Beating Temptations During Lent

Fasting and sacrifice, the hallmarks of Lent. These are often hard to follow particularly because of the focus given to them. It’s like when someone says “don’t look down!” You have this reflex to immediately want to look down. And when Jesus asks you to “go without,” the first thing you crave is whatever you gave up for Lent. I love donuts, but I don’t eat them all the time. Normally, not having one for a few weeks is no big deal. But when I give them up for Lent, I feel like all I see driving through town are donut shops.

Wild Beasts

Our 40 days of Lent mirror Jesus’ 40 days in the desert when he prepared himself for his ministry. As Fr. Nnamdi Moneme summarizes on Catholic Exchange:

“He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” Satan pressured Him to turn stones to bread, jump down from the temple and worship him. Jesus neither fled from the “wild beasts” in the desert nor yield to the tempter; but He resisted till His Father acted and sent Him ministering angels, “He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to Him.”

Mark 1:13

We are among “wild beasts” in our lives as well. But those wild beasts are the temptation to sin or break our Lenten observance. And sadly, I’ve fallen to these wild beasts more than once in my life. Many years ago, I would give up a dozen things for Lent knowing full well I would break most of them. I would then claim victory because I kept one or two of them by the time Easter came about. I told myself those were the ones I meant to keep all along. Clever right? It was Lent by process of elimination which defeats the point. It’s like telling people that you fasted for an hour; it’s a really low bar.

Satan’s Hunting Season

Unfortunately, when we resolve to fast and sacrifice during Lent, Satan doubles his efforts to make us fall. Fr. Moneme goes on to say:

In our temptations, we are pressured by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh to act immediately to meet what we consider our pressing needs. We are pressured to act so that we do not “miss out” on some advantage or benefit, even if we cannot exactly describe what exactly we are missing out on.

It’s not like I’ll never have another donut or glass of wine again. It’s just 40 days. But Satan or our hunger has a way of overpowering that logic and creates a pressing need. Satan knows that we made a promise to God which makes the fall and our discouragement all the greater. For Satan, Lent must be a great “hunting season” since he knows the added burdens the faithful place on themselves.

What are we to do? Again, let’s look at Fr. Moneme’s advice:

We can start by choosing to do the will of God at the present moment while we postpone our thinking about the temptation. We can say, “Today, I want to do the will of God for me. Tomorrow I can think about this temptation.” We can constantly and consistently postpone thinking about the temptation by repeatedly saying day after day, “Tomorrow I can think about it. For now, I want to do the will of God.”

Keeping Satan on Hold

It’s like we’re scam-baiting Satan. Scam-baiting means keeping a scam phone call going for as long as possible so you tie up the scammer’s time. While he’s wasting his time talking to you, he isn’t scamming a more susceptible victim. We can tell Satan, “maybe tomorrow.” And when we do that day after day, a few things happen. First, we build up strength knowing that we can resist temptation. Second, with God’s help, we start to realize that pressing urge really isn’t that important. Third, Satan will realize his efforts aren’t working and will go look for easier prey.

And what RosaryMeds post would be complete without talking about the Rosary? Given the length of praying the typical five decades (about 20 minutes), it’s a good amount of time to ride out whatever craving or temptation you have. I’ve said in the past when you are earnestly praying the Rosary, you can’t be sinning at the same time. When you feel tempted, take your beads out of your pocket (because naturally, you have them with you at all times) and start praying. Think of Rosary prayer as your spiritual “break in case of emergency” box. Mary will help you through it.

How to Start the Day Off Right

I’m always looking for more motivation to pray, especially as we enter the season of Lent. But too often we see prayer as drudgery and something we feel obligated to do. When we view prayer in this light, we don’t really gain anything from it. Instead of drudgery, Pope Francis wants us to see prayer as energizing, restorative, and joyful. It should be the way we all start our day.

