What the Rosary Teaches Us About Spiritual Persistence

As a father of two boys, I can sympathize with those who face the never ending battle of trying to keep a clean house.  No sooner have I vacuumed the floor that one of my boys starts jumping on the sofa and knocks down a leftover bowl of cereal.  Or I just finish cleaning a room and they dump a bin of legos on the floor and start building.  On Catholic Exchange, Sam Guzman relates the experience of keeping a clean house to keeping a clean soul in his article:

At any rate, I’ve noticed that, just as a clean house quickly descends into disorder and must be constantly cleaned, so also our souls need constant care and upkeep. We must always be beginning to put them in order again.

There are days when our children have made such a mess of things that cleaning up seems a hopeless task. My wife and I look at each other and don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Yet, we begin again.

In this life, holiness is found in beginning again and again. It is constant examination and conversion and regeneration of heart. Holiness if found in repentance. And repentance is not merely feeling sorry that you sinned. It is rather a re-turning to God—a thousand times a day if necessary.

My kids’ room 5 minutes after cleaning it

I call this never ending practice of conversion spiritual persistence.  Spiritual persistence is continuing to pray and have faith in God’s plan even when it seems fruitless.  When I pray the rosary and ask God for help building my spiritual persistence I meditate on Jesus carrying the cross in The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  Jesus was literally beaten down carrying the cross with no hope for relief.  Each time he fell down and got back up, he only had more cruelty and torture to look forward to.  And yet, Jesus got back up and began walking again towards his crucifixion.

I think we all have moments when we ask ourselves, “what’s the point?”  Why should I suffer for doing the right thing instead of taking ethical or moral shortcuts?  Why should I fast?  Why should I go to Sunday Mass?  Why should I go to Confession?  What good will these do since I’ll just go about sinning again in the future anyway?

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Sometimes we can see our faith more as a cross than a blessing.  We too often focus on what we give up or the effort required and not the benefits.  Part of the challenge is that the sacrifice we feel immediately while the joy and grace are often delayed or is so subtle we don’t feel it.  As an analogy to keeping a clean house, we so often tend to dread the steps needed to make a house clean that it often overshadows the joy of having a clean house.

This is where meditating on the fourth sorrowful mystery of the rosary becomes important.  It puts all these perceived inconveniences into perspective.  Jesus endured far worse doing his father’s will.  If Jesus saw the importance of his Passion, we should ask God to help us see the importance of trying to live a spiritually healthy lifestyle.  We may not always like housework, but we understand the importance of maintaining a clean house.  And we may not always enjoy the obligations our faith puts on us, but we pray the rosary to understand why it is so important that we follow God’s plan.

As we near the end of Lent, many of us probably feel beaten down and tired.  We may be tired of fasting, abstaining from meat, the increased prayer, etc.  But instead of focusing on pain, let’s ask God to help us see the joy that comes from these Lenten practices.  The joy that comes from letting go of some of our worldly pleasures and replacing them with God’s grace.  The joy in understanding that we will one day find true happiness in Heaven due to our spiritual persistence in this lifetime.

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Rosary Meditation: The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery

Today’s rosary meditation is The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery — The Crucifixion. After suffering through the scourging, being mocked with a crown of thorns, and carrying a cross, Jesus died alongside two criminals. Jesus’ crucifixion is the ultimate example that we are all called to follow God’s plan even in the face of great difficulty. As imitators of Christ, we cannot ignore or avoid God’s will when we find ourselves in difficult situations.

The Crucifix and Calvary (#109)
Image by Christopher Chan via Flickr

Today’s rosary meditation is The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery — The Crucifixion.  After suffering through the scourging, being mocked with a crown of thorns, and carrying a cross, Jesus died alongside two criminals.  People seeing Jesus on the cross were puzzled because He saved others, but couldn’t save Himself (Matthew 27:42).  They wanted Him to perform one more miracle so that they would believe in Him forgetting all the miracles He had already performed and that His largest miracle, conquering death and opening the gates of Heaven, was yet to come.

I feel that Jesus’ crucifixion is the ultimate example that we are all called to follow God’s plan even in the face of great difficulty.  Jesus, being the son of God, could have easily put an end to His suffering any time He wanted.  And yet, He suffered and died horribly.  Why?  Because Jesus practiced what He preached.  His entire ministry revolved around the principles of sacrifice, redemptive suffering, charity, forgiveness, and having faith in God’s plan for us.  And when the time came for His crucifixion, Jesus did not ignore His teachings in order to save his earthly body.   When Jesus taught that we must “take up our cross” in order to gain salvation, He knew full well those words also applied to Him.  Therefore,  as imitators of Christ, we cannot ignore or avoid God’s will when we find ourselves in difficult situations.

