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.”

 

Advertisements

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.

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.

Lent: Get Ready, Get Set…

Want to progress spiritually this Lent? Set a goal

Before saying “Go,” take some time to reflect on your life. The Church provides us with 40 days to improve our spiritual life. It’s a time to clear out the cobwebs, recharge our batteries and to get in shape spiritually.

Regardless of the metaphor, Lent provides us an opportunity to put aside the things that keep us from getting close to God and adopt new habits that bring us closer to God. However, figuring out what’s keeping us from God and what will bring us closer to God requires some reflection and thought, not just randomly picking something to give up for Lent.

Just as we do an examination of conscience before Confession, preparation for Lent should include an examination of our entire lives – our habits, our activities, how we spend our time, the choices we make, the things we do, the things we don’t do. Which of these activities give us life? Which sap us of our energy? Which, in hindsight, could rightly be considered a waste of time?

Once we’ve had a chance to examine our lives, fast forward to Easter. Based on our examination of our lives, what do we want to be different in 40 days than they are now? Set a goal. It doesn’t have to be a huge goal, but it should be something that you are working toward. It could be as simple as being more patient with family members.

When you have your goal in mind, a simple, three-step exercise can help you get there. Commonly used in business planning, it can easily be applied to our Lenten practice, as well. It’s summarized in three questions: What should I start doing? What should I stop doing? What should I keep doing but do better? Your Lenten practices flow from the answers to these questions.

Start doing. One obvious thing I can do to be more patient with the members of my household is to pray for patience. But beyond that, I can take the emphasis off my impatience by turning outward, toward those whom I love. First, how often do I thank God for the people in my life? More importantly, how often do I express that gratitude to those people? One concrete step I can take each day during Lent is to do something – the proverbial random act of kindness – for one of my family members to show my gratitude.

Stop doing. Well, I could just stop being impatient. But if that’s too much to ask all at once, what sacrifices can I make during Lent that will help me be more patient? Do social media and television keep me from giving family members my full attention? Then maybe I should stop doing those things for a while. Or maybe I just need to be more mindful of my family. That’s where “giving up” comes in. Every time I give up a treat (chocolate, soda, whatever), I can use it as an opportunity to recall my love for my family and to pray for patience. If the sacrifice is more than giving up for the sake of giving up, if it points us to a greater good, then that sacrifice can be really beneficial.

Keep doing, but do better. Presumably, I’m already praying for the members of my household. But my Lenten practice could include being more mindful in my prayer. I can set aside a few minutes of extra prayer time each day during which I imagine the face of each person in my household and ask God specifically to care for that person.

A spiritually fulfilling Lent starts with the end in mind: a practical goal. To reach that goal, figure out what you will start doing, stop doing, and keep doing, and align those things with your Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Then, when Easter arrives, you can see how far you’ve come and how much closer you’ve gotten to God.

Lent 2014: Let’s Get Real

By C.R. Horner

Okay, Lent’s coming up fast. Ash Wednesday is March 5. (When are you getting your ashes? Check Mass times if you haven’t already.)

Lent, the 40 days leading to the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus during Holy Week, is a time of reflection, penance, and sacrifice.  Have you thought and prayed about what you’re doing for Lent this year? The days leading up to Ash Wednesday are the time to prepare.

We often associate Lent with “giving up” something. Ideally, the “giving up” during these 40 days leads to breaking bad habits that may be keeping us from getting closer to God.

Another way of approaching the season is to start good habits that will bring us closer to God.

So, in the context of the ancient practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, here are some real-life, practical suggestions for starting habits that will strengthen our relationship with God.

Prayer

No matter how strong our prayer life is, we can always improve. Here are some practices to consider:

  • Read a chapter of one of the gospels every day. Start with the Gospel of Matthew, which is the first gospel and the one we’re listening to during Sunday Mass throughout this liturgical year. If you read one chapter a day, you can finish the Gospel of Matthew and nearly the entire Gospel of Mark by Easter. If you keep at it, you can finish the Gospels of Luke and John by Pentecost. And at the end of that time, you’ll have a much better idea of who Jesus is.
  • Spend 10 minutes in silence every day, just listening for what God has to say to you.
  • Go to Mass one more day a week than you’re going already (unless, of course, you’re already going seven days a week).
  • Read a Catholic book. Two books on my Lenten reading list are The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.

Fasting

The ancient practice of fasting helps us to join more fully in the suffering of Christ through denial of physical comforts. In addition to abstaining from meat on Fridays this Lent, consider one of the following:

  • Pick a day other than Friday as a fast day: two small meals and a regular-size meal
  • Choose a meal on a day other than Friday to abstain from meat. Offer up this meal to God as a sacrifice.

Almsgiving

The practice of giving alms, or monetary donations, is another ancient tradition that reveals an eternal truth: small sacrifices can increase our faith and bring us closer to God. Some suggestions:

  • Take the money you’re saving on food from your fasting practices (see above) and donate it to the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl campaign.
  • If you are already tithing a percentage of your income, consider increasing it by one percent (for instance, if you now give five percent of your salary to your parish or other organizations, raise it to six percent for Lent). Dedicate this increased giving to organizations that work directly with the poor.
  • Give alms of your time and treasure. Consider a volunteer opportunity, either on a one-time or ongoing basis.

 The list could go on endlessly, but you get the idea: to get more out of Lent, put more into Lent. Most importantly, start with prayer. Ask God what you’re being called to this Lent, listen to the response, and put it into action.