Prayer transforms a person’s day “into grace, or better, it transforms us: it appeases anger, sustains love, multiplies joy, instills the strength to forgive,” the pope said Feb. 10 during his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis (as reported in the Catholic San Francisco)

I try to make the Rosary the first thing I do in the morning when I wake up. Okay, in all honesty, it’s the first thing I do when I’m half-awake. The Rosary has become my spiritual snooze button. I pray the first few decades in bed after my alarm rings but before I actually start my morning routine. Instead of lying in bed thinking about how I don’t want to get up, the Rosary helps build up my resolve to start the day on a positive note.

Praying for Those Who are Unhappy

“Those people who always are judging others have an awful life; they are always condemning, judging,” he said. “It’s a sad, unhappy life. Jesus came to save us. Open your heart, forgive, excuse the others, understand them, be close to them, have compassion and tenderness, like Jesus.”

Pope Francis

We all know these people; they are on Facebook and Twitter always voicing their outrage de jour. Their day is terrible because of what some politician did or what some celebrity said. The fact that someone may see the world differently is abhorrent to them because they don’t understand how anyone can go through their day not in a similar state of misery. And while I prefer not to engage with these people over social media, we should pray for them and for us as well.

Think of the Second Luminous Mystery, the miracle at Cana. We live in a world of miracles and yet so often, we refuse to see them. We focus so much on the 24/7 news cycle that we fail to appreciate the people in our lives whether they be our spouse, friends, or family. Or we fail to see our boredom or routine as opportunities to build our relationship with God. The wedding at Cana was a disaster when the wine ran out but it turned into an opportunity for Jesus to show himself to those present. And so, maybe we should think of the disasters in our life as opportunities for Jesus to work miracles within us.

Our lifestyles have made it easier to have less meaning and to feel in a constant state of despair. Pope Francis tells us that it doesn’t need to be the case. Starting prayer early and often can help pull us and others out of despair and provide a sense of hope. Because when we pray, we acknowledge God in our life. And when see God in our lives and He becomes the purpose of our day, we may find that we have the ability to make it through any challenge.

“When we are accompanied by the Lord, we feel more courageous, freer and also happier,” he said. “So, let’s pray always and for everyone, even our enemies. This is what Jesus advised us, ‘Pray for your enemies.'”

Pope Francis

My Books are Now Free!

Because I’ve been less than thrilled by Amazon’s recent decisions to help block the free exchange of ideas and information, I’m pulling my books from its Kindle platform. The good news is that you can download PDF versions directly from the RosaryMeds website for free. Download them, convert them to whatever format you want, print them out, and share them with whoever you want. If you want print editions, you’ll still be able to purchase them on Amazon for now until I find a different printer. After all, I don’t have a printing press sitting in my house.

  • The Rosary for the Rest of Us: PDF
  • The Rosary Prayer Guide for the Rest of Us: PDF

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What the Rosary Teaches us about Preparation

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus told the parable about the wedding guests and how one was thrown out because he wasn’t wearing appropriate attire.

But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. 
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’

For a long time, this part of the parable troubled me. I always felt bad for the guest who showed up only to be tossed out for not wearing the appropriate attire. Here was a king, desperate to have people attend his wedding banquet after the invited guests turned him down. And so someone, maybe out of a sense of pity, agreed to come only to be humiliated and thrown out. Hadn’t the king ever heard the saying, “beggars can’t be choosers?” What did he expect by going out and inviting random people to his banquet?

Like Jesus’ other parables, this one isn’t supposed to be taken literally. It’s not a lesson on the etiquette of first-century wedding attire. Similar to the parable of the workers in the field, Jesus is using a simile about God and Heaven. Like any comparison, it’s not going to line up exactly. It’s the overall message and lesson being taught that is important, not the details used for illustration.

The point Jesus made in this parable was that God invites everyone to His Heavenly Kingdom. But that doesn’t mean we can act however we want and He has to accept us. Let’s look at this parable from a different point of view. Maybe the person without the garment wasn’t someone who could not afford one and maybe he wasn’t driven by pity to attend the banquet. Maybe he figured that because the king was asking everyone, he wouldn’t care how people came. Maybe, it was out of laziness that this person came to the banquet not attempting to make himself presentable. Basically, he was being what we would call a freeloader — someone looking to score a free meal.