Jesus’ crucifixion, while extreme, highlights a situation we find ourselves in all the time.  How often do we try to ignore God’s plan for us because following it causes difficulty or suffering?  How many times do we feel the urge to tell a little lie in order to avoid punishment?  How much easier is it to drown ourselves in drugs or alcohol when times are difficult?  How much simpler is it to “go with the crowd” and not stick out even when the crowd is not living morally?  But God calls us to have faith in His plan despite our situation.  Jesus loved and forgave those who tortured or abandoned Him on the cross because God’s way is one of unconditional forgiveness.  We often try to make excuses for our shortcomings, but in the end we must understand that we are called to live as Jesus taught us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without exception.   The last time I checked, Jesus did not say “love thy neighbor EXCEPT when he is really, really annoying.”

Let us recall those times in our lives when we did not follow God’s will because it seemed too difficult.  Let us remember when we ignored His plan out of fear of suffering and pray that we can show more resolve in the future.  May we remember that all earthly suffering is temporary and is a minuscule when compared to the infinite joy and happiness of Heaven we gain by following Christ.  It’s true that many people have a much tougher road and a much heavier cross to bear than others.  But we must have faith that God never gives us a larger burden than we can handle.  So we should pray, not only that we have find our innate strength to imitate Jesus’ unconditional love and sacrifice, but that others can find that same God-given, moral fortitude as well.

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Rosary Meditation: The Second Sorrowful Mystery

My rosary meditation on the Second Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus’ Scourging. I reflect on how, through suffering, we mimic the ways of Jesus Christ.

This week’s rosary meditation focuses on The Second Sorrowful Mystery — The Scourging.  Before being condemning Jesus to death, the Roman authorities brutally whipped Him as was the sentence for various crimes at that time.  While innocent of any wrongdoing, Jesus suffered greatly for preaching God’s truth which undermined any human authority, particularly the Roman’s.  Scourging, like other forms of corporal punishment, helped cement Roman dominion over their territories and deter anyone who dared to speak out against them.

Jesus’ suffering is one of the harder aspects of His ministry to understand.  It is easy to think of Jesus as the great teacher or the miracle worker.  It is much more difficult to picture Him, God made man, as someone battered and bruised like any one of us.  So why does He choose this time of great suffering and hardship to be the most human instead of showing His divine nature?  After all, would not more people come to believe in Him and His way if He miraculously stopped His torturers from harming Him?  Wouldn’t a legion of angels descending from Heaven to defend Jesus turn the most skeptical into believers?

Jesus’ suffering and death mimic His ministry.  While I often wish that Jesus’ message was, “follow me and you will be on easy street for the rest of your life,” I know that He doesn’t let us off that easy.  He did not teach that no harm will ever come to those who believe in Him.  In fact, He taught repeatedly that following His way would be fraught with inconveniences, hardship, and suffering.  It is an unfortunate that our earthly kingdom and God’s kingdom are largely incompatible and you can only live for one of them.  But Jesus repeated that those who kept the faith, despite any suffering, would find their reward in Heaven.  Like His parables, His message through the scourging was that those who endure great hardship by living for His kingdom will be the first to inherit it.

When I think about those who suffer I break them down into three main groups.  There are those who are actively persecuted, suffer, and even face martyrdom for their unrelenting faith in Jesus’ word.  In many places such as Africa, the Middle East, India, and China, being Catholic is incredibly dangerous.  But these people are our greatest example of living Jesus’ way since they face physical suffering and even death because they keep the promise of one day coming into the kingdom of Heaven.  While many of us will never face such extreme hardship we should pray that we can learn from their example of faith and commitment.

The second group is lot larger, but I fear that its membership numbers are dwindling.  These are the people who suffer small hardships in their daily lives in order to live their Catholic faith.  These hardships include small sacrifices such as not eating meet on Fridays, taking time out for Mass, and fasting.  However, in more extreme cases they risk losing friends, quitting jobs, or moving away because they find themselves in situations that are in direct opposition to their faith.  While I would like to say that giving to charity and praying should always be moments of great comfort and happiness, in reality those can be times of small difficulty and hardship.  Sometimes turning off the television to pray or putting some more money in the collection basket at church are incredible challenges.  After all, those who do not live by any faith do not have these obligations and can watch as much television as they want or spend their money on themselves.  But we should pray that we live the truth of Jesus Christ always despite the perceived hardships it puts on us.  We must remain strong to His message despite the increasing volume of society’s message that faith in God is not important and is just silly superstition.

