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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The Feast — Mary’s Rosary Promise #10

The faithful children of the Rosary shall merit a high degree of Glory in Heaven.

“But wait!  There’s more!”  If Mary’s rosary promises were an infomercial for rosary prayer and meditation, we are now entering all the bonus items.  Commercials for cookware may say, “act now and get two of our deluxe frying pans plus our specialized omelet pan!”  When it comes to our salvation and what Mary promises us through the rosary she’s already shown the graces someone will receive and the protection she will offer against Satan.  Those alone are great gifts that make rosary prayer a wise spiritual investment.  But now Mary adds even more bonuses to the deal and says that those who pray the rosary faithfully will get great glory in Heaven.

Great glory in Heaven?  But I thought that once you’re in, you’re in?  Is Mary telling us that those who pray the rosary will be exalted in Heaven over those who do not pray the rosary?  We never hear in Sunday homilies that there is some sort of spiritual “point system” for a Heaven that has different tiers where some people receive a higher stature.

“Hey you in front! How did you score the better seats?”

The Gospels seem to present different views of Heaven.  On one hand, Jesus told the parable of the workers where those who worked at the end of the day received the same pay as those who worked earlier.  That implies that everyone receives the same rewards in Heaven.  On the other hand, Jesus talks about building riches in Heaven and how the “first will be last and the last will be first.”  That points to an idea that some people will have more in Heaven; whatever having more means in an immaterial realm.  Whatever does Mary mean?

I then read this small story from St. Therese‘s The Story of a Soul

To this dearly loved sister I confided my most intimate thoughts; she cleared up all my doubts.  One day I expressed surprise that God does not give an equal amount of glory to all the elect in Heaven — I was afraid that they would not all be quite happy.

She sent me to fetch Papa’s big tumbler, and put it beside my tiny thimble, then, filling both with water, she asked me which seemed the fuller. I replied that one was as full as the other — it was impossible to pour more water into either of them, for they could not hold it. In this way Pauline made it clear to me that in Heaven the least of the Blessed does not envy the happiness of the greatest; and so, by bringing the highest mysteries down to the level of my understanding, she gave my soul the food it needed.

After reading St. Therese’s story, Mary’s rosary promise came into focus.  God’s glory is infinite and He will shower that glory upon everyone in Heaven.  Everyone in Heaven receives as much grace, peace, joy, and happiness that they can handle.  Some people will be able to handle more of God’s grace in Heaven than others because they had made more room for God in their hearts.

Here’s a small parable according to Brent that I think explains this rosary promise well.  God’s glory in Heaven is like food at a large banquet.  Everyone was invited to eat however much they wanted.  There were some who filled up on bread and crackers before attending the banquet.  Others fasted.  Those who fasted consumed more of the feast than those who ate prior to arriving.  Both groups enjoyed their share of the food and left the banquet satisfied.  But the group that fasted could enjoy more of the banquet’s offerings than those who didn’t.

The rosary teaches us to make room for God in our lives and not fill up on our worldly desires.  Through the rosary we open ourselves to the influence of the Holy Spirit to resist temptations, whether they be sinful or just worldly, and to crave what we cannot physically see, hear, or touch in this life — the glory of Heaven.  We pray the rosary for the faith and strength to hold out for something greater than what this world has to offer.  If we can do that then we will enjoy more of that Heavenly feast God has prepared.

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Mary’s Rosary Promise #3

The Rosary will be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin and dispel heresy.

I find it interesting that Mary uses military terminology in many of her promises.  Her promise illuminates the very dark and evil reality of Satan and Hell that we cannot ignore or wish away.  Whether we like it or not, from the instant of our conception God enlisted us to fight in an epic war of good vs. evil.  As I said in my explanation of Mary’s first rosary promise, there is a war going on every day for the souls of humanity.  And Satan isn’t messing around but is playing for keeps.  If you die in a state of mortal sin, that’s it, fin, the end!  Satan will have won another battle in this great spiritual war.

St Michael the archangel, dressed somewhat lik...

With the stakes so high, we need all the protection and armor we can get.  Mary promises that armor through the rosary.  She promises us protection.  She is Queen of Angels which makes her something of a general in this great war of souls and the angels of Heaven are her soldiers.  Our guardian angels exist to protect us and make sure that our souls end up where they are supposed to be — in Heaven praising God forever.  Praying the rosary is like calling for reinforcements.  When Satan steps up his attacks through sin and temptation, you can call on the host of heavenly angels to help you fight back.   As Padre Pio once said, the rosary is a powerful weapon against Satan.  Because you don’t have to fight evil alone.  Through the rosary you are reinforced with the strength of Heaven.