I think that is the point of the parable — God won’t accept freeloaders in Heaven. While He desires all of us to be with Him in Heaven, we have to truly want to be there too. And if we want something, we have to work towards it. We can’t be lazy, selfish, or self-entitled. God made the rules quite clear through the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ teachings. Much like how people are expected to know the proper attire for a wedding banquet, we are expected to know and follow God’s laws for entering Heaven.

Preparation in the Rosary

Think about the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and His Call to Conversion. We can think of conversion as us putting on the proper banquet attire and following proper etiquette. Our conversion is us taking off our worldly desires and sinful behavior so that we can appropriately sit at God’s banquet table in Heaven. We should be so excited about that prospect that we prepare ourselves here in this earthly life.

Praying the Rosary and meditating on the mysteries is about preparation. I forget who said it, but there’s a piece of wisdom that says, “if you don’t prepare for all possible circumstances, you haven’t prepared at all.” Well, death and judgment isn’t just a possible circumstance, it’s a certainty. Maybe the person in the parable without the wedding garment had one, but it was dirty. Or maybe he lost it. Whatever the case, he wasn’t prepared when the king invited him to the banquet. Ask yourself, are you prepared to attend God’s heavenly feast? Or are you still clinging to your worldly garments?

I like to pray for those who are close to death and judgment when I pray the Second Glorious Mystery. Jesus ascended into Heaven to make a place for each of us. He is the king making room at the banquet. However, many are not prepared. I pray for those in danger of being thrown out of the heavenly feast because they came before God not adequately “dressed.” Or some may need to wait a long time in Purgatory before being allowed to sit at God’s table. Pray for everyone close to death, especially those who don’t know it because maybe God will call on them suddenly and without warning. Pray that those who need it most receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and that we all make an effort towards conversion. Let’s all have our Heavenly wedding attire close at hand.

Time to Re-establish my Rosary Routine

I have a confession to make. I haven’t prayed the Rosary regularly this Lent and I’m not off to a good start this Easter either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not abandoning Rosary prayer. I still love it and see the value of praying it every day. However, lately, I only manage to get through a mystery or two every day. In this time when I should increase my prayer, I’m actually praying less. Why?

Like many people, I thought that sheltering in place was going to give me more time to pray, read, and learn. I thought I could finally tackle the growing pile of books and tasks that I normally “didn’t have time for.” But the reality is that I have less time and energy to pray.

Normally, I stopped by my church after dropping my kids off at school to pray the Rosary. But with the kids studying from home and requiring my wife and me to coordinate their lesson plans, I lost my convenient prayer routine. Trying to pray throughout the day is difficult as I’m constantly wrangling kids, work, and home life. By the time I get some “alone time,” I’m so tired that I just want to turn my brain off and watch video clips.

So like the prodigal son, I need to realize that I need to come back “home.” In this case, I need re-establish my prayer routine. It may not be the same or as convenient as my usual routine, but we are living in unusual times. I’m sure many of us find ourselves in a similar situation. Now is the time to double our efforts in prayer.

I know that many of us think that once things get back to normal, we can resume our normal prayer routine. But that’s backward thinking. We actually need to resume our prayers now and ask God to return our world back to normal. Actually, now is a good time to ask God to elevate us to a new normal — one of increased faith and prayer. But we have to ask. As the Gospel tells us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8)

The Tragedy of Having Too Much Stuff

I was listening to the soundtrack to the movie, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, the other day. It isn’t a great movie although it has a terrific score. It’s a telling of the story of Christopher Columbus and his discovery of North America. But I’m not reviewing that movie in this article. Instead, there’s a scene from the movie that I want to explore on how it relates to Jesus’ teachings and the Rosary.

Towards the end of the movie, after the Spaniards established a colony on an island in the Bahamas, a massive tropical storm hits and destroys nearly everything the settlers had built. Their grand church, houses, and other structures lay in ruins. Meanwhile, the natives, having been through such storms in the past, didn’t lose much given the simple structures that they could easily rebuild.

