Friday, April 30, 2010

Another great Rosary saint and a few helpful Rosary books

My bookshelf is filled with books on the Rosary, some more helpful than others.  I've been reading the book pictured at left, Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations and the Telling of the Beads by Kevin Orlin Johnson.  I bought it used on Amazon and am reading a few pages every night before bed.  It's very interesting, thorough and well-researched but is not without flaws.  I do agree with most of the 2-star review on Amazon (especially the very puzzling anti-sports rant), but I still think the book is a valuable resource on the Rosary.  Unlike the reviewer, I found the mystery meditations very helpful.  This is the type of book that one can pick up now and then and read a chapter or two to clarify some aspect of Rosary prayer, history and meditation.

This week, I am reading the section entitled "The Fertile Ground" which traces the history of the Rosary and the spread of its devotion.  I was especially interested in the story of Saint (Pope) Pius V and his leadership during the great Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571.  In a nutshell, the Christian naval force bravely fought the Turkish navy, who was trying to seize control of Europe. Outnumbered, the Christians had little hope of victory, but they did have a secret weapon—the Rosary. At the urging of Pope Pius V, the sailors and devout Christians throughout Europe fervently prayed the Rosary during the battle. Miraculously, the Christians won a decisive victory, preventing Muslim control of Europe.  This triumphant defeat fostered devotion to Mary under the title, Our Lady of Victory, and Pius V declared a feast day on the first Sunday in October in honor of Mary and her role in the battle.  Later, the feast was permanently moved to October 7th and is celebrated as the feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.

Today (April 30th) is the feast day of Saint Pius V, so why not ask him to pray the Rosary with you today? He certainly can attest to the great power of its intercession!  (It is perfectly fine to ask a particular saint to pray the Rosary with you.  Although Mary is the most powerful intercessor among the saints, asking another saint to join you in prayer is like asking a family member or friend to do so.)

Here are a few other Rosary books that I have found to be especially helpful:
Mystery Stories: A Journey Through the Rosary by James L. Carney
The Rosary:  A Little Summa by Robert Feeney
The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis de Montfort (worth another mention this week)
Hail Holy Queen by Scott Hahn (not a Rosary book, per se, but an excellent Marian resource)

Please avoid this book on the Rosary by Gary Wills.  Although I did like the artwork he included, there are too many doctrinal errors (check out the 1-star review for a good summary)

Of course, I have to make a quick plug for my book, The Rosary Workout.  As the reviewer on pointed out, the book is an excellent resource on the Rosary "even if you decide not to exercise".

Finally, I found two informative articles on St. Pius V at Catholic Culture and Catholic Exchange.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Family Rosary

"There is no surer means of calling down God's blessings upon the family... than the daily recitation of the Rosary." 
- Pope Pius XII

I learned to pray the Rosary as a very young child, and I still have the beautiful blue crystal Rosary that I received as a gift from my parents when I made my First Communion.  Most of our family Rosaries were prayed in the car.  My father was an Air Force officer, so we moved and traveled frequently.  My four sisters and I took turns leading the prayers, and most likely fought over who got to go first.  At the time, I didn't understand meditation and probably had only a vague comprehension of the Rosary mysteries, but our family prayer was comforting.  I knew we were safe in the arms of the Blessed Mother.

Years later, when I left home to enter the Air Force Academy, I missed my family very much.  During the long marches in Basic Training, I silently prayed the Rosary, comforted by the happy memories of praying and traveling with my family.

I have taught my own children to pray the Rosary, and I was amazed at how quickly they were able to memorize the prayers.  We pray a decade every night before bed, and we take turns leading the prayers. (We occasionally pray a full Rosary together, but right now I'm focusing on teaching the mysteries and establishing a daily habit.)  The leader also gets to choose an intention for our decade.  I'm often touched by the thoughtful prayer requests my children make, asking for protection for the soldiers fighting for our country or for the friend who was hurt during recess at school.

My children do not yet grasp the concept of meditation, but we talk about the meaning of the mysteries.  I might show them beautiful works of art depicting the mysteries or read aloud from the Bible to clarify.  As they grow older, I hope and pray that they continue this important devotion.

"As a prayer for peace, the Rosary is also, and always has been, a prayer of and for the family. At one time this prayer was particularly dear to Christian families, and it certainly brought them closer together. It is important not to lose this precious inheritance. We need to return to the practice of family prayer and prayer for families ..."
 –Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Rosary of the Virgin Mary

If you live alone or if your family members are not Catholic, then contact your parish. Many parishes pray the Rosary as a group. If not, consider starting a Rosary prayer group. Put a notice in the parish bulletin or website, or simply gather a group of friends at a specific time and location to pray the Rosary.

Although I don't own the CD pictured on this blog entry, it looks lovely.  You can learn more about it and other Rosary media at the Quiet Waters website.  If you'd like to listen to a sample of their Family Rosary, you can listen online at The Station of the Cross online radio at 7 p.m. EST.  (Lots of other great content on this station!)

Here's an EXCELLENT article on helping children learn to pray the Rosary at Catholic Culture.

This Scriptural Rosary for Children is beautiful, but please use it online or print out a copy for private use only.  They have a very strict copyright policy, and rightly so.

Crafty children will enjoy this Rosary Faith Folder or perhaps a Holy Rosary Faith Ring

Holy Cross Family Ministries has a lot of information on the Family Rosary and family prayer, in general

More good advice at and Catholic Exchange,

In closing, I'd like to say Happy Feast Day to my Confirmation patron, St. Catherine of Siena.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Happy Feast Day to a Great Rosary Saint

It's ironic that I spent most of my teen years in a parish called St. Louis de Montfort, yet never knew that he was a great Rosary advocate.  His statue (like the one at left) was hidden in an alcove on one of the side wings of the church. I'd pass it occasionally and wonder what he did to achieve sainthood, but I never bothered to find out.  Unfortunately, the parish didn't promote his feast day nor did they mention him in a bulletin or at least a leaflet in the back of the church.  What a missed opportunity to encourage devotion to the Rosary!

