We’re Not Just a Prayer Group


Last Friday, I packed up my kids and drove out to beautiful Clinton, MA (home of the Museum of Russian Icons!) for the funeral of a departed Dominican brother. The 18-month-old was delightfully well-behaved, but his two older sisters spent the majority of the time whining, punching each other and fighting over books. Just letting you know that I won’t be getting that Parenting Award this year. Again.

During the homily, Father talked about the ways in which our brother had contributed to his parish, professional and family life. I sat there with a large contingent of my fellow Lay Dominicans, wondering when he would mention our brother’s commitment to his Dominican vocation. Then the priest said,

“He was also a Lay Dominican, a member of a prayer group that got together once a month to pray– to say the Rosary. They would do a litany. And also the Liturgy of the Hours and his presence in that group will greatly be missed.”

Our chapter president, who was sitting directly in front of me, rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “Well, that description was embarrassingly wrong.”

I was going through some formation materials with our current novice about the history of the Lay Dominicans (formerly known as the Third Order or the Order of Penitence of St. Dominic). Here’s a selection:

“‘Tertiaries need to be involved with attaining the goal of the Dominican Order. Third Order members are therefore Christian laity who are involved with the apostolate of the First Order– proclamation of the Word— in the broadest sense of the word.'(Schillebeeckx, The Dominican Third Order: Old and New Style, 1960)…The first purpose of the Dominican Laity, the individual purpose, is simply to be Dominicans. The second purpose of the Laity, the purpose within the family, flows from the first; the Dominican Laity are truly members of the Dominican family.” (emphasis added)

That doesn’t sound like a prayer group to me. It sounds like a vocation: a call to fill the world with holy men and women who will preach in places that the friars (the First Order) can’t. It is true that our chapter gathers for prayer on a regular basis, but that is because we need the time to pray together (and study, which we do every meeting) before returning to our preaching vocation in the world. We may not get to wear our full habits until we die, but we are as much a part of the Dominican family and the preaching mission of St. Dominic as are the friars, nuns and sisters– something our dear departed brother knew and lived very well.

Yet the charge that we appear to be nothing more than a prayer group is not without substantiation. There are times in the history of the Order when lay groups have seemed nothing more than Rosary Groups For Old People. When the average age of a chapter is not young, it can be difficult to engage in active preaching apostolates as a group, which would be one way to show that we have more to offer than insular, mutually-edifying devotion. I’m not saying that prayer groups are bad– they are wonderful! But the Lay Dominicans are something different, and the fact that we may not appear different is lamentable.

You may think I’m just complaining because I have a bruised ego over the whole affair. Maybe. I’m very sensitive to those who insist or insinuate that being a Lay Dominican isn’t a “real vocation.” But I think (and I hope!) that the real reason I’m dwelling on this incident is that the priest’s words struck me because they were a challenge. They challenge me to not grow comfortable in just three of the four pillars of Dominican life. I must meet with my chapter, I must pray and I must study, but in order for the world to know Christ, I must also turn outside these nourishing components of my vocation. I must preach. I must share the fruits of my chapter, prayer and study. Some people, like the priest at the funeral, will miss the connection between my apostolic efforts and that group I attend every month. That’s fine, but I can’t let lack of recognition be an excuse to get discouraged in my preaching, which admittedly can be a difficult temptation for me. I like people to acknowledge my efforts and my contributions, which seldom happens when it comes to preaching or teaching the Faith. Ultimately, I must learn to desire that people will come to know Christ through me– and if that means that I and my Dominican status remain unknown, that needs to be OK.  How disappointed Dominic would be if his sons and daughters didn’t heed the call to make disciples of all nations just because people on the outside didn’t realize they were more than a committed prayer group.

So in response to that call, I’m here to say:

Jesus loves you. Mary, His mother, is eager to open her heart to you and take you under her protection. Your sins are forgiven in Christ– Go to Him. 

