Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rosary Meditations: The Third Joyful Mystery – The Nativity

Scripture References

Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 1:18 – 2:19; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 11:1-5; Micah 5:2-5

The Story in Brief

After the Annunciation and probably when Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth, Joseph discovered that Mary was expecting a child. He was planning to dismiss Mary quietly rather than exposing her to the penalty for adultery, namely, stoning, but before he could do so, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife, for her child was from the Holy Spirit. The angel told Joseph that this Child, Who was to be named Jesus, would save the people from their sins and fulfill an old prophecy. Joseph obeyed the angel and took Mary as his wife. The couple traveled to Bethlehem in obedience to a Roman decree that everyone was to be registered in their own towns. There Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable and laid Him in a manger. There was no room for the little family at the local inn. Angels appeared to shepherds keeping watch in a nearby field and announced to them the birth of the Savior. The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem to see the Child. They rejoiced in His presence, praised God, and spread the word about this amazing event. Mary watched and listened closely and pondered all these things in her heart. Meanwhile, travelers were coming, magi from the East. They arrived in Jerusalem, asking where they might find the newborn King of the Jews. They had seen His star and had come to pay Him homage. King Herod and the rest of Jerusalem were frightened at the magi's words. Herod called the chief priests and scribes and demanded to know where the Messiah was to be born. Bethlehem of Judea, they told him. Herod called the magi to him and learned when the star had appeared. He told them to go and find the Child and then come back and tell him so that he might also pay Him homage. The magi found Jesus with his mother, Mary. They knelt before Him and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their country by another route.

Points to Ponder

1. God's hand is clearly evident in human events, which He uses to accomplish His purposes. How did God work through the Roman emperor's decree?

2. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be registered because Joseph was a descendent of David. Jesus, too, was a descendent of David, legally through His foster father and probably by blood through His mother's line. Meditate on the importance of the Davidic Messiah.

3. The prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. Look up Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 11:1-5, and Micah 5:2-5 and meditate on how these prophecies were fulfilled.

4. There was no room in the inn. Reflect deeply on this.

5. Jesus was born in poverty in a stable. Mary's joy was tinged with sorrow, for she was far from home and living in conditions far less than ideal. Why would the Messiah choose to come into the world in this way? How might the conditions of the stable mirror the conditions of a sinner's soul?

6. Jesus received some strange visitors during His first few hours and days of life. He was worshiped by the shepherds, the magi, and the angels. Meditate on the significance of each of these groups. Why were they chosen by God to be the first to encounter the Messiah?

7. When the angels announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds, the latter experienced a wide range of reactions including fear, awe, and joy. God broke into the everyday life of these humble and lowly people. They, in turn, immediately obeyed the implicit command of the Lord and set out to find the Child proclaimed to them. Reflect on the shepherds and their actions.

8. The angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” Focus for a while on these important words.

9. The angels understood the importance and awesomeness of this event. They experienced awe in the true sense of the word. Meditate on this awe.

10. Reflect on the titles given to Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

11. The angel announced to the shepherds that the Messiah was to be a Savior for all people. This is good news, news of great joy for the whole world. Think closely about this good news.

12. The angel's song may be considered a model of praise. Meditate on this song.

13. Reflect on the significance of the manger. The One Who would be the Bread of Life slept in a manger used for feeding animals.

14. God was a tiny newborn Baby. Think about that.

15. Mary pondered all these things in her heart. What things? What does it mean to ponder? Could it be a process of making something a part of one's own being? How might Mary's pondering be a model for the Rosary prayer?

16. The shepherds, now full of faith and worshiping God, acted as missionaries who spread the message of the birth of the Messiah. Consider how these lowly men had been changed by their encounter with God.

17. Compare and contrast the accounts of Jesus' birth in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Remember that these two accounts are not contradictory but complementary.

18. Think about Joseph's predicament. Did he plan to dismiss Mary quietly because he believed her to be unfaithful, or did he perhaps feel unworthy to be the foster father of her Child?

19. Meditate on the dreams of Joseph and the magi. Think about the many ways in which God communicates with His people.

20. Joseph was obedient to the angel. He acted immediately and without question. He heard, and he responded. Ponder Joseph's readiness to obey God.

21. Reflect on Jesus' name.

22. Joseph named Jesus, thereby accepting the role of foster father, guardian, and protector. This is Joseph's role in our lives, too. Meditate on this truth.

