The Rosary – A Tool For Contemplation

A Bible with rosary lying across itOctober is the month of the Rosary. I have to admit that the rosary isn’t my primary devotional tool. I grew up non-Catholic, and became Anglican for four years. During that time I developed a great love for the Liturgy of the Hours, and I use it regularly.

Nonetheless, every time I pray the rosary I am blessed. Fr. Robert Barron, in his excellent Faith Clips series, mentions the rosary in his clip on contemplative prayer. The power of the rosary became apparent to me after watching it.

When we pray the rosary, two important psychological things are happening.

First, as Fr. Barron mentions, our mind becomes focused on the repetition of short form prayers, i.e. the “Hail Mary” and “Our Father.” Because of this, it actually calms our minds, because by focusing our minds on something so simple and repetitive, it frees us from the myriad distracting thoughts that pop up. This actually frees us to pray in a contemplative manner.

Second, the rosary doesn’t “go” anywhere. It is circular. It is a way of simply just being there, in God’s presence. Eastern religions and modern psychology call this “mindfulness” and Christians understand it as “contemplation.”

While some accuse Catholics of “vain repetition” for  repeating prayers in the rosary, modern psychology tells us the opposite true. By focusing our minds on something holy and meaningful, like the prayers of the rosary, it frees us to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, and to genuinely bask in God’s presence.

A Cause For Hope: Seven New Saints

Saint Kateri TekakwithaPope Benedict recently canonized seven new Saints for the Catholic Church. The canonizations certainly represent God’s perfect timing to provide inspiration to the Catholic Church in important ways.

First, the new saints include a Filipino (Pedro Calungsod) and a Native American (Kateri Tekakwitha). Right now, the Church is declining in Europe and the West, but gaining in the developing world. These newest saints remind us that, while the European heritage of the Church is vital, there is much more to Catholicism than white Europeans.

Second, one of the new saints, Pedro Calungsod, is a teenager. The Catholic Church (and all Christian groups) face a hostile, yet hungry youth. Meeting their needs will be a challenge, but we have the rich tradition to succeed. People like St. Pedro Calungsod (a martyr for his faith) are reminders that teens will embrace the Gospel message and even die for it.

Third, several of the new saints were missionaries. Right now the Catholic Church has a wide open mission field. While it’s typical to think of an overseas mission, in reality, the biggest mission field is in the United States and Europe. In the West, Christendom isn’t just crumbling; it’s already fallen to the ground. Americans and Europeans have an amazing spiritual heritage. Now it’s time for the modern day missionaries to rise up and call them back to their roots.

In spite of all the negative news on the Catholic Church, events like this canonization ceremony remind us that there are many positives as well. The witness of these seven saints should give everyone who worries about the state of the Catholic Church (and Christianity in general) a good sense of hope.

Below is a video about St. Pedro.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch and the Paradoxes of the Incarnation

Icon of Ignatius of AntiochIgnatius of Antioch has always been one of my all-time favorite Church Fathers and saints. He was a bishop in Antioch, and as such reportedly even knew Saint Peter. He died for his faith around 110 AD. He wrote six letters, which give us insight into the beliefs and practices of the sub-apostolic period. His writings reflect a strong desire for martyrdom and commitment to the Lord. One of the most interesting excerpts from Ignatius appears in his letter to the Ephesians.

There is one Physician,who is possessed both of flesh and spirit
both made and not made;
God existing in flesh;
true life in death;
both of Mary and of God;
first passible and then impassible
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Ignatius, without addressing any theological problems involved, expresses the amazing paradoxes involved in the mingling of the divine and human natures of Jesus. You will notice that Ignatius recognizes that Jesus is both flesh and spirit, and created in his earthly body, yet eternal. Jesus is God incarnate, and his divine impassibility mingles with his human frailty.

In contemplative prayer, it is good to just experience and accept the paradoxes inherent in the mysteries of Christ. In contemplation, there is no need to logically resolve the “problems” raised by Christ being 100% man and 100% God, because mystery is, according to many Eastern Christians, not a wall, but rather an ocean in which to swim. If you are in the mood for some contemplative prayer today, try meditating on this passage.

I also want to note that in 2006, I composed a novena based on this passage, A Healing Novena To Christ the Great Physician. Please use it to your benefit.

Saint Teresa of Avila and Her Mysticism

Saint Teresa of Avila imageToday is the Memorial of Teresa of Avila, one of the Church’s best known mystics and also a doctor of the Church. Her concepts, along with her companion St. John of the Cross, helped draw me to Catholicism. I just couldn’t find this type of spirituality in my evangelical upbringing.Teresa developed her Christian mysticism around four stages of prayer and meditation. They are useful guides for any Catholic or Christian that wants to enter more deeply in prayer. They are

– “Mental Prayer” – devout prayer or concentration, particularly on some aspect of Christ’s passion. “Prayer of Quiet” – This is when the will is lost in God. Other human faculties are still distracted, but through God’s grace, the will is focused on God.”Devotion of Union” – A supernatural and ecstatic state, where one’s reason is totally absorbed in God. “Devotion of Ecstasy” – Consciousness of being in the body disappears, and one is totally in union with God. This is a blissful state.

