Tag Archives: Rosary

Family Ideas for Lent

11 Feb

40 daysLent can be a hard season to get excited about. Surely it lacks the jingle and sparkle of Advent. Even more, it’s longer, falls right as we are getting sick of winter and, more to the point, involves sacrifice.

Further, it’s difficult to explain to kids. Most kids can understand the excitement of waiting for a baby to be born. Even when there is sacrifice involved in Advent, it’s surrounded by a sense of joy. Many of us have a much harder time giving our kids a good focus for the sacrifice that leads up to . . . the violent death of our Savior.

Below are some suggestions for activities that can (hopefully) help your family to embrace the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God. The formal prayers of our Church are ways that Christians have been talking to God for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. I think we need both “from the heart” time with God, as well as a way to connect with all those who have come before us (“formal” prayer). Here are some suggestions for ways to bring prayer alive for your family:

  • For younger children:
    • help them to tell God one thing they are grateful for and one thing they really need each day
    • print off a children’s version of the Stations of the Cross (some even have coloring pages), and talk about one each day
  • For older children:
    • Read scripture (maybe the Sunday Gospels?) and have them tell you one line that stood out to them and ask them why
    • Engage their strengths in learning the Stations of the Cross. If they are artistic, they can draw one per day or week. If they are writers they can write prayers for each station, etc.
    • Find famous paintings of the Stations from different cultures and explore them with your children
  • For teens:
    • Encourage them to start a prayer journal that you won’t look at
    • Use Lent as an excuse to get involved in a good youth group or teen retreat
    • Have teens write a “teen stations,” relating one or more of the Stations to the difficulties that teenagers face
  • As a family:
    • Make a regular time to pray together. If that is totally new to your family, try just saying one thing you are grateful to God for each day. Other options are a family Rosary, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, a decade of the Rosary, or one Station of the Cross each day
    • Use Stations the children have made (or print some from the internet) and put a small votive near each one around your home. Move around the house as you would around the Church as you pray.
    • Choose a short Scripture verse that is appropriate for the season and say it after every meal. You and your children will have it memorized in no time!

Fasting. I think the key to successful fasting as a family is to explain to everyone what it’s for. When we fast, we give up a material good for a spiritual one. Even young children can understand what it is to give something up for someone else. For example, my son was terrified of getting a flu shot last year, but he found courage to do it when we told him that he was protecting his baby sister from getting the flu. We sacrifice out of love for God.

  • For children:
    • Make a “crown of thorns” out of clay or craft wire with toothpicks for “thorns.” Each time a member of the family makes a small sacrifice, they take a thorn out of Jesus’ crown. This is a way of connecting their sacrifice to love for Jesus.
    • For each sacrifice, children get to put jellybean in a jar . . . that they can eat during the Easter season!
    • Remind children that sacrifices should be something they like that they are giving up, or something hard for them to do (i.e. doing what mom asks the first time they are asked!) Varying the sacrifices can keep it from being too burdensome, and can help children start thinking of ways they can sacrifice for others.
  • For teens:
    • Have your teens consider giving up video games, iPad, Facebook, cell phone time (for non-essential purposes), etc. If the prospect of being unplugged for 40 days is too overwhelming, maybe consider unplugging on Fridays. Hint: agree to do it with your child!
    • Ask teens to help plan and prepare the Friday meatless meal. They may enjoy looking into meatless meals that are a staple for other cultures.
    • Invite your teen to “give up” a treat that costs money such as a movie out with friends, a snack after school, etc. Put that money in a jar and allow them to choose the charity for donation.
  • For families:
    • Choose one night a week during Lent to be family night, where all activities are cancelled (this may take some serious effort!). Use the time to pray a little bit, then either play board games or watch a movie with a good message that will inspire conversation.
    • Join in with one of the other activities above.
    • Consider one thing your family can “give up” together.

Almsgiving. Almsgiving just means serving others out of love. Several of the suggestions above for sacrifice could be used for this as well, but here are a few more:

  • Parents “pay” for each sacrifice, putting coins in a jar for each good deed. Alternately, if there is a behavior your family is working on changing (for instance, saying “Oh my God!”), each member of the family can put a quarter of their own money in each time they say it! The money then goes to a charity of the family’s choice.
  • Skip a meal out in order to buy your family’s favorite groceries for a food pantry.
  • Volunteer together at your favorite organization together.
  • Practice “deliberate acts of kindness” within the family. You can even do a Lenten spin on the “Advent Angel” idea, having each member do secret, thoughtful deeds for another family member.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, nor could any family handle everything mentioned. I hope it has gotten you thinking, though, about what will best help your family grow in holiness. Happy Lent, everyone!

