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Beads of Distraction: The Rosary and My Wanding Mind

“Hail Mary full of grace….my dishwasher is full…Blessed are you among women…oh, gosh! I need to make dinner before going to the woman’s prayer group!”

If this sounds familiar, welcome to the club of humanity. You are a human being, in whom body and soul are struggling to find balance in this earthly life. Distractions are a normal part of being human, but they sure do make prayer hard. The longer the prayer, the more we seem to drift. Many people give up on “long” prayers such as the rosary for this very reason. But there is hope! Having established the fact that we are indeed humans, we need to realize that we have an intellect! This God-given gift helps us to not only make decisions and choices, but it also allows us to effect change in our lives. Distractions are irritating. They come out of nowhere, and often we don’t even realize our thoughts have wandered until we are distracted from our distraction. Before we know it, we are distracted by a distraction which was brought upon by a previous distracting distraction! However, armed with our intellectual abilities, we can devise ways to help our body and soul work in harmony, so that we may effectively pray.

The rosary has been around for a long time. It is for this reason that many Catholics who have gone before us have developed “tools and tricks” that aid our focus. The rosary is, after all, a very challenging prayer! It’s a spiritual full-body workout: we speak word, we think about mysteries, we touch beads, etc. So many things going on at once! The great thing is, we can try different approaches at different times in our lives, and thus come to a renewal in our dedication to this devotion. So, without further delay, let’s explore some helpful options!

One approach I often use is to place myself in the scene, or mystery, I am thinking about. Sometimes I even close my eyes, so as not to be distracted by anything. After all, St. Bernard reminds us that, curiosity is the first step towards pride. For example, in praying the first joyful mystery, the Annunciation, I sometimes put myself in Mary’s position. She was a young teen, who had vowed her virginity to God. Now, this angel was asking her to be a mother. Everything in her was in turmoil, and yet there was a deep sense of peace. Where did this peace come from? Why did she say ‘yes’? How would I have responded? Would I have posed more questions? Why? How willing am I to accept God’s plan for my life, even when it seems to shatter all that I had planned for myself? Do you see what I mean? Suddenly, you are reflecting on God’s plan for your life, just like Mary did, and seeking a spirit of complete trust and surrender. This is meditation, even if it just seems like an endless stream of questions at first.

Another tactic I have found helpful is using Scripture. There are many websites and pamphlets which suggest Scripture verses for each mystery. Sometimes I will even read a few words of the passage in between each “Hail Mary”. This helps me re-focus, but it can also lead me to notice new things in the wording. If you would like to try this, I strongly suggest starting with the joyful mysteries. These are all contained within the first two chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel. The very words of the prayer you say are also in this portion of Scripture!

Some people find it helpful to think of an intention before each decade (or even before each prayer of the rosary). I know of one person who would pause for a split-second before each “Hail Mary”, so as to bring to mind an individual or a situation for which to offer that prayer. How beautiful! When we have a purpose to our actions, the actions become easier. This is true of the rosary as well: when I have an intention in mind, I focus more on praying “well”, so that my supplication may be pleasing to the Lord.

One last idea I would like to propose before we wrap up is using your distractions as opportunities for prayer. Now, not all types of distractions should be used in this manner, so some prudence is needed. However, if I am praying the rosary, and I am continually thinking about the students I teach, maybe God is asking me to offer the next decade for their needs! Do you see what I mean? You take the stumbling block and turn it into a new rung on the ladder. Let me give you another example. You start praying the rosary, and your mind is flooded with something you saw on Facebook. Why not offer the next decade for purity in social media? I guarantee that this simple tactic will help you pray, and it will remove a lot of frustrations! Lastly, if you are as forgetful as I sometimes can be, keep a small notepad close by when you pray. That way, you can pause, and write down the thing you have to do or buy. This will only interrupt your prayer for a few seconds, and you will not have to think about it again during your prayer!

