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

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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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What’s So “Luminous” About Those Mysteries?

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I’m going to be very honest here: I’m a curmudgeon about those Luminous Mysteries.

The Rosary has traditionally been said with only three sets of mysteries (Glorious, Joyful and Sorrowful), each with 5 decades, which when you add it all up comes to 150 Hail Marys.  There also happen to be 150 Psalms. This is not a coincidence: 150 Hail Marys were the psalter for the illiterate. It was a way for everyone to feel connected to the Liturgy of the Hours, to mirror in their busy, daily lives the constant prayer of the psalter that was done by the monks and nuns. There’s a beautiful symmetry and symbolism there. Then, in 2002, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote Rosarium Virginis Mariae in which he introduced another set of mysteries which he called the “Mysteries of Light,” which we shorthand to “Luminous.” These are:

  1. The Baptism in the Jordan
  2. The Wedding at Cana
  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom
  4. The Transfiguration
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper

I’ve got nothing against these events– they’re pretty great. But if you add 50 more Hail Marys you get… 200. Where’s the symbolism and the liturgical connection with that?

Psh. Harumph. Grumble.

But another reason I’ve been so curmudgeonly about the Luminous Mysteries is that for a very long time, the title didn’t seem to make any sense. “Mysteries of Light?” Apart from the Transfiguration, there really doesn’t seem to be any “light” happening in these stories. What am I supposed to be contemplating here? How did JPII get that name? For a long time I just avoided saying them on Thursdays, because it’s not like you have to say the recommended set of mysteries each day. But at some point I decided I needed to at least try to understand these things better and stop being so stubborn. So I read:

“In the course of [these] mysteries, we contemplate important aspects of the person of Christ as the definitive revelation of God. Declared the beloved Son of the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan, Christ is the one who announces the coming of the Kingdom, bears witness to it in his works and proclaims its demands. It is during the years of his public ministry that the mystery of Christ is most evidently a mystery of light: ‘While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.'(Jn 9:5)”– RVM, 19

In his typical way, JPII is weaving together images, rather than creating a straight line of thought. As someone who likes to think linearly, this used to frustrate me a lot. Now that I know him better, I have come to find it endearing. In a few succinct sentences, he takes some threads: the person of Christ, revelation, public ministry, the Light of the World. He puts them together and voila!:  The Mysteries of Light.

Yet after reading this, I decided that we’ve fallen into a bit of misnomer when it comes to calling these the “Mysteries of Light”, because “Light” for JPII is shorthand for: The Revelation of God in the World Contained Within the Person and Actions of Jesus Christ. 

But of course, that’s a horrible name for a set of mysteries.

So if you have ever felt the same confusion or frustration I felt about the “Luminous” Mysteries, and what exactly you were supposed to do with them, I propose something that I have found very helpful in my own contemplation: simply call them the “Illuminating Mysteries.” Or the title that I prefer is the “Epiphanic  Mysteries,” from the word “Epiphany”– revelation. Rather than being distracted (as I am wont to be) by the “Light” imagery,  I now go through these mysteries I ask myself: “What is being revealed about God in this moment?”

Approaching them this way, I reflect on:

  1. The Sonship of Christ. The benevolence and love of God for giving us the sacrament of Baptism.
  2. The generosity of God’s miracles. His concern for human affairs. His elevation of marriage to a sacrament. His acceptance of Mary’s requests.
  3. The Kingship of God. The already-but-not-yet of our life here on earth.
  4. God’s promise of our own glory in heaven. His radiance above the law and prophets. His glory being so hidden here on earth.
  5. God pouring Himself out for us. God bestowing us the gift of the Eucharist.

…and much more. And each time I go deeper, I can see more of that tapestry woven of the person of Christ, revelation, public ministry, the Light of the World.