This scene demonstrates that the more stuff we surround ourselves with, the harder it becomes to part with it. The storm was a tragedy for Columbus and the settlers because they had invested so much time, energy, and other resources to bring the comforts they were used to into the new world. But the natives didn’t feel a huge sense of loss because they didn’t have a huge worldly investment for the storm to wipe away.

The Gospels are full of accounts of Jesus warning against the acquisition of worldly goods. He tells the rich man to give all that he has and follow Him (Matthew 19:16-24). He talks about the man who builds bigger barns to store his crops only to die the next day (Luke 12:13-21). Whether it’s the movie 1492 or the Gospel, the message is clear. The more stuff you acquire, the more attached you are to this world and the harder it will be to detach yourself from it. Eventually, it’s not you who owns stuff. Rather, more stuff masters over you. And with all that stuff in your life comes the worries of losing it or the pursuit to acquire more. Where is there room for God’s grace?

Now it’s not like I live a Spartan existence. Like many modern households, I surround myself with television, computers, smartphones, and other things. But I try my best to remember that they are just things. I try to keep the perspective that my life will actually be just as happy and fulfilling if those things went away (and maybe even happier). When I pray, I ask God for the strength to not let my possessions own me. That’s easier said than done, but that’s where daily Rosary prayer comes in.

When I think of detachment from worldly goods, I pray the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion. I remember that Jesus taught us that we should store Heavenly goods, not worldly ones. All the wealth and possessions in the world mean nothing if you don’t leave room for God’s grace. When I do find myself focusing too much on “stuff” I ask God to help convert that worldly focus to a Heavenly one.

Let’s face it, our pursuit of possessions is a form of greed, one of the seven deadly sins. The opposing virtue is charity. When I pray the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation, I think about Mary’s charitable act of helping her cousin, Elizabeth, in her pregnancy although she was pregnant as well. She made the effort to think beyond her needs and desires to help someone else. When we meditate on this Rosary mystery, let’s think about how we can be more charitable in our lives, not only with monetary donations but also with our time and talents. We ask Mary to help us counter our greedy vices with charitable virtues.

Get More from Rosary Prayer by Praying in a Church

While earnest prayer is good no matter the location, praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament is particularly beneficial. But why is that the case? After all, if God is everywhere and hears our prayers, why should we make an extra effort to go into a church and pray or attend Eucharistic adoration? In his book, Transforming Your Life Through the Eucharist, Fr. John Kane explores this great mystery and majesty of the Blessed Sacrament. An excerpt was published on Catholic Exchange titled Why We Pray Before the Blessed Sacrament. A word of warning, this is not a light read. Fr. Kane’s words are dense and packed full of ideas. It would be to your benefit to read this article a few times. You may even want to read a small section and meditate on it.

In the Holy Eucharist, Christ is not only the food of our souls, but also the companion of our exile. The human heart yearns for the sweet consciousness of companionship. The Divine Presence in the tabernacle fully satisfies this natural longing, for God alone can fill the heart.

Christ fulfills His promise of continued companionship by laying hold of this universal law of His own implanting in our nature. In the Blessed Sacrament, through the unmistakable signs of our Lord’s nearness, we experience the most thorough enjoyment of His companionship.

Fr. John Kane

My daily routine involves stopping by a church after dropping my kids off at school in the morning. There, I pray the Rosary, read the daily readings and other prayers. It’s hard to explain, but I feel so much better praying the Rosary in church than at home. I think Fr. Kane nails down why. The Blessed Sacrament is Jesus! Naturally, of course, we will feel more comforted and satisfied praying in Jesus’ presence.

I highly encourage you to take up the practice of making time to pray in a quiet church in front of the tabernacle. It’s a great practice that acts as a prayer multiplier. It helps center your day around Jesus. Honestly, the days when I can’t make it to church to pray are days where I feel a bit “off” because I haven’t grounded myself praying in Jesus’ presence. Give this practice a try and see for yourself how beneficial it is.