23. How did the magi know that the Messiah was born? The Fathers of the Church said that perhaps the magi had inherited a tradition passed down from the time when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon.

24. Think about Herod's jealousy, lack of knowledge, and trickery. Why didn't he welcome the arrival of the Messiah?

25. Reflect on the irony of the chief priests and scribes. They knew where the Messiah was supposed to be born, and they knew that the magi had come looking for the King, but they did nothing. Why not?

26. Why did the people of Jerusalem respond with fear rather than joy? Were they perhaps afraid that Someone was about to disturb their nice, comfortable lives?

27. God used the star as a guide for the magi. Think about the various ways in which God guides His people.

28. Reflect on the joy of the magi at the end of their journey of faith.

29. Ponder the significance of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

30. Think about all the ways in which the birth of the Messiah was a God-directed event.

Applications Questions

1. Where do you see God's hand working in your life? How is God directing your life? How are you responding?

2. How is God trying to communicate with you? Are you listening? How are you responding?

3. Is there room in your inn for Jesus and Mary?

4. Do you feel the peace the angels announced to the shepherds? Why or why not?

5. How would you have responded to the angels' message if you were one of the shepherds?

6. How do you spread the message of Jesus in your life?

7. Are you a joyful person? If not, how might you become more joyful?

8. Do you experience wonder and awe when you think about what Jesus has done and is still doing for you?

9. How are you doing in terms of obedience?

10. Are you following Mary's example and treasuring all the words of God, pondering them in your heart? How might you make time in your life to do more of this pondering?

11. Do you take time to praise God every day?

12. What gifts do you have to present to the Lord?

Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer

Blessing and adoration – We bless You, Lord, and we adore You, for You came among us as a Man, as our Emmanuel, as our Savior and King. Along with the shepherds and the magi, we bow down before You in silent adoration, offering You all that we have and all that we are. We love You, Lord.

Praise – We praise You, Jesus, and we sing to Your glory in imitation of the angels who announced Your birth that holy night. In Your greatness, You became small. In Your power, You became weak. And You did it all for us. You are truly awesome, God!

Thanksgiving – Lord, how can we ever thank You enough for the blessings You have poured out upon us through Your Incarnation and birth? We thank You anyway, even in our feebleness and with our stammering words. We thank You, too, for Your loving care of us and for the way You guide our lives.

Intercession – Lord, we lift up to You all those who are trying to find their way to You. Please guide them along the right path. We lift up those simple people who hear Your message and obey. May we learn from their example. We lift up all those who live in poverty. Please give them comfort in knowing that You were also poor and that You understand their situation. Please help them to trust You. We lift up those who are refusing to acknowledge You and those who resort to deception to attain their own ends. May they come to know You and Your truth.

Petition – Jesus, may we always have room for You in our “inns.” May we always follow Your guidance in our lives. May we always give You our very best gifts. May we ponder Your words and treasure them in our hearts.

Quotes from the Saints

“It was the Lord who directed Augustus to give this edict, that he might minister to the coming of the Only-begotten; for it was this edict that brought Christ's mother into her country as the prophets had foretold, namely, to Bethlehem of Judea, according to the word, to a city of David, which is called Bethlehem.” – St. John Chrysostom

“Bethlehem is by interpretation the house of bread. For it is the Lord Himself who says, I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. The place therefore where the Lord was born was before called the house of bread, because it was there that He was to appear in His fleshly nature who should refresh the souls of the elect with spiritual fullness.” - St. Gregory the Great

“He is confined in the narrow space of a rude manger, whose seat is the heavens, that He may give us ample room in the joys of His heavenly kingdom. He Who is the bread of Angels is laid down in a manger, that He might feast us, as it were the sacred animals, with the bread of His flesh...He who sits at His Father's right hand, finds no room in an inn, that He might prepare for us in His Father's house many mansions; He is born not in His Father's house, but in an inn and by the way side, because through the mystery of the incarnation He was made the way by which to bring us to our country, (where we shall enjoy the truth and the life.)” - Theophyl

“It was in a mystery that the angel appeared to the shepherds while they were watching, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, implying that they are thought worthy above the rest to see sublime things who take a watchful care of their faithful flocks; and while they themselves are piously watching over them, the Divine grace shines widely round about them.” - St. Gregory the Great

“How remarkably Scripture weighs the import of each word. For when we behold the flesh of the Lord, we behold the Word, which is the Son. Let not this seem to you a slight example of faith, because of the humble character of the shepherds. For simplicity is sought for, not pride. It follows, And they came in haste. For no one indolently seeks after Christ.” - St. Ambrose

