Beautiful Rosary

While the Rosary is a beautiful prayer and a powerful weapon against sin, it can also be quite intimidating to those who haven’t experienced it.

If you were asked to say the Apostles Creed, while it is lengthy, it is doable. How about adding six Glory Be prayers? They are so quick, you could offer to say a dozen! If six Our Father prayers were added to the seven prayers, that still doesn’t seem like that many prayers to say. Now add 53 Hail Mary prayers plus the Hail, Holy Queen prayer and beads of anxious sweat may start forming on your brow. Just like someone who wants to start running or exercising needs to build up endurance, to pray a Rosary you need to learn how to meditate and keep a focused concentration. 

One way to start saying the Rosary slowly is to start off with the beginning prayers: the Apostles Creed, the Our Father, a Hail Mary for each of the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and finish with a Glory Be. Once you get that pattern down, then add one decade which consists of an Our Father, ten Hail Mary prayers, and a Glory Be. One of the benefits of saying the Rosary is learning to meditate. This is the time to start practicing meditation by selecting one of the mysteries to be mindful of as you are praying the decade. The Rosary has four sets of five mysteries to contemplate. The Joyful mysteries reflect on the incarnation and childhood of Jesus. The Luminous mysteries are a journey through Jesus’ ministry. The Sorrowful mysteries  focus on the Passion and death of Jesus; while the Glorious cover lives of Jesus and Mary starting with His resurrection. By practicing just one mystery at first, you can better train yourself to notice when your mind wanders away from the mystery you are praying.

While each day of the week does have a mystery assigned to it, you are not required to limit yourself to only praying those mysteries, regardless of whether you’re praying just a decade or the whole Rosary. There are some people that say all four sets of mysteries every day; that’s over 200 Hail Mary prayers plus four times all the other prayers! Perhaps that’s a challenge you would like to work up to committing yourself to praying. Or you may find it totally overwhelming to faithfully pray even a decade in a day. No matter where you fall in the spectrum, you can benefit from the prayer. 

The Rosary is Mary’s gift to us to walk with her in getting to know her Son, Jesus. This is the way Mary leads us to Him, by slowly teaching us to focus on all He has done for us. Perhaps you used to say the Rosary daily but it has been replaced with Scripture reading, and that’s okay. The Rosary can be a journey leading us in and through Scripture. If we can only commit our time to one thing, it’s okay to pick something other than the Rosary, provided that you are deepening your relationship with Jesus. The beads of the Rosary can also be used for praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet as well.

The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, so if you haven’t tried praying this way, I encourage you to begin, no matter how small, while meditating on one of the mysteries. There are plenty of references online and apps available for your smartphone or tablet to help get you going. And if it’s been awhile since you have regularly prayed the Rosary, perhaps make a special effort this month to reconnect with this powerful tool of prayer.  

Mary at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington DC

Mary our mentor

Recently I received an email from Ascension with a short video about the vocational callings of Fr. Mike Schmitz and Fr. Josh Johnson. While their ‘yes’ to God was not quite as straight-forward as the Blessed Mother Mary’s fiat, reflecting on their stories brought a new appreciation for Mary as well as for those who profess religious vows.

The comment that struck me the most was when Fr. Mike indicated that as a youngster, he thought priests were perfect. From the laity’s perspective, I can see how those in religious life appear to have a connection with the divine that ordinary people don’t. I think we hold them to a higher standard, expecting them to be beyond reproach.  That’s also why it can be devastating to us when their failings are revealed. Rather than putting them on this pedestal of perfection, we need to remember they made a choice, a commitment to say ‘Yes’ to God for their whole lives and in every part of their lives, including family and career choices. When we are struggling or having doubts about what God is calling us to do, we only need to reach out to our local parish priest for guidance. Priests and religious that minister within communities are wonderful resources for prayer and guidance. They are like us, part of our community, and they understand our struggles to follow the call of God.

Community is what God IS: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Community is also what God wants for us: to be in communion with Him, by being His Body for others and ministering to one another. Participation is what a community does, how it acts. God wanted us to participate in salvation history. He asked Mary to be the vessel in which His Son took flesh to walk among us. While Abraham may have been  first to say ‘Yes’ to God, Mary was the first to experience the full communion saying ‘Yes’ brings. 