When we rid ourselves of vice and sin we strengthen our spiritual armor.  The worse part about sin is that often we aren’t aware of how weak and vulnerable it makes us.  We may have insufficient armor against the forces of Hell and not even know it.  It would be nice if the health of your soul was something you could see like the fuel gauge in a car.  Or wouldn’t it be nice if you showed symptoms like a physical illness so you could take some medicine or see a doctor.

That spiritual “fuel gauge” or subtle symptom is exactly what the rosary offers you.  Those who pray the rosary have strong armor against Hell, sin, and vice because those who pray the rosary are also checking the health of their soul routinely.  The two go hand in hand.  When you are constantly monitoring and maintaining something, it stays healthy and strong.  When you ignore and neglect something, it becomes weak.

The last part of the promise interests me the most.  Mary promises that praying the rosary will dispel heresy.  I think this is such an important gift Mary offers us through rosary prayer.  Heresy has taken a much more subtle tone in the last few decades which makes it all the more dangerous because it is easier to fall victim to it.  The Catholic Church isn’t as quick to identify heretical teachings as they used to be nor do local priests tend to speak out about heresy in homilies.  So that makes protecting yourself from heresy a personal responsibility.

Nancy Pelosi
It’s a trap!

We have to be careful because heresy is everywhere.  We need to be on “high alert” and make sure we understand Catholic teachings and not fall victim to people who claim to speak for the Church when they are really speaking for themselves, an organization, a special interest, or political party.  The latter is the most dangerous because many politicians will say and do anything to get your support even if that means twisting certain Christian teachings so people find it easier to disobey their conscience and their religion.  Having good spiritual armor is important but so is being able to identify the enemy and not be fooled by their clever speeches.

Praying the rosary will help you spot the fakes and not fall for their lies.  People who routinely pray the rosary probably also get a good helping of Mass, the sacraments, the bible, and grace.  The rosary never acts alone.  Think about it.  Have you ever met someone who just prays the rosary regularly but doesn’t participate in Mass or the sacraments?  That is why Mary’s promise that rosary prayer acts as armor against Hell is so effective because it acts in union with the sacraments and God’s grace.  The rosary isn’t an end in itself, but one of many links in the chain of your spiritual armor.

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Mary’s Rosary Promise #1

To all those who shall pray my Rosary devoutly, I promise my special protection and great graces.

What does it mean to pray the rosary devoutly? There is two aspects to rosary devotion. First, there’s quantity. Praying the rosary means saying all the prayers. Many people look at a rosary and see a lot of redundancy to it. Why do I need to pray 10 Hail Marys per decade and not just one? What do I get out of reciting the same prayer repeatedly? To answer that, we should look at physical examples. Is one push up the same as ten push ups? Does your body get the same amount of exercise taking one step forward or running a mile? In diets, do you need to eat one healthy meal or multiple healthy meals? Quantity counts! And so you get more out of the rosary, spiritually speaking, when you spend time with it and recite all the prayers. God doesn’t need the prayers, but you do to get into that spiritual “zone” where you will be most receptive to God’s guidance.

Generally available Marian image created in th...

There is also a quality aspect to praying the rosary devoutly. Can you really say you are praying the rosary if you are saying the words but thinking about something else? Are you really getting anything out of it at that point? The rosary isn’t a magic chant where the power is in the words. The power of the rosary is directly related to the amount of earnest effort you put into it. Going back to physical exercise, do you get a better workout walking on a treadmill reading a magazine or really concentrating and pushing yourself to get the most out of the experience? The same goes for prayer — you get as much out of it as you put into it.

Mary promises us special protection. That raises the question, “protection from what?” Satan and his minions of course! Just as there are angels and saints in the spiritual realm, there are also demons. Every day those two sides are at war over our souls. If you just read that last sentence and think I’m exaggerating or lying then that just shows how powerful of an adversary Satan is. His best weapon is for people to think there isn’t a war being waged over our souls. That way, we drop our defenses and become more susceptible to Satan’s influence to turn away from God through sin.

Praying the rosary has two advantages to protect us against sin. First, through prayer we keep our defenses up. When we realize the persistent threat against us, we take whatever steps we need to fight against it. Rosary meditation provides us an opportunity to analyze how well we are defending our souls against Satan’s great attack. Have we created gaps in our spiritual armor by committing sins or just not making our relationship with God a priority in our life? When we acknowledge our weaknesses we can then work on fortifying those weak spots. Otherwise, we are just walking through the battlefield with little protection and become easy targets for Satan.