And if you feel inspired to preach to others, to study and to teach the Faith, maybe you, too, have a vocation to the Order of Preachers. Maybe you are called to be a friar. Or a nun. Or an active sister (which is what I thought my vocation was before I met my husband). Or maybe you are called to the vocation of a Lay Dominican. I’d be very happy to talk with you if you want to learn more. Many wonderful lay people spread the Gospel in their families, places of work, and even online. But sometimes we are called to do so with the support of a chapter, with the prayers of St. Dominic, and the special protection given to his family under Our Lady’s Mantle.  So keep an open heart and an open ear– for yourself and for others.

And… if at my funeral, the priest says that I was part of a Dominican prayer group, please just roll your eyes and shrug your shoulders on my behalf.


Catholics to Know: Fr. Nic and Jerome Lejeune


People don’t need to be canonized Saints in order to be good role models in the Faith. In “Catholics to Know,” we’ll look at the lives of a few modern-day examples of people living their faith in the world! Today we’ll look at: 

Catholic Geneticists: Fr. Nic and Jerome Lejeune

I don’t think I need to inform anyone of the fact that it’s a common narrative to pit the Church against Science. Yet we know that God is not just the source of religious truth, He is the source of ALL truth (CCC #2465).  So for each new scientific theory or discovery, the Church is compelled to ask: 

Does this fit with our understanding of the world as revealed by God? 
Does it necessitate re-thinking on ways to interpret Sacred Scripture? 
Does this present new moral challenges the Church must speak to? 
If this science seems to contradict our faith, how do we explain the apparent contradiction? 
How can true science and the truths of our faith be harmonized? 

  Rhode Island Science & Technology Advisory Council

One very interesting example of such thinking comes from Fr. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, OP, an MIT-grad-turned-Dominican-Friar, who works at Providence College in microbiology.  He frequently gives lectures on one way to understand the relationship between Adam & Eve in Genesis and the latest developments in anthropology and genomics.  He, and many others like him, show that the Church is most definitely not opposed to science– just that the Church has a responsibility to safeguard and accurately present Truth wherever it is found. He is an adviser to the National Catholic Bioethics Center and through his research and work, encourages young Catholics to pursue science with genuine love of inquiry and moral responsibility. He’s written a book entitled “Biomedicine and Beatitude: An Introduction to Catholic Bioethics.” I’m a little ashamed to say that I have not read it (yet), but having been priveledged to meet Fr. Nic a few times, I can say that if he writes at all like he speaks, it will be a very entertaining and enlightening read.

Another facet of the Church’s relationship to science is through the scientific method itself.  Especially within the field of medicine, testing new theories and ideas frequently leads to the necessity to try these things out on humans. Any time we delve into situations where experiments are being done on humans, we find ourselves in the realm of ethics, which is most definitely an area in which the Church must be allowed to have her say. Here’s a relevant passage from the Catechism: 

CCC 2293 Basic scientific research, as well as applied research, is a significant expression of man’s dominion over creation. Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all. By themselves however they cannot disclose the meaning of existence and of human progress. Science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they take their origin and development; hence they find in the person and in his moral values both evidence of their purpose and awareness of their limits.

Let me paraphrase some key points: 

1. Scientific research is not opposed to our understanding that humans were created to be stewards of the Earth. Pursuing science is part of what we were designed by God to do.
2. Science can tell us about “how” the world works, but it is not capable of telling us “why” the world works that way (instead of “why” some other way).
3. Science can tell us about “how” things work, but we humans are responsible for figuring out how to use this knowledge. 
4. Science can serve all of mankind if we do not allow our discoveries to lead us to do things which are immoral.

To sum up: With great power, comes great responsibility.

No one knew this better than Mr. Jerome Lejeune,

Credit: Jerome Lejuene Foundation, USA

the French Catholic geneticist who discovered, among many other things,  Trisomy 21, better known as the cause of Downs Syndrome. Lejeune had paved the way for a better understanding of the syndrome, including the possibility of targeted therapeutic treatment, yet we all know what happened next: with the cause of Downs Syndrome now known, tests were developed to detect it in utero, and as a result many children with the disease have been aborted. 