I finally learned about the great works of  St. Louis when I began a comprehensive research project on the Rosary several years ago.  No one who is devoted to Our Lady's favorite prayer can fail to come across him at some point.  His book, The Secret of the Rosary is easy to read and will give you a much better understanding of and appreciation for the Rosary and our Blessed Mother.

In the book, St. Louis de Montfort lists the results of prayerful Rosary meditation:

- It gradually gives us a perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ
- It purifies our souls, washing away sin
- It gives us victory over our enemies
- It makes it easy for us to practice virtue
- It sets us on fire with love of Jesus
- It enriches us with graces and merits

If that isn't enough to inspire you to take up your Rosary beads daily, then perhaps this quote from St. Louis will:

"If you say the Rosary faithfully until death, I do assure you that in spite of the gravity of your sins you shall receive a never fading crown of glory. For even if you are now on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in Hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil, sooner or later you will be converted. Heaven will amend your life and save your soul if you say the Rosary devoutly every day of your life."

Since today is St. Louis' feast day, why not take a minute to learn a little more about him?  These links can get you started.  Better yet, make a resolution to learn more about the patron of your own parish!

EWTN biography
Catholic Encyclopedia bio
Wikipedia bio (even though this is a secular site, this entry is well-documented, well-researched, and easy to read)
Prayers to Mary by St. Louis and an introduction to another wonderful book he wrote
Order books by St. Louis at Montfort Publications

Today is also the feast day of St. Gianna.  Learn more about this inspiring, modern-day "Saintly Super Mom" in my article on Catholic Exchange.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Carrying of the Cross and Redemptive Suffering

Tuesday again, and the Sorrowful Mysteries are up on the traditional Rosary rotation.  As I meditate again on the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, The Carrying of the Cross, I ponder the fact that we all have our crosses to carry.  Some people carry very heavy crosses, for long periods of time.  Others shoulder crosses that are much lighter and easier to bear. 

As Christians, we realize that we must suffer in this earthly life, but we find comfort in the knowledge that we do not carry these crosses alone.  Our Lord always walks beside us, adding His assistance when the cross seems too heavy to bear.  Recall that even Jesus accepted help (from Simon of Cyrene) in carrying His own cross.

I feel so sorry for those people who do not believe in God and must always question the suffering they experience with no outlet to offer it up or to see its value in redemption.  Redemptive suffering unites us with Christ on His road to Calvary and even helps us find joy in our pain.

The saints can be wonderful role models for us through their example of redemptive suffering.  St. Faustina, the Divine Mercy ambassador, offered suffering for the conversion of countless sinners.  St. Therese of Lisieux, the "Little Flower" did the same.

One of the lighter crosses I bear is that of housework.  It's not a huge burden, but it is not something I exactly enjoy.  I found a wonderful saint to help me through her example-- St. Zita.  You might enjoy my article about "St. Zita in My Kitchen" on the wonderful new Catholic e-magazine website, The Integrated Catholic Life.  St. Zita's feast day is celebrated today (April 27th).

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Annunciation and the Angelus

Mondays and Saturdays are the traditional days to pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.  I could spend my entire life meditating on just the First Joyful Mystery, The Annunciation, and only scratch the surface of this pivotal event in human history.  Maybe that's why I love praying the Angelus every day at noon.

I memorized this beautiful prayer long ago while attending Catholic school, but over the years it became a vague memory.  It was recently called back dramatically while my children and I were walking outside on an Air Force base on a sunny Friday.  We heard a long shrill blast on the loudspeaker known as the "noon whistle," a test of emergency communications.  I was suddenly compelled to start praying the Angelus, perhaps because I had done this as a child growing up on military bases or maybe it was a reminder of the Angelus Bells that still ring in some churches today.  I taught my children what I could remember of the prayers and looked them up online so that we could memorize them.  From then on, the Friday noon whistle was our reminder to remember how the "Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us." (John 1:14) 

The Angelus is traditionally prayed at 6 am, noon and 6 pm, but I am content with trying to pray it every day at noon or at least sometime during the 12 o'clock hour.  On Fridays, I am especially aware of the connection of the Angelus with the Crucifixion: " His Passion and Cross [may we] be brought to the glory of His Resurrection..."

Related links:

GORGEOUS audio and video of the Angelus in Latin with English/Latin subtitles
Another beautiful Angelus video on youtube
More about the Angelus painting above
Short history of the Angelus
MP3 download of the Angelus

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Key to Our Faith

Fridays are always very important to me because I never want a week to go by without making some sort of sacrifice on the day Our Savior died for our sins.  I usually go to Daily Mass and pray the Stations of the Cross afterwards, but today I am without transportation and have to stay at home. 

This is probably a good thing because I must face the giant mountain of ironing that I have ignored for several weeks.  Work can be a form of prayer, especially work that one doesn't particularly enjoy but which does benefit others.  I suppose I can play my Gregorian Chant CD and contemplate the Passion of Our Lord as I tackle that pile of wrinkled clothes. 

Nothing directs my focus on Our Lord's Passion quite like a crucifix.  It is a unifying symbol of the Catholic faith.  If you wear a chain with a cross around your neck, you're a Christian.  If you wear a crucifix, you're a Catholic (AND a Christian, of course).

There is a reason that every modern Rosary is anchored with some type of crucifix.  When we pray the Rosary, we begin with the prayer marked by the crucifix, the Apostles' Creed.  This ancient prayer is a brief summary of our faith.  If anyone asks what you believe as a Catholic, you can repeat the Creed, line by line, and give a simple explanation.  (Read the great summary at the link above for the Apostles' Creed.) 

It is important that we begin each Rosary by recalling the tenets of Catholicism.  We grow in faith through Rosary prayer, and ultimately become more Christ-like.  The crucifix is the key to our faith and to eternal life.  There is no Resurrection without the redemption of the cross.  We cannot go to heaven unless we die to self and willingly take up our personal crosses.  Today, mine is ironing.  Better get started.

