Advent — 60 Things to Remember

This year Advent feels like it is one week longer. In the past week I’ve gone to a 50th wedding anniversary, a wedding, and had a great time with my wife’s family for Thanksgiving. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to friends and family at the various events. At the anniversary, my cousin and I talked about prayer and the rosary. We touched on many ideas and I can’t go into detail on all of them in this post (but I will probably bring them up in the future). However, there was one rosary prayer of her’s that I found particularly interesting that seemed relevant to Advent and preparing our souls for the Lord.

Advent wreath, Frist Advent Sunday
Image via Wikipedia

Welcome to the wonderful season of Advent!  My wife and I were so happy about the start of this blessed season that we tore into our closet, took out all our Christmas supplies, and got busy decorating.  I hope that everyone feels energized and excited about the best four weeks of the year.

This year Advent feels like it is one week longer.  In the past week I’ve gone to a 50th wedding anniversary, a wedding, and had a great time with my wife’s family for Thanksgiving.  I’ve spent a lot of time talking to friends and family at the various events.  At the anniversary, my cousin and I talked about prayer and the rosary.  We touched on many ideas and I can’t go into detail on all of them in this post (but I will probably bring them up in the future).  However, there was one rosary prayer of her’s that I found particularly interesting that seemed relevant to Advent and preparing our souls for the Lord.

The prayer is simple.  On each bead of the rosary you remember someone who needs prayers, something you are thankful for, something you are sorry for, or any other situation that you feel needs remembering.  You don’t need to say a long prayer on each bead.  Just saying someone’s name will suffice.  So that is sixty thoughts total (counting the small beads at the start and the crucifix).  The point is to just think about people and situations so that they go to the front of your mind, heart, and hopefully your actions.  I think this helps prevent us from making our prayers too general.  When we say someone’s name, we attach a face and a real soul to our prayers.  It gives our prayers, sacrifices, and offerings a real, human dimension that we sometimes miss when we just pray generally.

What do you think is more effective?  Saying, “Lord please help those in need” or, “Lord, please look over my aunt during her surgery?”  Now, God knows everyone’s needs whether we voice them our not.  But we don’t need to be specific for God’s sake, but for ours.  Suppose you really do have a family member going in for surgery.  Perhaps actually thinking and voicing his/her name will remind you to give that person a phone call or visit in the hospital.  Or maybe you can fast specifically for that person.  In other words, by thinking of specific people you focus your prayers and spiritual energy towards their specific needs.

Sounds easy?  That’s what I thought until I gave it a try.  Sure, the first twenty or thirty beads are simple enough since I can rattle off friends and family members.  However, I found it quite challenging to think of sixty people and circumstances that are in need of prayer.  That is a little disappointing considering the millions of things to be thankful for, people to pray for, and sins to feel genuine remorse for.  So that will be my challenge for this Advent — to say my sixty small prayers after praying the rosary so that I may remember the needs of those for whom I haven’t prayed enough.  In doing so, in making room for others in my prayers, I will also be making room for Jesus when Christmas arrives.

Give this a try and let me know what you think.  Have a great Advent!

Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing

The rosary has the ability to heal and mend what is broken in our lives. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, on Catholic Online, discusses how praying the rosary brings us inner peace by replacing all that is earthly with what is heavenly.

Blessed Virgin Mary - Mother of God
Image by Ted Abbott via Flickr

The rosary has the ability to heal and mend what is broken in our lives.  Fr. Dwight Longenecker, on Catholic Online, discusses how praying the rosary brings us inner peace by replacing all that is earthly in our life with what is heavenly.

From the article:

In a mysterious way Christ’s perfect life and the perfect love he shared with his mother, flow into the wounded places in our lives. This grace empowers us to return to the confessional with a clearer vision. It helps us to be open to the healing Christ brings through the Eucharist, and it gives us the strength to continue the daily hard work of being transformed into Christ’s image.

I really like this idea of replacing our “wounded places” with Christ’s love.  It goes hand-in-hand with many of the message from Mary at Medjugorje when she asks us to clean out all that prevents us from fully accepting God’s graces.

The article also discusses how our lives mimic the values and themes seen in each mystery of the rosary:

Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae writes, “The rosary marks the rhythm of human life, bringing it into harmony with the rhythm of God’s own life.”

Pope John Paul II said that we can reflect on all the joys, sorrows, and challenges in our lives by looking at the ones shown in the mysteries of the rosary.  Over time, through rosary prayer, our ways begin to mimic Jesus’ ways revealed in those mysteries.  For example, we see Jesus taking up the cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  We know that Jesus fell down repeatedly and yet He always got back up and continued on.  We can learn that we all have our “crosses” in life and at times we might fall (either by sin or just lacking faith and spiritual energy).  However, to imitate Jesus we must get up and continue working towards His kingdom.

The next time we pray the rosary, let us ask ourselves what each mystery reveals about our own lives.  Are we imitating what Jesus did in those mysteries or are we ignoring His teachings and example?

The Pope Asks for Meditations on Persecuted Christians

One of my previous rosary meditations was on The Second Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus’ Scourging. I discussed how I see suffering broken down into different groups; one of them being actively-persecuted Christians. Pope Benedict XVI also calls us to mediate on the persecuted Christians in our world. We are called to not only pray for them, but to really contemplate deeply how their experiences mirror the Passion of Jesus Christ. This article discusses how the strength and faith of persecuted Catholics around the world shows us the power of the Holy Spirit that is in all of us.