The rosary, just like so many other prayers, requires creativity. This creativity does not destroy the rich history of the devotion, but, rather builds on it, so as to help the soul come closer to the Lord. We are all unique, and, as such, we need our prayer to be unique. Even when we pray the rosary with others, each of us will pray differently. Yes, our lips may say the same words (I sure hope they do!), but our hearts and minds are approaching the beautiful battle of prayer in a variety of ways. I hope and pray that some of the ways I combat distractions in prayer are helpful to you. So now, go, pick up a rosary, and pray it! The Blessed Mother is holding beautiful spiritual fruits prepared specifically for your soul! Reach for the rosary, and receive all that Jesus longs to give you, through the hands of his Immaculate Mother!

 

If you don’t have a rosary, click here.

If you’d like a little help getting started with the prayers of the rosary, click here.

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Undoing the Fall of Man: Obedience after Disobedience

“If God had commanded her (Mary) to carry out with her own hands that crucifixion which an inscrutable Providence had placed in the hands of the wicked, she would have obeyed with all the promptness and resoluteness expected of one perfectly submissive to the laws of the Creator.” 
(From The Cross of Jesus, Fr. Louis Chardon, OP)

This is a shocking statement. It disturbs us on a very deep level. How can anyone dare say that Mary, the gentle and loving mother, would venture to carry out the crucifixion if the executioners had refused? It seems so disordered!

To fully understand the magnitude of that statement, we need to first understand the dichotomy between order and disorder. On a human level, we flee from disorder and suffering, and we long for order. And yet all creation is continually moving towards disorder and chaos, as described in the second law of thermodynamics (creation, in and of itself, moves towards a state of entropy). Think of a tree that falls in the forest. Can it, of its own accord, pick itself up? No. In fact, once it has fallen, it will begin to die and decompose; it cannot return to an orderly way of being. This desire of ours for order and nature’s tendency towards disorder is a result of the Fall.

Before that fateful moment, all creation (including man) was ordered rightly; God was the center of all things, and all things were perfectly obedient to Him. After the Fall, we see a drastic and jarring change: man struggles against the natural tendency towards chaos on a daily basis. It starts right in the morning for most of us. Admit it: you hate the sound of your alarm clock. Your alarm clock is a signal to you of order, and your fallen nature desires to do its own thing.   That’s why the snooze button was invented: to give you a second (and third…and fourth…) chance at starting your day in an orderly manner. Disorder can lead to sin, while order leads to virtue. Sadly, due to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, we find it easier to sin (live in disorder), rather than to do good (live in order).

We need help in order to regain control. In our struggle, there is a beacon of hope: Mary. As one free from original sin, she did not have concupiscence (fallen man’s tendency towards sin). Mary’s vision was unclouded by sin. For this reason, when God asked her to be the Mother of Jesus, she consented. Oftentimes we fail to see beyond this moment in Mary’s life. We neglect to recognize that her whole life was lived out as a “yes” to God. In my own life, this truth is slowly coming into focus. I have recently become a mother, and I am realizing how profoundly demanding motherhood is. Yes, there are the natural demands of my little one (diapers, feeding, etc), but this is just the surface. On a very profound level, I am realizing what it means to live in a constant state of “yes”. Finding out we were pregnant was our first “yes” (acceptance of this wonderful news), but each moment after that has been a re-echoing of that attitude. Even in difficult moments, I need to give myself completely for the sake of this little being that God has entrusted to me. In one sense, I am just doing what I need to do. But, taken to a spiritual level, I am living in the “yes” of Mary, and bringing order into disorder.

Mary’s acceptance of God’s will was perfect in all things, and therefore was rightly ordered. This attitude reaches far beyond the joyful events of life, and even embraces the difficulties present before us. In Mary, I can find strength to do that which is unpleasant (e.g. feeding my infant at 3am) for love of God. If, like her, I can accept all things as part of God’s amazing plan for my life, then my life and actions become a prayer. It is this very disposition which restores order into even the most tumultuous situations. In a sense, when I align my will to God’s will, I am participating in a reversal of the effects of the Fall; the Fall brought disobedience and disorder, while living a life faithful to the Lord brings obedience and order.