“But if he had no suspicion of her, how could he be a just man and yet seek to put her away, being immaculate? He sought to put her away, because he saw in her a great sacrament, to approach which he thought himself unworthy.” - Origen

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rosary Meditations: The Second Joyful Mystery – The Visitation

Scripture References

Luke 1:39-56; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Genesis 18:1-15

The Story in Brief

The archangel Gabriel had told Mary that her relative, Elizabeth, was expecting a baby. Mary set out almost immediately for the hill county of Judea where Elizabeth lived with her husband, Zechariah. When Elizabeth heard Mary's joyful greeting, she felt the baby leap in her womb and found herself filled with the Holy Spirit. She cried out, blessing Mary and the infant in Mary's womb. In response, Mary proclaimed her “Magnificat,” a beautiful song of praise to God for the mercies He was showing to Israel and the whole world. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before returning home to Nazareth.

Points to Ponder

1. Judea was a very long way from Nazareth, and travel in those days was anything but easy. Meditate on Mary's journey.

2. Mary adopted the attitude of service and offered an immediate response to an order not explicitly given. The angel never told Mary to go visit Elizabeth, but Mary went anyway. Ponder Mary's servanthood.

3. There was nothing of the self in Mary. She acted with pure love. Reflect on that love.

4. Mary was not making such a long journey to see if the sign the angel gave her was true. If she had been so motivated, she would have gone before saying yes. Think about Mary's trust in God.

5. Mary went in haste. Why did she depart so quickly?

6. The Holy Spirit was very active, first on baby John, then on his mother, Elizabeth. Meditate on the Holy Spirit's marvelous work.

7. Elizabeth's prophecy, and yes, it was a prophecy (one that explains what God was doing in the world), was offered with a loud cry. This was a very emotional moment for Elizabeth, a very moving experience. Try to grasp Elizabeth's mental and spiritual state.

8. Elizabeth called Mary blessed for two reasons, her motherhood and her faith. Ponder these awesome blessings.

9. Mary and Elizabeth both showed a great deal of humility. Reflect on the humble expressions of these two amazing women.

10. This passage provides a strong argument against abortion as we see the presence and action of two unborn children. Ponder that argument.

11. What does it really mean to magnify the Lord? Mary is like a magnifying glass. She is transparent, but she makes the Lord appear bigger to those who look at and through her. Meditate on this important role of Mary.

12. We have the duty to call Mary blessed. We cannot ignore her. We must venerate her, for the Holy Spirit Who spoke through her says that all generations will call her blessed. What is true devotion to Mary?

13. Mary emphasized God's work in her life and God's mercy in the lives of all people. What did she say about these subjects?

14. What does it mean to scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts?

15. God's activity is often unexpected, indeed, the opposite of human norms and standards. He casts down so He can lift up. Think closely about this message regarding priorities in life.

16. Mary recognized her role in salvation history and proclaimed that a prophecy had been fulfilled. Ponder Mary's role and the fulfilled prophecy.

17. Reflect on Mary and Elizabeth's time together and their spiritual friendship. What did they do and talk about?

18. Look up 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and Genesis 18:1-15 and discover the parallels between Mary and Hannah and Elizabeth and Sarah.

Application Questions

1. How fast do you respond to God's prompting in your heart to act with love?

2. What are your motives for doing good for people? Are they pure?

3. What is your attitude toward serving other people?

4. How is the Holy Spirit moving and working in you? How are you responding?

5. How do you honor Mary? What is your attitude towards her? Do you recognize her for who she is and treat her accordingly?

6. Do you believe what has been spoken to you by the Lord?

7. How can you magnify the Lord?

8. How much time do you spend rejoicing in the Lord?

9. How are you doing on humility?

10. How much do you trust in God's mercy?

11. What great things has God done for you? How is He working in your life?

12. How are you being called to counter the norms and standards of the world?

13. Do you believe that God fulfills His promises?

14. Have you formed any close, spiritual friendships? How might you cultivate those you have?

Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer

Blessing and adoration – Dearest Lord, we bless You for sending the Holy Spirit upon Mary and Elizabeth. We bow our heads in silent adoration as we wait for Your Holy Spirit to fill us and teach us to speak and pray according to Your will.

