I know this is a tad late given that the Sunday Gospel reading about the Miracle at Cana was several weeks ago. But the way I see it, we should be visiting this mystery at least once a week when we meditate on it in the Second Luminous Mystery. So any insight, no matter when it is given, should be valuable.
In his homily, my priest made a rather insightful observation about this Rosary mystery. Jesus’ miracle at the wedding at Cana was turning water into wine. In doing so, He saved the hosts from the embarrassment of running out of libations too early in the feast. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus’ first public miracle involved prolonging a celebration? It wasn’t healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, calming seas, or other more life-changing miracles. Essentially, Jesus kept the wine flowing to keep the party going. Jesus’ first miracle was bringing a little more joy into the world.
Joy is really at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. He came into this world so that we may better know God. Through Jesus, God was no longer this distant, impossible-to-understand entity. Rather, he was a human in Jesus. He ate with us, spoke to us, prayed with us, and celebrated with us. Jesus encapsulated all the love, peace, and joy already contained in God but presented it in a way we could understand. It’s no wonder that Jesus’ first miracle was keeping a celebration going because that was exactly why God manifested Himself through Jesus — so that we may continue to celebrate His peace and love. Jesus kept the party at Cana going by turning water into wine. But God kept the joy flowing by manifesting Himself as a human through Jesus Christ.
Remember the miracle at the wedding at Cana the next time you feel burdened by the Church’s “rules.” Remember that the heart of our faith is joy and happiness. Jesus didn’t come to oppress. He didn’t force anyone to love, honor, and celebrate with Him. So why all the rules? The rules help us better receive the joy that Jesus offers. Similar to how guests at a party need to act appropriately for all to enjoy themselves, we need to live in accordance with God’s laws to find the most joy. We can’t be party crashers — ruining the party God invites us to. We don’t want to cut ourselves off from genuine joy and happiness for that momentary yet shallow thrill of acting selfishly.
The next time your pray the Second Luminous Mystery, thank God for giving us the opportunity to embrace the genuine happiness that comes from fully living our Catholic faith.
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?
Many of the religious apps and websites I use provide commentary and meditations on the day’s Gospel reading. And they are great and worth reading. However, I too often skip or race through the readings from the Old and New Testaments usually because I don’t understand them and many sites don’t explain them to the degree they explain the Gospel. This is especially true of the Old Testament readings that often use different prose that can be difficult to parse. I want to try to start focusing more on the non-Gospel readings and tie them to the various mysteries of the Rosary.
The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they broke my covenant,
and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives
how to know the LORD.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.
As you know, the law God gave the Israelites was the stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments. They stored them in the Ark of the Covenant. The Israelites carried the Ark through their wandering in the desert and set up a sacred tent and later a temple to house them. And while sacred, the law was something physically inscribed on stone tablets and regarded as external constraints imposed by a distant God. You see this throughout the Old Testament through the Israelites disobeying God. In fact, by the time Moses came to deliver the 10 Commandments, the Israelites had already broken God’s law by worshiping a golden calf idol. Worshiping the God that brought them out of slavery in Egypt didn’t come naturally to them and they had to be explicitly told to follow God as one of the commandments.
The prophet Jeremiah provides a preview of what is to come through Jesus Christ when he talks about the new law being written in people’s hearts, not on stone tablets. This connects Jesus’ teaching that He came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. Jesus did not invent a new law but reminded everyone of the law that was always there inside of us. And since God’s law is imprinted on our hearts, that makes each of us a sacred ark similar to how the Ark of the Covenant was sacred because it contained the 10 Commandments. That is just one more reason why Catholics consider human life sacred and fight so hard to protect it.
Since God’s law is imprinted on all our hearts, Jesus calls everyone to be His disciple. This means that God’s law transcends religions, nationalities, genders, and customs even if some people don’t know it by the name “Christianity.” This is known as the natural law that God calls everyone to follow. It is the law that theologians and philosophers have teased out over the centuries to arrive at fundamental moral truths that belong to all of us, not a specific group. This law binds us all together and that is why all people are brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Rosary Connection
When we pray the First Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River should remind us of our baptismal vows. These vows are a verbal acknowledgment of the law that God has imprinted on all our hearts and by which we should live. And while this law applies to the baptized and the unbaptized alike, it’s good that we understand them so that we can always try to live by them. When you pray the First Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, I suggest that you recall your baptismal vows and examine your conscience. Are you living up to the promises you made at your baptism and renew periodically during Mass?
Do you renounce sin, so as to live in the freedom of the children of God?