Mysteries of Light

5 May

Even though I was raised in a large, Catholic family and received 12 years of Catholic schooling, I left the Church as an undergraduate at the University of California and didn’t come back until I was in my 20s. My newly rediscovered love for Christ not only led me to study His teaching, but also to take a fresh look at traditional prayers and devotions used by Christian disciples for countless generations as aids to growth in the spiritual life.

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The Road to Emmaus

23 Apr

Every year on Easter Wednesday Mass we hear St. Luke’s account of Our Lord’s appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

This Gospel passage brings to mind the Eucharistic “amazement” that Pope John Paul II sought to rekindle in the faithful through his final encyclical letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

“To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his body and his blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed and by him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a ‘mystery of light.’ Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the faithful can in some way relive the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘their eyes were opened and they recognized him’ (Lk. 24:31).”

Perhaps when praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary this Easter season, we might want to reflect on this episode during the decade devoted to the Institution of the Eucharist, as it vividly connects Holy Thursday with Easter faith.

Just Do It!

30 Oct

praying the rosaryAs this month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary comes to a close, I thought I would take this occasion to call all of us to renew our desire to pray the Rosary frequently and with much fervor and devotion.

I’m not necessarily talking about a major overhaul of our spiritual life. Rather, let’s look at it from the standpoint of a dieter. This is a subject I know something about, as I have had to battle obesity ever since childhood. I’m sure that over the years through various diets I’ve lost hundreds of pounds. Most of them did not stay off. Rather, I only started to get a handle on my weight as I made sustainable, lasting changes in my lifestyle.

Similarly, sometimes we make spiritual resolutions–with much zeal and the best of intentions–which turn out to be fad diets for the soul. So, when I strongly encourage the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary, I’m encouraging all of us to look at our daily lives and see what small, long-term changes we can make so as to the make the Rosary an even greater part of our day.

I’ve heard it said that the Church, given her size and “conservative” nature, moves in centuries. I don’t think it’s too much for us to move in “decades”–finding moments throughout the day to meditate on the life of Christ with His beloved Mother.

Back in 2002, Blessed John Paul II issued an apostolic letter on the Rosary entitled Rosarium Virginis Mariae. In this letter, the Holy Father encouraged the faithful to embrace the Rosary in positive, evangelistic terms. He stressed the Rosary as a powerful prayer for peace and for the renewal of families. What I’d like to discuss here, however, is the way he anticipated and answered various objections to the Rosary in a winning way:

Objection #1: The Rosary detracts from the sacred liturgy. Pope John Paul II said that the liturgical renewal did not lessen the importance of popular devotions like the Rosary. In fact, he noted that that is a common misunderstanding of Vatican II. The fact is that it’s not an either/or proposition. The Rosary does not conflict with, but rather sustains the liturgy. Done right, the Rosary actually fosters a deeper participation in the liturgy.

Objection #2: The Rosary is “unecumenical.” In response, the Pope emphasized the Christ-centered nature of the prayer and the right understanding of the veneration to be given to the Mother of God. Quoting Vatican II, he noted that “when the Mother is honored, the Son is duly known, glorified, and loved.” Done right, the Rosary aids and surely does not hinder authentic ecumenism. Just ask experienced pro-lifers.

Objection #3: The Rosary is outdated and is no longer being learned by children. The Pope gently chided those who think this way and invited them to take a fresh look at the Rosary. He suggested that perhaps the problem has been that many youth have not been introduced to the Rosary and in the process we may be selling them short. As the World Youth Days attest, youth are indeed attracted to the faith and specifically are attracted to the Rosary. Done right, the Rosary surely appeals to today’s youth.

So, to those of you who may still be on the fence when it comes to praying the Rosary, I invite you to become Nike Rosary Warriors: Just do it!

For those of you looking for solid resources on the Rosary, I suggest Tim Gray’s book Luminous Mysteries: Biblical Reflections on the Life of Christ, which provides biblical teaching and profound meditations on each of the new “Mysteries of Light.” And for a broader introduction to Marian doctrine and devotion, I recommend a book I coedited with Scott Hahn entitled Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God. Both titles are available through Emmaus Road Publishing.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Priests

31 Jul

Pope with childrenLike many parents, I’ve heard the incessant pleas of my children to get a pet (or in our case, another pet). With these pleas come all sorts of promises and assurances that the dog, cat, or gecko will receive abundant love and impeccable care. All will be right with the world–or at least with our home–if we simply were to adopt Rover or Princess.

