Thursday, December 15, 2016

Pray Without Ceasing...The Usefulness of Decades of Prayer

We live in a pretty practical society; everything needs a "useful" purpose to have value. Now, we know that there is purpose in less tangible things, like beauty, a smile, time spent thinking rather than just working...but it's hard to explain that to the world in which we live. That simply means we have to speak to the world in its own language to show that there can be value in these things.

As an example, many people don't find value in praying the Rosary these days. It has a bit of a reputation as a rote devotion of little old ladies who have nothing better to do. First, the little old ladies I know are wonderfully busy, usually serving others, and I only wish I had their spare time for that sort of commitment to private devotions. They are able to enjoy the prayer and sacramental life that we often wish we had, but for which we lack time...and, to be honest sometimes, motivation. We do have the opportunity to experience a small taste of that peace, however, and in this time and place, peace is a valuable commodity all too often taken for granted. How do we find a reason to pray? You know me, always about the theological math.

Scripture tends to work heavily with numbers, so when you see repetition of say, three, five, seven, 40, there's usually a reason. In the Church, we recognize the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are found in Is 11:2-3: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. If we apply that same idea to the Marian devotion to the Rosary, we can easily find seven gifts, likely more, to illustrate its very practical usefulness. Don't believe me? Let's go.

1. The most obvious benefit is developing a closer relationship with Our Lady. Some might question why that's necessary, and many even question whether or not this devotion borders on idolatry. First, we don't worship Mary, but we honor her (Ex 20:12, Dt 5:16) as the New Eve, as she's the mother of all of those who are living spiritually a new life in her Son, Jesus Christ. As the mother of the King of Glory, she holds a special place of favor (Lk 1:28) as the Queen Mother, by which she is able to intercede on our behalf in a special way. This is very clearly imaged in another relationship between the king of Israel and his mother in (1 Kgs 2:18-20). Mary points us to her Son always as, "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6, emphasis mine), telling us to, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5). If we're willing to ask others to pray for your needs, then it seems to follow that we ought to ask the one who, in a special way, is closest to our Lord.

2. Attention to the Mysteries of the Rosary brings humility. You might think it a bit self-centered to turn the Rosary back to yourself, but every intention of God is that we would know Him intimately and be known by Him. The mysteries tell us a great deal about Jesus, and when we see Him as he is (1 Jn 3:2), we're able to see who we are in relation to Him...basically, we are not God (big surprise, I know). Choose any of the mysteries, even the Marian ones, and you'll see that they very clearly show that God is One (Dt 6:4), not some shady representation of a conglomerate of do-gooders. God is, and He is not us, or rather, we are not Him, though we look forward to being fully united to Him. Look, for example, at the Glorious Mystery of Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan (Mat 3:16-17). The Father identifies Jesus as His Divine Son, and the Spirit rests on Him as is foretold in Isaiah 11, much like when the Spirit rushed upon David when he was anointed as king (1 Sam 16:13). The Glorious Mystery of the Coronation shows the promise of our future with Him as King in the crowning of His mother as Queen of Heaven. Just as foretold by Simeon (Lk 2:34-35), she shared in the suffering of His crown of thorns, which became the glorious crown of the Resurrection borne out of His obedience to the will of the Father. Her cooperation with the will of God becomes her crown, her share in His glory. Clearly, Jesus is human and lived a wholly human life, but these mysteries of His life also show that He is every bit as much Divine and the designer of our hearts, something we ought to keep in mind when we try to determine whose will is ordered toward our greater glory.

3. Contrary to the belief of many, the Rosary is unbelievably scriptural. Notice how many times above I give a reference to some biblical element of the Mysteries. Even the Hail Mary is an extremely scriptural prayer. If you don't believe me, go look it up (Lk 1:28, 1:42-43). Jesus is the Word Incarnate, and we reverence the Sacred Word just as we do His Body and Blood in the Eucharist (Heb 1:2, Jn 1:1; CCC 103). In order to better know Him, we must study the Scriptures (CCC 133), both with our minds and with our hearts, because it is there where we hear the fullness of the Word the Father desires to speak to us, His longings of joy for us (Ps 16:11).

