St. Michael, the Archangel…a Boy’s Obsession

+JMJ+

St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

I actually didn’t learn this prayer by heart until graduate school, when the chaplain at my husband’s school would recite the prayer as he processed out of the chapel after weekday Mass. There’s been a lot of talk recently among friends (and the Catholic blogosphere) about bringing back the St. Michael prayer as a regular devotion after Mass: something I was also completely unaware of before approximately eight years ago. The popular story goes that Pope Leo XIII was inspired by a terrible vision of demonic spirits to compose the St. Michael Prayer, which was added to the so-called “Leonine” prayers after Low Masses in about 1886. This practice was almost completely abandoned after the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council. Obviously some priests still clung to this devotion, but they are few and far between.

I give you this brief history because even though this prayer wasn’t a part of my regular repertoire growing up, it has become a frequent utterance because… I have a boy. And little boys love St. Michael, or so I’ve observed. There’s something about the triumphant angel-with-sword stomping on the head of a writhing devil that just gets my little 3-year-old’s heart beating with excitement. I remember the first time he was old enough to really look around a Catholic shop with me: he saw all the various St. Michael statues and just stood, completely transfixed. He didn’t want to leave. He still looks for them any time we go into the shop. Two of his most precious possessions are a St. Michael holy card and a statuette, and he loves to talk about that ugly devil getting beat with the sword. I’ve decided to just go with it.

But this morning, my little guy surprised me by demonstrating that he’s been doing some deep thinking on the topic of “St. Michael killing the devil.” On our ride back from dropping his sisters off at school, he came up with this gem out of the blue:

“Mommy? I have a question.”
“Sure, honey, what is it?”
“Is Lucifer a bad name?”
…”Umm, that’s a good question. We think of it as a bad name now because it’s what we say the devil’s name was. But it’s actually a very nice name. The word ‘Lucifer’ means bringer of light. But because we associate it with the devil, we don’t use it as a good name, no.”
“Hmm. Well then we should use Lucifer for Jesus instead.”
“Why is that?”
“Because He’s the Light of the World. It’s a better name for Him because He brings all the Good Light.”

….

“Yes, I like that thought, sweetheart. You can also think about what a nice name bringer of light would be for an angel, because remember that the devil was created as an angel, to love and serve God.”
“Yes, that’s a nice angel name, too. Speaking of angels, I have another question.”
“Yes?”
“Why does St. Michael fight the devil?”
“I bet you can answer that. Who is St. Michael.”
“He’s God’s warrior angel.”
“Yep. So why would he want to fight the devil?”
“Because the devil was supposed to be a good angel, but now he’s the enemy of God. And St. Michael serves God and will fight His enemies.”

Growing up, I have to admit that in addition to my ignorance of the St. Michael prayer, I had the overwhelming impression that angels were kind of… impotent, cutesy kitsch created to make you feel warm and fuzzy. Guardian angels were sentimentalized nannies to help your parents get over their anxiety about letting you go places without them. At some point, I’m pretty sure I also believed that good people who died went to heaven and “became” angels by getting some wings and a halo. In short: my perception of angels was completely driven by modern popular sentiment and completely void of any substance provided from sacred scripture or tradition.

bokeh shot of white and gold ceramic angel
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Over the years, as I’ve read more scripture and delved into what the Church actually teaches about angels, I’ve realized that everything I thought I knew about angels as I was growing up was completely wrong. Instead of being cutesy, comforting things, angels can be downright terrifying. Daniel’s account is that upon seeing the angel, “No strength remained in me; I turned the color of death and was powerless. When I heard the sound of his voice, I fell face forward unconscious.” (Dn 10:8b-9, NABRE). Luke reports that the shepherds were “struck with great fear” at the appearance of the angel (Lk 2:9b, NABRE). In short: there’s a reason the first thing angels always say is “BE NOT AFRAID.” 