Then, of course, we get the pet, and the enthusiasm diminishes with the first accident on the carpet. The kids are still fond of animals–they love the zoo or Animal Planet, and maybe would like to own other pets. But the pet or pets they already have are taken for granted, and what was previously considered loving care is now experienced as a burdensome chore.

Pet Seminary

When we think about it, there’s a similar dynamic at work when it comes to our parish priests. We’re concerned about the looming priest shortage in many areas. We have vocation directors and parish committees on the constant lookout for prospects. We come up with 101 ways to support our seminarians. We esteem the priesthood and like the idea of getting a new priest.

Yet, as a pastor in California once confided to me, priests tend to fall off the map after ordination. The priests that we do have, day in and day out, are easily taken for granted. Over time their personal quirks or shortcomings overshadow, in our minds, the graces that come to us through their ministry.

In short, the idea gives way to the reality.

Like anything else, the best way to act upon the godly inspiration to support our priests is to make good, practical resolutions and carry them out. What are some resolutions we can make when it comes to supporting our priests?

Prayer Necessities

Most practicing Catholics would readily accept that the first order of business would be to pray for our priests with renewed ardor and consistency. But while the intention is there, we often fail in the execution. What we need is a concrete resolution to incorporate prayer for priests into our daily routine, so that it becomes a habit-even more, a virtue. To that end, here are some suggestions we might wish to consider.

Mass. There is no better way to pray for priests than to remember them in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This can be done whenever we attend Mass on Sunday or other days, but maybe we can even pick out a particular weekday or Saturday each week or month in which we go to Mass specifically to pray for our priests.
Special prayers. We can offer specific prayers or novenas of our own choosing–anytime, anywhere–for the sake of our priests. It’s especially appropriate to seek the intercession of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests. And offering our daily sufferings, crosses, and inconveniences for priests is a good idea, too.
Eucharistic adoration. Praying for our priests in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass is highly recommended by the Church. And on a larger scale, parishes may want to sign up adorers for each hour of the day specifically to pray for their priests throughout the year.
Prayer chain. Even if Eucharistic adoration is not presently available, parishioners can divide up among themselves the hours in the week, such that at any time, day or night, there is at least one person praying for the parish priests in that community.
Family prayer. Prayer for priests should find its way into the rhythm of family prayer. One excellent time to remember priests is during the family Rosary. Most people pray for the intentions of the Pope during the Rosary, but why not also include our bishop and our parish priests? This prayer would also instill in us–and even more, in our children–a greater sense of the Church as being both universal and local.

No Strings

How we pray also matters. I’ve met people whose prayer for priests imposes their agenda upon God. They pray that the pastor will be transferred to another parish, or that he will (finally) fire the flamboyant liturgy director, or that he will bring in program X and/or dump program Y in the diocese or school.

There may, on occasion, be some validity to such agendas, but more fundamentally, with a humble, childlike faith, we should simply lift up our priests in prayer without any strings attached.

Let’s look at it this way: We know that Jesus is the physician of our souls (cf. Mk. 2:17). Even more, He’s a surgeon, always willing and able to repair our brokenness. But further still, He’s the diagnostician par excellence of the human heart. We do well to let Him figure out how to draw individuals to Himself.

When a loved one is injured or very sick, our job is to call 911 or drive to the closest emergency room. In other words, we take him or her to the doctor, knowing that the doctor is the one who is able to diagnose and treat the ailment.

How much more is it important for us to spiritually take our priests–and all the people in our lives–to the feet of Jesus and let Him take it from there. May He give them strength in the face of temptations, consolation in the face of loneliness or setback, and courage in the face of opposition. And may He give them the grace to be holy, faithful priests who bring Christ to us in Word and sacrament.

Our Just Desserts

In one sense, we don’t “deserve” priests, any more than we deserve grace. But in another sense, we get the priests we deserve. In a real sense, our priests are a reflection of us (as are, often to our shame, our Catholic politicians).

Incorporating prayer for priests into our lives may not perceptibly change them or particular situations, but it will change us. We may find, over time, that our parish will be transformed little by little into an environment that’s more conducive to our priests’ growth as men of God.

Prayer and Feeding

If we do nothing else besides pray for priests, we have done well. Yet we also sense that our prayer should be accompanied by acts of personal affirmation.

While that sounds good in theory, we may struggle when it comes to getting close to our priests. Their lives are very different from our own, and their schedules and responsibilities can be brutally demanding.

And the fact is, serious Catholics and nominal Catholics alike–and everyone in between–can tend to depersonalize priests. We treat them as mere functionaries, as sacramental dispensers, not terribly unlike how we treat tollbooth operators, gas station attendants, and postal workers. We just want to get a “fill-up” of grace without annoyance or hassle.