Praise – Jesus, we praise You! Even as a tiny infant in Your mother's womb, Your presence sanctified John the Baptist, who was still in his mother's womb. What amazing power and love You have poured out upon Your people over the centuries and still lavish on us today!

Thanksgiving – We thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your mother, who is our mother, too. We thank You for the gift of the Holy Spirit. We thank You for doing such great things for us and for having mercy on us and for lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things. Thank You for keeping the promise You made centuries ago and coming to live among us as a Man to save us and open the gates of Heaven for us.

Intercessions – Lord, we lift up to You all mothers-to-be and their babies. We ask You to bless them and keep them safe and healthy. We also lift up to You all travelers, Lord. Guide them and guard them on their journeys.

Petition – Lord, we beg You, make us lowly and humble before You. Allow our souls to magnify You. Have mercy on us, Lord, and fill us with good things, for we are hungry for You and for Your love.

Quotes from the Saints

“But soon the blessed fruits of Mary's coming and our Lord's presence are made evident. For it follows, And it came to pass, that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb. Mark the distinction and propriety of each word. Elisabeth first heard the word, but John first experienced the grace. She heard by the order of nature, he leaped by reason of the mystery. She perceived the coming of Mary, he the coming of the Lord.” - St. Ambrose

“She was touched with the spirit of prophecy at once, both as to the past, present, and future. She knew that Mary had believed the promises of the Angel; she perceived when she gave her the name of mother, that Mary was carrying in her womb the Redeemer of mankind; and when she foretold that all things would be accomplished, she saw also what was as to follow in the future.” - St. Gregory the Great

“The first-fruit of the Spirit is peace and joy. Because then the holy Virgin had drunk in all the graces of the Spirit, she rightly adds, And my spirit has leaped for joy. She means the same thing, soul and spirit. But the frequent mention of leaping for joy in the Scriptures implies a certain bright and cheerful state of mind in those who are worthy. Hence the Virgin exults in the Lord with an unspeakable springing (and bounding) of the heart for joy, and in the breaking forth into utterance of a noble affection It follows, in God my Savior.” - St. Basil

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rosary Meditations: The First Joyful Mystery – The Annunciation

Scripture References

Luke 1:26-38; Isaiah 7:14

The Story in Brief

Mary was a young, but very holy, Nazarene girl. Most likely no one in her home town realized how holy she really was nor what her destiny would be. One day the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, who was perplexed at his greeting. He told her not to be afraid, that she was filled with grace and that the Lord was with her. He announced that she would bear a Son named Jesus, a Son Who would be the Son of the Most High and would reign over an unending Kingdom from the throne of David. Mary asked how this could be since she was a virgin. The angel had a ready answer. The Holy Spirit would come upon Mary, and the “power of the Most High” would overshadow her. Her child would be holy. Nothing was impossible for God, the angel concluded, for her relative Elizabeth had conceived a child in her old age. After hearing all this, Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She gave herself fully to God and offered her entire life to the fulfillment of His plan.

Points to Ponder

1. Nazareth in Galilee was an out of the way spot, and no one expected it to be so important in the life of the Messiah, but it has a suggestive name. Nazareth means “branch” or “watch, guard, or keep.” Meditate on the significance of Nazareth.

2. What was Mary doing when the angel appeared to her? I like to think that Mary was probably totally immersed in prayer. Try to imagine Mary at prayer.

3. The angel's greeting to Mary was literally “You who have been fully graced.” What does it mean to have been fully graced?

4. The angel told Mary, “The Lord is with you.” Remember that He is with all of us in a very intimate way.

5. Was Mary afraid? What was her reaction to the angel's greeting? Was she perplexed, pondering, wondering, a little fearful?

6. Wouldn't we all like to receive the reassurance that we have found favor with God?

7. The angel told Mary that she would be overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Look up Genesis 1 for a parallel here. A new creation was about to begin. Meditate on that new creation.

8. With the Annunciation, the promise of Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled. Ponder God's promises and their fulfillment.

9. The text places great emphasis on Mary's virginity; this conception was really a miracle. Think deeply about this miracle.

10. Did Mary understand what the angel was telling her? Did she know who her Son would be? I would answer yes because the immaculate Mary retained the gift of preternatural knowledge. She knew she was going to be the Mother of the Messiah, even the Mother of God. Reflect on this truth.

11. This passage offers several descriptive words and titles for Jesus: great, Son of the Most High, holy, Son of God, King ruling on the throne of David. Take some time to focus your attention on each of these words and titles.

