suggests? What do you hope to gain from prayer? Are you treating prayer as a means to happiness by looking for God’s grace or an end in itself?

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Hard Work: Mary’s Rosary Promise #14

Those who recite my Rosary faithfully are my beloved children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

I think about one of the companies I worked for which had a very intense, deadline-driven atmosphere.  This was in the feature film industry where you can’t just partially finish a shot in a movie or half-deliver a commercial.  There are no beta releases or patch fixes you can deliver later if you fall behind schedule or miss an important detail.  There is tremendous pressure to finish complex shots on schedule and get every detail perfect.

People new to the industry get weeded out fairly quickly because many of them realize that the 7-day work weeks, the every increasing standards, and constant pressure isn’t the career for them.  Initially, fellow coworkers don’t exactly embrace new employees with open arms because they don’t know if they will stick around for very long.  But if you can weather that culture shock and survive a few projects then the company and your fellow co-workers start to accept you more as a teammate.  You showed that you have what it takes to survive and thrive in the industry and you aren’t just some flash-in-the-pan employee who thought movie production was all fun and games.

Feeling fulfilled yet?

Many careers have this type of path where you have to pay your dues.  Lawyers often work their tails off before making partner.  Investment bankers leave their jackets over their chairs at night so their boss won’t think they slacked off and left work early.  Software engineers often bring a sleeping bag to work and snooze under their desk or in an empty office when facing a large project deadline.  There are very few careers where you start out at the top.  And even in the ones where you do start with an elevated title, you still have to work hard to earn the trust and respect of your coworkers.

While many people understand that getting the most out of their careers, marriage, family, and friendships takes hard work, it doesn’t seem like they have a similar understanding when it comes to faith.  They often believe that getting the most out of their religion is almost entirely God‘s responsibility, not theirs.  For many people, their faith is nothing more than showing up to Mass on Sunday and that’s it.  And I’m sure of that group many of them wonder why God feels so distant to them.  But that’s like an employee of a company putting in the bare minimum of effort and then wondering why they don’t move up in the company or find their career fulfilling.  God is always willing to bring you in close in His grace, but you have to make the effort to actually want to be in His grace.

Mary not only says that you can forge a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, she promises it!  She even lays out exactly how to truly be one of Jesus’ disciples.  It’s not some mystery that only a chosen few are called to.  Mary says pray the rosary faithfully and she promises it will create a deeper relationship with her and her son.  That is something any one of us can do.

Pray the rosary, go to Mass, learn the faith, avoid sin.  Those are the keys to feeling that love, hope, and compassion of Jesus.  I know I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating.  He’s always there doling out the love and grace but you have to put yourself in the right mode to accept it.  You have to tear down those walls of sin and pride to let Jesus into your heart.  But tearing down those walls is not quick and easy.  And our human frailty is always trying to erect new walls that block God from our souls.

Feel the peace.

When you do come up with a solid plan to routinely tear down those walls of sin, the payoff is huge.  It’s one thing moving up the corporate ladder and feel invested in a company.  But that pales in comparison to feeling that deep sense of peace and comfort that comes from embracing a life of discipleship and commitment to the Catholic faith.  And there is nothing better than realizing in a way that you can’t logically comprehend or explain that Jesus Christ knows you as one of His own and loves you.

I may have misspoke earlier when I said it’s no mystery on how to get closer to Jesus Christ.  It’s actually 20 mysteries… 20 rosary mysteries that is!

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Mary’s Rosary Promise #13

I have obtained from my Divine Son that all the advocates of the Rosary shall have for intercessors the entire Celestial Court during their life and at the hour of death.

Imagine that a little 9 year old child walked up and asked you to teach him some basic mathematics.  You excitedly run to the bookshelf and pick up your linear algebra book from college.  You figure that solving a few matrix equations should be a good introduction to math.  You start running through some sample problems when the child’s eyes just glaze over because he has no idea what you’re talking about.  You slow down and really step him through the process.  You even start taking out pieces of paper to explain the intersection of planes.  But no matter how slow you go and what you do, the 9 year old is just lost, confused, and frustrated.