I appreciate now the power and the complete otherness of these spiritual beings whom God created as “personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.” (CCC, #330) I am so glad that I can truly learn to appreciate angels through the eyes of my son, because through conversations like the one that happened in the car this morning, I am slowly learning to open myself to the presence of these strange and mighty beings. If guardian angels serve to reduce parental anxiety, it is not because we succumb to some fanciful notion that a spiritual Mary Poppins watches over our little darlings: it is because we have confidence that we’re sending our kids to school with the spiritual equivalent of Bruce Lee at their side. If we sing with the angels at Mass, it’s not because they are the heavenly equivalent of the Vienna Boys Choir. It’s because their trumpet-blasting is the triumphant herald of God’s victory and we should sing with the exuberance of a stadium full of drunken college kids storming the field as they belt the Notre Dame Victory March.*

I will probably never get to the level of familiarity with angels as someone like Padre Pio, but I am glad that I am learning to take these creatures seriously, rather than thinking of them as God’s spiritual kittens. Perhaps learning to be child-like can mean that we spend more time thinking seriously about the devil and his combatants.  My son certainly does: enough to devote his spare time to thinking equally about Lucifer’s demise and the demise of the dinosaurs. Which, by the way, are also terrifying.

Schleich_Therizinosaurus_2018_2
Therizinosaurus: aka Cretaceous Nope-Nope

*totally hypothetical, imaginary situation that I would have absolutely no first-hand knowledge of.

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Who are the Archangels?

+JMJ+

A friend recently asked:

How many Archangels are there? My patron is St. Michael the Archangel …he is God’s Warrior ..I try to live my life as a Warrior for Our Lord also.

First of all, AMEN, SISTER! We should all have the confidence to call on the warriors of God to fight with us. (Onward, Christian Soldiers!) Thank you for all that you do.

Who are the Archangels?

The word “archangel” simply comes from the Greek word meaning “Chief Angel,” but even that definition is a little bit of a cheat: the Greek word “Angel” (angelos) literally means- messenger. Thus, the archangels are the chief messengers of God to mankind– sometimes quite literally as ones who come bearing a message from God, but other times in a more figurative sense when they act as agents of God’s will on earth.

The Catholic Church recognizes three archangels whose names are given in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. In history, this number has varied quite a bit– many Church Fathers (including Pope Saint Gregory the Great) accepted a total of seven archangel names, which were taken from both canonical (accepted) and apocryphal (deemed unauthentic) Biblical sources. Today, many of the Eastern Churches still recognize Uriel as a fourth archangel, because his name appears 2 Esdras (historically referred to as 4 Esdras), a book they accept as part of the canon of scripture but which the Catholic Church does not.

It is important to note that angels can only be referred to by proper names when that name appears in scripture. We cannot make up names for angels and as pious as it may seem, we are not permitted to ‘give’ a name to our guardian angel. This is because we don’t have any sort of dominion over the angels, but also because angelic names must be revealed to us according to their activity given by God, and presumably this contains some aspect of their nature. Thus, the given name of an angel tells you not only what we can call it, but what it does.  Compare this with a human name given by human parents, who have dominion over their children. My name happens to be Christina and by the grace of God I am (or strive to be) what my name says: a follower of Christ. Yet a person can just as easily be named Christina and choose to be an atheist without altering their name. Not so for the angels.

So let’s take a look at the three Archangels and what they do.

Michael- “Who is like God?”

The name of Michael is given in the Old Testament book of the prophet Daniel, where he is named as the chief of Princes and the protector of Israel (10:13 and 10:21). When speaking of the end times, we read:

At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. — Daniel, 12:1

It is not until the New Testament that we hear of Michael as an “archangel” (Jude 1:9) and that he is the defeater of Satan (Revelation 12:7-9). Michael’s name not only challenges his adversaries (“Who is like God? Certainly not YOU! Let me show you His might…”) but also shows us that his role is to act as God’s warrior and agent of justice and protection. Michael, who is like God, will defend us against evil. Archangel_MichaelThus he is also the patron saint of those who protect us here on earth: military, police and other public servants. We rightly cry to him for aid and should commend our care to him as we recite the prayer composed by Pope Leo XIII (a great friend of the Dominican Order):

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do  Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.