12. Mary's question “How can this be?” stands in contrast to Zechariah's question “How will I know that this is so?” Mary's focus was not on herself but on what was going on. She believed what the angel told her, but she wanted to know the details because she was a virgin and she trusted that God wouldn't compromise the vow she had made. She wanted to know more about God's wonderful plan. Reflect on Mary's question and her reasons for asking it.

13. The angel told Mary that nothing will be impossible with God. What a marvelous reassurance! What does it mean that nothing will be impossible with God?

14. God waited for Mary's answer, and Mary was free to say yes or no as she willed. Ponder God's amazing respect for our freedom.

15. Mary surrendered herself totally to God and to His plan. She called herself His servant or handmaid. Meditate on what it means to be a servant of God who surrenders completely to Him.

16. The angel told Mary that her Son would reign forever, thereby offering a great promise, providing hope for the whole world, and foretelling a new kingdom. Reflect on Jesus' reign.

17. The angel gave Mary a sign by telling her about Elizabeth's pregnancy. Why did he do that?

18. The Son of God became incarnate as a small embryo in His mother's womb. Ponder this awesome mystery.

Application Questions

1. How does God send messengers to you in your life? Do you listen? How might you open your heart and your mind to hear God more clearly?

2. What is your response when you don't understand the message God has for you? Are you perplexed or frightened or both?

3. How is your prayer life? Are you ever totally immersed in prayer? How might you become more attentive and devoted in prayer?

4. How much do you value chastity in your life?

5. How is the Holy Spirit at work in your life?

6. Are you comfortable enough with God to ask Him questions? Do you believe that He will answer and listen closely for His response?

7. How can you be a faithful servant of the Lord?

8. In which areas of your life is God waiting for your “yes”?

Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer

Blessing and adoration – The Word became Man and dwelt among us. Lord, we bless You because in Your greatness You descended to take on our human weakness in everything except sin. We bow our heads in humble silence before You. Please fill our hearts with Your love.

Praise – We praise You, Lord, because You came to save us. You are so powerful yet You became a small embryo in Your mother's womb because You love us that much. You are awesome God, in the truest sense of the word.

Thanksgiving – We thank You, Lord, for coming among us as a human being. We thank You for loving us that much, so much that You became the weakest and most dependent of beings that one day You might bring us to an intimate share in divine life.

Intercession – We lift up to You in prayer, Lord, all those who find themselves in difficult situations, all those who are struggling to say “yes” to God in their lives, and all those who are being called by God for a special vocation.

Petition – Open our hearts, Lord, to Your message for our lives and give us the courage to say “yes” to You and to be Your faithful servants.

Quotes from the Saints

“To the virgin Mary was sent, not any one of the angels, but the archangel Gabriel; for upon this service it was meet that the highest angel should come, as being the bearer of the highest of all tidings. He is therefore marked by a particular name, to signify what was his effectual part in the work. For Gabriel is interpreted, "the strength of God." By the strength of God then was He to be announced Who was coming as the God of strength, and mighty in battle, to put down the powers of the air.” - St. Gregory the Great

“And it is well said, Full of grace, for to others, grace comes in part; into Mary at once the fullness of grace wholly infused itself. She truly is full of grace through whom has been poured forth upon every creature the abundant rain of the Holy Spirit. But already He was with the Virgin Who sent the angel to the Virgin. The Lord preceded His messenger, for He could not be confined by place Who dwells in all places. Whence it follows, The Lord is with you.” - St. Jerome

“She wondered also at the new form of blessing, unheard of before, reserved for Mary alone.” - St. Ambrose

“But he who earns favor in the sight of God has nothing to fear. Hence it follows, For you have found favor before God. But how shall any one find it, except through the means of his humility. For God gives grace to the humble.” - St. John Chrysostom

“It was Mary's part neither to refuse belief in the Angel, nor too hastily take to herself the divine message. How subdued her answer is, compared with the words of the Priest. Then said Mary to the Angel, How shall this be? She says, How shall this be? He answers, Whereby shall I know this? He refuses to believe that which he says he does not know, and seeks as it were still further authority for belief. She avows herself willing to do that which she doubts not will be done, but how, she is anxious to know. Mary had read, Behold, she shall conceive and bear a son. She believed therefore that it should be but how it was to take place she had never read, for even to so great a prophet this had not been revealed. So great a mystery was not to be divulged by the mouth of man, but of an Angel.” - St. Ambrose