English: This is a diagram describing the line...
Uh, run that by me one more time?

It’s not really your fault or the child’s fault that he could not pick up basic math concepts from linear algebra.  It was just a mismatch in the child’s understanding of math and what is required to understand a complex topic like linear algebra.  The little child did not have adequate prerequisite knowledge to comprehend linear algebra.  He may be incredibly bright for his age but he still can’t instantly conjure up 10 years worth of math concepts no matter how hard either of you try.

Trying to understand God is much like a little child trying to comprehend linear algebra.  No matter how hard we may try, God’s nature is just something beyond our comprehension.  In fact, our gap in understanding God’s nature is infinitely greater than the child’s gap in understanding complex mathematical concepts.  Mathematics may be a large field, but at least it’s something possibly within the realm of understanding given enough time and practice.  God’s nature, on the other hand, is something that is infinite and beyond human comprehension regardless of how much time and effort you put into it.

Take someone who is quite well catechized like Pope Francis.  His understanding of God may be 100x greater than the average Catholic.  But if God’s nature was represented as grains of sand on the entire planet, the pope’s knowledge of God would still just be one or two grains of sand worth (and that’s being generous).  There’s a reason why God is the Alpha and Omega.  His nature is infinite and beyond what are finite minds can possibly comprehend.

But that is where the celestial court comes in to help us better understand God.  A more common term to describe the celestial court is the communion of saints.  You profess your belief in it every Sunday when you pray the Nicene creed when you say “I believe in the communion of saints.”  The communion of saints are so important in the Catholic Church partly because they help us better understand what God wants of us.  Each saint was a living manifestation of an aspect of God’s nature.  When we look at the saints and what they did in their lives, we get a mosaic of who God is.  Granted, it’s still a very rough picture of God, but it’s better than nothing.  We may be like children when it comes to understanding God, but the saints’ examples give us the basic lessons for understanding how God wants us to live.

A detail from John Nava's tapestry of the comm...
A detail from John Nava’s tapestry of the communion of saints. Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, St. Francis demonstrated humility and charity by giving up a life of comfort and wealth for a life of poverty and service to the poor.  St. Faustina shows us the virtues of mercy and compassion.  St. Maria Goretti showed us forgiveness.  St. Madeleine Sophie Barat showed us unconditional love.  Soon-to-be-saint John Paul II shows us that we all have the inner strength to follow God despite our worldly situation.  All of these are virtues God wants all of us to exhibit.  But again, we have no way of fully comprehending God’s Will directly from Him.  But we can understand aspects of God’s Will by looking at the saints.

Like Mary’s other promises, she promises us intercession.  Mary offers us her personal intercession in previous promises and now she includes help from the communion of saints.  We need all the prayers we can get and we should rejoice that we belong to a faith that promises so much help from people living in God’s grace.  I know I take comfort that I don’t face life’s challenges alone but have the help of the saints in Heaven.  I also have them as role models for how I can achieve eternal salvation no matter where I am in life.  I remember this saying I once heard on the radio — every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.  In other words, not all the saints lived very saintly at some point in their lives but they were able to “wise up” and commit themselves to living God’s Will.  Hopefully we can follow in their footsteps and do the same.

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Mary’s Rosary Promise #11

You shall obtain all you ask of me by recitation of the Rosary.

Mary‘s 11th rosary promise is one of my favorites probably because it is so easily misunderstood (thus providing me with lots to write about). What does Mary mean when she says you will obtain all that you ask through the rosary? I’m sure many of us have prayed for a financial windfall. But how many of us have won the lottery? I’m sure we’ve prayed for good health for ourselves or a loved one. And yet we still get sick. It seems like we ask a lot from Mary through rosary meditation and yet so few of us seem to have our specific requests fulfilled. If Mary doesn’t keep this promise how can we trust her to keep the other 14 rosary promises?

Mary Magdalene, in a dramatic 19th-century pop...
Unlike my last 10 requests, this one is REALLY, REALLY important.