Praying the rosary or just a simple Hail Mary, we invoke the spiritual assistance of a Mother who constantly pleads on our behalf to Her Divine Son. We rejoice in her agreement to participate in God’s will, not just for herself, but for all creation. She is a mentor for all of us, but most especially for priests and religious, who vow their lives in service to God in imitation of her. And for those times when we need to interact on a human level, we can look to those dedicated spiritual sons and daughters of Mary to provide guidance and support in our challenges and struggles. 

In thanksgiving to all priests and religious, let us say a Hail Mary or two, lifting them and their struggles up to the Mother who showers grace on all of us as her response. 

Resurrection witness

Happy Easter! We made it through a very different Easter Mass experience, live streaming into our homes. The message, however, remains just as vibrant as ever: He is RISEN!

The Gospels continue to remind us of those first witnesses. Over the next few weeks we will delve into the various appearances of the risen Jesus in numerous scenarios. In our unique circumstances, we have the opportunity to contemplate this core tenet of our faith. To aid us in this mental and spiritual activity, we only have to reach out to our Blessed Mother Mary. After all, not only was she close to Jesus, but she also pondered these things in her heart.

Mary was there for Jesus’ death on the cross. Of course, she wept for her Son being executed in such a humiliating way. But did she wonder why this was happening? Did she know there was more to come and that the world had not seen the last of Jesus? Perhaps. Scripture only tells us that Jesus commanded His apostle John to care for His mother and that she was present with the Apostles when they were praying after Jesus’ ascension when they were waiting for the Holy Spirit. But it is hard to imagine that Jesus would not have appeared to her. We have to be careful to remember that while the Gospels do provide historic details, they are not a record of every event.

I wonder what Mary’s reaction was when the Apostles told her of their encounter with the risen Jesus? Or when she heard about Jesus appearing to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? Did she recognize the implications of all these amazing events?

Two thousand years later, many of us have heard of Jesus’ resurrection from the time we were children. It can be very difficult to imagine what our reactions would’ve been back then at something  so shocking and novel. Over the past months, we have been facing our own novel event, taking us out of our ordinary way of life. Let us take the time and ask Mary to help us see the resurrected Jesus as if it were the first time. Let us listen to the witness testimonies and practice being a witness with those in our circle of communication.

Jesus is truly risen! We may not be eyewitnesses, but we are His witnesses into today’s world. Like the Apostles, we join in prayer with Mary to help support us as we spread the Good News of His resurrection.

Mary at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington DC

Just say yes

Welcome to the third decade of the second millennium! We begin this year and decade as we do all of them, by celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The Church holds Mary up as a role model for us, even obliging us to attend Mass.

While there are many feasts and solemnities throughout the liturgical calendar, there are only a handful that require Catholics to attend Mass. As we begin the new year, it makes sense for us to start by invoking God’s blessing on us, and what better way than the Mass? Yet the Church does not ask us to celebrate the new year, but to celebrate the Mother of God. Eight days ago we celebrated the birth of Mary’ son, Jesus, so why wait to celebrate her motherhood? Christmas is celebrated for a full eight days in the Church calendar, known as the octave of Christmas, while the days beyond that through the feast of Jesus’ baptism is known as the Christmas season. The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, seems to bring the intensive Christmas focus to a full-circle conclusion.  After all, we wouldn’t have Christmas without Mary’s “Yes” to God.

Mary may have been aware of some of the hardships her fiat would bring her, like Joseph’s reaction, not to mention those in her small town and their possible treatment of her. Yet she trusted in God to see her through. Perhaps it was the reflection of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth that gave her strength to stand at the foot of the cross 33 years later. Her relationship with God was total trust, total commitment, and total love. God rewarded her trust, not by making everything easy for her, but by giving her what she needed to complete her mission as Mother of God, starting with the protection by Joseph.

As we begin this decade, let us ask Mary, as our spiritual mother, to help us say yes to God’s will for us and to notice and give thanks for the help He sends our way.

Catholic Girl Journey

The first Eucharist

Oh the smell of freshly baked bread; it makes one feel at home. In ancient times, one did not go to the store to buy bread, it would have been made at home. I wonder who made the bread for the first Eucharist?

I love receiving Jesus in Holy Communion and I equally enjoy spending time with Him in adoration, but the perfect round host is vastly different from what was used at the Last Supper. It was an unleavened bread, but was it round or oval/rectangular? Did it have any flavoring to it, like some olive oil or honey? Was it large, like pie-sized, or small, like a dessert plate? While the details may not matter in terms of belief, thinking about them can draw us closer to Jesus, especially to His human nature.