I fear this last group grows by leaps and bounds daily.  These are the people who suffer because they have lost their faith.  They suffer because they make bad decisions that, while marketed as making life better, actually make their lives worse.  Sure, many of them have nice homes, plenty of money, and fancy clothes.  While they laugh at the rules and regulations of organized religion and seem to be perfectly content with life, they are often the most unhappy.  Basically, the message of a better world to come is drowned out by the message of “do whatever you want whenever you want.”  You only have to look at their faces or hear the anger or despair in their voices to know that their lifestyle has only brought them nothing but anguish and misery.  And because sometimes our pride is greater than our faith, we do not admit that our decisions are wrong, ask Jesus for forgiveness, and try to find the correct path of His truth.  For obvious reasons, these people need the most prayers.  Let us pray that they find the courage towards taking that first step in reconnecting to their faith and filling that void with Jesus’ love instead of easy choices and material possessions.

Let us remember that life involves suffering in some way or another.  Jesus did not come into this world to eliminate suffering as seen in His own suffering through His scourging.  We should pray that we gather the strength to follow Jesus’ example whether that means enduring life’s small hardships of living the faith or reconnecting with the Church after following a more worldly path.  Remember, we do not suffer alone but are called to a life where we share these burdens together along with Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, and the saints and angels.  Have no fear; you have a great support group!

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Rosary Meditation: The First Sorrowful Mystery

This rosary meditation reflects on the First Sorrowful Mystery — The Agony in the Garden.  Before Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, He prayed in a garden for strength.  First, He prayed that God would let this horrible ordeal pass over Him.  He later found his apostles asleep after he asked them to pray with Him.  Finally, Jesus said that He would do God’s will despite any fears He had.

This mystery revolves around prayer as well as the lack of it.  First we see Jesus facing His certain death.  But what does He do in that situation?  Does He run and hide?  Does He ask the apostles to fight and protect Him?  Does he complain endlessly and ask, “why me?”  No, instead He prays and prays earnestly.  Jesus prays so hard that He starts sweating blood.  That make me wonder, have I every prayed so hard for anything in my life?  When I face large challenges, do I first turn to prayer and ask God for strength and guidance or do I try to figure out some way to avoid them?  Or do I just throw out a quick “God, help me!” without much effort or faith that God will actually do anything.

This rosary mystery really forces us to focus on the quality of our prayers.  Ask yourself, do you earnestly lay your soul before God in prayer or do you just go through the words and motions?  I know from my experience that when I pray I am often thinking of other things.  I’m thinking about work, a television show or movie, finances, something someone said, or politics.  When we pray are we like Jesus laying ourselves out before God or are we like the apostles — physically there but spiritually asleep?

We also see the dichotomy of Jesus being both fully human and fully God.  He shows us very human emotions such as the fear of being tortured and killed and disappointment upon discovering His apostles sleeping instead of praying.  He pleads with God that this terrible fate not befall Him.  Fear and desperation are not exactly traits we associate with God but ones we use to describe ourselves.  And there lies the reason why we see Jesus in this very human state.  If we saw the fully divine Jesus go to His death, fully at peace because He knew about His ultimate resurrection and redemption, we would not be able to relate to Him much less imitate Him.  Seeing Jesus scared reminds us that being scared is a normal human response when facing monumental obstacles and challenges in our lives.  However, Jesus shows us that we cannot let those emotions impede us from doing God’s will.  We truly follow in Jesus’ footsteps when we imitate His ways despite our human fears and doubts that make us want to do otherwise.

Jesus’ experience in the garden mirrors the apostles’ experience in the Third Glorious Mystery – The Decent of the Holy Spirit.  The apostles were scared of the fate that might befall them but God gave them strength and guidance through the Holy Spirit.  Their worldly circumstances did not change and they still faced some rather monumental challenges.  Similarly, God did not change the world so that Jesus could escape crucifixion.  God knew, as Jesus did, that ultimate salvation could only be found at the cross.  We should remember that the reason God does not remove obstacles and challenges in our lives is so that we can grow closer to Him and become better people by enduring those challenges.  In other words, God shows His might, not by removing obstacles, but by giving us the strength to overcome them.

What can we do to put this mystery into practice?  For starters, let us try to pray earnestly with our whole heart, mind, and soul.  Our relationship with God is something too important for Him to occupy our thoughts alongside the latest episode of “American Idol”, a funny joke, or where the stock market is currently trading.  Wherever we are in our prayer life I know we can all probably step up our intensity.  That might mean trying to concentrate harder when praying the rosary, taking time out to say grace before a meal, or really focusing on prayers during Mass.  Perhaps we can take the time to go to Adoration and really focus and building a stronger relationship with God.  We should also pray for those who are feeling scared and trapped by life’s obstacles.  Whether they know it or not, they follow in Jesus’ footsteps and God will give them strength and guidance just as He gave those gifts to Jesus in that lonely garden.

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