I think the best way to jump into this promise is to retell a homily I heard many years ago. The priest emphasized how we tend to fixate on one specific answer to our prayers and we overlook how God actually answers them. The priest told a story of a man travelling home on foot after a long journey and had to cross a mountain range. Already tired and hungry, he prayed for God to level the mountain so that he could make it home safely and quickly. After waiting a few hours and seeing that God did not level the mountain, the man grumbled, carved a walking stick from a nearby tree branch, and started on his way.  After a rather uneventful trip, he made it over the mountains and back home.

The man was enraged because he thought God did not answer his prayer.  What the man failed to realize was that God provided a tree branch for the walking stick, good weather, and safe passage through the mountain range.  And ultimately, the man did make it over the mountains and back home safely which is why he prayed in the first place.  The man was so fixated on his one specific request that he did not notice two things.  First, he did not realize that he already had the ability to make it over the mountains without God performing a miracle.  Second, he didn’t see all the little things God provided to supplement his abilities.

I think many of us approach prayers and intentions like the man crossing over the mountains.  We ask God for help and wait for a very specific, often miraculous, response.  The response we want is usually an easy answer.  We get sick so we want God to cure us.  We have financial problems, we ask God for a windfall.  We have relationship issues, we ask God to set the other person straight.  We have problems at work, we ask God to make those problem disappear.  But asking God to “bail us out” shortchanges the abilities He already gave us.  God often does help us, not by making our problems go away, but by making us realize he already infused us with the strength, intellect, and abilities to overcome life’s challenges.

Man's face screaming/shouting. Stubbly wearing...
God, why won’t you answer me!!?

Mary’s promise reminds me of how the rosary is a lot like an amplified echo chamber.  You make your intentions through rosary prayer and Mary reminds you that God already gave you the strength to overcome whatever challenges you face.  But the rosary helps magnify Mary’s response so that you can hear it, internalize it, and put into action those gifts God has given you.  You ask for wellness and Mary reminds you that God gave you the strength to endure the sickness and use your physical weakness as an opportunity to offer up a sacrifice to God in reparation for your sins.  You ask for a fix to your financial problems, but Mary reminds you through rosary meditation that money doesn’t make you a better person nor gets you into Heaven.

Mary does hear and answer our prayers and acts as our mediatrix to God.  But we have to be open to the fact that the answer to our prayers isn’t always what we expect.  The rosary helps us not only hear God’s response but more importantly it helps us accept it even when it isn’t what we want to hear.

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Mary’s Rosary Promise #8

Those who are faithful to recite my Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plenitude of His graces and will share in the merits of the blessed.

What?  A third rosary promise about the time of our death!  How could Mary’s eighth promise possibly differ from promises #6 and #7?  Sometimes I think that Mary must have spoken incredibly fast and poor St. Dominic just tried to remember and write them down as best as he could.  How else can we explain why some promises seem like multiple, separate promises combined and with others it appears like Mary repeats the same promise?  Maybe Mary spoke in more of a monologue and St. Dominic distilled it into bullet points like a student taking notes during a lecture.  Even in Caravaggio’s painting below St. Dominic looks slightly confused about what Mary is saying.

St. Dominic receiving the Rosary from the Virg...
St. Dominic receiving the Rosary from the Virgin Mary by Caravaggio, 17th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course I’m being sarcastic.  On the surface many of Mary’s promises may appear the same.  But when you dive deeper you will find that they are subtly promising different benefits.  And even if Mary repeats herself, so what?  In the case of promises six through eight, maybe Mary is trying to communicate the importance of having a prepared soul at the moment of your death.  Like an earthly mother repeatedly reminding her children the same lessons (eat your vegetables, cover your mouth when you sneeze, say “please” and “thank you,” etc.), our heavenly mother also needs to repeat herself about the moments that are of grave importance.  And no time is more important than the hour of someone’s death.  Because once you die, that’s it.  You no longer have an opportunity to confess and repent your sins nor do you have the power to pray for yourself.  Given the eternity that awaits you, Mary reminds us in her rosary promises just how important it is to always have a prepared soul.  And she gives us this great gift of preparation through the rosary.