Do you renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over you
Do you renounce Satan, the author and prince of sin?
Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
And may almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us new birth by water and the Holy Spirit and bestowed on us forgiveness of our sins, keep us by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord, for eternal life.
If you are a software developer like me then you probably hear this phrase at least once a week — This is how Google does it. Google, the search engine giant, not only receive accolades for their products but also their development methodology and company culture. They are the gold standard in just about every category of computing. It seems like any study or new theory on workplace happiness or productivity must mention how it stacks up against Google’s workforce.
I was not surprised when I came across this Wired article on how Googlers avoid burnout and secretly boost creativity. Did they discover the perfect work to rest ratio? Did they find the perfect length of time projects should run? Do all Googlers receive a therapy dog upon being hired? It’s actually much simpler. Google teaches its employees how to meditate.
For once, I can take pleasure knowing that I’ve been teaching you, my readers, something that has Google’s seal of approval. I’ve previously discussed how rosary meditation has physical and mental benefits. The science behind the creativity boost is that meditation allows you to switch off conscious thought which is very linear and boost subconscious thinking which taps more areas of the brain to piece together ideas and solutions.
But for once, Google cannot claim founder status on a great idea. The Jews and the Catholic Church have preached the benefits of meditation and prayer from its earliest days. And relatively more recently, Mary gave us the ultimate form of meditation through rosary prayer.
Like many mysteries of the Catholic faith, the rosary is a paradox. It is both restful and regenerative while at the same time focused and exhausting. It’s both relaxing and a workout because it engages the conscious, subconscious, and what I’ll call “other conscious” aspects of our being.
The rosary engages our conscious parts of our brain in that we meditate on specific parts of Jesus’ teachings in the mysteries. We recite, presumably with some focus and concentration, prayers. We are recalling all the trials, sorrows, joys, and thanksgivings in our lives and putting them before Mary for her guidance and intercession. Our brain is actively recalling memories and trying to make connections between our circumstances and what each rosary mystery is trying to teach us.
But in that conscious praying, there is also a lot of subconscious meditation occurring as well. People talk about getting lost in the rosary where they get into a zone or flow making them much more receptive to how God is trying to direct them. It’s not that you are praying on auto-pilot. It’s more that the amount of attention you put on thinking about the mysteries, intentions, and prayers gives way to a more subconscious experience where you can better feel God’s presence.
The subconscious meditation of rosary prayer is a lot like riding a bike. Initially, you are aware of the mechanics of keeping your balance, not falling, and moving forward. But once you get the hang of it, the mechanics of bike riding become automatic. It’s not that the mechanics disappear. They have just become so engrained in your muscle memory that they no longer require conscious focus. The same can be said for rosary meditation. The conscious effort of prayer can give way to the subconscious experience of being with God.
Finally, there is the other conscious experience of rosary meditation. And this is what separates rosary meditation from the mindfulness meditation taught by the Googles of the world and is unique to this Catholic prayer. In no other form of meditation do you have the opportunity to actually ask Mary and the saints for help and guidance and get a response through their intercessions. The rosary is more than just a mental exercise of balancing conscious and subconscious areas of the brain because there is someone actually listening and responding to you. Your rosary meditation doesn’t end at your brain’s gray matter but provides an actual opportunity for God to help shape and guide you. Sorry Google, but the Catholic Church definitely has one-upped you there.
In my previous article, I talked about how we need to make every rosary prayer count by staying focused and engaged instead of just racing through it so that it can be checked off a spiritual to-do list. That naturally leads many people to ask this question, “Should I pray the rosary even when I’m not in the mood?” After all, when you’re sick, do you exercise heavily or get some rest? Is it better to skip rosary prayer if you believe you are just going to say the words on auto-pilot?
About a year ago I gave a lecture titled “Would you pray for a million dollars?” I put forth this theoretical situation. Suppose Pope Francis offered anyone who prayed the rosary every day for a month a million dollars. But you receive nothing if you miss just one day. How high would you prioritize rosary prayer amongst your other daily responsibilities? What would be so important that would cause you to skip a day and lose the big payout?
For most of us, nothing short of the apocalypse would stand in our way of praying the rosary daily for a million dollars (bad example as I’m sure rosary prayer would increase during the Apocalypse). But the kicker is that Mary’s 15 promises to those who pray the rosary are infinitely more valuable than any cash payout. And yet, we so quickly tend to find reasons to avoid praying the rosary and miss out on its benefits.