So, it seems to me that the first step for us is to recognize that behind the priestly garb is a human being. He has forsaken many natural goods so as to choose the supernatural good of serving the People of God (us!) as an ordained minister.

The Church is not a private business or a government entity, but the Family of God, and the priest serves a fatherly role in the local family known as the parish. So clearly the priesthood is meant to be relational and not merely functional. We see in this reality the need to build the bonds of friendship, fraternity, and solidarity with our priests. But how? Here are a few simple suggestions:

Get to know him. Do we bolt for the door after Mass? Or even after Communion? Why not stop and say hello to him? On occasion, why not invite him out for a cup of coffee, or even welcome him into our home? Such one-on-one encounters are much more life-giving to most priests than big, noisy banquets.
Interaction with families. Priesthood and marriage are vocations that complement and draw strength from one another. A priest’s involvement in our family’s life could help during difficult phases of our lives and possibly even foster religious vocations in our children. But priests also benefit greatly from the loving friendship they are shown by families that open their hearts–and homes–to them.
Deal with difficulties gracefully. I’ve known pastors who actually hide when they see certain parishioners walking toward them. They do that because they know that these parishioners talk to them only to hammer them about some liturgical or doctrinal concern. Whatever the perceived difficulty may be, such an adversarial approach doesn’t respect the person of the priest (nor his office, for that matter). When, however, we befriend priests and treat them with respect, we have earned the right to express concerns in charity to them.
Offer positive assistance. Along with that, all of us need some encouragement at times–even priests. Affirming the good things they do (Nice homily, Father! Thanks for your time, Father! etc.) is a good start. But we can go even further: Rather than complain, perhaps we can offer (not impose) assistance to our priests, who almost universally carry a very heavy burden of responsibility in serving us each day.
As we support our priests, we will surely find that we get back far more than we give, as personally and spiritually renewed priests will return the love shown to them in myriad ways, for the good of souls and the betterment of our parishes.

Yes, we need more priests. But, with the Church, let’s remember and take good care of the priests we have!

This article originally appeared in the November-December 2009 issue of Lay Witness magazine.

Living Fatima

13 May

Our Lady of FatimaToday the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. On this date in 1917 the Blessed Virgin Mary made the first of what would be a series of appearances to three children in Fatima, Portugal, culminating in the miracle of the sun on October 13, 1917, which would be witnessed by tens of thousands of people.

One of the primary messages of our Blessed Mother to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta was that she wanted people to pray the Rosary daily and with great devotion. She especially called upon the faithful to pray for peace and for the conversion of sinners. If we follow her request, we can be confident that we will experience peace in our hearts, families, communities, and world, and that many people will turn their lives over to Christ.

Today’s feast reminds us of Our Lady’s desire that all of us build up the Church through our prayers and sacrifices, especially the Holy Rosary. All of us can pray the Rosary, whether at home or before the Blessed Sacrament, alone or with our family or prayer group.

Let us redouble our commitment to gaze upon the face of Jesus in the company of His loving mother, who always counsels us to do whatever He tells us.

Preparing for Mary’s Visit

21 Dec

VisitationToday’s Gospel, the first part of the event commonly known as the “Visitation” (Lk. 1:39-45), is very familiar to most Catholics. It’s read a few times during the year at Mass, and of course it’s one of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

Sometimes we hear a passage over and over again, and it can be a challenge to open our minds and hearts to allow the Holy Spirit to give us new insights.

In hearing this Gospel anew today, I was struck by how much we should be devoted to our Blessed Mother, especially on Christmas.

When Elizabeth greets Mary, John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice (vv. 41, 44). After all, Mary has brought Jesus to him! (The best baby shower gift of all time!) But there’s more.

All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Even more, Scripture says that Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when she cried out: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . .” (vv. 41-42). When we turn to Our Lady, when we pray the “Hail Mary,” we are simply making our own the doubly inspired words of Elizabeth.

Okay, but enough already, right? Perhaps we’re still a little hesitant or unsure about turning to Mary. But what were the next words out of Elizabeth’s mouth? She said, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Instead of obsessing over whether she should make such a fuss about Mary, she does pretty much the opposite: She marvels at the great honor bestowed upon her that the Blessed Virgin Mary would actually come to her.

Mary wants to come to each one of us this Christmas, as the definitive bearer of our long-awaited Savior. Let us run to greet her, and leap for joy in the presence of the Gift she has brought to the world–the Gift that, as the saying goes, is the “reason for the season.”