The month of May seems to be popular for children receiving their first Holy Communion and is synonymous with Mary, as she is often crowned during May processions. These two ideas collided in my head and made me wonder if Mary made the bread for the first Eucharist? We know she was in Jerusalem, since she was at the foot of the cross. And being Jesus’s mom, I’m sure she helped His earthly ministry in whatever ways she could. It almost seems like a logical progression: she gave birth to Jesus, and thus provided Him with His human body, so who else would be the one to make the bread that would become the first Eucharist, the transubstantiated presentation of Jesus Himself? And did she continue making the bread that was used for the Eucharistic celebrations after Jesus ascended into heaven?

Picture the scene at that Last Supper when Jesus picked up the bread made by Mary with a mother’s love, and blessed it, performing the first consecration, and then shared it with the people He loved the most, the men he called to follow Him. Now wrap that all up into the host the next time you receive Communion or are in adoration. It’s food for thought and prayer.


Catholic Girl Journey

Magnify the Lord

Mary’s magnificat is the prayer of praises that Mary proclaims when she meets with Elizabeth in Luke’s gospel (Lk 1:46-55). Traditionally it is prayed during daily evening prayer. For about ten years I have been using a daily prayer book, called the Magnificat, for morning prayer, Mass readings and evening prayers. Yet it was only recently that I started to ponder if I could pray Mary’s prayer as my own.

Mary is God’s perfect creation. She was gifted with immaculate conception and she never sinned during her life. She first and only thought of herself as His handmaid. So how could such a sinner like me pray one of her perfect prayers? In a way, it’s all about the attitude.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” God has given me everything, how can I not rejoice in the Lord? My life may not be perfect but even if I thank Him for the basic gift of life, this statement should be mine to make with the same joy and gratefulness.

“From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name.” I always thought this referred only to Mary, but for anyone who is pursuing a relationship with God and hopes to one day be with Him in heaven, i.e. a saint – even an unknown one, that person is blest and the Church does pray for all the saints in heaven. However, we cannot achieve this on our own; it is God who makes it possible. It is the Almighty who invites us into heaven and calls us to be holy, like Him.

“He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” This is like a mini examination of conscience. For example, as we praise the Lord for rewarding with fairness, we may find that we are being sent away empty, not because God does not love us, but because we are already filled and we need to share what we received and empty ourselves so that God can fill us up again. By reviewing our daily activities each evening, we can identify what we need to work on the next day.

“He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.” Lastly, we are reminded that we are part of a family, not just a biological one that we are born into, or the one we grow up in, but the family of God. He has made a covenant with His people, starting in the Old Testament and it continues to this day through the Church.

Despite our imperfections, Mary’s magnificat can be our own prayer to God, thanking Him for all the gifts He has given to us, acknowledging His work within our lives and His help in what we need to focus on to be better and thanking Him for being part of His family.

Catholic Girl Journey

Honoring Mom

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, I was thinking about how God has blessed me with an earthly mother and a spiritual mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. While they are very different people, they do share some similarities.

From Mary’s encounter with Gabriel at the annunciation, to the encounter with Simeon at presentation in the Temple; through the crucifixion on Calvary to the descent of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem, Mary lived through times she did not understand. Instead of turning away, she patiently listened and pondered these things in her heart (Luke 2:19).

My mom does not understand my work. While I do my best to explain it, it’s still beyond her understanding. But mom patiently listens to me when I need to talk about my struggles and celebrates with me in my successes.

At the marriage feast in Cana, Mary volunteered Jesus to resolve the lack of wine issue (John 2:5). Maybe it’s a “mom thing,” as my mom likes to volunteer me for various odd jobs that need to get done. It’s in those moments that I need to look to Jesus as a role model, not just doing the job, but doing it to the best of my ability and without complaint.

God was the center of all of Mary’s life. From the cradle to the grave, she participated in Jesus’ life, sharing the joys and sorrows. One of the best gifts my mom has given me is the example of participating in the Mass. Every Sunday her focus was on the altar and every response was said clearly and every song was sung. It was never rushed, but would match the congregation, whether it was fast or slow. As a child, I learned to worship God as part of a community, by following my mother’s example.

May God’s blessing flow on all the moms who set good examples to lead their children to Him. Happy Mother’s Day!

Catholic Girl Journey

Walking with Mary

I’ve heard that saying the rosary is like presenting a bouquet of roses to the Blessed Virgin Mary. For me, though, it is a walk through Mary’s life with Jesus.