Of course, this doesn’t get rid of the psalter issue. I’ll still grumble about that on occasion. But I don’t wrestle with myself on Thursdays anymore, going back and forth about whether or not I should try to contemplate those Luminous Mysteries. Now that I understand a little better what they are all about, I pray them and try to let the imagery of revelation and light wash over me, with this text always in the background:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  — John 1:1-5

 

Stoplight Prayer

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I pulled up to the traffic light. My phone lay on the console next to me and I could see the little G-mail icon blinking. Just a few seconds before, my phone had buzzed with a text notification as well. I never text while I am driving… But as long as I’m stopped at the light, I might as well see what it is… so I checked the message quickly. It was from my sister, letting me know to call her when I arrived at her townhouse. Not urgent. I checked the e-mail. Some Land’s End sale. Not interested.

The light turned green. I put my phone down and headed on my way.

I started to ponder the mysterious pull that little blinky message sign has on me– on almost everyone these days. As if the possibility of instant and constant communication weren’t enough, we are bombarded with visual attention-begging even from our phones.

Someone is trying to talk to you, it beckons.

At a red light, in line at the grocery store, any time I’m bored here at home, that little device is right there– my connection to a world full of grown-ups who, even if they aren’t trying to get in touch with me directly through text and email, let me know what they are thinking and what they are up to through various posts, updates, tweets, and even pictures. They tell me what they are planning on making for their next cocktail parties, how they will decorate the new nursery, what they were doing five years ago, and what funny thing their kid said while they were on the toilet (Ok, so most of those things are direct examples of what I’VE told others recently).

As I drove away from that traffic light, I started thinking that this desire for constant, affirming communication is really just a desire for us to feel like someone is communicating with us. In those times when we are bored or feeling alone, we reach out for a connection. We want to feel like we’re in the loop on important things in our friends’ and families’ lives– so we grab our computers or phones and get a quick communication fix until the next red light.

“Do you have a stoplight prayer?” my spiritual director asked me once.

“A what?”

“A stoplight prayer. It’s very important to have a short, sincere prayer that you get into the habit of reciting every time you come to a stoplight. Of course it doesn’t have to just be a stoplight– any time you are in a line, or walking across campus, or waiting for the elevator. It’s just a quick way of checking in with God. Let Him know you want to stay in touch.”

“What would be a good one?”

“I like using, Come Holy Spirit. Simple. Effective.”

This conversation happened years ago. But today I realized how right and good and wise he was to suggest it. And how wrong and forgetful I have been to neglect it. These thoughts all bundled together and swept over me in a single flood as I put my foot on the gas pedal this morning.

Oh my gosh. What if I prayed like I text or check Facebook? I would end up praying… like… fifty times a day. 

And while each time I check e-mail or texts or Facebook and come up a little empty-handed (junk mail, unimportant message, nothing really for me), God really IS communicating with you every moment of every day. If we had a little icon that lit up telling us we had a message from God, we’d be reminded to check in and get our constant stream of messages:

I love you.

You are my cherished child.

Hey, remember when I died for you? I’d do it again in a heart beat.

Would you like to join me in Adoration? I’m waiting whenever you’re ready.

I’ve got some serious plans for you. Maybe we should chat about that soon.

I arrived at my sister’s house just three minutes later. We talked and sipped coffee. The kids played. It was a normal, happy visit. But this time when she went upstairs to put my nephew down for his nap, instead of grabbing for my phone to check in with emails, texts, Facebook, or whatever else I usually get sucked in to, I checked in with God.

Come, Holy Spirit. I’m here…what’s up? 

Prayer Card

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Have you ever tried to write a joint prayer with a Southern Baptist? Or a Seventh-Day Adventist? How about a Jewish Rabbi? A Zoroastrian chaplain? Or perhaps a “humanist chaplain” (whatever that means…)

It’s not an easy task. But when I served in Campus Ministry at MIT, the Catholic students at the university asked for my help in putting together a totally interfaith prayer card for our community. I can’t go into details surrounding this request, but it boils down to the simple fact that this campus — like so many other college campuses, workplaces, churches, and homes– needed healing.