Lejeune was completely shattered that his research would be used in such a horrible way. He very publicly denounced the practice of abortion, fighting for laws that would protect the most vulnerable. He worked tirelessly to support families affected by Downs Syndrome and other chromosomally-linked diseases. He believed that this work caused him to fall out of the running of the prestigious Nobel Prize, yet he kept working. Eventually, he was chosen by Pope Saint John Paul II to head the Pontifical Academy for Life. Lejeune drafted the foundational documents for the academy, yet only served as its president for a few weeks before he died in 1994. The Jerome Lejeune Foundation continues his work of research and advocacy today. 

True Devotion?


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?

On Divorce, Remarriage & Communion


Some interesting stuff.

I presented at my local chapter meeting today on an article, the full text of which you can find here.

Kasper, if you are interested, did an interview with Commonweal on this topic which serves as part of the background for the Dominican-led article above.

And if you don’t have time for both of those, you can perhaps peruse my summary, which was the presentation given today.

Over and out!

PSA: When a New Translation Helps


I wrote a while back about my adventures reading St. Catherine of Siena’s “Dialogue” and how reading Louis de Wohl’s book about her (“Lay Siege to Heaven”) actually helped me slog through it. But I’ll admit that on the whole, I wasn’t left with a very nice taste in my mouth.

First of all, the “Dialogue” is kind of a weird and uncomfortable format for me.  According to reports, she dictated the majority of it while in a prayerful trance– so when you talk about what “she” says in the Dialogues, you end up saying very awkward things like:

“What Catherine says… or, rather… what Catherine says that God says to her? How should I say this?”

“God says in the Dialogue… well, I mean… this is what He says to Catherine and it’s technically private revelation so you aren’t’ bound to accept this as what God directly says… I mean…Goodness this is hard.”

I didn’t ‘hate’ the text, but it didn’t really resonate with me, either. It just felt… flat. And that’s not really what I wanted when picking up a spiritual text.

Then, my formation director (she’s so great!) suggested I take a look at a different translation of the work, entitled “Little Talks With God” by Paraclete Press.

Paraclete Press

What a difference! Gone was the “macerations of the flesh” talk and the flowery, mystical prose that I’ve come to associate with overly-saccharine 19th-century French popular piety (*cough* Therese *cough*). This translation rang less with impenetrable mysticism and more with rational, though lofty, metaphor– which admittedly is much more palatable for me.

The best part, though, was that I realized halfway through that my previous reading of St. Catherine had been hindered by the fact that I generally read modern translations of the Bible (NRSV preferred, or NAB). I was shocked to realize that “Little Talks” was ripe with Biblical parallels– mostly from the Pauline Epistles– that were totally lost on me in the old translation.

I cannot speak to the scholarly accuracy of this modern translation, so if you are looking to study Catherine formally, I can’t say one way or another whether it wold help. -BUT- Reading through this version was, for me, a far more positive and enriching experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a more “accessible” personal reading of St. Catherine.

On Naming


 ST I, Q. 94, Art. 3, s.c.

On the contrary, Man named the animals (Genesis 2:20). But names should be adapted to the nature of things. Therefore Adam knew the animals’ natures; and in like manner he was possessed of the knowledge of all other things.”

This sed contra appears in the Summa in St. Thomas’ discussion of the prelapsarian knowledge of Adam and Eve.  That really doesn’t matter all that much here, except insofar as it gives us a window into how St. Thomas views certain types of names and the act of naming.  The gist of the above quote is that Adam was capable of properly naming each animal in the Garden of Eden according to his perfect knowledge of that animal’s nature.  So in a perfect state, we would be able to know the nature of all animals and call them such.*

This isn’t unlike God’s perfect knowledge of us. Recall the words of Psalm 139 or the beginning of the book of the Prophet Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-18952G" style="box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;" value="(G)”> I knew you, before you were born<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-18952I" style="box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;" value="(I)”> I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-18952K" style="box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;" value="(K)”>” (Jer 1:4-5)

  Or think about our Gospel reading from last Sunday on the Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul:

[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Simon Peter said in reply,“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.And so I say to you, you are Peter,and upon this rock I will build my Church.

