I don’t “get” the Rosary…

…But I pray it anyway

A priest recently said to me, “I don’t like the Rosary.”

Boy, can I relate.how-to-pray-the-rosary-jpg

The priest wasn’t saying that he disliked prayer or that his faith was lacking. Rather, he was articulating some of the challenges I had faced: it was difficult to get motivated to pray the Rosary, the Rosary can be confusing for beginners, making it hard to get them excited about it, and the monotonous repetition of prayers can seem pointless.

These challenges, which now seem more like excuses, kept me from praying the Rosary for a long time. That’s where this priest was coming from. He recognized that a lot of people, like me, didn’t particularly enjoy praying the Rosary. He shared that lack of enjoyment but quickly followed up by acknowledging the importance of the Rosary in his prayer life.

I can’t remember the day I started praying the Rosary regularly, or even why I started praying it at that particular time. But now, I pray at least a decade of the Rosary every day.

Do I enjoy it? Not necessarily. Do I find it indispensable to my spiritual life? Absolutely.

I recognize that the Rosary has power. I don’t know the exact mechanics of that power, but here’s what I do know: the Rosary has enriched my spiritual life and shielded me from sin and temptation in ways I’m not even consciously aware. I’m confident I have received many blessings as a result. I shudder to think how much poorer my life would be without this element of my prayer.

Here are some thoughts on why the Rosary is so powerful:

Giving honor to our Blessed Mother. Many of the mysteries of the Rosary revolve around key points in Mary’s life or events in Jesus’ life where Mary was present. Mary is not God, and all of our prayers with her should lead us closer to God. As the Mother of Jesus, though, she holds a special place, so it’s appropriate to give her honor. We do that when we pray the Rosary.

Tracing the steps of Jesus at important points in his earthly existence. By pondering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we can seek to imitate him more. In particular, the Sorrowful Mysteries allow us to reflect on his passion and death, in which he made the ultimate sacrifice out of love for us.

Contemplating through repetition. Repeating the prayers allows us to contemplate each mystery more deeply. I’ll be honest, there are times I get distracted, especially if I’m praying while driving. However, I believe that God honors our attempts. Even the recitation of the prayers in and of itself has some value, although immersing ourselves in the mysteries can yield greater spiritual insights and bring us closer to God.

Making us a more integral part of a community. Praying the Rosary with others can increase its power. At many parishes, the Rosary is prayed in a group before or after Mass. Consider joining one of these groups.

Focusing our minds on the sacred. My time spent praying the Rosary would otherwise be spent in idle, non-productive pursuits that don’t bring me closer to God. Praying the Rosary keeps me connected spiritually.

In short, we don’t need to know exactly how the Rosary works in order to benefit from praying it. The key is to get started.

How to do that? There are literally thousands of good resources about the Rosary. Here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

  • The U.S. bishops have an easy, step-by-step guide to praying the Rosary on their website, with links to each of the prayers.
  • On the go? You can recite the Rosary with any of several podcasts, such as A Rosary Companion or Pray the Rosary with Bishop John Barres. Just search “Rosary” on your podcast app.
  • Finally, if you’re looking for calming and peaceful, check out the Rosary prayed in Gregorian Chant on YouTube. I usually play it in the background as I’m working.

Choose whichever you’re most comfortable with and begin.

“That while meditating on these mysteries
of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
we may imitate what they contain
and obtain what they promise, through Christ our Lord, Amen.”



Stigmatist for a Day

What would it be like to wear the wounds of Christ?

Recently, I’ve been fascinated by the stigmata, the visible wounds of Christ, and by stigmatists, those holy people who have been called to visibly wear Christ’s wounds. (St. Francis of Assisi is probably the most well-known stigmatist.)

This “gift,” apparently, is far from pleasant. Reportedly, when Padre Pio, one of the best-known stigmatists of the 20th century, was asked whether the stigmata hurt, his reply was something along the lines of, “They’re not just there for show.”

I realize that I’m nowhere near far enough along in my spiritual life to wear the stigmata, but I’ve been curious what it would be like.

I had a chance to get a taste of it during a recent hike in which I made some unwise choices that literally put my life at risk.

Painful encounters with cacti during the hike had ripped open my flesh, including the palm and back of my hand.

What lessons did I take away? Beyond the obvious (watch out for cactus), here are a few:

  • Trust in God. Whatever happens – life, death, suffering, joy – God is there.
  • Step out in faith. As a Christian, I need to be willing to put myself out there, to get out of my comfort zone, to take risks in living out my faith.
  • Pray as if everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you. This statement, attributed to St. Augustine, has almost become a cliche. However, even though we are God’s hands and feet on Earth, we can accomplish nothing good without God’s grace.