In response to this request, I composed a prayer. After many rounds of back-and-forth among the chaplains we, we finally agreed on something:

 

I was really proud of the political accomplishment this card represents, but I’ve frequently wondered whether something like this truly makes a difference.

I’m not someone who likes to spend a lot of time working towards Interfaith Dialogue– there are just too many intra-faith dialogues yet to be had!  I admitted to a Jesuit friend once that I sometimes have a very hard time speaking to people outside of the Catholic faith about religious things; he was rightfully taken aback, since that’s supposed to be a Dominican “thing.”  But in light of all the horrible vitriol being spewed at unfortunate parents on the internet, the despicable state of affairs in American politics and all sorts of other issues that have just been making my head spin lately, my thoughts have wandered back to that prayer card. I find myself wondering if trying to unite people of faith and good will (no matter what their creed) in common “prayer” is a good way to enact change, even if at the small level of a college campus. (I say “prayer” in quotes because the humanists unsurprisingly didn’t like that term– but I use it because that’s what it is! Whether they like it or not…)

This doesn’t diminish the fact that other religions are desperately in need of the Truth, but I’m reminded of a chapter in CS Lewis’ “The Last Battle.” Here, we read the account of a Calormene, a young man named Emeth, who faithfully served the evil god Tash all his days, then at his death came face to face with Aslan. Emeth tells us:

“He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’ Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, it it then true…that thou and Tash are one?’ The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, ‘It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.” – from the chapter Further Up and Further In (emphasis added)

This is not unlike a couple of paragraphs from the Catechism:

843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”332

844 In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them:

Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.333

The key for both Emeth and for these “other religions that search” is their honest “desire for wisdom and understanding,” which is God Himself. Any action done that is Good and True cannot possibly be done for an evil, or false, god. Conversely, anything done in the name of God that is evil or false cannot truly be done In His Name (Mt 7:21, anyone?)

We, as baptized persons with a commitment to making Jesus’ name known, are aware of the fact that other religions are incomplete. They are wrong. Some of them are very, very wrong. We can’t retreat to universalism because it makes us feel happy and relieves us of the challenging duty to evangelize…

…But God is merciful and just and if any prayer is offered with a sincere and upright human heart, no matter to whom the person thinks it is directed, it cannot fail to reach the loving heart of our God.

So it makes me wonder if there is any value in a little prayer card like that. What would a truly universal, interfaith prayer look like? Could it be done? If a Catholic priest, a Jewish Rabbi, a humanist and a Zoroastrian…priest (right?) can agree on this little prayer card, maybe that’s a tiny start…

…or maybe the first step is teaching every one to say “thank you.”  Ευχαριστώ,“Eucharisto.”

 

Lenten Lit

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My sister wrote a beautiful piece yesterday about learning to embrace a different “style” of Lent with little ones. You should read it, but the gist is: when you have a lot of external demands (as you do with motherhood), Lent shouldn’t be about beating yourself up for all of the things you wish you could do, but can’t. Instead, learn to offer up the daily things as means of sanctification and carefully choose which Lenten activities you can reasonably do. She mentions reading “Come, Be My Light” by Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, which I think is a marvelous idea.

I am always striving to read something theological/spiritual anyway, but during Lent I try to grab something that directs me specifically to Holy Week. I thought I’d leave a little list here of suggested Lenten reading and I hope you’ll leave me some suggestions in the comments!

“The Living Wood” by Louis de Wohl
De Wohl shows up quite frequently on my reading list– I don’t know how he managed to elude me until my mid-twenties. This particular tale of his recounts the story of Helena and her son, the Emperor Constantine. “The Living Wood” refers to the tradition that St. Helena was the finder of the True Cross, but the story is about so much more than that. How do we face adversity in life? Where is Christ when we need him? How can even our most selfish intentions be brought to serve the Almighty? A quick, engrossing read, 370 pages.