Note:  The lovely crucifix keychain is available at The Catholic Faith Store online.  There are several different versions and a wide variety of other lovely Catholic items.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Serendipity, Signal Graces, and a Beautiful Novena

Earlier this week, I explained the meaning of serendipity to my tween daughter after a trip to Blockbuster.  When we checked out our movie, the girl behind the counter asked if we'd like a soda, popcorn and a box of candy for no additional cost.  Really?!  As I picked out the bonus items, she explained that she had a coupon and just wanted to pass it on.  My daughter easily grasped the definition of serendipity with this example of a "happy coincidence".

We can receive a type of spiritual serendipity by praying the Rosary.  One of the 15 Promises of Mary to those who pray the Rosary frequently and devoutly is the promise of signal graces, or signs from God directing us to the right choice or assuring us that we have just made one.  Unlike serendipity, signal graces are not coincidences.  Let me give you an example.

While I was writing my book, The Rosary Workout, I needed to find a spiritual tie-in for the nine levels of my workout program.  An idea occurred to me to name them after each of the Nine Choirs of Angels, and I started doing some research on angels.  Although the Catholic Church teaches that angels do in fact exist, there is no requirement to believe that there are nine choirs.  I found several sources that disputed this division, which troubled me. I didn't want my book to include any inaccuracies, and this was a very important element.  I prayed for discernment, and it came one evening as I was walking just before sunset.  My attention was drawn to an amazing formation of clouds that were lit up with shades of gold and rose, calling to mind a human interpretation of heaven.  I noticed that the clouds were arranged in a very orderly fashion, each about the same size.  I had a strong inclination to count them, and sure enough, there were nine.  To me, this was a very clear signal grace regarding the Nine Choirs of Angels.

If you are dedicated to the Rosary, do not ignore any "coincidences" when it comes to spiritual matters.  I was talking to my dad recently, and I casually mentioned the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  Surprised, he said, "You are the third person to bring that up this week!  I had never heard of it before, but I guess I'd better start praying it." 

I had a similar string of signal graces recently.  While flipping through a copy of Canticle magazine, I saw a unique painting of Mary (shown, at left).  Intrigued, I read the article and found that there was a growing devotion to Mary Undoer of Knots, based on this 17th-century painting by an unknown artist.  I have undone many frustrating strings of knots in my life (gold chains, shoelaces, daughter's long, fine hair, etc.), but my face never remotely resembled the loving, serene expression on the face of Our Lady as she patiently unties each tangled knot.  I put the magazine aside, but came across the same painting just a few days later in a blog post on Faith and Family Live.  Mere days later, I one again found a reference to Mary Undoer of Knots in a Twitter post by my friend, Sarah Reinhard (link to her fun and inspiring blog).  This was obviously not to be ignored!  Today I am starting a novena to Mary Undoer of Knots for a private intention.  The prayers are very beautiful and include praying the Rosary with a daily meditation.  You can order a novena booklet at this link.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Rosary in the Stars

Ever since I was a young child, I have been fascinated by the night sky.  I would often go outside and lie on my back, staring up in wonder at the heavens above.  My father bought me a telescope, and I'll never forget my first close-up view of the moon.  My mother bought me a wonderful little book about the constellations called The Stars by H.A. Ray, author of the still-delightful Curious George books.  (I still have the book, and even my new-millennium children enjoy it.) 

I relished the challenge of learning to map out the night sky, fascinated that our ancient ancestors saw the same stars and used them to mark the seasons.  I checked out stacks of mythology books from the library, eager to know the stories about the various characters immortalized in the heavens. 

I had no idea that the stars could also tell the story of Salvation History until just recently.  During Advent last year, I bought a DVD called Star of Bethlehem to watch with my family on Christmas Eve.  Narrator Frederick Larson blew me away with his theory of the Christmas star. 

One line in the film about the constellation Virgo gave me an idea, and I ran to get my handy-dandy Seasonal Star Chart.  I was thunderstruck to see that the constellation Virgo (Mary, Ever-Virgin) rises just before the constellation Serpens (the Serpent), which also happens to be directly under the starry feet of Virgo.  How beautiful that Genesis 3:15 is written in the stars:  "...She shall crush thy (serpent's) head and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel."  This also brings to mind Genesis 1:14:  "Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years."  Stars can be signs, always pointing to the awesome power and glory of God.

Now for the Rosary tie-in:  I have always enjoyed the Rosary Workshop's excellent website, especially their very thorough History of the Rosary page.  I only recently came across their selection of gorgeous birthstone Rosaries, and the truly awe-inspiring story of how Salvation History is written in the stars.  If you're looking for a gift idea for Confirmation, Mothers' Day, etc., one of the Rosary Workshop guild's beautiful hand-made Rosaries would be an excellent choice.  (No, they aren't paying me...)

Here's another "sign" in the stars:  The "Crown of Thorns" Galaxy  If you know of others, please post a link in the Comments section.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Scriptural Rosaries

If you struggle with Rosary meditation, I highly recommend trying a Scriptural Rosary.  These can be found in Catholic bookstores (brick-and-mortar as well as online) and are pamphlets or small books with quotes from the Bible for each mystery of the Rosary.  Newer versions include the Luminous Mysteries.  Some Scriptural Rosaries include a quote for every Hail Mary in a decade while others may list a single quote, prayer or reflection to read before beginning a decade.  Almost all of them include a picture or illustration for each mystery.

The Bible references always help keep my attention on the mystery I'm contemplating and give me a tangible reference to reflect upon.  If the verse is unfamiliar, I often reach for my Bible to look it up after I'm finished praying.  Although I pray most of my daily Rosaries while I exercise, I frequently turn to one of my Scriptural Rosary booklets when I have a few quiet moments at home or during a Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. 