Putting the Rosary Ahead of Chitchat Before Mass

When I was in high school, I constantly saw people copying each other’s homework in the morning the day it was due. These typically weren’t the slackers either, but the honors students. They were the ones often overloaded with school work and extracurricular activities. There was this unspoken agreement that if someone could copy a few math problems one day, the other person could get a quick peek whenever he was short a few answers.

No one ever approached me to copy my homework. And it wasn’t because my answers were incorrect. They knew that my answer was going to always be “no.” At times I felt bad telling a friend who was at practice till 6 pm and had three hours of homework that they couldn’t look at my work. It felt unfriendly. But not participating in these cheating rings was the right thing to do.

This brings me to what I witness every Sunday before Mass. I see so many people chatting with each other. And these are regular Mass attendees who should know better. But there’s this idea that Mass doesn’t begin until the organist hits that first key and everyone stands.

Pope Francis tells us we need to resist this temptation to visit before Mass. He said:

“When we go to Mass, maybe we arrive five minutes before, and we start to chitchat with those in front of us,” the Pope said Nov. 15. However, “it is not a moment for chitchat.” “It is a moment of silence for preparing ourselves for dialogue, a time for the heart to collect itself in order to prepare for the encounter with Jesus,” he said, adding that “silence is so important.”

Pope Francis

I think many of us are afraid of coming across as unfriendly if we don’t chat before Mass. We think the person sitting next to us will think we’re snubbing them or are mad at them. But going back to my high school experience, do you know how many people gave me a hard time or put a lot of pressure on me for not letting them copy my schoolwork? No one. Deep down I think they knew I was doing the right thing and that copying someone’s work was wrong. They weren’t going to give me a hard time showing the behavior they wanted to show as well. The same goes for being silent before Mass starts. People understand that silence is correct pre-Mass behavior and won’t take offense if you don’t partake in the chitchat.

Want to provide a clear sign that you’re not going to participate in idle chitchat? Simply put down the kneeler and pray the Rosary. Trust me, no one is going to strike up a conversation with you when they see you on your knees praying the Rosary. And that is the type of preparation Pope Francis wants from us. We are taking the time to converse with Jesus and listen to God.

And what if you are the sort of person who likes to chat before Mass? In this season of Advent, I suggest trying to break that habit. Get on your knees and pray the Rosary too. Advent is a time of preparation and making room for God in our hearts. And that is exactly what we do when we pray the Rosary.

I love coming into a quiet church and praying. There is something so motivating walking into a crowded church and yet it is whisper quiet with pews filled with people praying. It makes me want to pray. And you know what? I usually find plenty of time for chitchat after Mass, outside the church. It’s a matter of priority. Your dialogue with God needs to come before the chitchat with your friends.

Breaking Out of The Routine Through Prayer

Someone I know has a son who has some issues interacting with others. It’s nothing serious but he does sometimes live in his own little world and doesn’t respond well to directions. One morning when she was at her wit’s end, this mom decided the two of them would go to a church to pray. It’s something they don’t usually do. But she thought it would be a great idea to “break out of the routine and try something different.”

There were a few things that I liked about this story. First, I thought the notion of going to church and praying to break out of the routine was a fascinating idea. It reminded me how we so often go through our day without including God. We encounter challenges, experience triumphs, and have many things to be thankful for. And yet, instead of including Him in our day, God is an afterthought. Many of our routines do no include God which is a shame. How many of our challenges could He help us with if we only asked? How much better would our days be if we included God in the routine?

I also liked the idea that when times were tough for this parent, instead of running away from God, she ran towards Him. She didn’t blame God but instead asked for His help in prayer. I’m sure there were some moments of asking “why?” But she approached God as a source of help, not someone who many of us wrongly see as the source of our hardships. The world brings about hardship. God brings comfort in that hardship.

When I pray the Rosary and think about how we must break out of any worldly routines, I meditate on the First Joyful Mystery. I don’t think any of us can say that Mary’s life was routine after the Annunciation. Everything changed both for her and for us. Mary’s “yes” to God changed her life. I think we need to also say “yes” to God so that He may change our lives. While it’s true that God will be with us through our lives whether we ask Him to or not, it helps immensely when we are receptive towards Him. We have to break out of our routine of work, hobbies, housework, etc. and remember to include God in our lives. And this is best achieved in the stillness and quietness of prayer.