In addition to greater awareness of the spiritual dangers around us, Mary offers her special protection as well. And in a war for our eternal souls, we probably want as much help and protection as possible. And Mary is a great protector from evil. She is our Heavenly Mother. And like our earthly mothers, she has the special task of trying to keep her children safe. She promises that fervent protection to those who pray the rosary.

Does that mean she only cares and protects those who pray the rosary devoutly? No, of course not. She loves each one of us just as her son, Jesus Christ, taught us. But when we pray the rosary we make Mary’s job to help and protect us that much easier. She can take our willingness to accept her help and multiply it to build a greater defense against evil. Think of her like a doctor trying to help a sick person. The doctor can better diagnose and cure a disease if the patient is helpful, commutative, and trusting. The doctor, despite his good intentions, will have a much harder time helping someone who is combative or just not very accepting of any assistance.

Help Mary help you. Have faith in her promise that she will protect you and give you God’s grace if you earnestly pray the rosary.

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Gospel for March 13, 2011 – Comfort

Temptation of Jesus in desert. HOLE, WILLIAM: ...
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The Gospel for Sunday, March 6, 2011 is from Matthew 4:1-11.  In this Gospel, Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert for 40 days before rejecting Satan’s temptations.  Tired, hungry, and physically weak Jesus had the strength to reject evil.  Jesus shows this same spiritual endurance during His Passion, especially in the scourging at the pillar which we remember when we pray the Second Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary.  May we learn that we too have the strength to endure life’s challenges and that we will find comfort in Heaven after we reject evil in this life.

“Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (Matthew 4:11)  To me, this is the most interesting verse in this Gospel reading.  The fact that angels needed to minster to Jesus after the 40 days in the desert shows just how difficult that ordeal really was.  I think many of us have this idea that because Jesus is God made man and performed many miracles that spending 40 fasting must not have been very hard for Him.  With that mindset we cannot relate with how Jesus faced life’s challenges and think it is unfair that He asks so much of us.  After all, how are we to imitate Jesus without the advantage of being superhuman?  But since angels needed to comfort Him shows us that certain aspects of life were no easier for Jesus than they are for the rest of us.

Like the challenges Jesus faced in His 40 days in the desert, the Second Sorrowful Mystery shows us the great hardship Jesus endured during The Passion.  Jesus felt pain and suffering when scourged at the pillar as any of us would.  But His faith in God gave Him the strength to persevere that torment.  Likewise, our faith tells us that we have the same strength to endure hardship in this life.  We have every opportunity to imitate Jesus by remaining faithful despite life’s challenges.  As much as we would like to be spared hardship in this life, chances are that our physical and spiritual limits will be tested at some point whether that be illness, a tragic accident, or a crisis of faith.  But this rosary mystery shows us that we all have the God-given ability to overcome any challenge and endure any hardship as Jesus did during His scourging.

May we remember that, like Jesus after His 40 days in the desert and all the pain and suffering He encountered in The Sorrowful Mysteries, we too will find joy and comfort in Heaven.  In fact, the comfort that Jesus offers us will so dwarf our earthly suffering that it will make the worst times in our life feel like a momentary itch.  But we also must remember that this consolation only comes to those who live according to God’s will.  Remember, the angels ministered to Jesus only after He rejected the temptations of the devil.  Likewise, we will find true joy and happiness once we reject Satan’s false promises and evils in this world.  Especially in this season of Lent, as we prepare for Easter through fasting and prayer, may we remember that God gave us the gift to overcome any challenge this world has to offer.  Let us remember to use this gift when we face difficult challenges in our lives.

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Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

Cover of
Cover of The Screwtape Letters

I just completed reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.  The book is divided into several letters from a senior devil, Screwtape, to a junior devil, Wormwood, who is working on bringing a man’s soul under the influence of Satan.  Each letter investigates a tactic that Satan’s minions use in order to move us away from God, who is referred to as the Enemy throughout the book.  Screwtape instructs his apprentice on how to manipulate human attitudes towards prayer, love, lust, war, politics, the Church, ambitions, etc. in very subtle ways so that someone’s soul will be on the path towards Hell without even realizing it.