Gabriel- “Strength of God” or “Man of God”

Gabriel is also mentioned in the Book of Daniel as the one who interprets prophetic visions (Daniel 8:15-26, 9:21-27). He appears with the voice and the form of  man, but he certainly presents an imposing figure, for Daniel immediately is terrified by the appearance. As the deliverer of prophetic messages, it is Gabriel who announces the birth of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), and John the Baptist to Zacharias (Luke 1:11). Though he is not mentioned by name, there are other angelic appearances in the New Testament traditionally attributed to him, including the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds (Luke 2:9) and he is also seen as one of the angelic beings at the empty tomb (Luke 24:4– note that like exactly Daniel, the women are terrified and immediately prostrate themselves). You can see that Luke’s Gospel is especially rich in describing the activity of Gabriel, yet there is another reference more powerful than the rest.

In Luke 22:39-46, we read the most vivid description of Jesus’ Agony in the Garden. “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Lk 22:44). In the verse immediately proceeding this one, God the Father sends an agent of His will (an angel) to strengthen Christ. “And to strengthen him and angel of heaven appeared to him.” (Lk 22:43)

Gethsemane_Carl_Bloch
painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Here we see Gabriel as the one who fortifies even Jesus in his time of need– how much more, then, should we call upon Gabriel to give us the strength of God in our times of struggle? How much did Mary need the Strength of God to carry out her divine mission as the Mother of God? How much did Zacharias need the Strength of God to trust that his barren wife would conceive, and to be patient for the coming of the Messiah? It is not a weakness to admit we need God’s strength– indeed, it is a necessity to admit this if we are to follow Christ, to take up our own cross so that we can one day rejoice in the glory of His resurrection. So if we call on Michael to assist us with divine strength in the sense of “might” or “force,” Gabriel should also be one to assist us in divine strength in the sense of “Fortitude.”

Raphael- “God Heals”

Raphael’s name is mentioned in the Book of Tobit, a book which belongs to the “deuterocanonical” (second canon) texts and is not included in most Protestant Bibles. In this book, we read of the story of Tobit, who is blinded and sends his son Tobiah to retrieve his fortune from Media before he dies. God provides an alternative plan.

374px-Anonimo_lombardo_(sec__XVII),_L'arcangelo_e_Tobia
Raphael leads Tobiah to the cure

He sends Raphael to accompany the boy to Media in the guise of a fellow (human) traveling companion. During this journey, Raphael not only gives Tobiah a fish-derived cure for Tobit’s blindness, but he plays match-maker and sets Tobiah up with Sarah, a woman whose seven previous husbands had all tragically died on their wedding night. Thus, through Raphael’s care, Tobit receives a medicinal cure and Sarah receives a “cure” for her seven-fold widowhood (which Raphael attributes to the workings of the devil)–  a spouse with whom she can worship the One True God.

Raphael’s accompaniment of Tobiah should be seen as a testament to how God “walks” with us throughout our own lives, seeking to heal our woundedness in all its different forms. As the one who manifests God’s healing power, Raphael is seen as the patron of physicians, pharmacists, those who are ill (especially the blind) and yes… he’s the patron of lovers.

So there you have them: the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael! Which is your favorite?

Thanks for the question, friend! Keep up the good fight.

 

Kids and “Problem” Saints

+JMJ+

We read a lot of saint stories around here. I’m always trying to read something about or by a saint, and our kids’ bookshelves are full (though never full enough!) of picture books about these great heroes of the faith.  I’ve always got a few “Lives of the Saints” books stashed away in my diaper bag for taking the kids to mass and they are frequently playing with little saint dolls: either plush ones that I’ve made, or little figures like these:

saints
St. Luke’s Brush on Etsy
guadalupe
Shining Light Dolls

So you may think I’ve got the market cornered on the whole “teaching your kids about the saints” thing. But, nope.

You see, the problem is that saint stories can be kind of… “adult.” And most of the “Lives of the Saints” books read something like this:

Saint So-and-So lived in the fourth century. Her parents tried to force her to marry some wicked dude, but she refused because she had promised that she would remain a virgin for Christ. So Wicked Dude’s parents got angry and everyone ganged up on her and killed her. Her feast day was yesterday.