BookOne of my previous rosary meditations was on The Second Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus’ Scourging.  I discussed how I see suffering broken down into different groups; one of them being actively-persecuted Christians.  Pope Benedict XVI also calls us to meditate on the persecuted Christians in our world.  We are called to not only pray for them, but to really contemplate deeply how their experiences mirror the Passion of Jesus Christ.  This article discusses how the strength and faith of persecuted Catholics around the world shows us the power of the Holy Spirit that is in all of us.

I think it is very easy for people in the Western world, the United States in particular, to overlook that many Christians around the world are persecuted in their countries.  Many of us tend to see persecution as something from a previous era.  The first image that comes to my mind is one of people being fed to lions in an arena while a Roman emperor watches.  Not exactly a modern example now, is it?  Perhaps we may not want to think about persecution and instead focus on happier topics such as our Lord’s resurrection.  Many of us also have no idea what real persecution and suffering is.  For those of us living in relative safety, persecution means receiving an odd look or a condescending comment if you tell someone you are a practicing Catholic.  I personally have a hard time praying for the needs of people around the world who actually face the same threats and challenges as early Christians.  And unfortunately, because I do not actively suffer for my faith, those who do are quickly forgotten during the course of my day.  Sure, I may think about them momentarily during a small prayer, but sometimes their problems just seem too big and it is far easier for me to retreat to Facebook or television.

We cannot turn a blind eye to those who actively suffer because of their faith.  Of course we must keep them in our prayers and help them any way possible (probably by supporting a charitable, relief organization) to relieve or eliminate their suffering.  Charity is always a great way to put our faith into practice.  But we also must remember the persecuted because they are a very real example of following Christ’s path.  Their suffering and faith reminds us just how real and relevant Jesus’ teachings in our lives.  Through their faith in Jesus Christ these people have the strength to overcome their hardships.  By meditating and praying for the persecuted we not only give them the hope and power to overcome their terrible situation, but we also prepare ourselves for the difficult moments in our lives.  If the persecuted Catholics in places like China, India, and the Sudan can find the strength to practice their faith then that should be a sign that ALL of us have that same strength.  The persecuted are evidence that the God did not only come into this world thousands of years ago and then left us to fend for ourselves.  Their perseverance shows that God has always been with us through the very real prescience of the Holy Spirit to give us the guidance and strength to overcome any obstacle this world has to offer.

Let us pray for those who live out the Second Sorrowful Mystery every day.  While we may never know their suffering, they are proof on how strong our faith in God can be.  Let us pray that we let the Holy Spirit penetrate our hearts and minds and guide us through whatever hard times we may encounter.  We know that the world can be a cruel and difficult place, but at the same time we have faith that God will see us through it.  While some events do not go as we wish, let us pray that we truly have faith that God has a plan for all of us that lead us into His Heavenly kingdom.  While it is easy to say that we have faith in God’s divine plan when everything goes smoothly, the real test is to trust in God when life turns difficult.  But if the faith of the persecuted Christians is any indication, we know we can endure whatever challenges the world may bring.

It’s always a good time to visit and shop in the RosaryMeds Store.

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!

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.

Rosary Meditation: The Third Joyful Mystery

Today’s rosary meditation is the Third Joyful Mystery — The Nativity.  We reflect and pray on Jesus’ humble birth in a stable.  This is an important mystery to focus on, not just during the Christmas season, but throughout the year.  The nature of Jesus’ birth sets the stage for how He lived His life and provides a foundation for His teachings.  The Nativity provides us a clear picture on how Jesus calls us to live.

When I think of this mystery the first word that comes to my mind is “humility.”  Jesus came into this world in the humblest of surroundings.  Hundreds of miles away from Rome, the seat of power in this world, the true king of kings was born.  He was born without money, riches, or any earthly power.  He was born surrounded by peasant shepherds, not a royal court.  This humble birth was no accident as it showed from the very beginning that Jesus’ ways were not the world’s ways.  His mission was not one of earthly conquest and accumulation of power nor was it to bring the Jews out of the submission of the Romans.  Instead, He showed us the living a humble and meek life was His way and the only path to His Heavenly kingdom.

I think Jesus’ humble birth contrasts nicely with another word usually associated with Christmas — “trappings.”  The dictionary defines that word as “outward decoration or dress; ornamental equipment.”  I see the trappings of Christmas all over in the amount of money spent on presents, decorations, clothes, and food.  But it’s not only Christmas were we seem to put a premium on the trappings of life.  Many of us tend to focus all year long on living in a nice home, driving a fancy car, and having that dream job.  While none of that is bad in itself, when we start to put the comforts of this world above the rewards of the next we move away from how Jesus lived His life and how He calls us to live ours.  The trappings of this life literally trap us into living only for this world which amount to absolutely nothing in Jesus’ Heavenly kingdom.

So let us pray that we have the strength to live as Jesus did — humbling and meekly.  Let us pray for the strength to not put our earthly desires ahead of our Heavenly needs.  In the end God will not judge us based on the cars we drive, the value of our stock portfolio, or what position we held at our jobs.  Those are just the trappings of this world, the ornamental decorations, while how well you followed Jesus’ path is the real substance.  Let us meditate and pray this mystery of the rosary that we can embrace Jesus’ ways as manifested in the Nativity.