Why You Need Contemplative Prayer Right Now

With only two weeks left before Christmas, many of us are feeling that last minute pressure to finish shopping (or start it) and finalize plans.  Did you get the right presents?  Did you forget to send a Christman card to someone important?  Will the package you ordered be delivered on time?  There are so many questions and concerns spinning around in our heads right now.  And that is why it’s the perfect time to stop and engage in some contemplative prayer.

In my recent presentation, I emphasized how the Rosary is a meditative and contemplative prayer.  And this makes sense given its origin — our Mother Mary.  In the Gospel, Mary is a woman of few words.  Instead, she is always listening and observing what Jesus is saying and doing.  In so many instances, the Gospel talks about how she keeps things in her heart.  She is humble and reserved taking the role as God’s servant.  She is the paradigm of contemplative behavior.  And likewise, her gift to us, the Rosary, is modeled after her contemplative nature.

Here are some examples of how you can use contemplative prayer to great effect.  This Advent, in addition to a morning Rosary prayer, I’ve taken up reading from a daily prayer and reflection book.  By front-loading my day with prayer and scripture, I have plenty to think about and meditate on when I find some quiet downtime throughout my day.  Jonathan B. Coe, in his article on Catholic Exchange, calls the combination of scripture and Rosary prayer a “contemplative canvas that renews the mind and facilitates an open-handed generosity in life.”  If your day is a blank canvas, how are you painting it?  And you filling it with holy thoughts and actions fueled by the Gospel and Rosary?

One of the Advent reflections I read stressed the importance of silence and clearing your mind of all the holiday distractions.  Remember, Jesus’ birth wasn’t a grand event in the physical sense.  It was a quiet one that took place in a stable or cave in some small, out of the way village.  And even today, the commercial grandeur of Christmas drowns out the whisper-like presence of Jesus’ birthday.  It is only in the stillness of meditative prayer that we block out the noisy world to truly appreciate the heart of Christmas.

Lastly, I recently finished reading a biography on Saint Dominic, through whom Mary gave the world the Rosary.  He traveled throughout Europe in his life.  And wherever he went, when he had free time, he visited a church or cathedral and prayed.  That routine of filling part of the day in contemplative prayer can be said of any number of saints.  God desires all of us to saintlike behavior as that is the quickest means to internal happiness in His kingdom.  And so, maybe we should take a cue from the saints and also fill some of our lives with meditative prayer.  For example, after I drop off my son at school, I stop by the church to sit quietly and pray.  Maybe you can find time to attend Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Try attending a weekday Mass or just sit quietly in a Church for a few minutes.  Or maybe, just lay still in bed when you wake up and spend a few minutes in prayer before starting your day.

Think about Mary’s contemplative behavior in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.  When the shepherds came to Jesus talking about angels announcing His birth, Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19).  Upon finding Jesus in the temple and hearing Him say that he needed to be in His Father’s house, she treasured all these things in her heart (Luke 2:51).  Are you talking regularly with God through prayer and treasuring His response in your heart?

Don’t Lose Your Moral Bearings in the Darkness

Imagine you’re a pilot flying alone on a completely dark night with no instrumentation.  Envision how hard it would be to know your altitude, your level, and whether or not you’re about to crash into something.  In total darkness, with no visibility and landmarks for reference, there is a good chance the airplane will crash and burn.

Keep that airplane analogy in mind as you read this article about the Glamor of Evil by Dr. Gregory Popcak.  We all know about how we should avoid committing sin. That’s Catholicism 101; easy stuff. But you can also be seduced by sin without actively participating in it.  He writes:

Evil is glamorous, not only in the sense that it can be hard to resist being drawn into it, but also in the sense that it can be hard to look away from it. If you aren’t careful, it’s tremendously easy to stare at it, and stare at it, and stare at it, until you can’t see anything else. Until everything good, and godly, and righteous, and beautiful has been drained from view, and all that is left is outrage, and anger, and indignation, and disgust.

Like the pilot alone in the dark, when we fixate on all the evil, darkness, and problems in this world we lose our moral bearings.  We can become disoriented in the darkness and start to lose hope, joy, and our faith.  We can no longer see the differences between good and evil because we’ve lost our spirital point of reference.  Our actions no longer seem to matter because we don’t see any goal or point to them.  Does it really matter what I do if everything is falling apart around me?

Being lost and aimless doesn’t usually end well.

Dr. Popcak tells us that we can’t let negative thinking completely envelop us.  Our faith and relationship with Jesus Christ should act like a shining beacon, even in our darkest hours.  The beauty and goodness of our faith can provide all the guidance we need to find strength, peace, and maybe even happiness, even when our world looks nonredeemable.