“Hey mommy, what’s a virgin?”

“Mommy, how did they kill her?”

“Mommy, are people like Wicked Dude and all the horrible parents in this story still alive?”

Oh, JesusMaryandJoseph.

Let me first say that my approach to handling saint stories is NOT to sugar-coat them, but prudence is definitely our ally.  So, I’ve compiled a list of a few ways we tackle the Hard Truths about the saints in our family:

1. If your kids aren’t of the age to understand “virgin” in any biological sense, go for the spiritual sense. “Mommy, what’s a virgin?” “A virgin is someone who wants to dedicate their life to Christ alone. They want to give their whole selves to Jesus, so they don’t want to get married– especially to someone who doesn’t love Jesus, too.” It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s a great segue into: “There are people who give up being married even today!” Priests and nuns are great! As of yet, we haven’t had any complicating questions about the Blessed Virgin Mary, but I imagine we’ll get there soon and then I’ll have to bite the bullet.

2. Depending on the temperament of your child, there are many ways to handle the martyrdom issue:

  • Let them think it’s cool. This is particularly effective with boys. St. Sebastian is the ultimate “cool” saint (this is still true with high-schoolers). There’s something about his super-hero-esque endurance (“HOW many times was he shot???”) and the romantically dangerous thrill of the *whizz* of arrows that really gets them going. It’s the same fascination that makes some kids love the idea of firefighters and police officers. Let them be fascinated.
  • Bait-and-switch.  First, play up the sympathy card. “POOR So-and-so!” Let them grieve for the saint for about three seconds, then finish the story (even if your book doesn’t do this!) “But she loved God so much and God loved her so much, that as soon as she was killed, guess what He did? He took her straight to heaven!” OH YAY!!!
  • Don’t neglect to bring the story to the present day. Whatever your child’s emotional reaction is, use that to inform them that there are still martyrs today. Be gentle, of course, and reassure them that they are safe. But ask them to pray for all the people who are in danger because they love Jesus so much. Let them know that their prayers are very important– this gives them control over the situation and turns the focus outward.

3. Don’t force stories on your kids if they aren’t ready. Even if they aren’t martyred, some saints just don’t resonate very well with children– and that’s ok. Rather than white-washing their stories, though, you’re best just to skip over them and let the child build up the necessary “muscles” to grapple with the story. So if you have a big book of saints and you come to someone who for whatever reason seems like a bad choice to talk about, point out their virtues and their love of God and move on.

4. Be judicious about the books you let your kids read– even saint books. We had an incident a few weeks ago where our eldest daughter (who is a kindergartener) was reading a book of saints for girls that someone had given to us. One saint was heralded as the patron saint against men. Another story focused exclusively on the saint’s powers of levitation and performing wild miracles, without conveying anything of her piety. Then we realized that the rest of the book was basically a “girls are cool, boys drool” collection and that book was quickly trashed. Our daughter was upset, but we preferred to deal with that than let the book stay in the house. Saints should never compete with one another, nor should they encourage the child to imagine the saints as “magicians” instead of holy people. One can tell the same story, but with different language and different emphasis– at the end of the day, inspiring the child to holiness is the most important thing.

5.  This goes hand-in-hand with the previous one, but choose “good” books. If it’s a book about the saints that looks like it was illustrated by a three-year-old, don’t buy it. Hold holy literature to the same standards you do for other kid books. We try to buy books that have gorgeous illustrations and challenging, positive vocabulary– this goes for anything we read.

6. Don’t forget to “bring it home.” The Church has saints for two main reasons- to emphasize our connection with them in the Communion of Saints and encourage us to ask them for help, and to give us models of holiness so that we are better equipped to seek the Good in our own lives. You don’t have to beat kids over the head with these messages, but children need to know that saint stories aren’t just for fun. They are fun, but the point is that WE are also called to be saints and we can learn about different ways to love God through learning about the lives of the saints. Invite your children to imagine how wonderful it would be to talk with their patron saint in heaven. Tell them that the saints are like our cheerleaders in heaven and they can’t WAIT for us to get there, too. Talk about purgatory. Ask them to pray for the dead who are on their way to heaven, just as the saints pray for us.