My hands-down favorite is The Essential Rosary by Caryll Houselander.  It is an older book and doesn't include the Luminous Mysteries, but her poetry is so moving and beautiful!  I also love the classic, "little blue book" version which my mother used to keep in the glove box of the car (and probably still does) so we could pray it on trips.  (Again, no Luminous Mysteries).  Newer versions that include the Luminous Mysteries which  I own and have found helpful are:

The Magnificat Rosary Companion
Pray the Rosary (St. Joseph Edition)
Praying the Rosary Without Distractions (1st line on order form; click binoculars icon for more info)

Online versions:

Holy Spirit Interactive Online Scriptural Rosary
7 Dolors Scriptural Online Scriptural Rosary
Online Scriptural Rosary for Children (includes beautiful artwork, and is helpful for adults too!)
Podcast Scriptural Rosary (for your MP3 player! but the files are huge)

If you have a favorite that isn't listed, please add it (with a link, if possible) in the Comments for this post.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Multiply the power of your Rosary prayers

I often pray the Rosary for my own private intentions or those of my immediate family and closest friends.  Sometimes my prayers are not answered quite the way I had hoped, but I can see concrete results through the blessings bestowed upon the people I know and love.

Since I try to pray the Rosary every day, I occasionally pray for random people I encounter in my daily life-- the homeless man sleeping on a park bench, the elderly woman who can barely push her cart through the grocery store, or the teenage boy who bullies my son at school.  I will probably never know if my prayers have any effect on those people, but I trust that the Blessed Mother will know what to do.  I also receive grace by practicing charity.

If you really want to multiply the power of your Rosary prayers, then join the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary.  Anyone can join, and the requirements are simple: Pray the 15 traditional decades of the Rosary every week.  This includes the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries.  You are encouraged, but not required, to pray the Luminous Mysteries each week as well. 

The benefits and blessings received through this association are well worth the small effort required.  Members of the confraternity include all the other members and their intentions each time they pray the Rosary-- your prayers and intentions are multiplied hundreds of thousands of times!

If you think that praying 15 decades (or three Rosaries) a week is too much of a commitment, then consider praying just one decade at a time.  You can begin the Rosary on Sunday, praying the pendant chain prayers (the chain with the crucifix):  The Apostles Creed, 3 Hail Marys, Glory Be and Fatima Prayer.  This only takes about 3-4 minutes, and is easily done before or after Mass.  On Monday through Friday, you can pray 3 decades a day-- one in the morning when you wake up, one at lunch time, and one in the evening or before bed.  A decade consists of announcing the mystery (e.g. The First Joyful Mystery is The Annunciation), praying an Our Father, 10 Hail Marys, the Glory Be and the Fatima Prayer.  (As you pray the 10 Hail Marys, reflect or meditate upon the that particular mystery.)  It only takes about 3-4 minutes to pray each decade.  On Saturday, complete your 15-decade Rosary by praying the Hail Holy Queen (less than one minute of your time).

If you don't know how to pray the Rosary or forgot some of the prayers or mysteries, you'll find a tutorial on the Rosary Confraternity's website.  Even if you don't join the confraternity, do realize that your Rosary prayers are very powerful and can bring many blessings upon yourself and those you pray for.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Swimming the Rosary and Walking the Via Dolorosa

I have tried, and often failed, to pray the Rosary while I swim laps at the pool.  I'm learning a new stroke technique, and adding the Rosary seems to give me too much to think about.  Since I suggest swimming as a mode of exercise to incorporate into my program in The Rosary Workout, I felt compelled to master this combination.  I headed to the pool today, determined to come up with a suitable method.  (If you're not a swimmer and never want to be, then just skip the next four paragraphs.)

I warmed up at an easy pace as I prayed the prayers on the Rosary pendant chain:  The Apostles Creed, Our Father, 3 Hail Marys. Glory Be and Fatima Prayer.  I found that I could pray an Our Father during one length of the 25-yard pool, but a Hail Mary was finished before I reached the wall.  That was actually a good thing, as it would give me a few extra seconds to really focus on the mystery upon which I was meditating.  The Glory Be, Fatima Prayer and the first mystery announcement took another length. 

So far, so good, but the problem I faced was how to keep track of 10 Hail Marys?  The pace clock was broken and I didn't have a watch, so I couldn't rely on timing.  I stopped to think about it as I stretched for a minute or two.  An idea finally came to me-- I could vary the type of stroke done every two lengths.  With 5 different strokes in a specific order, I would not have to distract from my prayer by counting.

I swam the first two lengths with a kickboard and Zoomers (short swim fins).  The next two lengths were freestyle, leaving the Zoomers on.  Then I kicked off the fins and swam two lengths of freestyle, followed by two more of backstroke.  I finished with another two lengths of freestyle.  I transitioned to the next decade  by praying the Our Father, Glory Be, Fatima Prayer and second mystery announcement during two lengths of breaststroke.

I found that this combination allowed me to focus on meditation, with the added benefit of being a fun swim workout.  I didn't have to try to recall my total swim distance either.  Not counting the warm-up, this workout would be a total of 60 lengths of the pool, or 1500 yards/meters, depending on your pool.  That's almost a mile of swimming!  If you're a swimmer and have a different idea, please post it in the comments!

Unfortunately, I was kicked out of the pool by the Senior Swim Club before I could finish all five decades of the Sorrowful Mysteries.  I prayed the last two in front of the Blessed Sacrament after Mass.  I glanced at the familiar plaques showing the Stations of the Cross as an aid to my meditation.

A few years ago, I made an extra effort to start praying the Stations every Friday after reading about the blessings and benefits associated with this devotion in my beloved Pieta Prayer Book.  (Learn more at this link-- scroll down about 1/2 way to the title "14 Promises") 

The Stations of the Cross allow us to walk alongside Jesus on the Via Dolorosa (the "Way of Grief or Suffering").  As with the Rosary, Mary is our guide.  Tradition has it that the devotion to the Stations of the Cross began with the Blessed Mother's daily routine of walking the route her Son took to Calvary.  Later, pilgrims emulated the practice, and eventually the devotion spread to every Catholic church in the form of plaques on the wall, depicting 14 different scenes on the route.

