Tag Archives: Mary

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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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary: The Woman Behind the Statue

When we think of Mary, many images come to mind: Our Lady of Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, or even perhaps Czestochowa.  These images, usually based on apparitions or artistic representations, fill our mind with a sense of awe.  But too often we stop there.  We look at the pretty image or statue, and we are struck by the beauty of the marble or canvas.  I recently asked a group of students who Mary was.  One told me that, “it’s that statue at church”.  How sad it would be if that was the endpoint of our understanding of Mary:  just a statue.  Is that who Mary is?  A stone-cold statue, placed in a niche of some church?

Mary is the woman most frequently portrayed in art.  Countless artists have used their talents and skills to create representations of this 1st Century woman.  But why this fascination with someone that no modern artist has been able to see?  Is it not a visual inspiration that typically moves an artist to create?  And yet here we have a mysterious woman, who has captivated the hearts of millions.

Mary of Nazareth was just an ordinary girl.  Ordinary, that is, from all external appearances; she was born, grew up, and lived as a common girl of her time.  She was not highly educated, nor was she famous for a craft.  She was just a simple and humble girl, the daughter of Anne and Joachim.  But, if one could see with the eyes of God, something was exceptionally different about this girl.  This creature was chosen from before her conception to be the Mother of God.  As such she was granted certain privileges.  Imagine if you could create your own mother from nothing.  Would you not desire to make her absolutely perfect in every way?  God, who in fact did create His own mother, did just that: He created a perfect mom.  She was neither rich nor educated, but she was lovely and pure.  The stain of Original Sin, which has left each of us with an inclination to sin (concupiscence), could not darken her intellect or weaken her will.  She was, in a word, perfectly holy.

But why preserve her from Original Sin?  Why make her the Immaculate Conception?  The answer is simple: to undo what Eve did in the Garden of Eden.  Mary, as the New Eve, was to undo the chain of corruption which could be traced back to Genesis.  In creating her all-pure, God was indicating a fresh start.  Just like in the great flood of Noah’s days, there had to be a moment when all was pure again.  That moment came to fruition as a little baby girl in the home of Anne and Joachim, and they named her Mariam, or Mary.   She is the one spoken of all the way back in Gen 3:15.  She is the long awaited Messiah’s mother.  She is the New Eve, just as Christ is the New Adam.  Interesting how, even in the “new creation” God chose to have a woman as a help-mate.  This is a marvelous mystery, because we (of course) realize that God could have hit “refresh” all on His own.  And yet He desired to have Mary as a stepping stone towards our salvation.

At the Annunciation (see Luke 2), an angel appears to Mary.  Often I have read this, failing to recognize the importance of the scene.  In the Old Testament, and appearance of an angel was an omen of ill tidings.  That is why, when he appears to Mary, he tells her to not be afraid.  What a strange opening thought!  Here is an angel of God, appearing to a young uneducated teen-aged girl, and he tells her to not be fearful.  In a moment of grace, which only a soul as pure as hers could understand, she obeys.  She listens to the angel’s message and she interacts with him.  She hears of something that sounds absolutely impossible:  she will conceive without sexual relations with a man.  Even she, at her young age, clearly must have know that this was not a normal conception.  She may not have known about sex, but surely Anne had taught her about the “birds and the bees” or about “storks” in some way!  All of heaven and earth waited for her response with bated breath, and she said “yes”.  This was the world’s greatest proposal, and Mary accepted it with utmost love and humility.  Talk about a fantastic way to pop the question, eh?

Many of us, myself included, fail to realize what this response meant.  It was not just a nice thing to say, and then move on with life.  Mary, now increasingly pregnant, faced the death sentence for a crime she would surely have been accused of: adultery.  Thank goodness her beloved Joseph responded with an open heart to an angel’s message in his dream.  He took Mary into his home, being told that the child is not a result of sin.  Rather, this child was the Messiah, who would take away the sins of the world!

As Jesus grew up, Mary was at His side, teaching Him to all He needed to know.  She played with him, sang to him, and surely cuddled her little boy.  And yet she knew that another ‘yes’ was forthcoming.  She knew, from the prophecy of Simeon, that a sorrowful acceptance would be asked of her.  Little did she know it would take 33 years to get to that moment.  And when that moment came, we are told that she stood faithfully at the foot of her Son’s cross, saying her “yes” over and over again.  This pure mother, who completely offered herself to God’s plan 33 years before, was now facing the most traumatizing moment of any parent’s life–the brutal murder of a child.  She did not fight back, nor did she curse the soldiers.  She simply stood and suffered with her Son, hoping beyond all hope, that He would rise again, as He had promised.

And so, in Mary, we find something quite contrary to the marble statue.  We find a woman with a heart.  We find a gentle mother.  We find a martyr.  In Mary, we find an image of what we are called to, as well as a solace for the times when we fall short of our call to holiness.  In Mary we find proof that, with God, nothing (and I mean NOTHING) is impossible.  Finally, in her we find a blueprint of God’s plan for our life and an example of the blind trust, sacrifice, and sorrow to be expected on our pilgrimage to heaven.  But rejoice!  In Mary, we too have a help-mate on this journey!

 

Holy Mary,

Mother of God,

pray for us sinners now,

and at the hour of our death. 

Amen.

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