Teresa’s concept of prayer and union with God is interesting, as it emphasizes the mental component of prayer. Scientific studies seem to suggest that in deep meditation and contemplation, we lose our sense of individuality and feel a connection with God and everything else. Teresa also conceived of contemplation and prayer as a sharing in the life of another, in this case God. We connect with God the same way we connect with another person, by giving God our mental attention. For more information, check out two of her books, Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection.

Saint Teresa, ora pro nobis.

Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi – October 4th

Saint FrancisSaint Francis of Assisi was a source of reform, renewal, and gospel values at a time in the Church when many were too concerned with political power and material goods. Had you encountered Francis, chances are you would have thought him crazy, but you would have likely been impressed by his genuineness and commitment to the gospel. It is hard to argue with the gospel. As an unhappy rich man, he sold all of his possessions and completely followed God, starting his own order, which eventually received the approval of the pope.

Recently I moved to take a new job. The process of dealing with all of our accumulated stuff taught me a lot. After this, I can understand Francis’ desire to give up everything. Suddenly all the “stuff” my wife and I accumulated over the last five years seemed pointless. As we sorted through our things, and had to determine what was worth moving and what wasn’t, a lot of what we had didn’t seem valuable anymore. In fact, I realized that a lot of it never gave me any happiness whatsoever.

During this same period, I happened to watch “Hoarders” and noticed how unhappy people on that show seem. Almost to a person, they are depressed, and yet they are literally swamped with possessions, and want more and more. I suspect that Francis felt extremely liberated when he got rid of that last possession and relied solely on God. While I don’t plan on doing that, I have certainly benefited from shifting my attitude toward material goods. Today, reflecting on the impact of our material goods in our life sounds like a great idea.

Michaelmas – Conquering Your Personal Dragons

My wife has been reading about the Waldorf School, which I don’t know much about, except that some of their dolls are featureless, which kind of creeps me out.

At any rate, as St. Michael and All Angels rolls around (i.e. Michaelmas) on September 29th, the Waldorf School provides an interesting perspective on this feast. Waldorf types view Michaelmas as a time to conquer personal dragons, kind of like a personal “fall cleaning.” Since Michaelmas was one of the traditional “quarter days” it is a great time to “take inventory” of your life, anticipating Advent by a few months.

I like the imagery. We all have dragons that need slaying: thoughts, tendencies, and actions that separate us from God and from each other. Do we love enough? Are we compassionate? Do we strive toward holiness? In other words, do we really love God and neighbor?

Some of our dragons are venial sins, which are easily slayed, even if they pop up a lot. Others are huge, menacing dragons that are mortal sins, which cut us off from God. But, we know that with the grace of God, the examples of the saints, and the wisdom of the Church, we can inch toward holiness and wound these dragons, even perhaps slay them.

Saint Michael the Archangel, be our defender in battle! –> Full Saint Michael Prayer.

The Memorial of Saints Cosmas and Damian

Saints Cosmas and DamianSeptember 26th is the memorial day of Saints Cosmas and Damian, twin Christian martyrs who died near the end of the third century. The brothers were doctors and gave their services away for free. According to the ancient sources, these selfless acts of charity attracted many pagan Romans to the Christian faith.

Although theology is important and very worthy of study, for most people, the Christian faith is most attractive when they see that it can meet their needs (whether emotional, physical, etc.). In the case of Cosmas and Damian, their charity towards other people showed the unconverted that Christianity was a better alternative to the uncaring philosophy of the pagans.

As we go about our daily lives, it’s always good to keep the examples of Cosmas and Damian in mind. We have no idea how our acts of love and charity, no matter how large or small, could be impacting those people we meet who may either be indifferent or hostile to the Gospel message. Let’s make sure our behavior brings them closer to, not further away from, God.

Saint Matthew – A Before and After Saint

Saint Matthew, whose feast day is celebrated today, was an example of someone who turned his life around. This never would have happened had Jesus pre-judged him and not reached out to him. Matthew was a tax collector, which was a reviled career in the time of Jesus. Not only did they collect taxes, they also did so for the Roman Empire, hated by most Jews of the period. And, to add even more revulsion, tax collectors made money for themselves by demanding even more money from people.

Today it is easy to give up on people or assume they just won’t  be open to our message. Thankfully Jesus didn’t assume people were “too bad” or “too whatever” to accept his message.

The beauty of the saints is that they are, in substance, really just human beings. If you took their pulses, measured their breathing, and so forth, you would find only human characteristics. However, as saints, transformed in Christ, they provide us with “before” and “after” pictures of our lives (and saints are never completely perfect…so some “before” always sticks around, a point of comfort for the rest of us). Saint Matthew, pray for us!