The Screwtape Letters does a great job of taking some complex moral and ethical questions and discussing them in simple terms.  Because of the “us vs. them” format of the book you almost feel like you are reading Satan’s playbook on how to tempt you into sin.  While most of the time we learn about how we should live, it is equally useful to learn how NOT to live.  In other words, understanding Satan’s tricks and lies are sometimes just as important as knowing God’s love.  And C.S. Lewis makes it so easy to understand the nature of evil due to the casual nature of the book being in the form of personal letters.  Screwtape’s candor does not hold back the evil intent behind his various tactics.

This book is not heavy in terms of exploring deep theological arguments in Catholic doctrine.  After all, C.S. Lewis was more of “buffet style” Christian where he picked and chose elements from different denominations scattered with some of his own personal beliefs.  So he leaves the deep discussion of doctrine and theological arguments to St. Thomas Aquinas and other doctors of the Church.  Instead, Lewis provides a good introduction and a more light-hearted discussion on the nature of evil for those of us who do not hold a Ph.D in theology.

Personally, I felt that the book got a little stale towards the end once the novelty of learning about morality from the other side wore off.  It sort of felt like Screwtape starts to repeat himself in later letters as he brings up the same themes but uses different examples.  Even in the postscript, C.S. Lewis admits that this was one of the least enjoyable books he wrote because the ideas just came so easily to him.  He admitted that he feared he would smother the readers if he wrote a longer book.  Regardless, it is an interesting read and would suggest that everyone gives it a try.  I can also see it making a great gift for those who need a little theological refresher but do not want to dive into more serious texts.

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Medjugorje Messages — May, 2010

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on May 2, 2010: “Dear children; Today, through me, the good Father calls you to, with your soul filled with love, set out on a spiritual visitation. Dear children, be filled with grace, sincerely repent for your sins and yearn for the good. Yearn also in the name of those who have not come to know the perfection of the good. You will be more pleasing to God. Thank you.

Inmaculada Concepción
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Sorry for the long absence, but May was a crazy month for me.  I didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and write posts and my computer was not readily available.  I’m bundling both of Mary‘s messages for May into one posting.

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on May 2, 2010:

“Dear children; Today, through me, the good Father calls you to, with your soul filled with love, set out on a spiritual visitation. Dear children, be filled with grace, sincerely repent for your sins and yearn for the good. Yearn also in the name of those who have not come to know the perfection of the good. You will be more pleasing to God. Thank you.

The phrase, “spiritual visition,” recalls the Second Joyful Mystery of Mary visiting Her cousin, Elizabeth, and sharing the good news.  Like the message in the Visitation, Mary asks us to not only live a good and holy life, but to share that holiness with others.  She asks us to bring Jesus’ love to those who need it most — “those who have not come to know the perfection of the good.”  As I said before, we must remember the “lost souls” in our lives and pray hard that they will come to know the goodness of Jesus Christ and His Church.

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on May 25, 2010:

Dear children! God gave you the grace to live and to defend all the good that is in you and around you, and to inspire others to be better and holier; but Satan, too, does not sleep and through modernism diverts you and leads you to his way. Therefore, little children, in the love for my Immaculate Heart, love God above everything and live His commandments. In this way, your life will have meaning and peace will rule on earth. Thank you for having responded to my call.

This seems very similar to Her May 2nd message.  Again, this message not only focuses on each one of us personally living a holy life, but inspiring others to also become better people by embracing Jesus’ message.  Why must we do this?  Mary says that Satan is also on the prowl trying to bring people down with him into misery and despair.  We live in a time where people, even many in the Chuch, don’t like to think about Satan and the idea of absolute evil.  But Mary reminds us that we must act and bring people into God’s grace because, if we do not, Satan is always there to fill the void.  I will leave you with this thought from Edmund Burke who I think summarizes this idea nicely:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

I find it very interesting that Mary points to “modernism” as one of Satan’s tool.  What exactly does She mean?  When I think of modernism, I think of it mainly in terms of rejecting thoughts, teachings, and institutions that are viewed as old and outdated.  You will easily find plenty of examples of modernist ideas in the media trying to show that the Catholic Church is an old, outdated institution with rules and practices that have no use in today’s world.  But the Church and Her teachings are one of the primary ways Satan is kept in check.  God’s grace, though the Church, strengthens people against the powers of the devil.  So it makes sense that Satan would embrace any idea that diminishes the power of the Church so that his power and influence will increase.  Mary asks us not to forget about the Church and Her teachings, but to love God and keep His commandments.  Despite what current modernists would have you believe, we are in more need of the Church today more than ever to combat the increasing influence of Satan and his minions.

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