Monday, January 31, 2011

The Rosary: Staying Focused

There are several obstacles that someone who has committed to pray the Rosary will face. Since the Rosary is a long prayer one of the biggest challenges I face is staying focused. If you have read my other posts or if you are just familiar with the prayer, you know that the mental contemplation of the Mysteries is the main focus of the prayer. So getting distracted really detracts from the prayer.

Even if I am only praying 1 chaplet of the Rosary, it still takes about 20 minutes. In that amount of time your mind is bound to wander some. I have found several different things to help me when my mind begins to drift off to the worries of everyday life.

The first is to understand that this is going to happen and be watching for it. If I am not vigilant I can get through a whole decade and realize I have not thought one single time about the Mystery that I should have been contemplating. So before I begin the prayer I make a conscious determination to be watchful of my wandering mind. One tactic that I employ is to try to refocus my mind at the beginning of every Hail Mary.

Another helpful strategy for staying focused is actually a very old one and uses an addition to the "blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus" part of the Hail Mary depending on what Mystery you are contemplating. For instance, if you are on the 3rd Joyful Mystery you might add "who took on human flesh" or "who was born in Bethlehem". There is no right or wrong addition, but the addition should remind you of the Mystery.

Another strategy is very similar. Find a phrase or idea from each mystery that strikes you and repeat it and visualize it. For instance if I am contemplating the 1st Luminous Mystery I may repeat and visualize John proclaiming "Behold, the Lamb of GOD who takes away the sin of the world". Sometimes when I am having a very hard time focusing I may rely on this method very heavily.

The very, very best method that I have found to keep my mind from wandering is being familiar with Sacred Scripture. First and foremost, you should be familiar with the specific passages that describe the Mysteries of the Rosary. There are any number of resources to help you find the book, chapter, and verses related to each Mystery. The Scriptural Rosary that can be found at Rosary Army is a good place to start. If you are very familiar with these verses you can call them to mind at the beginning of each Hail Mary.

Although I never make it through an entire chaplet or Rosary without my mind wandering some the tactics above help me to stay as focused as possible and refocus when necessary. The Rosary is a long prayer and my mind will wander to some degree. Still, since the Rosary is a prayer of contemplation I need to fight as hard as I can any distraction so that I might benefit as much as possible from my time contemplating the life of Christ with the Blessed Virgin.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Hail Mary Explained for Protestants

I want very badly for my protestant friends to take up the practice of the Rosary because when we pray the Rosary it is like we are at the wedding at Cana. We petition Mary and she points to her Son and says "Do whatever HE tells you".

You don't have to be Catholic to pray the Rosary. But there are a few things that prevent protestants, by and large, from the practice of praying the Holy Rosary. Chief among them I would say is an aversion to the Hail Mary, the central prayer of the Rosary.

Now, one thing most protestants have in common is a profound belief in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. In other words, most protestants would argue that the Bible alone is the sole source of GOD's word. With that in mind, I will point out in this post where the Hail Mary comes from and why it is a treasured prayer of Catholics. We will go verse by verse and explore the biblical roots.

Our prayer begins "Hail Mary full of Grace the LORD is with you". In Luke 1:28(NAB) we see that the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary to Announce the Birth of Christ to her and greets her in this way, ""Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you." So, already we are establishing a biblical basis for the prayer.

But, just because someone in the bible says something doesn't make it a prayer does it? An interesting thing about Gabriel, a few verses before in Luke 1:19 when Gabriel is speaking to Zechariah he says "I am Gabriel who stand before GOD". So, its not just someone who greets Mary in this way it is Gabriel "Who stands before GOD". He spends his time in the presence of Almighty. Still, he greets Mary in this way.

It is clear from the message that the angle delivers that GOD is pleased with Mary. After all, angle means "Messenger of GOD". So, Gabriel's message was from GOD. Do you doubt this? Then surely you don't doubt that the greeting also was from GOD.

Our prayer continues, "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus". Later in the Gospel of Luke we see that Mary is going to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth will be the mother of John the Baptist.In Luke 1:41-42(NAB) when Mary comes to Elizabeth, we are told that Elizabeth is "filled with the holy Spirit". As Elizabeth is "filled with the holy Spirit" she "cries out in a loud voice" and greets Mary in this way.

Again, just because a person says something in the Bible doesn't make it a prayer. But she says it while she is "filled with the holy Spirit". Do you doubt that if a person says something when they are filled with the "holy Spirit" that it is true?

Sure, anyone can claim to be filled with the "holy Spirit". It's easy enough to say. But we as Christians believe that what is in the Bible is GOD's unerring word. So when the Bible says that someone is "filled with the holy Spirit" we know that they are. When someone "filled with the holy Spirit" says something we can trust in that saying.

Up to this point we are simply reciting verses from the Gospel. What protestant on earth could have a problem with that? so our prayer concludes "Holy Mary, Mother of GOD, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."

You know as well as I do that we cannot find this exact saying in the Sacred Scriptures but we can find plenty to back it up. In Revelations we see that saints are presenting the petitions of the faithful to GOD. So we know those already in Heaven are able to plead for us to the Father. Do you doubt that Mary is in Heaven? If she isn't then no one is!