Back to the original question of this article — should you pray the rosary when you don’t feel like it? Is no rosary better than an unfocused rosary? I think this is actually asking the wrong question. In most cases, it’s not that you don’t feel up to praying the rosary. After all, I bet you would find the time and energy for a cash reward. It’s that we tend to de-prioritize the rosary because we don’t appreciate its value. If we did internalize the importance and benefits of rosary prayer then nothing short of death would keep us from praying it (another bad example since you will be more likely to pray the rosary at the hour of your death).
I don’t want to sound sanctimonious because I certainly have days when I talk myself out of praying the rosary for very weak reasons. We all probably have our moments of weakness that allow Satan to convince us to put away our rosaries and do something else.
Before canceling your rosary prayer for the day, ask yourself whether you prioritized it correctly. Did you put it off all day to a time when you historically don’t focus well? Did you replace rosary prayer with TV or some other leisurely activity? In short, did you set yourself up for failing to pray by not giving it the proper priority in your day? Remember that rosary prayer has incredible benefits that far outweigh any material gain. Don’t casually convince yourself out of praying it regularly for weak reasons and miss out on all God offers you.
When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
In this Gospel passage, John the Baptist makes a distinction between piety and good works. The Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves good people because they followed the Mosaic law to the letter. But John implies in his comparison to a tree not bearing good fruit that just following rules or having a certain status does not lead to salvation. One must follow up with good works, charity, and compassion.
Good works, charity, and compassion were the cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry. He came into this world, not as someone of status and authority, but as a servant who ministered to those people society had excluded. Jesus repeatedly taught that what matters most to God is what someone does, not what their title is. Whether it was teaching the golden rule or telling the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had to charity, Jesus’ ministry centered around instilling the value of good works and sacrifice. Inversely, those who only followed rules and sought status and honor He routinely called hypocrites.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Notice how Jesus is saying that just accepting Him as the Savior is not enough. You have to follow up with action what you proclaim in your words. To put it in more modern terms (but now maybe ridiculously outdated), you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
When you hear and read this Gospel, meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary, The Visitation. Think about Mary in this mystery, someone who recently learned that she was to be the mother to the Massiah. What does she do? Does she flaunt the fact that an angel visited her? Does she go about looking for an elevated stature in the community? No. Instead, she travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth and helps her through her pregnancy although she herself was pregnant. Mary’s initial action after the Annunciation was one of charity.
Also, consider the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary when you reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel. Mary was assumed into Heaven and now acts as our intermediary to her son, Jesus Christ. Even when bestowed the title Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery), she has never stopped actively guiding us through the minefield of life. She protects us from evil, helps those who ask for her assistance, and has continually appeared to many delivering a message similar to John the Baptist in the Gospel — Jesus loves you and wants you close to him, but you must make the effort to love Him through good works, charity, and compassion.
Time for a touchy subject — criticism. Have you noticed how intolerant everyone appears to get at the slightest hint of criticism? I understand that no one enjoys criticism, even constructive criticism. But in the last few years, how society views criticism has changed. Instead of it as something you either accept or ignore, criticising anyone has become tantamount to hate speech that warrants severe repercussions. Just look at some of these headlines about how people react when their views are challenged or someone says something that makes them feel uncomfortable:
What I think is going on is that many people infer that any type of criticism comes from a position of self righteousness or malice. Criticism is interpreted as a passive aggressive way of saying, “I’m better than you.” In today’s world, the greatest act of love and concern appears to be silence and the cardinal sin of secular society is saying or doing anything that might upset someone.
In short, the world of Fahrenheit 451, where books are burned because people may find the ideas in them offensive, has come true. Granted, we do not have firemen raiding homes looking for contraband books. But we do have a culture where people are shouted down and threatened at the slightest implication that someone disagrees with their views or lifestyle.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has this take on criticism and how it is born out of a genuine love for each other. While I encourage you to listen to the two minute audio meditation yourself, the tl;dl version (too long; didn’t listen) is that fraternal correction is a great act of love and mercy. Others often see aspects of us we don’t see ourselves and hence the cycle of continuous and mutual improvement completes us and our relationships with others. He emphasizes that correction must come from a humble heart desiring only what is best for one another, not from thinking of yourself as better than others.
I think Benedict’s statement, that true loving correction does not come from a place of self righteousness, is lost in today’s world. Any attempt to help someone is often immediately dismissed because the person offering the criticism has his own faults and is therefore seen as a hypocrite. It’s the whole, “Oh yeah! Well you’re a …” response. But by that logic, no one can offer advice or help each other because no one is perfect.