“The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son” by Jon D. Levenson
This text by one of the foremost Hebrew Bible Scholars in the world explores the Jewish contributions to the Christian narrative of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Levenson is a devout Jew, with a special gift and penchant for Jewish/Christian relations. His text is thick, rich, challenging and ripe with passages for contemplation. Recommended for those with a strong Biblical studies background, 232 pages.

“The Everlasting Man” by GK Chesterton
How does Christ stand completely apart from every other religious figure, even when He appears to be so similar to many of them? What is the relationship of historical man and this God-man we call Jesus Christ? Chesterton’s gift for rhetoric and a happy turn of phrase are on prominent display in this text. But don’t be fooled by his fast-paced style– this text needs digestion, so be prepared to read and re-read passages as you ruminate, 276 pages.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by CS Lewis
You are never too old to revisit such an enchanting, heart-softening allegory. If you’d like a text that leads you to contemplation of the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection, there is none better than a text which asks you to do this through the innocence of childhood. Revisit Aslan and the stone table before Good Friday. Which character do you most identify with this time? 224 pages

“The Way of a Pilgrim”
I wrote not that long ago of viewing Lent as a pilgrimage: This Russian Orthodox classic is perfect for this time of year because of its call for and instruction in deep, interior prayer. Though written as a travelogue, the Way actually takes the reader on pilgrimage with its anonymous author, through the devotion of constant meditation on the Jesus Prayer (‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’). Join this monk as he seeks to “pray without ceasing”– can we follow in his footsteps? 208 pages

“Salvifici Doloris” Apostolic Letter, Pope St. John Paul II
‘Theodicy’ is the big word we theological-types use to describe the universal intellectual struggle we humans have in trying to understand good and evil. This text faces the specific problem of “suffering” in the Divine Plan: how can God allow people to suffer evil? Why did God choose to suffer for our deliverance? How do I find meaning in my own suffering and what must I do in the face of my neighbor’s suffering? A must-read for every Christian, but especially poignant as we approach Holy Week. Free on the Vatican archives, or 64 pages in print.

“Little Talks With God” the Dialogues of Catherine of Siena
I’ve written about this text before and my preference for the new translation over the old. If you’d like a totally different genre, then this is it. My sister Dominican (and a third order at that!) and Doctor of the Church, Catherine, dictated these dialogues while in an ecstatic state, conversing with God about penance, obedience, sin and retribution and all sorts of other things besides. If you’d like a text which weaves together mystical experience, the Bible and the teachings of the Church, this one is for you. I also notice with much chagrin that this is the only text I have here by a woman. I must remedy that in subsequent lists, 188 pages.

You may notice that all of the purchasing links direct you to Better World Books. Of course you can purchase them through Amazon, but this business is near and dear to my heart, as it was founded by fellow Domers. Through collecting donations of used books and selling them online, Better World Books is able to fund literacy initiatives all around the world. Finally– a charity that allows me to give the gift of reading to others AND myself! Happy reading and blessed Lenten journey.

What are your suggestions for Lenten Literature?

Please let me know so I can add them to my personal queue!

 

 

 

 

The Heroic Minute

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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

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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.

Habits New & Old

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Just pondering today:

     Why are good habits so difficult to form?

                            …But so easy to break? 

It took me the better part of a year to get into the habit of saying a rosary each day. Then I got “morning sick” for a few months and unfortunately, that habit (along with many others) flew out the window.  Now, I find myself twiddling around on Facebook or finding other things to do rather than buckling down and just saying my prayers.

I want to– I just don’t want to do it badly enough I guess.  It’s as if I’m starting my training from scratch!

Grumble grumble grumble.
Grace, grace, grace, please.

Anyone else have this problem? How do you deal?

Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #3

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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: 

med·i·tate
ˈmedəˌtāt/
verb
  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. 

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?