We also know that in the ancient Jewish culture that the queen was not the king's wife, rather the queen was the king's mother. Do you deny that Christ is King of Heaven and Earth?

We also know from the Old Testament that the queen was someone the king's subject relied on to interceded on their behalf. Why shouldn't we petition Mary on our behalf as poor sinners to plead for us with the King?

Do you object to calling Mary "Mother of GOD"? If Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity and If Jesus is true man and true GOD then you cannot deny that Mary is Mother of GOD. That being said, it makes no sense to object to calling her "Mother of GOD".

Is there an objection that you have to this prayer that I have missed or do my arguments not convince you? It is not my point here to be right for the sake of being right. I want to show you that your aversion to this prayer is not necessary. If I have missed anything, please let me know in the comment box below and I will do my best to answer it for you.

Still, I know that protestants have more objections to the Rosary than just the Hail Mary and I intend to present a defense for those objections in a future post or 2 so stay tuned.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Luminous Mysteries: 1st, The Baptism of the LORD

Mathew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?"
Jesus said to him in reply, "Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed him.
After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

One lesson I have learned while meditating on the Baptism of the LORD is that sometimes we must accept a mission or job or task from GOD that we don't think we are up to or worthy to preform. You see how John says, "Oh no, I am not worthy to baptize you. If anything I need to be baptized by you."

At this point our LORD wanted to do something. We all know that Christ was without sin and therefore had no need to be baptized. After all, John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. But He came to be baptized anyway. Why? What was He doing? He was sanctifying the waters of baptism for us. He was establishing for us the Sacrament of Baptism. He was fulfilling an Old Testament prophesy.

John had an important part to play here. But he didn't think he was worthy. He didn't think that he was capable of the task GOD had for him to preform. He tried to get out of it. And then what? No baptism. If our LORD hadn't entered into this baptism, what would our own baptism be worth?

We see this in a other places throughout Scripture. Its always the same thing. GOD wants someone to do something. They don't think they are worthy or capable. They try to get out of it. The LORD in the end wins their obedience and they play an important part in GOD's plan of Salvation.

Take the profit Jeremiah. The LORD tells him that he will be a profit but Jeremiah replies that he is too young and doesn't know how to speak. The same thing can be seen with Moses. The LORD tells him that he will use him to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. But Moses replies that he can't go because he wouldn't know what to say and no one would listen to him anyway.

There are plenty of other examples of this throughout the Old and New Testament. The thing all of these people had in common was that GOD wanted them to preform a task to bring about His Will. They all felt that they were not worthy or capable of the task at hand. In each case GOD provided what they lacked. Of course John wasn't worthy to baptize the LORD. Who is? Moses didn't know what to say, GOD gave him the words. Jeremiah wasn't capable of being the LORD's profit. GOD provided what Jeremiah lacked. 

So one lesson I have learned from mediating on the first Luminous Mystery is that sometimes I have to dispense with my inclination to self doubt and when GOD assigns a task to me that I don't feel worthy or capable of doing I have to put my trust in Him that He will provide what I myself lack, that His Will might be accomplished.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Joyful Mysteries: 4th, The Presentation

Luke 2:22-40 The Presentation of Jesus

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the Child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took Him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, You may let your servant go in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for Your people Israel.” The Child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about Him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted ‘and you yourself a sword will pierce’ so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the Child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon Him.

In the 4th Joyful Mystery we contemplate the presentation of Christ in the temple according to the law. According to the Mosaic law, every first born male child was to be consecrated to the Lord. To consecrate the child Mary and Joseph take Christ to the temple. The temple was filled with people who knew the Scriptures and studied the prophets endlessly. They would have known the prophesies about the Messiah inside and out.

According to the account in Luke 2, there is no mention of any of the priest, scribes, pharisees or scholars of the law who recognize Christ for who He is. A continuing theme throughout the Gospel is that these scribes, pharisees and priests aren't really focusing on God. They are focusing on themselves. The Gospel points out time and again that these people are more concerned with the power and prestige that comes to them because of their station than they are about serving God.

However, two people do recognize Him immediately. Simeon and Anna. It appears from the little that is said about them that they were not concerned with their own stations but rather they spent their lives focusing on God. Simeon was a righteous man who was "awaiting the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25). Anna, "never left the temple, but worshiped night and day" (Luke 2:37).

To be sure, the lesson here is not that it is bad to follow the regulations and rituals of our faith. Simeon did follow the Jewish law. The reading says  "The man was righteous and devout" which, in Bible speak, means he followed this law. The lesson is that we must practice our religion for the right reason. We must practice our religion out of love of the LORD not to build ourselves up as "Holy Rollers".

To put it into terms of Catholicism, maybe it would be fair to say that the scribes, the pharisees, Simeon and Anna all attended Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, said their prayers before meals, read the Bible and said the Rosary everyday. In other words, both followed  the practices of the religion. The scribes and pharisees did it so that others would look at them and say "oh, they are so holy". While Simeon and Anna did it out of genuine love of GOD understanding that he gave them the Church and her practices and regulations to draw them to Himself.