I have many different books and pamphlets with various meditations on the Stations, but today I simply asked Our Lady to walk with me as I honored Christ's suffering and death.  As always, she was the perfect companion.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hiking with the Blessed Mother

My first introduction to hiking was not a good one.  It occurred at the Air Force Academy and included seven days of hiking about 8-10 hours a day in the Colorado mountains.  They called it Survival Training, which was a very good name. 

Even years later, my husband had a difficult time convincing me to accompany him on a hike.  He finally coaxed me to go along by packing cookies, cheese and a small bottle of wine to enjoy at the summit.  We climbed the trail together, talking and soaking in the beauty of nature around us, and I actually enjoyed the experience.  I bought a pair of good hiking boots, and we included hiking as a part of our regular workouts.  When our children were born, we carried them on packs and gradually accustomed them to longer hikes, luring them to the trails with the promise of their favorite dehydrated meals at the end.

You can imagine our excitement at moving to a small town at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The trails beckoned, but record-breaking rain and snowfall kept us away.  Now that spring has arrived, I decided that today would be a good day to dust off the hiking boots.

At the base of the 3-mile trail was a sign that advised hikers to "Follow the blue blazes" to the summit.  As I traveled the wide, clearly marked path, I noticed bright blue plastic disks nailed to the trees about every 20 feet.  "Why bother?" I thought.  "A child could follow this trail!"  Yet as I continued upward, crossing roads and going deeper into the forest, I began to rely on those little blue markers to guide my way.  At times, I couldn't see them and had to continue on what I thought was the right path, looking for a glimpse of blue ahead.

I pulled my Rosary from my pocket and meditated on the Luminous Mysteries as I repeated the familiar prayers to the rhythm of my pace.  As I asked the Blessed Mother to guide my thoughts, I was struck by the symbolism of the blue markers on my trail.  Blue is Mary's color, and she leads us to her Divine Son through her favorite prayer, the Rosary.  The trail I hiked was occasionally wide and easy, but more often steep, rocky and rough.  The path to heaven is quite similar.  Sometimes it is so easy to practice virtue, but it is often a struggle, and I lose my way.  Like the markers on the trail, I rely on Our Lady to guide me through those difficult parts of the journey.

I finally reached the summit and spent a few minutes enjoying the breathtaking view.  The reward for staying on the right trail was a good one, and I hope my devotion to the Blessed Mother and the Rosary will lead to a heavenly reward as well. 

Before I started back down the trail, I bent over to adjust my laces and was struck by the realization that my hiking shoes were the same brilliant blue as the markers.  I smiled, knowing that Our Lady was guiding my feet on the right path as well as my heart.

Note:  The photo on this post is of Our Lady of the Rockies in Butte, Montana.  We saw this amazing statue on top of a mountain as we drove through that beautiful state.  Unfortunately, our plans did not permit the 1/2 day required to take the tram up the mountain to see the statue.  We did admire it from afar, however.  If we ever go back, it will be at the top of our "must visit" list.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Resurrection, Confession and a very busy day

This morning the sky was overcast with a bit of cool breeze-- a perfect day for a Rosary Workout power walk.  I drove to my favorite walking path, a paved trail that follows a wooded river.  I prayed the Glorious Mysteries, reveling in the glory of God's Creation in its spring majesty.  The grass was a brilliant green, the tiny leaves bursting from the trees were a paler shade, and the music of the flowing river cleared my mind for meditation and reflection.

It is so right that the First Glorious Mystery, the Resurrection, is celebrated in the spring when new life bursts forth all around us.  As I walked, I considered that we also receive a sort of new life in grace when we go to Confession.  In fact, the Sacrament of Reconciliation was instituted by Christ on the evening of the Resurrection.

Our Lord was very busy on that long-ago Easter Sunday.  Raising Himself from the dead was the first order of business, then He descended into hell (Eph 4:9-10), appeared to Mary Magdalene under the guise of gardener (John 20:11-18), explained all the prophecies regarding Himself to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:15-27), ate dinner with them, where they finally recognized Him "in the breaking of the bread," (Luke 24:29-31).  Then He vanished and appeared to the Apostles back in Jerusalem, ate another meal of baked fish (Luke 24:42) and commissioned the Eleven (obviously, Judas is not there) to go out and baptize and proclaim the gospel (Matthew 16:15-18).  Finally, he institutes the Sacrament of Confession when He tells the Apostles, "... Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (John 20:22-23).

I make it a goal to go to Confession at least once each month.  The grace and peace I receive from that sacrament are priceless.  I also take my children to Confession with me.  As Jesus Himself implores, "... Let the children come to Me; do not prevent them...." (Mark 10:14) Although my children may occasionally go two months between Confessions, I know that it is critical to establish this habit in the hope that it will last a lifetime.  They are not afraid of the confessional.  In fact, just this weekend my son emerged from the chapel and declared, "I feel lighter."  I know exactly what he means!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Comments are back up

I now have the Comments feature re-enabled, if that is a valid word.  However, if you click on the Comment link, a small window will pop up.  If you don't see it, perhaps you should enable pop-ups.  Please email me at peggy (at) rosaryworkout dot com -- written as one word-- if you have any problems.

Thorns on His head and in my side

I did a tough bike ride today-- several very steep hills with the added adrenaline boost of constant vigilance for country dogs.  The Sorrowful Mysteries were a good choice for this particular Rosary Workout, and Tuesday is the traditional day devoted to meditating on these scenes from the Passion of our Lord.

I tackled an especially grueling climb during the Third Sorrowful Mystery, The Crowning of Thorns.  I forgot about the pain in my legs as I focused on the face of Christ-- the sharp thorns from the crown causing blood to run down his cheeks, the constant blows bruising his holy flesh as He quietly bore the pain and humiliation.  His eyes, though, are gentle and loving.  The soldiers are mocking and contemptuous, but Jesus continues to love them.  He sees in them something that they themselves do not--  That despite their hatred, they are His beloved children.  Perhaps Jesus thought of the words He had given His prophet, Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." (Jer 1:5)  It is even possible that one of these men was the centurion who stated at Jesus' death, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39).  Great love can change hearts and minds.

