Mary

Souping Up Your Rosary Game

Yes, another rosary blogpost on a Catholic blog. The rosary is an oft-written about topic: the importance of it, the fruit of it, etc. It's almost become a Catholic cliche. I want to offer this article to those of you who are in the midst of a love/hate or on again off again type of relationship with the rosary (and let’s be honest, most people who are trying to regularly pray it are at least partially in one of those two camps).  

I had my conversion praying bad rosaries, muting on commercial breaks to rush through a decade, hoping that I could pray my way out of the eternal condemnation I knew I was heading towards (I mean our Lady promised it right), until I realized those three minute windows of time contained a certain peace that I longed for. So I kept praying the rosary as best I could, and things starting melting away: destructive habits and then eventually my desire for them. And mysteriously, new graces and convictions began to replace them. And so I've continued praying it, as best I can. Maybe not daily (though I wish it was), but consistently, through dryness and bountiful grace, the graces contained in the rosary keep coming.

I was talking about this with my spiritual director and he was re-convincing me how necessary the devotion is with a terrifying story of an exorcism. In the midst of the exorcism the demon began laughing at the priest and called the faithful a bunch of fools. The priest told him to elaborate in the name of Jesus, and it replied that the heads of the evil ones servants are utterly crushed by the recitation of the rosary. We carry a great key to our freedom in our pockets and were fools because we never use it.

All that being said, the rosary is not an easy prayer to pray. We live in the age of distraction, so sitting still for 20 or so minutes and focusing on a string of prayers and meditating on scenes from the gospel, if we were honest, seems like the last thing an overstimulated mind would want to participate in.  Keeping the mind focused on such a repetitive, involved prayer can seem more like trying to ride a bull then a serene focusing on the Lord.  It can often be the most dry and distracted, rote and bland addition to our devotional lives. And sometimes it should be, but I want to offer some ways to dive more deeply into the mystery of this devotion for each of the ailments that seem to afflict us rosary-averse people.

St. Louis De Montfort offers several methods for entering into the rosary.  This resource is a treasure trove and is great in an of itself, but for the sake of writing a more interesting blog post, I’ll highlight a couple of them and also add some different tidbits that you can work into your prayer to help spice it up.

 

FOR THOSE POOR DISTRACTED SOULS

I recently came to the conclusion that if I was going to pray the rosary consistently I needed to do it the car from time to time.  I can never seem to focus, and I feel like I’m cheating prayer fitting it into my commute because I’m not finding other time to set aside for things like the rosary.  But alas, sometimes we have to start with the the less than ideal.  So I started praying with St. Louis’s second method to help me focus.  You add a word after “Jesus” to bring your mind back to the mystery you’re meditating on, to praise Him, etc (i.e. “Jesus becoming man, born to poverty, crucified for my sins, etc.).  Not only did this help keep my attention, but I actually got lost in prayer.  My car rides became the most fruitful part of my spiritual life.

 

FOR THE NOT SO VALIANT PRAYER WARRIOR

I’m the worst intercessor I know.  People ask for my prayers, and despite my best wishes (not necessarily effort) I always forget to pray for them.  The rosary has offered a solution to that as well.  Here’s a simple method for interceding with the rosary: 1) Jot down all the prayer requests you receive (have an email folder set aside or whatever).  2) Read the requests before you begin the rosary or pick a few per decade. 3) Throw in some one-liners in between the proper prayers.  This article has a good suggestion for a simple way to intercede using St. Elizabeth of the Trinity’s simple method for praying for others.  In his third method, while meditating on the crucifixion, St. Louis dedicates each “Hail Mary” to each of the nine choirs of angels, asking them to pray for a particular intention (i.e. “Holy Seraphim, ask God… Hail Mary… Holy Cherubim, ask God… Hail Mary… and so on).  I throw a decade or two like this in there from time to time. The possibilities are endless here.

 

FOR THOSE WHO GET ANNOYED WITH THE INTRODUCTORY PRAYERS (JUST ADMIT YOU’RE ONE OF US)

I also found that I got bogged down during the introductory prayers (I know, I’m really getting lazy), but I found that the Dominican way of beginning the rosary on Reddit of all places.  It’s really simple and to the point and gets my heart ready for prayer.

 

FOR THOSE LOOKING FOR AN EXTRA, PERSONAL UMPF

Lastly, someone taught me this 3-step way of praying the “Jesus Prayer”.  Sometimes I pause between each decade, pray this and then apply whatever came up during the decade.  Here’s the method:

1. Call to mind Jesus’ presence.  Make an act of faith that He is present to you.  Here and now.  Picture Him sitting across from you, His arms open, ready to receive what you have for Him.

2.  And He asks:  “What do you want to give to me?”  Bring to Him all your thoughts, feelings and desires- what is on your mind that’s impacting you- good and bad?  And then He asks “What do you want in return?”  Each meditation has a grace to ask for laid out.  In your own words, pray to receive this grace.

3.   Lastly, recite the Jesus prayer.  “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Remember as you recite His most powerful name, that with the name of Jesus comes His presence, power and healing.  Repeat this process as many times as you need to in order to prepare yourself to encounter the Lord.