When Good Things Turn Us Bad

I’m going to go one step further. It’s not just evil that can completely block us from whatever is good and godly. Neutral activities can also do the same. Consider social media and the 24/7 cable news cycle. On their own, there’s nothing sinful about them.  They allow us to stay updated on recent events and connect with each other. But for many of us, these seemingly harmless pastimes can consume 100% of our attention leaving room for nothing else. And when your world is completely consumed by Twitter, Facebook, Fox News, and MSNBC, you can stop seeing the genuine good in the world. You will either see a carefully curated goodness that isn’t real or you will just see everything as bad and hopeless and fall into despair.

As we enter the season of Advent and Christmas, it’s important to not allow ouselves to fixate on what is ultimately unimportant. I know we want to buy presents, decorate our homes, and participate in all the other traditions associated with Christmas. But we can’t let the commercial side of Christmas blind us to the true meaning behind it. Because when you obsess over what to buy and what you want to receive, you leave yourself open to the sins of greed, envy, and even wrath. Want an example?  Look no further than the annual chaos around Black Friday and how people lose their moral bearings fighting over TVs and toasters.

The Rosary Connection

Look at the Fourth Luminous Mystery, The Transfiguration.  I’m talking about darkness and the light in this article.  Well, in this mystery you see Jesus’ clothes literally become dazzling white (Mark 9:3).  And that, of course, got the apostles’ attention.  When you meditate on this Rosary mystery, ask yourself, is Jesus a dazzling beacon of love, hope, and goodness in your life?  Does He shine brighter through the darkness keeping you morally oriented toward His teachings?  If not, maybe you need to turn around or take off your blindfold.  Jesus is always present in our lives.  If you don’t see that “light” in the darkness, ask Mary for guidance when you pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery, Her Assumption.  She wants nothing more than to guide you through the darkness to Her son.

Also, when you pray the Third Joyful Mystery, think of the wise men traveling through the desert to pay homage to Jesus.  They would have been wondering around aimlessly and hopelessly if it weren’t for a star to guide them.  Again, you have a point of light, a referrence point, which guided the three wise men to Jesus. Are you following the signs in your life which lead you to Jesus?

Honor Mary for What She Does, Not Just Who She Is

We just finished Mary’s month of May.  I hope it was a spiritually fruitful month for you.  I want to talk about the Catholic devotion to Mary and how that connects to rosary prayer.  This would have been a better article to publish at the start of May rather than in June so I apologize for the untimeliness.

Mary, Queen of Heaven
Mary, Queen of Heaven (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Catholic Exchange did a great job of distinguishing the devotion we give to God (latria), what we give to the saints (dulia), and what we give to Mary (hyperdulia).

Latria basically means adoration. Traditionally, it refers to the worship and homage that we give to God and God alone.

Now, Catholics believe that we should not only honor those who excel in the things of this world, but that we should also honor those who excel in the things of the spiritual world (for example, in their devotion to God, their obedience to his will, and their charity to others). That’s why we honor the saints — men and women who, during their earthly life, excelled in their pursuit of holiness. Honoring the saints does not detract from God any more than honoring athletes does. In fact, when we honor saints, we are honoring God, too, for it is by his gifts, and for his glory, that saints are able to excel in holiness in the first place.

And in recognition of Mary’s pre-eminent holiness, the special recognition we give to Mary is called hyperdulia: the greatest amount of honor we can give to any created person.

When we pray the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, Mary Crowned Queen of Heaven, we acknowledge her deserving hyperdulia devotion.  She was not only exalted in her earthly life by being chosen as the Mother of God, but further exalted in Heaven by being crowned queen.  And this is only fitting given that her son is King of Heaven.

We shouldn’t get lost on the honor bestowed on Mary by both God and humanity.  We may think that God singling someone out, like he did Mary, would be like winning an award.  Some of us may picture it like receiving a certificate you can frame and hang on the wall to show off to your friends that you have God’s seal of approval.  But honoring Mary because God honors her misses an important fact.  We don’t honor Mary solely because something passively happened to her but we also honor her active response to God’s plan.

English: Diploma
If only we could have something so concrete to know if we’re in God’s Grace. Oh wait, there is! It’s called CONFESSION.

God singling out Mary for that very special role came at a price.  But because of her faith, it was a price Mary was more than willing to pay.  It’s not like Mary could lead a normal life after the Annunciation.  She led a life of perfect obedience to God’s plan even if that meant not understanding her son’s ways and eventually watching him die on the cross.

Mary lived a life of perpetual virtue which couldn’t have been easy.  While she was immaculately conceived and free from original sin, she was not divine like Jesus.  So living a life of perfect obedience and virtue had to have been challenging for Mary who possessed but overcame all the weaknesses inherent in being human.

When we pray the Fifth Glorious Mystery, we should ask our Queen Mother for the strength to imitate her and live in obedience to God’s will.  When we give her hyperdulia devotion we should stand in awe of what she was able to do with her life and what we can do with her help and an active effort from us.  Praise Mary, not just because of her status in Heaven, but also because of the effort she put forth in her earthly life as a model of what God asks of all us.