The saints occupy a very special place in the imaginations of children. They are real people, yet they can feel totally “other,” as if they belong to the realm of faerie. Use this to your advantage when teaching your kids about their lives, rather than shying away from it– and don’t forget to maintain some of that imagination for yourself. This is the most important one:

7. Cultivate a love of the saints in your own life. Develop friendships and really get to know them. Kids are the most perceptive people on the planet. They’ll see. And they’ll learn from you.

Who are your favorite saints to teach your children about?
What do you do when saint stories seem inappropriate or challenging for your kids?
What are your favorite picture books or compilations of saint stories?

Let me know in the comments!

The Heroic Minute

+JMJ+

In “El Camino,” St. Josemaria Escriva writes:

206: The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation, a supernatural reflection and– up!

In his booklet “Seven Daily Habits for Faithful Catholics,”* Fr. John McCloskly also writes:


“The first habit is the morning offering. This is when you offer the day ahead for God’s glory using youro wn words or a memorized prayer. But what has to happen before your offering is crucial. As St. Josemaria Escriva put it: ‘Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a set time, without granting a single minute of laziness. If with the help of God you conquer yourself in that moment, you have accomplished a great deal for the rest of the day. It’s so discouraging to find yourself beaten in the first skirmish.’ In my pastoral experience, those who get a full night’s rest and conquer the ‘heroic minute’ in the morning…will have both the physical and spiritual wherewithal throughout the day to incorporate the seven habits into their daily routine.”  

Even as I copy this text, I can feel my body going into contortions and my brain is screaming: “nooooooooooooooo!” 

You see, I am not a morning person.
I know a morning person.
My husband is a morning person.

I read about someone bolting out of bed and conquering the day from the first moment and immediately my husband comes to mind. He says he simply got himself into the habit of getting up with his alarm in high school and now his body just “does it.”

I do not comprehend this.

I, too, woke up with my alarm in high school and even in college– I’ve responded with superhuman speed when my children cry for me in the night, but if I have the option of staying in bed for five more minutes, then by golly, I’m going to take it.

I have since come to accept that this is not (merely?) a moral failing on my part– it is part of my biology. I have two daughters: one of them is a morning person and one is clearly not.  They are both toddlers and even now this is very evident in their characters.  My younger girl will wake up singing, laughing and wanting to play.  My older daughter wakes up and drags her Beddy Bear along the floor to the couch, where she promptly flops herself down and won’t speak to anyone for five minutes.  We went through a period of time when the first thing she would say whimper after her nap was: “OH NOOOOOOOOOOO!” 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that personality has a huge part to play in all of this.  And quite personally, I don’t see it as a discouragement at all if I “fail” to get up as soon as the alarm goes off.  When this happens, I perceive it as a huge gift from God and my husband, who is inevitably already up with at least one of the girls by the time I roll out of bed.

No matter how much I aspire to be better about getting up quickly in the morning, this is obviously a huge hurdle that will not come easily to me.  Some very holy people may perceive it as the first/primary exercise of virtue (virtue= good habit), but I perceive that in my life, some other things may have to come first.

So I have been thinking about different times of day when I encounter opportunities for heroic minutes.  
Note the plural.

Every moment has the potential to be “heroic” when it comes to our struggles against evil, sin and omission. If I chose to say morning prayer before getting my cup of coffee– that would be heroic. I haven’t gotten that one yet.

But if I choose to say the rosary or even do the dishes before I check Facebook or a blog– that can be heroic.

And turning away from distractions so that I can play with my children when they desire my attention– that is a form of heroism, too.

All of these things have their circumstantial exceptions and limitations, but the most important part in all of this is that no matter what you find yourself faced with each day– whatever your personal challenges and battles, no matter how big or how small– we must not be discouraged. With God’s great grace and help, we must fight to become heroes, masters of our selves, so that we are capable of offering that self back to God.

Thank the Lord we are not alone in such a great task.

Where do you find your heroic moments? 
Where do you find your inspiration and help in difficult tasks? 