As I’ve said before, peak moments, such as wearing the stigmata, are not the core of the spiritual life. Rather, it’s regular, ordinary spiritual practices, day in and day out, that will bring us closer to God. Let us pray for the grace to persevere.

I don’t believe in luck

I believe in the Holy Spirit

“With a little luck, we can make this whole damn thing work out.”
Sorry, Sir Paul, that’s not how it works.No_luck

Luck, that sort of vague term equated with good fortune, is thrown about regularly in everyday conversation, although we don’t really know what luck is, where it comes from, or whether it’s actually real.

It’s anybody’s guess whether luck really exists. Same with coincidence, serendipity, and all those terms for the good things that happen to us for no apparent reason.

What does exist, though, is the love of God, manifested in our lives through the Holy Spirit. As Christians, it’s our duty to give honor to God for the favor extended to us, rather than vague phenomena such as luck. The things that we call luck, coincidence, or serendipity are all manifestations of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

I’ve even stopped saying, “Good luck.” If the kids have a big test or an interview coming up, I’ll say, “Do your best,” “I know you’ll do well,” or “I’m praying for you,” rather than “Good luck.”

Try it.

The Holy Spirit is a powerful presence and has the potential to do great things in our lives, if we only cooperate with that power.

What does that cooperation look like? Here are a few examples:

  • Prayer. Include in your daily routine a prayer to the Holy Spirit, asking for the wisdom to know God’s will in your life and the strength to carry out that will.
  • Openness. Cooperation with the Holy Spirit means being open to the Spirit’s promptings.
  • Discernment. Determining the promptings of the Holy Spirit requires discernment. Like many things in the spiritual life, discernment is a practice that needs to be developed. Pray for discernment.
  • Obedience. Once you’ve discerned what the Spirit is calling you to do. ask for the fortitude, perseverance, and courage to carry it out. Sometimes we’re not clear about what God wants us to do. At other times, it’s very clear, but because of sloth, fear, or downright stubbornness, we don’t carry it out. It’s a tragedy – and a sin – when we know what God wants and don’t do it.

If you follow these practices, will your life be filled with good fortune? No. But when those good things do happen to you, you’ll know where to give the credit.

Look inward

Judging others does nothing for your own salvation

I’ve been to Mass at dozens of different churches in the past year. Early morning Masses, mid-day Masses, evening Masses, Masses in Spanish, Korean, and Indian dialects. They were all slightly different (okay, some more than slightly), but they were all the universal Mass that we as Catholics celebrate.

Due to a fluke in the Masstimes.org app, I inadvertently found myself at a Spanish-language Mass on a recent Sunday. I was perplexed, wanting to experience the Mass in my native language, but the greeter exuded hospitality and said to me, “Mass is Mass.” Amen, brother.

This liturgical diversity stands in contrast to a campaign by a Church leader a few years back to root out “liturgical abuses.” He wrote a series of columns in the diocesan newspaper on the “correct” way to celebrate Mass and declared that he was setting up a diocesan office where people could report these liturgical abuses.

His motivation was laudable: reverence for the presence of God during our sacred worship. His execution, however, left something to be desired. The concept of a diocesan office where you could squeal on your parish priest was a terrible idea. (Here’s a thought: talk to your pastor directly!) It would have the result of distracting people who were watching for abuses from fully participating in the very sacred mysteries they were monitoring.001-Pharisees

I’m not sure what ever became of that initiative (I hope it died a quiet death), but it points up the danger of judgementalism, which is as present today as it was in the time of Jesus. Essentially, it’s the sin of the Pharisees: focusing on the letter of spiritual law and ignoring the incredible presence of God in our midst.

How does this manifest itself? You name it:

  • Writing to the diocesan newspaper to question why some Catholic politician is still allowed to receive communion (think about your own sins and consider whether you’d want a person who doesn’t know you deciding whether you receive communion)
  • Calling a Catholic radio show to question some practice within your parish (again, have a conversation with your pastor; don’t validate your opinion with a third party and use it to assault your priest)
  • Posting on social media the “correct” way to hold your hands during the Our Father.

To be clear, I’m no liturgical anarchist. I’m not advocating an “anything goes” approach to the Mass. I realize that deviating too far from the Roman Missal can be a distraction, but so can watching for those deviations. Plus, an overly rigid approach to liturgical rubrics can alienate those who aren’t liturgical experts and demonstrate a lack of charity.

I’m convinced we’d be a stronger, more vibrant Church if we focused less on what others were doing and put more energy into our own spiritual lives.

The key is to start with ourselves, to look within.

The outward stuff is a distraction. The path to holiness involves focusing on our own spiritual life, our own relationship with Jesus, our own service to others. What are the areas of my life where I need God’s grace? Where does God need to work in my life to root out sin? How can I partner with God to build a stronger spiritual life, a better parish, a more just society?