When Simon [Peter] is able to correctly identify Jesus for WHO HE IS (that is, the Son of the living God), Jesus turns around and responds in kind:  “You are Peter.”  To be the rock of the Church is Simon Peter’s “nature,” so to speak.  It is his vocation and his special role to play in salvation history.  We see this so many times in the Old Testament: Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel.  These names mean something because they tell us about the nature of the person who holds that name.  The name has been given by God in His perfect knowledge of His creatures and therefore should not be taken lightly.

This is why the naming of children is so important– in an imperfect way, we name our children according to what little of their nature we can perceive (‘boy’ or ‘girl’ is a good starting point) and what we desire for them.  When a Catholic gives their daughter the name “Mary,” this isn’t just because we like the name.  Rather, it should signify that we wish Mary to watch over this child, to guide her and in the best case, for that child to imitate the virtues of Mary to the best of their ability.

So what does this have to do with you?

Well, this is how I chose to approach my discernment on choosing a Dominican name (see my previous post if you missed the preliminary discussion!)  I was certain that I would choose “Thomas” as my second name because of my connection with him through prayer and study, but I was still uncertain about a first name (why choose just one if you can have more, right?).  At first, I was entirely set on Cecilia, but after making that decision I still didn’t feel ‘settled’ in the way one wants to with these sorts of decisions. You can read the previous post for more name options, but after a lot of deliberation I finally settled on “Zelie Thomas.”

…But I really didn’t. I submitted the name to my chapter president only to change it because a certain someone kept nagging at me to take her name instead. So I did. Officially.

She’s not a Dominican.
            She’s not a scholar in any technical sense.
                       She doesn’t bear a family name.

 But wow is she awesome. 
Queen Saint Margaret of Scotland!
Reformer of the Scottish Church, 
Mother of eight children, 
Exiled princess of England, 
Devoted reader of the Gospels, 
Friend of the poor and orphans, 
Intercessor for prisoners of war, 
Help of pilgrims,
Skilled craftswoman, 
Clever and just judge, 
Loving wife. 
And so that’s my name: Zelie Margaret. 
I still have a long way to go in terms of understanding what this name means for me, why the Holy Spirit guided me this way (because I do believe that is the case) and what challenges and responsibilities await the new Mrs. Zelie Margaret Valenzuela, OP.  But that’s the fun part, isn’t it? 🙂 
I’ll ask again because it’s fun: what religious name would you choose? 
Or what confirmation name did you choose? Why? 
Which saints have guided you in your life? Have any of them been surprises? 
* Umm, that’s an awesome super-power. 

Almost There

+JMJ+ Stillllll not feeling great– this kid may be small, but he/she is making his/her presence felt! I hope to get a bigger blog post up soon, but I wanted to whet your appetite, by posting a (now month-old) photo of the newly-received: Mrs. Zelie Margaret Valenzuela O.P.

So far, I’ve been a pretty sub-par Dominican. I’ve been trying to work in my prayer and study time, but it’s a slow, slow, sometimes frustrating process. When I first started out with my postulant formation, I had no idea that through it, God would reveal a very important fact:

He has called me to be a Dominican because I have a LONG way to go. And I need Dominic’s help. 

“To Jesus, through Mary” is an oft-quoted phrase. Right now mine looks like: “To Jesus, through Mary. But first, to Mary, through Dominic.” But more on that later. And hopefully I’ll be able to write about my new name!

Feast of St. Catherine


Happy Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, Patroness of Third Order Dominicans and Doctor of the Church!

There is far too much to be said about this amazing woman, but here are a few bullet points:

  • 25 March, 1347- 29 April, 1380. She died at the mystical age of 33.
  • Second youngest of 24 or 25 children (all by the *same* father AND mother)
  • Catherine vowed to give her life to God at the age of 6, when she received a special vision of Christ
  • She was THIRD ORDER Dominican, not a nun. She belonged to a group of widow-sisters called the Mantellate, who almost did not allow her to join because she was not a widow.
  • Her letters and political involvement helped bring Pope Gregory XI from Avignon back to Rome.
  • During her life, Catherine worked many miracles, including the healing of those with plague and the conversion of many sinners.
  • She had “secret” stigmata; she received the wounds of Christ during prayer and asked that these wounds remain hidden from sight.  She bore these wounds for the rest of her life, but they only became visible to others upon her death
  • Her “Dialogue” was not written by her hand, but was dictated to her friends and confessor while she was in a mystical trance. 
+St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!+

Website Launch!!