These have been little tweaks that have helped me transition from the rosary becoming a commonplace ritual that I powder my way through as quickly as possible to really the heart of my prayer life.  Use what you like, mix and match, and offer some more suggestions in the comments section.  Happy praying!

Fearless

December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic Church.  As a child, I was always taught that the Immaculate Conception commemorated the Catholic teaching of Mary’s birth without Original Sin, but I had no idea what that meant. 

            December 8, 2011 fell on my first week of final examinations at Creighton University in Omaha, NE.  It was below freezing outside.  I had zero desire leave my warm dorm room to go to mass that day, and I did not feel like I had time to go.  Besides, faith was not the most important thing in my life then.  My roommate at the time was going, and she encouraged me to go with her.  Despite pressure otherwise, I decided to join her for the 8:00 p.m. service.  I remember sitting in St. John’s that night overwhelmed with responsibilities, surrounded by my new friends, and listening to “Immaculate Mary” playing from the beautiful Steinway grand piano.  Candles were lit, and the church lights were faint.  I had a big decision to make, one that had needed to be made for a long time, but one that I feared making. 

            The gospel spoke to me in a particular way that night.  It is the same gospel reading today as it was that night.  

Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

 

            As I sat there that day I realized that living without Original Sin simply meant living without fear and trusting the Lord with whatever He asked…even if it wrecked my perfect game plan.  That night, I made a huge personal decision that changed the course of my life forever.  I felt a profound peace sense of peace.  When I walked outside, I was greeted Nebraska’s first winter snow.  It was officially a new season, a new beginning.  The white Christmas lights reflected off that fresh snow.  Christmas wreathes and red ribbon hugged each lamppost.  The life size manger in the middle of campus looked something out of a Christmas snow globe, and everything took my breath away. 

            I think this what I have come to love and remember most each year about this feast day.  Yield to love.  Yield new beginnings.  Yield to the change in season and in relationships.  Yield to uncertainty.  As the angel Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid.”  With baptism, we are wiped clean of Original Sin, which provides the possibility of both choosing fearlessly and living fearlessly.  So this season, take some risks.  Make big decisions and changes if they need to happen.  I am grateful everyday that my life has never been the same.

Mother of the Lapsed

Sometimes it is hard to be _______________________.

Take a moment to fill in the blank. We all have something that fits.

For me, sometimes it is hard to be Catholic.

Growing up, we have all been told stories of heroes with an all or nothing mentality. Whether those heroes were Catholic saints who fought for their faith, persons from our own American History who strove for freedom and equality, superheroes from comic books, our grandparents, you name it - we all had our idols growing up. These idols did whatever it took to achieve their goal or to be a part of something greater than themselves. It is no wonder then, that upon achieving adulthood, we are often disappointed in our own accomplishments. We look at our shortcomings, preferences, flaws and mistakes and allow these things to tarnish who we are and what we strive to be.

Sometimes, it is hard to be Catholic.

How can I be Catholic if I sleep with my boyfriend?

How can I be Catholic if I am divorced?

How can I be Catholic if I am gay?

How can I be Catholic if I get drunk on Friday nights?

How can I be Catholic if I am not speaking with my parents?

How can I be Catholic if I doubt or question aspects of my faith?

How can I be Catholic if ___________________?

We all have something to fill in the blank.

This is why we are a Church that is more than 50% lapsed. We all ask ourselves these questions at some point or another, and the answer is difficult to find. Like my heroes, I am an all or nothing type of gal. There is an old saying, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Why would you try to be anything if you don’t intend to be good? If I’m going to be Catholic, I’d better be a good one, and if I can't, perhaps I ought not to be one at all.

Though it is a natural tendency to think in this way, sometimes it is best to shed the all or nothing mentality. Sometimes you just need to take things day by day, or hour by hour. Take a moment to read, listen to a song, go for a walk, or pray, and find yourself in what you are doing. What is needed is a different perspective, and this new perspective will often lead us back to ourselves and our identity in Christ.

To illustrate my point, I would like to share a little bit about a book I recently read entitled The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Though neither a Catholic piece of literature nor the work of a Catholic author, Sue Monk Kidd depicted the Virgin Mary in a way that shed light and wisdom on our relationship with Mary and our faith.  The most notable conversation about Mary takes place between August, a strong mother-figure in the novel, and the young female protagonist, Lily, as August relates:

Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She’s not the statue in the parlor. She’s something inside of you [….] She’s the one inside you saying, ‘Get up from there and live like the glorious girl you are.’ She’s the power inside you, you understand? […] And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, too, not only the power inside, but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love – but to persist in love.
— The Secret Life of Bees, 288

Sometimes what is needed is to persist: slowly, deliberately, intentionally. Think back to the images you know of Mary. What does she do with her body, and what does she tell you in this silent speech? When I look at Mary, there is always an openness. Her arms are outstretched, her body bent and graceful.

This Mary I’m talking to you about sits in your heart all day long, saying, ‘[…] you are my everlasting home. Don’t you ever be afraid. I am enough. We are enough
— The Secret Life of Bees, 289

In Mary we see so much vulnerability and fragility, but also a steady strength and persistence. All of these things lie in the spread of her arms to us.