As I coasted down the back side of the hill, I thought about all the people whom I consider to be a thorn in my side.  The chatty mom of my son's friend who won't ever leave my home.  The person who blocks the aisle with a shopping cart when I'm in a hurry.  The woman at Mass who refuses to take her wailing baby outside.  The sarcastic, rude "Customer Service" rep.  Instead of irritation or anger, I need to follow Our Lord's example and show love.  Perhaps, then, I too can change hearts and minds.

Bible references for the Third Sorrowful Mystery, The Crowning with Thorns:
Matthew 27:29-30; Mark 15:16-20; John 19: 2-3
The virtues associated with this mystery are moral courage and love of our enemies.

Working on comments

I just found out that my Comments were somehow disabled.  Must have happened while I was experimenting with a new format for my blog.  I've tried several solutions I've found online, without success.  I'm working to resolve the problem, and I'll post a memo when Comments are up and running again. 

In the meantime, you can email comments to peggy (at) rosaryworkout dot com (but put it all together like you normally do).  When the Comments are back up, I'll post anything you wanted to say.

Sorry for the inconvenience.  Have a blessed day.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Holy Spirit and the Annunciation

I try to begin every day with a Bible reading.  After discovering a wonderful Bible study a few years ago called The Great Adventure, I finally began to grasp what Salvation History really means.  I realize now the critical importance of becoming more familiar with both the Old and New Testament.

Before I start my reading, I always pray to the Holy Spirit to help me know, understand and live the Word of God.  I am often amazed when the selection I'm reading brings me insight, inspiration.or understanding.

The Holy Spirit is probably the most difficult of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity to comprehend.  He is depicted as a dove (Matthew 3:16), as the wind (Acts 2:2), as a cloud (Mark 9:7) or as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).  Since I am no theologian, I direct you to this link for a very thorough teaching on the Holy Spirit.  (I refer to the Holy Spirit as "He" although there is no gender associated with a being who is pure spirit.  It would definitely be a mistake to refer to the Holy Spirit as "she," as you'll see below.)

The most important role, in my mind at least, of the Holy Spirit is His presence in the First Joyful Mystery, The Annunciation.  He is revealed rather subtly in the opening words of this scene when the Angel Gabriel greets Mary with the words, "Hail, full of grace." (Luke 1:28)  Since the Holy Spirit is the Giver of Grace, He has prepared Mary from conception to be the Mother of God (CCC 721)  Then He "overshadows" Mary and the "Word is made flesh." (John 1:14). 

Stop for a moment and reflect upon this scene.  The Holy Spirit has become the Divine Spouse of the Blessed Virgin.  Clearly not a "she" then.  This union is not a sexual one, but a great mystery.  Another Catholic truth that shines forth here is Mary's perpetual virginity.  As the spouse of the Holy Spirit, she could never enter into an intimate relationship with a mere human.  One more point to ponder:  At the beginning of the scene, Mary is "full of grace".  At the end, the Holy Spirit, Giver of Grace, has overshadowed her and God Incarnate enters her womb.  Now, Mary is literally overflowing with grace

Since today is Monday, the traditional day to pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, take some time to reflect on the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation, and the role of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother.

As we approach the day of Pentecost, the great feast of the Holy Spirit, make a resolution to learn more about this Third Person of the Holy Trinity.  The links in this post will lead to more information, or try these:
Catholic Culture article on the Holy Spirit and Mary  (Search the library of this excellent site for more articles)
EWTN article (Also, many more articles on this site)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Indulge in some Divine Mercy

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast I look forward to every year.  It is a fairly recent addition to the Church calendar, and is still unfamiliar to many. 

I first came across the Divine Mercy image (one version, at left) years ago while waiting in line for Confession in a new parish.  I studied the painting, thinking to myself, "Now THAT is a painting of Jesus that I could hang in my living room!"  I liked the kind, serene expression on His face, and I was fascinated by the two rays of light emanating from His heart.  I thought perhaps it was a new version of the Sacred Heart devotion.

It would be another two years before I discovered the devotion associated with the painting.  During the homily that day, Father K stated that we were celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday.  (Huh?)  I was a cradle Catholic and attended Catholic school until college.  I had never heard of such a feast.  I sat up straighter, eager to hear more.  Fr. K continued his explanation, mentioning St. Faustina (who?) and that there was a plenary indulgence (what?) associated with the feast.  He explained that a plenary indulgence takes away all sin as well as all the punishment due to sin.  (Really!)  Since the detailed explanation of plenary indulgences is a rather technical, I'll let the folks at EWTN in the link above explain it to you. 

Since one of the requirements for a plenary indulgence is to go to Confession, I hung around after Mass, hoping for a chance to ask Fr. K to hear mine.  In fact, after that homily, I expected everyone to line up and beg him to open the Confessional immediately. Who could turn down such an opportunity?  The congregation, apparently unmoved by the homily, went on their way; and I lost the courage to ask Fr. K for an off-hours Confession.  I guess I would have to wait for next year for that plenary indulgence... I went home and marked my calendar for Divine Mercy Sunday the following year. 

In the interim, I bought a book on St. Faustina and learned more about the Divine Mercy devotion.  I started praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which uses the Rosary beads to mark the prayers imploring Jesus to convert sinners.  I taught my children the simple "Three O'Clock Prayer" that is especially powerful when prayed between the hours of 3:00 and 4:00 pm, the "Hour of Divine Mercy".

I also learned that year that I need not wait until the next Divine Mercy Sunday to gain a plenary indulgence.  A friend gave me a copy of a wonderful little book called The Pieta Prayer Book.  It includes a variety of beautiful prayers whose devout recitation can give plenary or partial indulgences.