God’s ways are often mysterious to us. Therefore, accepting them necessarily involves an openness to trust. If God is all-good, there can be no evil in Him. Mary knew this, and lived accordingly. In light of this realization, the opening quote comes to light: Mary would have done anything necessary, in order that God’s will would be fulfilled. No mother wants to see her child suffer. Neither did she. And yet, she was willing, like Abraham, to offer the Son she held so dear. She was yearning, in fact, to sacrifice her own desire for a greater good. As she stood at the foot of His holy cross, she said her “yes” once again to God’s plan. In her we find strength in sorrow. Through her we come to a fuller realization of our ultimate goal: to love and serve God in this life, so as to be happy with Him for all eternity in Heaven. This is the ultimate reversal of the Fall, and it was opened to us through the cross. Mary was able to accept it, even though she had no foresight of how the execution of her Son would ultimately affect the salvation of countless souls. She simply stood (yes, she stood at the foot of the cross) and lovingly accepted God’s mysterious plan. May we, through her intercession, daily strive to give our “yes” with loving obedience, and complete trust in God’s beautiful plan in our lives.

 

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Gender Crisis: Authentic Catholic Femininity and Masculinity in a Culture of False Equality

Boys and girls are different.  I am sure you smile as you recall the differences, and this shows that you understand what I mean.  Take any dimension of life and you will undoubtedly see the differences.  But should this dissimilarity be a means of division between the sexes?  Should it, perhaps, be abolished in the name of “gender neutrality”?  No, it must rather unite us in a desire for a deeper understanding of each other.  It is through understanding our “self” in relation to the other that we come to know God more fully.  This is vital for your holiness and salvation.

In Genesis we read that God “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27) This wording is interesting, if you stop and think about it, and John Paul II draws this out magnificently in the Theology of the Body.  Man was created in the image and likeness of God, but this does not refer to males only.  Men, meaning both men and women, are created as a communion of persons, sharing in the love of the Trinity through complementarity.  That’s a mouthful, but essentially John Paul II is saying that each of us is incomplete without the “other”.  Take a look at Adam, all alone in the garden.  Even though he has every kind of flamingo, lizard, baboon, and flying squirrel imaginable, he is still seeking after someone like himself—he knows he is not enough for himself by himself.  This essential compliment of his being comes in Eve, who is formed from Adam’s own rib.

 Eve appears and Adam cannot find the words to extol this great gift from the Creator.  Listen to what he says: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23).  He sees Eve as another “I”.  This attitude is not a one-way street; it is meant to be reciprocal in the lives of men and women even today.  If we move into the New Testament, we see a tremendous pronouncement of the role of man and woman in the plan of salvation.  St. Paul says, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Eph 5:21-25).  The wife is to be subject to her husband, but he is to love her as Christ loved the Church!   He gave his life for Her!  Suddenly this gives a new prespective to the words, “till death do us part”!   And yet it is a partnership based on mutual love and trust.

Now, let’s bring it into our own time.   Let’s begin with a brief overview of recent developments in our culture’s attitude toward human sexuality.  You and I are probably equally aware of what occurred in the 1960’s—namely, the sexual revolution.  Suddenly contraceptives were promoted as a means to sexual freedom, which ultimately meant sex without responsibility.  It was during this time that Pope Paul VI wrote the phenomenal and prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae.  In this encyclical, he asked us to “consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards”.  He goes on to state that, “Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” (Humanae Vitae, 17).  Today, we can vigorously agree with the Paul VI, as we see before us all of these negative effects in our culture.