Mary’s eighth promise ratchets up the state of holiness one’s soul is in at the moment of his death.  Promise #6 mentions not having an unprepared soul meaning that you will have one last chance to confess your sins.  Promise #7 goes one step further and adds the sacraments of the Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick into the mix.  But this promise goes even further and ensures someone a holy death beyond what is received through the sacraments.  When Mary says that you will share “in the merits of the blessed” she is saying that you will receive part of the similar graces the saints received.  No one on this planet were holier than the saints (which is why they were saints!).  We should rejoice that we have an opportunity to have a little taste of that grace that made the saints so holy.  It’s not holiness for the sake of holiness.  Rather, sharing in the merits of the blessed gives us a sense of spiritual maturity that gives us the ability to forge an even deeper relationship with god.

This promise doesn’t just apply to the moment of death.  Notice that Mary says you will receive graces “during their life.”  In praying the rosary devoutly, you will receive the same graces the saints received.  Does that mean everyone who prays the rosary is a saint?  Well technically no.  Just praying the rosary won’t put you on the road towards canonization.  However, it will give you the “plenitude of His [God’s] graces” to become a saint if you choose to do so.  It’s important to realize that saintly behavior is a choice and not some predetermined path that only a select few are privy to.  If we do choose a saintly life then Mary promises that the rosary will help us achieve and maintain it.  The rosary will give us the insight and strength to choose God’s path over a more earthly one.  We all may not become saints like those officially canonized by the Church, but we can share the same graces and the same destiny of flourishing with them in the eternal happiness of Heaven if we choose to do so.

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Spiritual Drivers’ Ed. — Mary’s Rosary Promise #5

Those who trust themselves to me through the Rosary will not perish.

I feel this is one of the more vaguely worded rosary promises and is subject to a lot of misunderstanding. To perish means to die, typically in a sudden or untimely way. What is Mary telling us exactly? She can’t mean that those who pray the rosary will never die. If that were the case, I would see thousand-year old women walking around the mall. And Mary can’t really mean sudden or untimely either. I’m sure there are plenty of people who prayed the rosary regularly who died in a car accident or sudden illness. Even St. Pope John Paul II (I feel we’re close enough to call him a saint) died an untimely death due to Parkinson’s and he was a great promoter of the rosary. Is Mary lying to us when she promises that those who pray the rosary will not perish?

Pope John Paul II
Certainly a saint could not have perished. What’s Mary talking about?

The key to the promise is understanding that Mary isn’t talking about the physical body not perishing. She means one’s eternal soul not perishing. Those who pray the rosary will not face a sudden or untimely death of their souls. But that raises another question. What does it mean to have your soul die? After all, how can something that is immortal die? It’s true that your soul never stops existing. When Mary talks about you perishing, she means that your soul spends eternity in Hell instead of in Heaven. And you decide to go to Hell (yes, you decide!) when you die in the state of mortal sin which is:

  1. A sin of grave matter.
  2. You have full knowledge of the gravely sinful nature of the action.
  3. You freely choose to commit the sin in light of that full understanding.

I summarized the Catechism’s three criteria for mortal sin deliberately because there is a lot of misunderstanding of it. Many people think that committing a mortal sin is like getting caught in a spiritual speed trap via a divine traffic camera.  The perception is that God surprises good people with a list of mortal sins when they die so that He can send them to Hell.  But mortal sin isn’t something that just creeps up on you any more than a person can accidentally drive 120 mph on the wrong side of the road. The driver racing like a maniac is not doing it by accident unlike someone who may be driving 5 mph faster than he should.  In the later case, the driver is still doing something wrong but is not committing a gravely serious infraction.  On the other hand, the crazy driver understands that what he is doing is against the law and seriously reckless when he puts the pedal to the metal and takes off like a rocket. Likewise, you can’t accidentally commit a mortal sin because, by definition, you need full knowledge of the grave matter and consciously choose to commit it.