The Rosary may sound simple enough with the main prayers consisting of the Our Father, ten Hail Marys and the Glory Be over 5 decades or repetitions. But the gold of the rosary is the mysteries that are pondered during each of those decades. There are 4 different sets of mysteries that present Jesus’ life.

The Joyful mysteries start at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life. In fact, it could not start any earlier than His conception in Mary’s womb. The first joyful mystery is the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, where she consents to be the Mother of God and conceives Jesus. The second joyful mystery sounds like it’s all about Mary visiting Elizabeth, but one only needs to read Luke 1:39-56 to see the impact of the presence of Jesus on both Elizabeth and her unborn son. The third and fourth joyful mysteries present the nativity of Jesus and His presentation in the Temple. The fifth joyful mystery is one of my favorites, the finding of Jesus in the Temple. At age 12 Jesus is “left behind” while His parents, thinking He is part of the caravan, start the return to Nazareth. For me it is a reminder that whenever I feel far away from God, He is as close as the nearest Church.

After walking with Mary during the formative years of Jesus, the Luminous mysteries walk with both Mary and Jesus through his ministry: the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the wedding feast of Cana, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the transfiguration on Mount Tabor and the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. While Mary may only be explicitly mentioned in the gospel  for the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11), I’m sure she was as close as she could be for these and all the other events of Jesus’ life.

The sorrowful mysteries walk us through the painful events leading up to and including the death of Jesus. Beginning with the agony of the garden, then the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns and the carrying of the cross, praying the Hail Mary while contemplating these mysteries can help us have compassion for Jesus and more fully explore what Jesus went through to save us from our sins. I don’t think most people want to dwell on these sorrowful events, however praying these mysteries, or walking through them with Mary will help us to the fifth mystery, the crucifixion. To pray the fifth sorrowful mystery, is like standing with Mary at the foot of the cross. It is only through Mary’s strength that we can pray with her.

The glorious mysteries of the resurrection and the ascension round out the earthly life of Jesus. Yet the descent of the Holy Spirit was Jesus’ promise to the disciples and Mary was there (Acts 1:14). The fourth and fifth mysteries seem to be about Mary: the assumption of Mary into heaven and the coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. However, she is assumed into heaven, that is by the power and will of God, not by her own power.  God brings her body and soul into Heaven. Nor does Mary crown herself, but it is the Trinity that confers this honor to Mary.

Each set of mysteries provides much to contemplate during prayer. Saying just one set of mysteries a day recalls just a portion of Jesus’ life. But with Mary as our guide, we can come closer to her Son and appreciate all He has done for us. It is truly a walk of life.

Catholic Girl Journey

Daughter of God

If someone were to ask me to describe myself, one of the first descriptors I would use is: daughter of God. It may be a bold statement, but for me, it reminds me of my direction and purpose in life.

Every morning I ask Mary to help me to be a better daughter to God. While Mary may be better known as the mother of Jesus or the Blessed Mother, she is first the best example of a daughter of God. When God called her to be the mother of the Messiah, her humble response of “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) is what I aspire to say to God. Every day Mary lived as a daughter of God, seeking His will to be done through her. Every day I, too, have multiple opportunities to allow God’s will to be done through me. It’s a choice that sometimes can be hard to make, and I’m not always successful. Every day I ask Mary to help me, pray for me and guide me to “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

Praying the rosary allows me to walk the faith journey with Mary. I recall the special moments of Mary and Jesus in each of the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries. How, for each of them, they allowed God to direct them so that His will was done. I am humbled to repeat in prayer the words of Jesus in the Our Father as well as the words of the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth in the Hail Mary. Praying with Mary leads me to God and cultivates an attitude of possibilities for what God wants of me.

The first time I went to the adoration chapel, where the Holy Eucharist is exposed for prayer, was on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I only managed to stay 15 minutes, as I didn’t know what to do there. But it was a start, and Mary lead the way and helped me develop the devotion to spend an hour each week in the presence of her Son.

We are all God’s children, and while we might know that at a high level, do we really consider ourselves daughters and sons of God? How would that change our relationship with God? God has made me, I am His child and I am here for a reason. It’s His love and mercy that wills every breath that I take. He has blessed me with this life and I look to Him as a Father. There have been a few times that I have heard others call Him “Father God” and it always makes me stop and ponder what an amazing relationship they have with God. It makes me smile too, since it reminds me that I am a daughter of God.