____
*Should you be interested, the Seven Habits are: morning offering, 15 mins silent prayer, receiving communion, 15 mins spiritual reading, praying the Angelus, praying the Rosary, examination of conscience

Anything But Ordinary

+JMJ+

I actually managed to pick up my Liturgy of the Hours book today and do morning prayer. I’ve been horrible about getting in my much-needed prayer time during these last few weeks… and the excuse isn’t the newborn. Finding time to pray is actually quite easy when you’re tied down to a chair for 15-20 minutes a dozen times per day, but making the time is the difficult part. I find it’s much easier to devote 15 minutes to a Rosary when they are a stolen 15 minutes in-between lunch and work and dishes. When I have a lot of time, it’s harder to convince myself that I should use this particular 15 minutes for my prayer.

I digress.

What I wanted to jot down is the feeling I had when I opened up my prayer book to Week I of Ordinary Time. Ordinary. No special antiphons or hymns. Just back to the numbered, green weeks that form the backbone of the liturgical year. And I have to admit that after such a chaotic, intense Advent and the hustle and bustle of having a baby born on Christmas Day, then his baptism celebrated on the Baptism of the Lord… it was kind of nice to sit down with my cup of coffee this Friday morning and feel the comfortable slide back into “ordinary” time in this new chapter of my “ordinary” life.

True Devotion?

+JMJ+

Having finished re-reading ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ I was looking for another book to devour.  As I went to the bookshelf, my heart kind of sank because I realized it was full of the same books it always is. I wanted something new. I wanted something challenging. So I raided the office library and found a copy of “True Devotion to Mary” by St. Louis de Montfort. Actually, we have about twenty copies laying around, so I grabbed one and brought it home.

On sale at Catholic Company

Boy, is this text challenging.

I may have said this before, but I’m kind of a reluctant Dominican when it comes to the whole ‘devotion to Mary’ thing. I believe this is why God has called me along this path; because without Fr. Dominic’s prompting, I might never grow to embrace her as I should. I’ve never really felt a strong connection with her and sometimes I really don’t understand those who do. I don’t deny that theirs may be the right relationship to have with Our Blessed Mother, but it does make me a little envious that for some people it just seems to come so joyfully and easily. But when I read things like:

“It is Mary alone who has given to the miserable children of Eve, the faithless, entry into the terrestrial paradise… or rather, since she is herself that terrestrial paradise, that virgin and blessed earth from which Adam and Eve, the sinners, have been driven, she gives no entry there except to those whom it is her pleasure to make saints.” — paragraph 45

… I get a little uncomfortable. I won’t unpack this paragraph here because I do believe that St. Louis de Montfort does not overstretch into the heretical and I trust the numerous qualifications that underly this statement to be taken for granted in his writing. But still– could we come up with a better way to say this? It just seems… imprudent.

As I was thinking all of these things the other night, I was struck by a very vivid memory.

I went through a very short period in high school when I brought my Bible with me and arrived early, so that I could sit in front of my locker and read from the Gospels before the day started. Now: I went to public school, so perhaps this was particularly odd and perhaps I did it partly in a show-offy “look at me the hypocrite while I pray” sort of way. I was admittedly a punk…

…But I also remember that I was truly thirsting for God’s Word. I was having a really rough time (who wasn’t?) and I really wanted to learn who Jesus was and WWJD and all of that.

As I was reading through John’s Gospel, I came across these quotes:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from life to death.”- Jn 5:24

 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” — Jn 6:51

“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” — Jn 8:19

“Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day.” — Jn 12:48

John’s Gospel is full of this stuff. And as I actually read these words, I felt this strange emotion stirring inside me. It felt unjust. It felt pompous. I remember thinking, “This Jesus is totally full of himself. Why is everything about Him???

I wasn’t astute enough in my reading or even capable of stepping outside of my own little world at the moment to realize that these were exactly the charges that led so many people to reject Him. He was just a guy. They knew his mother. He sounded like He was claiming to be God, to be doing things that only God can do… this man was crazy!