Sometimes it is hard to be Catholic. But as we open our arms, our hearts, and our minds rather than fixate on our perception of perfection, we can find ourselves and our faith once more.

 

 

 

 

Save Us, Oh Virgin of Mercy

It is the Year of Mercy, so I submit a humble question into the ether: why don't we see more about the lovely (and formerly quite popular) image of the "Virgin of Mercy?"

As the beautiful painting above demonstrates, this subject of Catholic art, quite popular from the Medieval through the Early Modern period, transmits a potent visual catechism on the Christian teaching pertaining to Mercy. While devotion to the Blessed Virgin is of course spiritedly displayed in her loving protection spanning the faithful, there is much this image instructs us about the Church as a whole, and what it denotes to belong to it.

First of all, much is signified about the Church itself. Mary has long symbolized the Church as Mother of all believers: we were, after all, given to the Blessed Virgin as her children by the Lord Himself while He perished on the Cross. Under this consideration, the warm mantle Mary extends about her children is emblematic of the embrace the world-spanning Ecclesial body should exude throughout the globe and throughout time. Under the maternal embrace of Mary’s mantle, the faithful should encounter love and a spirit of adoption, no matter what physical building they enter across the planet.

Secondly, that Mary is much grander than most figures in these paintings, and the fact an infinite expanse cascades behind her cloak, evokes Mary as the great Queen of Heaven. As her celestial frame swathes all within her cape, from her position on high, she shields the weary believers from the slings and arrows of this life. Here, the Church Triumphant in Heaven is expressed, those who intercede even now for us in this age of pilgrimage. Indeed, it is telling that, in the picture above, the only creatures to match Mary in stature are two hulking Saints who flank the Blessed Virgin, reaching out to the weary in this vale of tears.

Finally, and most importantly, these representations of Our Holy Mother bespeak a copious wealth of insight into the meaning of membership in the Church. Notice: in all these Icons, whether adorned with Kings and Queens, Popes and Bishops, Monks and Nuns, or a whole host of laity, every soul present beneath the cloak of Mary, bends their knee. All, no matter their stature, huddle humbly like Children, snuggled close to one another and with the Virgin Mother herself. Perhaps no other painting conveys this sense better than this:

Beyond bending their knees, their faces incorporated collectively into one amalgamated mass, these great men, though they retain their headwear, are naked (or at least “lightly clothed” to the extreme) under the mantle of Mary. Indeed, they look cold somehow, the colors of the paint seemingly seconds away from shivering. The concept, of course, is this: though we may embody different roles and offices in this life (what the differing head coverings represent), underneath we are as naked and poor as the day we were born, and without the protection of Mary and the Church she signifies and exemplifies, we would die of exposure when turned out to the world.

It is this paradoxical holding of two extremes—the power of mere hats but the nakedness of the mere individuals who wear them—that addresses me so profoundly here in the middle of Lent.

Here we devote an entire month plus to fasting, almsgiving and prayer, and yet our daily lives--subsumed as they are in the hats we must wear--go on as usual. Jesus instructs us to fast for an interior reason, and not for the respect of others—to wash our face and anoint our head. I know people are fond of posting their Ashes on Social Media each Ash Wednesday, while others with equal gusto castigate those who do so, but as good intentioned as it is, the latter practice goes back to a much more basic Protestant objection to the ashes. I heard it plenty growing up—does not publically wearing ashes go against the grain of what Our Lord protested against when he admonished those who fast outwardly?

We must remember that the ceremony of ashes came about in cultures where nearly everyone was Catholic. You did not need to remind anyone you were fasting—the great majority of everyone you knew did the same. What the ashes reminded everyone of was something akin to this picture—everyone will be dust someday soon, from the lowest pauper to the highest prince.

Underneath the diadems and miters, we are all naked, we are all ash. If it was not for the Church, if it was not for the prayers of the Mother of God and the Saints, if it was not for Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and was resurrected so that all this could exist to shelter us, we would perish, and return to the dust from which we came.

In Lent, we learn to kneel, we learn that we are fundamentally naked, we learn that we are in this boat together, huddled children imploring our Mother to protect us from the relentless storm. We do this while we wear our various hats, realizing that what we wear is not who we fundamentally are, but who we have been asked to be at the good pleasure of Our Lord and his Mother, the Church.

But we are not only our nakedness—we are the children of this loving mother, who wraps us in Her mantle and protects us. But we can only fit under the mantle if we bend our knee, and while there is a vast amount of room under her cloak, we can only fit in next to her if we are willing to sidle up, side-by-side, with our brothers and sisters underneath.

Virgin of Mercy, pray for us this Lent!

Are we failing advent?

Are we failing advent?

Advent has been distorted by our rampant consumerism. It use to be that prior to the Celebration of the Lord’s Nativity, there were no Christmas parties. Christmas parties for work and other circles were celebrated after Christmas. But this year, I was in Macy’s the day before Halloween and they were decked out for Christmas! I mean, seriously, Christmas on October 30th? 57 days before Christmas? And practically a month before Thanksgiving? We have a crisis amongst believers on what is the spirituality of Advent...