You can gain indulgences by praying the Rosary.  Learn more at the website for the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary.  While you're there, perhaps you'll be inspired to join this organization, which traces its roots to St. Dominic, the "Rosary Saint".

Friday, April 9, 2010

Make EVERY Friday Good!

If you're like most Catholics, you're probably thinking, "Thank goodness Lent is over!  Now I can eat a hamburger on Friday!"  Well, you're only partly correct. 

Before Vatican II, Catholics had to abstain from meat on every Friday of the year.  This was a form of penance to honor Good Friday, the day Our Lord died for our sins.  In 1966, however, the US Bishops Conference requested and obtained permission for American Catholics to substitute another form of penance on Fridays outside of Lent.  (See this link for more info.) The requirement for Friday penance didn't disappear, but was simply modified so that US Catholics could find a more personal way to honor Jesus' ultimate sacrifice.  Unfortunately, the change was viewed by most as a relief from the "burden" of having to think about what they ate on Friday.

With Lent and Good Friday still fresh in our thoughts, why not make a commitment to honor EVERY Friday with some sort of sacrifice or good deed?  If you want to eat that hamburger, go ahead.  Just find some other way to make a small sacrifice on this day that Jesus suffered and died for you.  Penance is good for the soul.  It is pleasing to God, helps us practice virtue, win grace, and leads us to be more Christ-like in our everyday lives.

Here are a few ideas:
  • Abstain from meat, continuing the habit you formed during Lent
  • Attend daily Mass on Friday
  • Pray the Stations of the Cross, either in a church or privately
  • Pray the Rosary for the intention of someone who is suffering
  • Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, especially at 3:00 p.m.
  • Spend some time praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament
  • Fast and pray
  • Donate food or clothing to the poor
  • Visit a nursing home, prison or hospital
If you have children, include them in this practice.  Even though Canon Law does not apply to children under 14, parents are encouraged to educate their children in the importance of penance and self-sacrifice.  Perhaps you can pray a Friday evening family Rosary, read from a children's Bible, donate money to charity, or serve only meatless dishes.

Note:  The rules of penance and abstinence do not apply if Friday is a  feast day, such as Christmas, the Feast of the Assumption, your local parish feast day, etc.

Are you curious about the photo posted on this entry?  It's a "crucifix fish"!   Actually, it's the skeleton of the sailcat catfish.  I came across the image while searching for a photo that included both a crucifix and a fish symbol  The legend associated with this unusual creature is quite fascinating.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Transfiguration, Part 5 (and a bit of Rosary history)

Today is Thursday, the one day of the week dedicated to praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.  (See my blog archive for more information.)  Of course, you can pray them on any day of the week, and some people find the time to pray and meditate upon all 20 mysteries of the Rosary! 

The Luminous Mysteries, or Mysteries of Light, are the most recent addition to the modern Rosary and were introduced by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

Even though the Luminous Mysteries are relatively new to us, a study of the rich history of the Rosary reveals that at one time there were 150 mysteries!  Ancient monks and clergy memorized, studied and meditated upon the150 Psalms of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in Jesus and His Blessed Mother in the gospels.  As a sort of "short cut" to reciting all the Psalms from memory, they would occasionally recite 150 Our Fathers while meditating on the Psalms and the gospels.  To keep track of their prayers, they used a string of 150 knots or beads called a paternoster.  (Paternoster is the Latin title of the Our Father.)  Later, another tradition evolved using 150 repeated Ave's (an early version of the Hail Mary).  Eventually, this devotion lead to our modern-day Rosary.

An interesting side note is that the advent of the printing press is one of the primary reasons that the number of mysteries was reduced from 150 to 15.  "Picture Rosaries" were printed to distribute to the common people, many of whom were illiterate.  Since it was too expensive to print 150 different gospel scenes, 15 of the most important were chosen.  Thus, the 15 traditional Mysteries of the Rosary-- 5 Joyful, 5 Sorrowful, and 5 Glorious.

Today I want to finish my earlier reflections on the fourth Luminous Mystery, The Transfiguration.  Parts 1-4 of the series are found below or in the archives.  (Luke's version is here.)  The key point of this event can be found in the words spoken by the "voice in the cloud" (God the Father):  "This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him."  The emphasis would be on the word "HIM" meaning that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, represented by Moses ("The Law") and Elijah ("The Prophets").  Notice that these two disappear and Jesus is left alone.  Now we understand why Peter "did not know what he was saying." 

The scene of the Transfiguration also marks the second time that the Holy Trinity appears together:  God the Father (voice from the cloud), God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit (represented by the cloud).  The first appearance of the Holy Trinity is at the Baptism of Jesus (the first Luminous Mystery).  Notice how the words of the Father are similar:  "This is my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased."

The story of the Transfiguration and the history of the Rosary tie in beautifully with today's Gospel reading. Jesus has just appeared to His Apostles for the first time since His death on the cross.  His first words are "Peace be with you," as they must have been terrified and awe-struck.  After showing His wounds and eating a meal (His glorified body is real!), he says:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures."

Like the ancient monks with their paternosters, we can study, meditate and reflect on the Mysteries of the Rosary so that we too can "open our minds to understand the Scriptures".

Read more about the history of the Rosary in my book, The Rosary Workout

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hearts Burning Within Us

I had to teach an indoor cycling class at my gym today as a sub for one of my friends.  Although I'd love to lead a Rosary Workout cycling class, it just wasn't the right time and place. 

Since I was unable to pray the Rosary during my workout, I played my Latin Rosary CD in the car.  As I listened to the soothing voice of Fr. Perez, I reflected again on the first Glorious Mystery, the Resurrection. 

I recalled today's Gospel reading about the familiar story of The Road to Emmaus on the eve of Easter Sunday.  Although I've read or heard it many times, I came across an interesting perspective of this event through fellow Canticle writer, Theresa Doyle-Nelson.  She writes about the icon pictured above, by modern-day artist Sister Marie-Paul Farran.  Notice that one of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is a woman!  Read about this fascinating interpretation here and the full article on Theresa's website here (scroll down about halfway).