I’ve been working on a website for our Lay Dominican group– partly because it’s fun, but mostly because I’ve noticed that very few chapters run an active website and that was *realllllly* frustrating when I was trying to find out more about them! So please head on over to:

…and check us out! 
Let me know what you think. 
Oh, and Happy Birthday, Mom!!
And Happy Feast of St. Gianna Beretta Molla!
Over and out. 

Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #3


It’s finally time for Part #3 in my little rosary series. In case you missed the first two, here are the links: 

Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #2
Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #1

Today, I’ll be talking about– 

How to Meditate in the Midst of Chaos

I’m sure all you moms out there know the frustration of trying to do something that requires an ounce of concentration, only to be interrupted about ten seconds through (e.g. a blog post… seriously? Ask me for another snack. And another glass of water. And more music. Please.) For me and the rosary, this is just a daily occurrence– and I don’t foresee that changing until all the kids are in school… which could be forever. 

Because I don’t usually manage to have a “silent” or “spare” fifteen minutes in the day, I talked last time about ways to squeeze your prayers into your schedule.  One of those ways was to say the rosary while driving or walking– but of course both of these activities require you to maintain some degree of awareness of your surroundings and involve a fair amount of thinking.  You can’t really close your eyes to center yourself while driving– other drivers get really judgy when you do that. Even when I do manage to have a few minutes of quiet where I can curl up on the couch and really try to enter into prayer, there’s a level of vigilance that is still operating that prevents me from going as “deep” as I would like to. I’m always ready to play “defense” with the kids around and so mentally, I find it hard to let go. Even after they go to sleep, it can be a challenge to find time to pray because by then, let’s face it: I’m tired. 

So before we go on, let’s look at what “meditation” is: 

  1. 1.
    think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.

Well, obviously “thinking deeply” is out most of the time– but I have found ways to try and focus my mind that require less “though” and more “mindfulness.” Let me illustrate.

Way #1: Images

I’m a very visual person, so when my thoughts are distracted, it helps me to just have an image in mind for each mystery. For some of them, famous works of art come to mind. Whenever I meditate on “The Visitation,” Mariotto Albertinelli’s rendition is the first thing that comes to mind.  

Other mysteries, however, come more from my own imagination as I’ve meditated upon them in the past. “The Annunciation” is a good example of that– the image that I’ve put together is the product of many other powerful renditions of the scene, including some fabulous icons, as well as how I’ve ‘pictured’ it when I’ve heard or read it.  
If you’re not a visual person, though, go on to number two. 
Way #2: Feelings

When I meditate on the agony in the garden, it’s pretty easy to imagine the sort of emotions the scene would entail.  Luke gives us this great description: 

In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.– Lk 22:44

I also have to admit that my meditation is greatly colored by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s song, “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar.*

So when I’m having a hard time finding a concrete “image” to focus on, or for those times when even conjuring up an image requires too much thought, I try to at least focus on the feelings of each particular mystery– and rather than merely ‘naming’ them (e.g. joyful), I try to actually feel it. I find this to be of greatest help when I’m having a bad day. Either I bust out the Sorrowful Mysteries and end up feeling better through catharsis, or I focus on the Joyful or the Glorious Mysteries and my day seems a little better. 
What’s that you say? Images and feelings aren’t really your thing? Try this!
Way #3: Focusing on Body Parts