We also can’t run away or blame God for the hardships in our lives. Jesus didn’t blame God for His Passion and Crucifixion. Instead, Jesus asked for God’s help through prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. He knew that God was asking a lot from Him. And sometimes God asks a lot from us. But God doesn’t abandon us. He will help us if we have the awareness to ask for His help.

Life isn’t easy. But we make it much more difficult when we try to tackle life’s challenges on our own. God is always there ready to help us. All we need to do is take a break from our busy routines and talk to Him in prayer.

Catholicism: Benefits Outweigh the Burdens

I came across this article about how priests are held to higher moral standards than a layperson. Because a priest is Jesus’ representative here on Earth via his vocation, he needs to be held to a higher standard. But I want to take this one step further. Are Catholics in general held to a higher moral standard than a secular person? Doesn’t that seem unfair? Why would someone want to practice a faith that adds more burdens to his life?

The Catholic Exchange article, The Holiness of Priests Makes the Entire Church Holy, talks about how priests are in persona Christi—in the person of Christ. This grants them great power. But to quote Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. A priest must be that much more devout because he’s a greater target for Satan and he’s responsible for the sins of his congregation.

St. Anthony Mary Claret said it would be better to leave a town without a priest than to have one who is unworthy. “If God does not send me men who are truly called, God himself will have to take care of the men and souls by means of his angels. A call is God’s gift. I must not bring the unworthy into the sheepfold to destroy it instead of tending it.”

When we pray the First Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, remember to pray for priests. We promise to follow God when we’re baptized. But priests have a responsibility to guide us in our journey. They have an awesome responsibility to lead us in the right direction by teaching God’s Truth. A priest that doesn’t take that duty seriously or abuses his position not only harms himself but harms those he leads astray. Priests need our support and prayers.

What about laypeople? Do we also have more of a burden of holiness than a secular person? After all, we skip Sunday Mass and we’ve committed a sin. But someone of a different religion is not committing a sin when they don’t go to Mass if they were never taught that rule. Other religions can essentially follow God’s natural law while Catholics have to follow all these other additional rules. Doesn’t that seem a bit unfair?

This question over Church rules relates to my previous article about the “Nones” who reject traditional spiritually because they just see it as a collection of rules, burdens, and responsibilities. Why follow a religion that tells you that everything you want to do is wrong? Isn’t it better to find a religion (or create your own) that doesn’t punish someone for being who he wants to be?

What the Nones miss, either when talking about the additional responsibilities of a priestly vocation or being a practicing Catholic, are the tremendous benefits of Christianity. God bestows His grace on you. He lays out a path for you to eventually spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Everything about God is about finding joy. And that’s something that magic crystals, breathing exercises, and new-age spiritualism can’t match.

To find joy in any relationship, you have to follow some rules. You can’t have a meaningful relationship with a spouse if you’re selfish, uncaring, manipulative, or abusive. You have to put forth the effort to make the relationship flourish even if that means taking on some additional responsibilities. And the same goes for Catholicism. To have a meaningful relationship with God, you have to make an effort to make the relationship work. And that means committing yourself to follow God’s laws and understanding how they lead to eternal happiness.

When you pray the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, remember that Jesus proclaimed God’s kingdom of Heaven. Finding joy in Heaven should be our main goal in life. We acknowledge that it will have its burdens and challenges but we ask our Heavenly Mother Mary for guidance and intercession. We pray the Rosary so that we may see how God’s grace is well worth any sacrifices we make or burdens we bare.

When you pray the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, remember that even Jesus was scared of doing God’s Will. He asked God to change the plan. But Jesus also understood that God’s plan would ultimately lead to joy, not just for Jesus in conquering death, but for all humanity. We have been redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice and the gates of Heaven are open to us all. Jesus shows us how we must focus on God’s Will and not become discouraged by the relatively small burdens it places on us.