Of course, the gender of the disciples is not the important lesson in this story.  I love how Jesus pretends that He has no clue about the world-changing impact of His own Resurrection.  Instead, He lets the two disciples tell Him what happened.  Luke adds irony in their final words, "...but Him they did not see."  Jesus, still unrecognizable, berates the pair for their foolishness and reveals to them the hidden meanings in the Scriptures they knew so well.  The two hang on every word, but do not recognize Him until the breaking of the bread at the meal they share later.  After He disappears, the disciples reflect on the impact of His words:  "Were not our hearts burning within us...?"

I pondered how my heart burns within me at times when I read or listen to a Bible reading, a Gospel or a homily and hear exactly the words from Scripture that call out to me, answering a problem or revealing a truth I had not considered.  I also thought of the times when "Him I did not see," especially in the people whom I dislike or try to avoid.  Finally, I reflected on the importance of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and how "He is made know to [us] in the breaking of the bread."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Missing Mary at the Tomb

Today was a beautiful, sunny day and I decided to go for a run outside for the first time in ages.  The winter in my new home at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains has been unusually harsh, so most of my workouts have been indoors.  I view running on the treadmill as more penance than joy, so I looked forward to getting some sun on my face as I ran and prayed the Rosary.

Since it's the Octave of Easter, I decided to pray and reflect on the Glorious Mysteries while I ran.  As I meditated on the First Glorious Mystery, The Resurrection, I thought of the women at the tomb.  All four gospels place Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, and the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) add Mary, the mother of James.  The obvious missing Mary is Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  Not one of the gospel writers tells us about the reunion of the risen Lord and His beloved Mother.  Yet, it must have happened.  I can't imagine that Jesus would not make a private appearance to the person who followed Him on the long road to Calvary, wept at the foot of the cross, and held Him lovingly in her arms before His burial.  Mary, of all people, must have trusted in the Resurrection.  She was without stain of sin and knew the Scriptures and their foretelling of the triumph after the suffering. 

As I finished my run (2 miles, at least this time...), I walked slowly back to my car, thinking about the reunion of Mother and Son and praying for an increase in my own faith.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Little Flowers for the Risen Lord

Happy Easter!  He is Risen!  He is Alive!  Alleluia!

Last year, in a different state and parish, I was honored to be a leader for a local Little Flowers Girls' Club group.  Each year, we study nine different virtues and nine Catholic female saints who embody these virtues.  Our primary model is the Blessed Mother, and the club gets its name from its patron, St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as "The Little Flower".

The girls earn special badges for each virtue, which are sewn into a flower shape on blue sashes.  I wanted to honor the girls' accomplishments in a special ceremony at Mass, so I approached our pastor, Father X  about the idea.  (He enthusiastincally supported our club and even funded it through the parish.)  Father X suggested that the ceremony take place on Easter Sunday, but I hesitated, thinking that such a special feast should not be "shared" with another ceremony, but Father X insisted that it take place on Easter.

I prayed about how to incorporate a badge ceremony with Easter Sunday, and recalled a book I had read about Mary.  The author wrote of the importance of women at the tomb of the risen Lord and how their bringing the good news of the Resurrection to the Apostles was a reversal of Eve bringing sin to Adam.  I incorporated that revelation into the script, which follows:

Good morning and Happy Easter! I’m Peggy Bowes, and I’m the leader of the XXX chapter of the Little Flowers Girls’ Club. We began the Club two years ago with five girls, and this year we have grown to 15. Today we will perform a badge ceremony to recognize the efforts of these young ladies as they learn about their Catholic faith, heritage and traditions while forming lasting friendships.

Our aim is not to overshadow the importance of this Holy Day, but to show how our young members are learning to become more Christ-like through the imitation of His beloved Mother.

The presence of women at the tomb of the risen Lord on the first Easter Sunday is documented in all four gospels. According to the early Church Fathers, their presence goes all the way back to Eve in the book of Genesis:

In the Garden of Eden, a woman (Eve) was witness to the downfall and death of the human race. However, on the day of the Resurrection, the women at the empty tomb of Jesus witness the New Life granted to the human race.

As Little Flowers, we strive to imitate the virtues modeled by Our Blessed Mother, our patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux, and the various women saints we study each meeting. We hope that more young girls in our parish will join us next year. I’ll let a few of the girls summarize what we have studied this year.

1st girl:
We have spent the last six months studying and practicing six virtues. As we learn about each virtue, we also learn about a female saint who modeled that virtue. We earn badges through prayer, study and works of charity. The badges are shaped like petals and form a flower for each year of the program. Our sashes are blue to help us remember the example of Mary, and we have earned our patches through prayer, study and works of charity. The flowers in our hair and the candles we carried in represent the virtues we have studied.

2nd girl:
The first virtue we studied was Faith, represented by the lily. We learned about the Apostle of Mercy, St. Faustina, and Divine Mercy Sunday, which we celebrate next week. Then we studied Joy and St. Claire of Assisi, represented by the tulip. We all earned a St. Claire medal by making over 100 Christmas cards for the female prisoners in the local prison.

3rd girl:
Our next virtue was courage, represented by the yucca flower. We learned about Blessed Margaret Pole who was martyred for her faith. Then we studied Generosity and St. Katherine Drexel. The daisy reminds us to be generous, and we modeled that virtue by making Valentines and passing them out to the residents of a local nursing home.

4th girl:
The last two virtues are Prudence and Wisdom. St. Angela Merici is our model for Prudence, which is represented by the violet. We learned of the Wisdom of St. Theresa Benedicta, and the irises help us to remember to be wise. We will study three more virtues this year: Justice, Loyalty, and Perseverance.
The girls executed the ceremony perfectly!  After Mass, at Father X's suggestion, the girls handed out little badges that pictured the virtues in a flower shape.  We received many compliments on the ceremony, and I think that we enhanced, rather than detracted from, the Easter celebration.