What? That’s weird. 
Yeah, sorry. I couldn’t think of a better way to say that. Let me just dive right in to an example: 
When I’m walking around the city, my thoughts tend to wander and I’m always preoccupied with making sure my stroller doesn’t get run over by bikes, angry runners or oblivious college students (amazingly, the bikes are the only ones I actually haven’t had problems with). So rather than focusing on images or feelings, sometimes I find it helpful to associate a mystery with a part of the body. This seems to be easiest with the Sorrowful Mysteries. Here’s how I pair them: 
  • The Agony in the Garden= knees
  • The Scourging at the Pillar= back
  • The Crowning with Thorns= head
  • Jesus Carries His Cross= shoulders
  • Jesus is Crucified= hands and feet
As I pray each decade, I shift my awareness to each of those body parts. I think about how Jesus’ knees must have felt,  kneeling in the dirt or even on rocks, how they must have felt weak and tired. Sometimes my knees start to feel that a little bit. I become aware of soreness or tiredness in my own body and I offer that up. But usually I contrast this with how my own knees are feeling, which is mostly fine– and as I meditate on that decade, I thank God for my own lack of pain in that moment.  I realize that maybe all those aches and pains I complain about really aren’t that big of a deal and I feel gratitude for the health and mobility God has given me.  When I reach the end of the decade, I shift my focus and begin again.  

Way #4: Why am I praying this with Mary? 

When I first started praying the rosary, I was all excited about meditating– but then I realized I had no clue what some of these mysteries were doing in the rosary.  Obviously the Sorrowful Mysteries are great because they make us think of Christ’s Passion and Death. Christians should totally meditate on that. Likewise the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Resurrection– key points in Jesus’ life.  But the Finding in the Temple? What on earth is that about? 
I have to admit that I was stuck. My prayer went something like this:

Dear God, I have no idea what you want me to think about here. Jesus was super smart and way beyond his years in wisdom. I can’t do much with that. Help. Love, Christina.

Then I started to approach meditation not from a mere “what does the Bible say about this” standpoint, but from Mary’s point of view. We are, after all, asking her to pray with us and for us when we say the rosary– so why not try to glean some insight from her?

Then it dawned on me:

When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’– Lk 2:43-48

Mary was anxious for THREE DAYS because she thought she had lost her son. I imagined the time I thought I lost Sofie in a clothing store, only to find her thirty seconds later in a fitting room giving herself kisses in the mirror. I was terrified. In those thirty seconds I imagined every possible bad thing that could have happened to my precious girl. Maybe someone took her! Maybe she’s hurt! Maybe she’s dead! And here we have the key to this sorrowful mother’s heart: for three days, she thought her son might be dead.

When I put myself in Mary’s place, all of a sudden I realized the heart-wrenching foreshadowing of emotion that must have passed through her.  Did she remember those three days when she stood at the foot of the cross? Was her grief compounded because of this earlier experience? Or perhaps… did Mary’s heart contain the hope that even after she put her son in the tomb, God would again deliver him to her on the third day?

So, whenever I have problems figuring out something to meditate on, I always ask: What might Mary have felt? 

Sometimes I find that despite the obvious differences, she and I have much in common. And it helps me to think about that.

Way #5: Offering it up

And then there are some days you are so arid, so frazzled and so frustrated by everything that is going on and everything you have to do and there’s no way to quiet your house, car or brain and you just have to offer it up.

I can’t tell you how many times I have thrown my head back and squeezed my eyes shut tight, gripping my rosary beads as hard as I can saying:

Dear God, I just don’t have it in me today. You’re gonna have to handle the graces on this one because I’ve got nothing. So just take my struggles and please acknowledge that I’m going to power through this and I will offer it up. K, thanks. 

 So, there you have it! Hope some of these help. Even as I wrote them I thought: That sounded way more profound than I usually feel it is in the moment. So take everything with a grain (or twelve-hundred) of salt. Now I’d love to hear from you!

How do you manage to quiet yourself– even if for a moment– to say any prayers? 
Do you have any special techniques for saying the rosary of your own? I’d *love* to hear about them.
Are there any mysteries you have problems “figuring out”? How do you work around that? 

*Go ahead, Judgy McJudgerson. Tell me how bad that movie is and how it’s not Catholic and blah blah blah. It’s a powerful song and if it leads me to pathos for Our Lord, then I don’t know why you complain. Also, I saw him perform the role back in 2008. He was totally old and it was weird– but he totally rocked it.