I wonder how much unhappiness in the world is born out of people being too afraid to help each other discover the good because doing so may present temporary anxiety or discomfort. If you are on the receiving end of loving criticism, Benedict asks us to consider that not all criticism is malicious but is instead maybe the Holy Spirit working through someone to bring out the best in us.
Turning to the rosary, meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion. Consider this passage taken from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary forces us to consider that Jesus Christ, and by extension His Church, calls us to see those aspects of our lives that are not moving us toward Heaven and to convert. Jesus’ ministry was marked with Him challenging people’s beliefs and wanting them to do better. In the Gospel, Jesus is criticizing the people for thinking that they, and only they, are called to God’s grace. At the idea that there are others in the world deserving of God’s love, the Jews were ready to throw Jesus over a cliff! Of course we shouldn’t forget that Jesus’ teachings so upset the status quo that He was eventually crucified because His truth made many feel uncomfortable or upset.
Ask yourself, how quickly do you make excuses to dismiss God’s plan for you? Or how often do you attack the messenger, who may be acting as an instrument of God’s loving guidance, because you do not like being told that you are doing something wrong or not in accordance with God’s plan? Look, I’m not saying that you should be all smiles and laughter when someone tries to correct your less than perfect ways. And not everyone acts out of love. But we all should ask God in prayer for patience and discernment and not immediately dismiss or attack someone who only wants the best for us.
Despite the wealth of ideas for rosary prayer and meditation, we all hit a prayer block sometimes. Prayer block is like writer’s block when you cannot come up with any good themes to meditate on or intentions. There are plenty of books and websites with rosary meditation ideas (I know two great books off the top of my head… hinthint) and the rosary is a dynamic prayer because we bring new life situations (and hence new intentions and thanksgivings) every time we pray the rosary. And yet, we sometimes hit a rough patch where our rosary prayers turn into mindless repetition.
I’m going to share a tip that you all must start doing now. It will dramatically improve your rosary praying experience. READ THE DAILY BIBLE READINGS BEFORE PRAYING THE ROSARY MYSTERIES. That’s it! How does reading some bible verses improve rosary prayer? I found that, without exception, I always can make a connection between the daily readings and the mysteries I’m praying. And that makes sense. After all, the rosary is rooted in the bible and guides you through the Gospels. The mysteries of the rosary touch on all of the main themes of the Gospel. The great part is, because the readings change every day, you will make different connections with the rosary mysteries each time you practice this. You avoid the dreaded auto-pilot praying mode.
Want to make even more connections between the Gospel and the rosary? Try reading commentary and meditations on the daily readings. Often, those meditations highlight certain truths of the readings that you may otherwise overlook.
Don’t have time to read, why not listen instead? There are plenty of audio recordings and podcasts for daily scriptural reading and meditation. My favorite Android app for listening to the daily Gospel and meditations is Laudate, specifically the Regnum Christi Daily Meditations podcast.
Lent just stared. Give this strategy a try for the next 40 days and see for yourself how much more you get out of your rosary prayer.
God Isn’t Fixing This! (Article title from the New York Daily News)
I do not want to hear one more politician say that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims and their family. For the love of God. Do Something (Facebook post from The Coffee Party USA)
“Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again” (Tweet from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.)
We witnessed something new in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack and that is an attack on people who resort to prayer. It is an almost knee jerk reaction that many people have to offer “thoughts and prayers” in the face of tragedy. Whether it was the terrorist attacks in Paris, Fort Hood, World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, tragedy seems to bring out people’s deep rooted, and often suppressed, spiritual side. And for as long as I can remember, offering your thoughts and prayers was as natural and inoffensive as saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes.
But with the San Bernardino attack, I saw the automatic “thoughts and prayers” sentiment immediately shamed by both the media and politicians. I find it amazing that changing your Facebook profile picture to the Eiffel Tower or the French flag or liking posts is seen as supportive but don’t you dare pray for the victims! As if that wasn’t shocking enough, I was also surprised how quickly that movement got started. To me, it felt like people already had their talking points ready to go and just needed a catalyst to roll it out. Like they say in politics, “never let a crisis go to waste.” And in this case, the San Bernardino tragedy seemed to provide the right setting to attack the idea of finding comfort through faith and spirituality.
When you look at the overall theme of these attacks, they do fall apart and make little sense with even minimal scrutiny. The premise is that we can’t stand around praying but we need to act. The assumption is that prayer and action are mutually exclusive and we aren’t capable of doing both. I have repeatedly said, especially in my meditations on the Second Joyful Mystery, how prayer is not always an end in itself. Rather, it puts us in the state of mind and heart to more readily receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit to act in a way in accordance with God’s plan for us. In this light, prayer and action actually go hand in hand. We pray before we act so that we can act justly.