What others are doing is, often, none of my business, and even if it is, it’s secondary to the work that I need to do on myself, with God’s grace.

If I’m not dealing with the beam in my own eye, I have no right to grouse about the splinter in my neighbor’s eye.


Right here, right now

The immediacy of the Annunciation

When I imagine the Annunciation in my mind’s eye, I see Gabriel appearing to Mary. He’s no cuddly cherub, but is kind of scary looking. (After all, he regularly stands before God and just struck dumb the priest Zechariah.) The outcome of this conversation is much more positive, though, with Mary proclaiming her Fiat: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”Annunciation

Then what? I had always imagined some period of time passing between Gabriel’s visit and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe two weeks.

However, as I examined artwork depicting the Annunciation, such as this one from Jan Van Eyck, I realized that some of them show a dove hovering nearby. To me, this means that, as soon as Mary said, “May it be done to me according to your word,” the Holy Spirit was ready to swoop in and overshadow her, impregnating Mary with the life of our Savior.

Boom! No delay, no hesitation, no time for second thoughts.

This is sobering and exciting at the same time.

Sobering, because when we say “Yes” to God, we’d better say it with certainty, since God takes us at our word. The results may happen faster than we imagine, perhaps instantaneously, so we’d better be ready.

Does this mean that we should say “No” to God? Absolutely not.

And that’s the exciting part. If we say “No,” what will we miss? Suffering, trials, tribulation? Probably. But those are far outweighed by incredible spiritual experiences and blessings beyond measure.

Your best bet? Say “Yes.” Immediately. And get ready for a great ride.

Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’

Smart Phones

January 2018: I’ve been asked to provide specific resources that I access on my phone to those who might be interested. Please see the updated bullet points below.

Yes, they have a place in our spiritual livesiphone

Recently, I read with some bemusement an editorial by a priest decrying the proliferation of smart phones he saw as he celebrated Mass. While I appreciate his concern that the phones might be distracting Mass-goers, I was disappointed at his presumption. He seemed to assume that the phones the phones were only being used for texting during Mass.

The reality is that phones are tools. Like any tool, they can be used appropriately or inappropriately. When used appropriately, they have the potential to bring us closer to God.

Here’s an incomplete list of some of the roles my phone plays in my spiritual life:

  • Prayer book (Magnificat.org. The online app that mirrors the content of the monthly prayer resource is available via subscription. It includes daily readings, morning, evening, and night prayer, meditation on the day’s Gospel, profile of a saint every day, and more. I highly recommend the print or online versions.)
  • Missal (Again, Magnificat)
  • Bible (USCCB.org, the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, contains a wealth of resources, including the entire New American Bible, daily readings (text based and audio) with video reflection)
  • Rosary companion (several Rosary podcasts are available, including “A Rosary Companion” and “Pray the Rosary with Bishop Barres”)
  • Examination of conscience (Jesuit Prayer app includes the daily Ignatian Examen)
  • Spiritual reading (Magnificat, God in All Things, and other Catholic blogs)
  • Video player for scriptural reflections (USCCB.org)
  • Mass finder (Masstimes.org)
  • Church directory (the Masstimes app includes a mapping function to find nearby parishes, as well as links to parish websites and bulletin)
  • Prayer group scheduler (the calendar in Outlook and other programs comes in handy for keeping track of group meetings, religious education sessions, etc.)

I could go on, but you get the point. Obviously, I don’t use my phone for all these things during Mass. However, if you see me looking at my phone in church, don’t assume I’m texting or checking sport scores.


Sharing positive spiritual gifts in stressful times

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

Sometimes, it’s good to get back to basics.applefruitsleaf-271x300

The attributes above, which Paul described to the Christians in Galatia, seem to be in short supply these days. Instead, we’re overwhelmed with “hatreds, rivalry…outbursts of fury…factions,” works of the flesh that Paul describes as being opposed to the Christian life.

As Christians, we’re called to extend love, joy, and peace, even as we’re beset by hatreds and outbursts of fury.

How do we do that?

Begin with prayer. Spend time each day asking the Spirit for those attributes Paul described, praying for the well being of those who disagree with us, and working to strengthen and deepen our spiritual lives.

From there, take these steps to foster positivity in a time that desperately needs it:

  • Don’t complain. Don’t fret. Don’t obsess with the current state of the world.Remember, God is in charge.
  • Denounce hatred and intolerance wherever you find it.
  • Reject violence, aggression, oppression.
  • Extend love and a positive attitude to all you encounter, even if they hold views significantly different from yours.
  • Be respectful of others and renounce disrespect, especially when it’s targeted at those who disagree with you.
  • Use critical thinking, particularly in your consumption and sharing of media.
  • Take the long view in reacting to the crisis du jour. This, too, shall pass.
  • Finally, in a time when common courtesy seems less and less common, model civility.