Years later, I stumbled upon this famous quote of Lewis:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” ― C.S. LewisMere Christianity

YES. This is EXACTLY what I felt and now I am grateful to have had that experience because it eventually forced me to confront Jesus as either a lunatic or the true Son of God: at some point, I had to make the choice. Thank God I was able to profess the latter.

So as I read through this book about devotion to Mary, part of me wonders if I’m not experiencing the same sort of tension? I’d like to say “Oh well, some saints are really devoted to Mary and others aren’t… or at least their devotion takes a very different form and that’s OK,” but maybe there’s something of her son hidden in her as well. Maybe all of this unsettling talk about Mary will eventually force me to acknowledge something that up until now I’ve been denying. I’m not sure.

For now, I plan to trudge through the book and pray that I will be able to see and learn whatever Christ and His Blessed Mother desire of me. The Rosary has already taught me much about her and I am sure there is much more to learn, so I pray that God will, if nothing else, at least reward my persistence.

What about you? Have you read “True Devotion?” What was your experience like? 
Do you ever feel uncomfortable reading about Mary, the saints, or even about Jesus? What do you do? 
Do you have any less-intense suggestions for texts that could help ease me into this one?

Rosary For Busy Moms: Pt. #2

+JMJ+

Happy Solemnity of Saint Joseph!

Well, we *still* don’t have wireless back, but at least I can sit here tethered to the wall like the good ol’ days and get some posting done.  Today, I’m continuing my series on the Rosary.  In Part 1, I talked a little bit about the history of the Rosary.  In Part 2, I’m tackling the question:

How Can I Fit the Rosary 
Into My Busy Day?

Lots of wonderful, holy, virtuous people will tell you that making time to pray will actually make your schedule “fall into place” better.  I happen to agree with them, but one of the biggest obstacles to working on a prayer life is simply finding the “right” time in what seems like an already-packed schedule. Though saying the Rosary only takes 15-20 mins (unless you’re like me and go into ecstasy every time you pick one up– that’ll take you longer), it can seem a daunting task to find those precious few minutes.  So here’s my first tip: start by doing it at the same time you do something else. 
1. In the Car
You may be busy shuttling the kids and the groceries from place to place, but driving isn’t an activity that prohibits one from listening to music and singing along wildly– why would it prohibit you from saying the Rosary? You can either pop in this wonderful CD by the MaryFoundation…
Get Your Copy Here
…or keep track of the decades with a little pocket rosary or with your fingers. I find the latter easier because my hands are on the steering wheel anyway, so I just press a little with each finger as I go through the decade. I love doing this because the kids are always in the car with me and they absorb so much of it just by listening.  Sometimes they even pray along!
2. During Your Walk/Exercise
In summer I find myself taking advantage of the city by walking.  Some of you may have regular times when you go for a run, swim, etc.  Instead of immediately pumping up the jams, play the Rosary on your iPod. If you’re saying it on your own, though, try to match the rhythm of your breathing to the prayer.  This is an ancient meditative technique (commonly used with the Jesus Prayer) and could even help with your workout.
3. While Doing Chores
Some days, sitting on the couch for fifteen minutes just isn’t going to happen.  At time like those, I just say my Rosary while I’m washing dishes.  This poses its own difficulties because my hands are covered in soapy water and I can’t spare the fingers to grasp anything.  So I took advantage of a blank spot behind our sink and did this: 
It’s a cross with ten little decorative paper swatches taped to the wall. Fancy, no? Everyone thinks I’m just skimping on the decor, but we know better. This has been a huge help on those super-busy days and it also helps me to think about allllllllllllllll the work that I do and how it serves my family– it’s a reminder that every chore can be a form of prayer. 
4. Throughout the Day
Don’t have fifteen minutes doing any of these things? Say your Rosary in segments throughout the day. For example: 
First Decade- in the shower
Second Decade- in the car
Third Decade- in line at the grocery store
Fourth Decade- back in the car
Fifth decade- while you’re setting the dinner table
AMEN.
This is just a start. I can guarantee that if you’re just beginning (as I was six months ago), it will be hard. I still find it hard most days, but even on those days when my brain seems to be fighting me, I can sometimes feel a tugging at my heart that helps me.  Those are the days I expressly try to quiet myself and NOT say the Rosary at a time when doing something else.  But enough about me. Now I want to know: 
Do you say the Rosary regularly?
If not the Rosary, do you have another prayer you like to say on a regular basis? 
How do you make the time? 


Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #1

+JMJ+

If you want lots of heavy theology on the Rosary, go read Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

I’m here because I don’t have time to read that stuff anymore and my suspicion is neither do you, but as an aspiring Lay Dominican, part of our rule is to say a daily Rosary and so I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

I have to admit that for much of my life, I considered myself someone for whom the Rosary just “didn’t do it.” I have much preferred Liturgy of the Hours or even the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  For some reason, the Marian emphasis of the Rosary just threw me for a loop.

Imagine how I felt, though, when I realized that the Rosary is based on the Psalms.
(Oh no, she didn’t… she seriously must have lost it. Doesn’t she know the prayers and meditations all come from the NEW TESTAMENT? Pshhhh, I’m never coming to this blog ever again.)

Yep, the psalms. I hope to dedicate many more posts to this wonderful devotion, but today the lesson is:


A Very Brief and Incomplete History of the Rosary

Wayyyyyyy back in the ninth century, the lay people were looking for more ways to pray (good for them!). The monks had it easy, really. They prayed the Psalter (150 Psalms) regularly through the eight Canonical Hours (aka Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours) and let’s face it: just like today, it’s hard to get through all of that praying if you’re trying to run a household and raise a family.  Plus, the vast majority of people couldn’t read, so even if they magically got hold of a book they wouldn’t know what to do with it.

And so some bright person thought:
150 psalms. What if I said 150 “Our Fathers” instead? 
Some people did this. Others shortened their 150 prayers to the simple Angelic Salutation given by Gabriel to Mary: “Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee!”
Genius!

The great idea caught on, but there was a little bit of trouble. “How do we keep track of 150 prayers?” Some people kept pebbles in bags (but that got heavy), some people tied knots in ropes (but these ended up being quite long and hard to carry). Finally, a smart person realized that if they just put fifty beads on a string, they could go through the beads three times and that would equal 150! Brilliant!

Then, some time in the thirteenth century, Biblical scholars started looking at the psalms and they said:

“Gee, this is interesting. There are three major categories of psalms: lament, thanksgiving and praise (liturgy). We could think about all the lament psalms in the context of Jesus’ passion and death. We could think about the psalms of thanksgiving in kind of a joyful way and all those liturgical psalms speak of the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection and the great mysteries of the Church.” 

— Verbatim Quote from Anonymous Parisian Doctor of Theology

Do you see where I’m going with this?
People were already in the habit of saying THREE rounds of FIFTY Pater Nosters/Angelic Salutations. Now, they had an easy way to divide those rounds and contemplate different aspects of Jesus’ life and mission.  At the same time, people were also contemplating the role of Mary in these great mysteries.

Then along comes…

…Father Dominic! This intense man with the fiery red hair and his little band of beggar preachers begins using these meditations and prayers as weapons against the wide-spread Albigensian heresy.  He preached the little psalter of Mary as a way to protect oneself against error and to win souls for Christ. Even though Dominic wasn’t the source of the Rosary as legend has often claimed, he and his friars are certainly a primary source of its widespread popularity.  Mary may not have fabricated the Rosary in St. Dominic’s mystical vision, but she certainly showed him how to use it.

Over many years, the form of the Rosary has solidified into the three sets of mysteries, each with five decades (totaling 150 Hail Marys).  This numerical tie to the Psalter was obscured with the introduction of the Luminous Mysteries by Pope Blessed John Paul II, but the roots of the Rosary remain the same.

The Rosary is still a wonderful weapon against error, encouraging us to meditate on the life of Jesus and to come to know Him through the Immaculate Eyes of His Mother.  I cannot say that it has been easy to try and incorporate the Rosary into my daily prayers, but it hasn’t been as difficult as I had expected.

Oh– and if anyone loves trivia as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know:

Dominicans still wear their rosaries as part of their habit, dangling down the left side of their waist–  in the place where a soldier would keep his sword.