Pope Paul VI’s was not the only prophetic voice.  In a 1994 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that “The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men.”  (Wall Street Journal, 2/25/94, p. A14)  It is interesting that she mentions abortion as a cause of division between men and women.  In abortion, the wonderful fulfillment of the unitive act, namely a child, is destroyed, thus creating a rift in the dignity of every human being.  Studies have shown that the effects of abortion are felt by both men and women on a variety of levels.  Sex without an openness to life is selfish.  For a clearer understanding of why this is so, it is necessary to once again return to Theology of the Body of JP II.  In it he says that every sexual act which makes use of artificial forms of contraception is an act of lying with the body.  This is because every conjugal act of a husband and wife is meant as a re-iteration of their wedding vows; it is the body’s participation in the sacramentality of marriage.  When this is removed, sex becomes just an experience and not an authentic gift of self to one another.  Something is held back.

One more aspect of our culture that led to the current state of man and woman is the education young people are receiving.  So much of educational philosophy today is based on concern with self-esteem rather than results.  Some school districts go so far as to remove any form of competition from the school, even in PE classes.  This has a detrimental effect on students, as it prevents their growth in areas related to personal maturity, especially the ability to think and reason.  Why is this so?  Well, by telling a student, “it doesn’t matter what grade you get as long as you tried and you feel good about yourself”, it creates a mindset which places no value on achievement due to hard work and sacrifice.  When the element of sacrifice is removed, a student is shown that he/she can have anything he/she wants, as long as it makes him/her feel good.
This is why today’s world silently cries out for witnesses.  Why witnesses and not role models?  First of all, masculinity or femininity is not just a role you play; it is who you are in the deepest part of your being!  Did you know that in heaven we will not lose our masculinity and femininity?  It is amazing to think about that.  But how do you define a real man or a real woman?  The term, in and of itself, is indefinable, since it encompasses a multi-dimensional reasoning being created in the image and likeness of God.  This is where we feel the great need for witnesses.  St. Joseph and John Paul II are outstanding witnesses of masculinity.  Both knew how to sacrifice all for the love of their brides—Joseph for Mary, and JP II for the Church.  Furthermore, both of these men were protectors and guardians of the precious treasures entrusted to them.   What about women?  We can look at St. Monica, St. Augustine’s mother, who prayed daily for her son’s conversion.  One day, it is said, Augustine came home after a night of drinking and entertainment.  As he walked in through the house, he stumbled upon something lying on the floor—it was his mother, praying prostrate for his salvation.  He asked her what she was doing, and she lovingly told him she was praying for his soul.  What a witness of sacrificial and self-giving love!  And then there is St. Gianna, who died rather than have an abortion.  She was a medical doctor herself, and she knew well the risk she was taking.  Today, her daughter, the one for whom she sacrificed her life, has a mom in heaven who is literally a saint.  And then there is the Blessed Mother.  She is a powerful witness to all of us, men and women alike.  Her openness and fidelity to God though marriage and a consecration of her virginity to God, are a moving testimony of the call to authenticity.
But how can you and I reach these same heights?  How can we grow in holiness through being authentic men and women in a culture that degrades the very essence of who we are, as expressed, on the deepest level, by our sexuality?  The first line of defense, so to speak, is prayer and a deep spiritual life.  How can you become who God created you to be if you don’t consult with the Creator?  That’s like throwing logs, tiles, bricks, and so forth into a bag and hoping that a house comes out.  You need the instruction manual!  Secondly, spiritual reading is fundamental, as it helps us reflect upon God and His amazing goodness to us.  The devil can only conjure up temptations from what we have experienced through our senses, so why not fill ourselves with holy thoughts and good images?  Finally, holy friendships and relationships.  Who are your friends?  I am not saying that you cannot speak to those who are not of like mind, but I am warning each of us, that we need to be cautious.  Even though you may feel empowered to convert millions after a moment of deep prayer, start small, and start in your own soul.

We are living in difficult times, but we have a Catholic culture sprouting up around us that is full of hope.  You are part of that culture, if you accept the challenge to become authentic men and women.  Ask the Lord to help you each day.  He knows you better than you know yourself, for He formed you and knit you together in your mother’s womb.

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