Photowalk 2010-11-11 032
God doesn’t want to “nail you” committing a mortal sin.  (Photo credit: Rob-Wei)

Does that mean you should try to learn as little about what the Catholic Church teaches so that you can commit as many grave sins as you want without them being mortal sins? Sorry, but morality doesn’t work that way. The person driving at triple-digit speeds can’t say he didn’t know he was breaking the law as he passed by and ignored many speed limit signs. Similarly, Catholics are called to attend Mass every week, receive the sacraments (most of which involve some instruction on Church teachings), and learn their faith. The Catholic Church puts down many moral “speed limit signs” to alert people of what is right and what is wrong.

Back to the driver, even in the unlikely event that there was no speed limit posting, he should know that driving that fast is incredibly unsafe. And, even in the absence of understanding a specific Church teaching, humans have a sense of the natural law of what is good and evil and are called to abide by it.

What does all this mean in the context of Mary’s rosary promise that those who pray the rosary will not perish? Those who pray the rosary will be more in tune with the natural law, develop a well-formed conscience, be more motivated to learn Catholic teachings, and be more receptive to God’s Will. Regular rosary prayer will steer someone away from mortal sin so that he will not perish in the fires of Hell. Mary isn’t giving you a clean slate through the rosary (that is what the Sacrament of Confession is for), but she is giving you a tool to avoid committing mortal sin in the first place. That is the heart of the promise. You won’t perish despite your mortal sins, but instead you won’t perish because you will have no mortal sins on your soul.

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15 Promises of Rosary Prayer

file0002075421420I am starting a new series on RosaryMeds titled “The 15 Promises of the Rosary.” Each article will focus on one of Mary’s rosary promises. Wait, what? Never heard of the 15 promises of the rosary? Don’t be surprised. Unfortunately, these promises seldom come up when people explain the rosary. Everyone explains the mechanics of rosary meditation but don’t go into the benefits. And that is unfortunate and a terrible marketing blunder. It’s like someone trying to pitch an exercise video series without showing you the “after” pictures of strong and fit people. Or it’s like someone advertising a diet pill by showing you how to swallow it but not including testimonials from people who tried it. I think many people don’t stick with rosary prayer because everyone tells them the process but forget to mention the benefits. Of course, any RosaryMeds reader knows about the benefits of rosary meditation since that is all I write about. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to our Mother Mary.

St. Dominic and Blessed Alan de Rupe were instrumental in the revival and spread of rosary prayer in the 12th and 15th centuries. Both men spoke about 15 promises the Virgin Mary made to them about those who pray the rosary regularly. “Regularly” is a vague term but it is usually taken as praying all 20 mysteries each week. Here are the 15 promises mentioned on the Rosary Confraternities website:

FIFTEEN PROMISES OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
TO CHRISTIANS WHO FAITHFULLY PRAY THE ROSARY

  1. To all those who shall pray my Rosary devoutly, I promise my special protection and great graces.
  2. Those who shall persevere in the recitation of my Rosary will receive some special grace.
  3. The Rosary will be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin and dispel heresy.
  4. The rosary will make virtue and good works flourish, and will obtain for souls the most abundant divine mercies. It will draw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.
  5. Those who trust themselves to me through the Rosary will not perish.
  6. Whoever recites my Rosary devoutly reflecting on the mysteries, shall never be overwhelmed by misfortune. He will not experience the anger of God nor will he perish by an unprovided death. The sinner will be converted; the just will persevere in grace and merit eternal life.
  7. Those truly devoted to my Rosary shall not die without the sacraments of the Church.
  8. Those who are faithful to recite my Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plenitude of His graces and will share in the merits of the blessed.
  9. I will deliver promptly from purgatory souls devoted to my Rosary.
  10. True children of my Rosary will enjoy great glory in heaven.
  11. What you shall ask through my Rosary you shall obtain.
  12. To those who propagate my Rosary I promise aid in all their necessities.
  13. I have obtained from my Son that all the members of the Rosary Confraternity shall have as their intercessors, in life and in death, the entire celestial court.
  14. Those who recite my Rosary faithfully are my beloved children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
  15. Devotion to my Rosary is a special sign of predestination.

Good stuff right? We’ll cover each one in detail in future articles. If you know friends or family who might find this interesting, please let them know about RosaryMeds so they can receive updates.

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