4. A greater familiarity and devotion to Scripture naturally leads to a deeper relationship with Christ. It's like with any other relationship, growing in knowledge of someone leads to a greater appreciation of who they are. In a well-known quote from his commentary on the Book of Isaiah, St. Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate (Latin translation of the Greek Septuagint Bible), expresses the necessity of Scripture as the place of coming to know Jesus, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" (Commentariorum in Isaiam libri xviii). We grow in love for Jesus as we come to know Him, and we naturally desire more to be conformed to His image.
It's amazing how each of these leads into the next, isn't it?

5. So then, what follows from a closer relationship with Jesus and an appreciation for Him, His life, and the good news He brings? A greater desire for a life of increasing holiness. Think about someone you admire. There's usually something about them that draws you to them, and there's a part of you that wants to become more like them. Growing in the knowledge of Christ leads to growing in relationship and holiness. This isn't something that comes from us alone. In fact, we just don't have the means to make ourselves good. The reality is, it requires Grace, God's free gift of His life within our souls...but also our cooperation, and an attraction to God's goodness makes it much easier to cooperate with His will. During a recent home repair project, I understood this better. Using a perfectly good screwdriver on a stripped screw won't get anything done. The spiritual journey of sanctification is no different; an unwilling object of Grace will not be changed because it refuses to be changed, but the one who sees the surpassing benefit of being conformed to the image of the Son by the Father will be transformed into a new creation.

6. Anyone growing in holiness through prayer will reflect their conversion of heart in their lives. These fruits of praying, in particular, the Rosary, will naturally lead to a life of witness and mission. When one receives a gift that is life-altering, they are moved to a level of thanksgiving beyond a simple, "Thank you." They are grateful in a way that desires to return that kindness, which manifests itself in works of love, kindness, and generosity. A changed heart is a changed life and an opportunity to witness to the Gospel in a world desperately in need of saving. The world cannot change itself, so we are called to be salt and light, but we must first experience the renewal of our minds in order to be the evidence of God's faithfulness when the world shouts over us with empty promises (Rom12:2).

7. Finally, as a more earthly practical matter, prayer quiets. You may have completely lost the sense of the meaning of the word "quiet," and it would be entirely understandable. We live in an overstimulating world, and we rarely have time for quiet reflection, but our souls need quiet. Being peppered with questions from a four-year-old can be overwhelming, and some days, you just need a mute button. As I understand it, that's not an actual thing, but many of us know that feeling, and it's hard to think, let alone remain calm and reasoned in our decision-making. It's hard to believe, but the noise of the world is far more distracting than a four-year-old, so the quiet needed in our hearts is so much greater. Mary was an expert at this, I'd imagine. We know very little of Jesus' early life, but parenthood, even of a perfect child, I'm sure, is trying. Watching a child fail as part of learning or suffer the pain of mistreatment from other is heartbreaking. When you consider the anguish she must have felt as she watched him scorned during His ministry and later, abused and crucified during His Passion, it's a wonder that anyone could endure such a thing. Yet, she did not stop Him from His mission because she had spent time, pondering [these things] in her heart (Lk 2:19, 2:51). The intentions of the world are nothing short of destructive, but a prayerful heart and attentive will can overcome.

The benefits of prayer reach beyond these few, and a devotion to praying the Rosary is no different. We need a sense of humility, a deep personal knowledge of Christ, guidance from His Blessed Mother, and the time and quiet to consider His will. We gain nothing by doing nothing, but honest prayer will always right a wayward heart. It's one of God's greatest gifts; take advantage!

Reprinted at
http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2017/05/amanda-hupka-pray-without-ceasing-seven-gifts-of-the-rosary/

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