When you see the link between prayer and action I think it becomes clearer why the media and politicians want to shame those who turn to prayer in the face of tragedy. If you are trying to push through an agenda the last thing you want to do is have people stop and meditate on it. By saying that we need immediate action with no time for serious contemplation, politicians are actually saying, “Don’t think about it. Don’t debate it. Let’s just get this 1000 page bill signed into law.” And then the politicians (and the special interests they are beholden to) can celebrate how they alone did something to address the problem without the help from that rule-laden man in the clouds.
Let’s suppose we could remove the link between prayer and right action. Is there still value in praying in the wake of tragedy? You bet! Prayers open a dialog with God and makes you more open to his grace and comfort. It doesn’t change what happened but it can provide an understanding deep in your heart (even if it’s one your mind can’t comprehend). Think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary). His prayers did not stop the authorities from arresting and ultimately crucifying him. But it did put Jesus into a state of mind and heart to endure the upcoming hardship. And so when we are faced with tragedy, prayer can help us cope with the overwhelming sorrow. And let’s also remember that tragedy usually involves the loss of life. The recently departed need prayers too both for God’s mercy and to decrease their time in Purgatory.
It’s time to double down. If you see someone mocking prayer, that should be your call to action. You don’t have to engage them on social media since their little soundbite quip requires a larger response and dialog than what social media usually affords. Instead, think of their comment as a cry for help. Those who mock prayer are the ones who need it most. Give them what they need.
It’s that time of year again. My house is all lit up like a homing beacon for lost aircraft, my browser history is 99% Amazon.com, and Santa is watching my boys’ every move. It’s Christmas time! But it is also New Years. I’m not talking about January 1st. I’m talking about a new liturgical year that kicked off with Advent this past Sunday. It’s a time to not only prepare your traditional Christmas cookies, but also time to prepare a place in your heart and mind for Jesus. Let’s look at the five Joyful Mysteries of the rosary for ideas on how you can supersize your Advent.
#1. In the Annunciation, Mary accepts God’s plan for her. She said, maybe still afraid and confused, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). This Advent, meditate on what God is asking of you. You never know what God may ask of you or when. Advent is a great time to prepare a spot for Jesus Christ in your heart so that you’ll be able to show the same courage Mary showed when God comes knocking on your door.
#2. In the Visitation, Mary exercises God’s grace by helping her older cousin Elizabeth in her pregnancy. Advent is a time when we can prepare ourselves to best receive God’s grace through good works of kindness and charity. Remember that in helping others, we are recognizing Jesus in our brothers and sisters. When we comfort those less fortunate, we are comforting Jesus. In this season of preparation, make room for Jesus in this world and provide him the comfort, respect, and honor he deserves by providing others comfort, respect, and honor.
#3. In the Nativity, we see shepherds leaving their posts to give homage to the baby Jesus. Later, the wise men traveled far to honor him. Both these stories show that people were willing to drop everything and go through some hardship to see Jesus. In Advent, consider adding a few spiritual challenges like making sacrifices and fasting, receiving the sacraments especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and trying to attend extra Masses. The Christmas season is a fun time, but remember that is is also a spiritual time. Imagine how much more joyous Christmas will be if you not only prepared your house and completed your shopping list, but also kept a space for Jesus in your heart and mind by making small sacrifices for him.
#4. In the Presentation in the Temple, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph become one family in the eyes of God. This mimics how we have a physical birth but also a spiritual one through the Sacrament of Baptism. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, but the Holy Family was unified under God in the Presentation of Jesus. Advent is a good time to prepare a place in your heart for your family. I know many of us have strained relationships with our families, either immediate or extended. Maybe a family member has hurt you or you have hurt them. Make Advent a time for family unity and peace. Pray and meditate on how to best tear down any walls that separate you from your family. Not only will it bring peace to your soul, but it will make Christmas dinner so much less awkward.
#5. In the Finding of Jesus of the Temple, Mary and Joseph traveled for many days just assuming Jesus was with them we he really was not. This reminds me of the modern mindset that assumes we are close to Jesus no matter what we do. In preparing for Christmas this Advent, stop assuming and start examining. How central is Jesus in your life? Have you done anything that has moved you away from God’s grace that requires the healing power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Even if you don’t have any mortal sins on your conscience, ask yourself what you have done to honor Jesus. Advent is the start of a new liturgical year. So like a New Year’s resolution, Advent is a time to analyze where you are in your faith and make a spiritual resolution to improve it.