This is one thing that I have come to see over time contemplating the 4th Joyful Mystery, "The Presentation", and that is that those who focus on themselves are bound to miss it when God is present among them, while those who focus their attention on God will surely recognize Him when comes into their presence.

What lessons do you see in this mystery. Please use the comments area below to let me know.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Calling of the Disciples

Today's (1/10/2011 Mark 1:14-20) Gospel reading has really stuck with me and developed in my mind over the course of the day. I wanted to share what I have been contemplating about today as a result of the reading. Believe me, I understand that this sounds cliche. I love it when the readings force me to see the the truth and beauty of what all to often gets written off as cliche.

The first thing that struck me was verse 1:15 “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  I love this. I think I am so attracted to this saying because it is the LORD Himself saying "Your time has not run out. You have another opportunity to come to me."  Think about it. This is Mercy. The day of the LORD has come. But you still have a chance to repent of the evil you have done and make amends with GOD. If this were not true I think Christ may have said something like "Too late, I am here and you are out of luck." Thank you, Jesus, for your Mercy.

Another thing that struck me was Jesus called the disciples from their ordinary everyday job. They were not holy men. They were not cloistered monks. They were not parish priests. They were just some hard working regular Joes so to speak. I don't know about you, but all too often I think "Man, if I were a recluse monk I would be some kinda prayer warrior." Or, "If only I could dedicate myself full time to helping 'the least among us' I would be all kinds of holy".

Well, I guess after today's reading I am out of excuses. Jesus called the Disciples from their everyday jobs. Guess where I will be tomorrow. You got it, at my everyday job. St. Peter, St Andrew, St James, and St. John pray for me that I might hear Jesus when he calls on me tomorrow at my everyday job and asks me to follow Him!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Rosary; An Introduction

When I first began praying the Rosary, I wasn't quite sure how it was done. Through the internet, I found instructions for praying the Rosary and a list of the Mysteries. I learned that to pray the full traditional Rosary you say 15 "decades". a decade is composed of an Our Father, 10 Hail Marys, and a Glory Be. So in the end you have prayed 150 Hail Marys. While you are reciting the prayers you concentrate your mind on the Mysteries.

The Mysteries are an important part of praying the Rosary. In fact, they really are the prayer itself. In the Mysteries we contemplate specific parts of the life of Christ. The traditional mysteries are the Joyful, the Sorrowful and the Glorious Mysteries.

Because the full Rosary takes so long to pray, I also found that many people say only 1 "chaplet" a day. A chaplet is 5 "decades" and focuses on 1 of the 3 Mysteries. In this case there is a traditional pattern. Saturdays, Sundays, Wednesdays are the Glorious Mysteries, Mondays and Thursdays, are the Joyful Mysteries and Tuesdays and Fridays are the Sorrowful Mysteries.

So the Rosary is composed of the vocal prayers and the mental prayers of the Mysteries. The purpose of the vocal prayer is to direct the mental prayer of the Mysteries. In other words the vocal prayers help time and move the minds focus through each of the Mysteries.

I found it very helpful to pray a scriptural  Rosary when I was first beginning so that I knew what to contemplate. When praying a scriptural Rosary, you read a verse from Scripture to help your mind concentrate on the Mystery at hand and then pray a Hail Mary and repeat until finished. Here are links to a good scriptural reference ( Glorious, Joyful, Sorrowful).

The Rosary

I began praying the Rosary about 3 years ago. At the time I was attending Mass on Sundays. My prayer life consisted of saying the Our Father and prayers of my own words. I wasn't spending much time at all in prayer. I didn't really know how.

However, it felt like there should be more. I felt like I was cheating God, not giving Him anything more than the bare minimum. But, like I said, I didn't know how to pray more or pray better.

I knew about the Rosary. Or at least I thought I did. The Rosary is a plastic strand of beads that all Catholics have lying in some drawer in their home, right? Wrong. That is a rosary. The Rosary is a prayer. I remember from my youth in Catholic school that in order to pray the Rosary a person said some Hail Marys, some Glory be(s) and some Our Fathers. That is it. That was about the extent of what I knew of the Rosary.

Even though what I knew about this prayer was very limited; Even though what I did know about it made it seem very boring, I felt drawn to begin praying it. However, as I mentioned I wasn't quite sure how to pray it. I did some googling and found instructions. Here is a nice set of instructions that you can print for easy reference while you are first beginning.

I feel like I have been blessed with this prayer. I want to share with you my thoughts about the Rosary, the struggles of this prayer, and the lessons I have learned through praying it. A series of posts will follow, some on the lessons I have learned in the Mysteries, some in general about the prayer and how it works for me. In the end I hope that if you are already praying the Rosary that we can encourage each other in the practice. If you aren't praying the Rosary, that you will consider giving this great prayer a chance to be a part of your life. Finally, if you pray the Rosary from time to time, I hope that you will find inspiration to make it a more regular habit.