“Behold now the humility, the devotion of the virgin. For it follows, But Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord. She calls herself His handmaid, who is chosen to be His mother, so far was she from being exalted by the sudden promise. At the same time also by calling herself handmaid, she claimed to herself in no other way the prerogative of such great grace than that she might do what was commanded her. For about to bring forth One meek and lowly, she was bound herself to show forth lowliness. As it follows, Be it to me according to your word. You have her submission, you see her wish. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, signifies the readiness of duty. Be it to me according to your word, the conception of the wish.” - St. Ambrose

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rosary Meditations: Introduction

Have you ever sat down to pray the Rosary only to find that your mind drifts off in all directions and stubbornly refuses to come back to the mystery you're supposed to be meditating on? Don't feel too bad. It's a very common problem that most people experience from time to time, even if they've made a firm commitment to pray the Rosary frequently.

There are countless sets of Rosary meditations available online or in booklet form that are designed to help you stay focused on your meditation, and many of these have proven to be quite helpful in my own prayer life. So why am I offering yet another set of Rosary meditations? How is the series that I'll be posting over the next several weeks different from what is already available?

Many, even most, Rosary meditations are quite brief and meant to be either read just before each mystery or just before each Hail Mary. They concentrate on limited aspects of the mysteries, and while they can and do stimulate meditation, they can also get a little worn out after a while because of their lack of depth.

The Rosary meditations you'll find on this blog have several rather distinctive characteristics: 1. They are longer than most meditations. 2. They provide a wealth of depth and information about each mystery. 3. They should be read as preparation before the Rosary and then consulted as necessary during the prayer to stimulate meditation and curb mind-wandering. 4. They can be used almost indefinitely because they offer so many options for profitable reflection.

Each meditation is organized in six sections:

1. Scripture quotations – I've included the primary Scriptural text or texts for each Rosary mystery. Sometimes I like to pray the Rosary with the Bible open on my lap. I read portions of the text as I pray, meditating on the words of Scripture and allowing the Word of God to speak to me directly.

2. The story in brief – A short retelling of each mystery during the Rosary prayer can sometimes stimulate fruitful meditation. As you tell yourself the story, in my words or your own, you might find that one aspect or another will strike you and lead you into an intimate conversation with God.

3. Points to ponder – This section offers at least a dozen specific points to ponder for each mystery. Each of these invites you to go deeper into the mystery and explore its details and layers of meaning. For each point, I'll give you enough to get started; then you can take it from there and let God lead you into your own personalized meditation. Don't be afraid to get creative here. God gave you your intellect and imagination for a reason. Use them well!

4. Application questions – An important part of meditation involves applying the mystery to your own life and examining what God is trying to say to you personally through it. I'll present some questions. You answer them honestly.

5. Prayer, prayer, and more prayer – The Rosary is a prayer that stimulates more prayer, endless prayer, if you open your heart and your mind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2626-2649) identifies five different forms of prayer: blessing and adoration, praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and petition. I'll offer a suggestion for further prayer in each of these forms. Feel free to compose your own prayers as the Holy Spirit leads you. You might even try to focus your entire meditation on a particular prayer form. I pray an intercessory Rosary once in a while during which I lift up individuals or various groups of people for each mystery. For example, during the Joyful Mystery of the Nativity, I pray for women who are about to give birth and for newborns. There are endless possibilities.

6. Quotes from the saints – In the last section, I offer several quotes from the saints that refer to each mystery. These quotes have plenty of depth to them and can probably fill a long space of meditation in themselves. Most come from St. Thomas Aquinas' Catena Aurea, which is a collection of commentary on the Gospels from the Fathers of the Church.

As you prepare for your Rosary, you can choose to focus on any of these sections, but don't try to meditate on too much at once. One or two points to ponder; a point to ponder and an application question; or one quote from a saint, for example, should be plenty for each mystery. You probably already know that ten Hail Marys can go past very quickly if you're in the midst of a good meditation. There should be enough possibilities for fruitful meditation to last a long, long time.

By this point you might be asking, “Where is all this coming from?” Well, I've been praying the Rosary daily for quite a few years, and while my mind wanders frequently, God has led me into some beautiful meditations that have drawn me closer to Him. Much of the material in this series, then, comes out of my own prayer and study. I've found it valuable in my spiritual life and want to share it with as many people as possible.

I hope and pray that these meditations, or even parts of them, will help you as you seek to enrich your Rosary prayer and meditation, curb distractions, and most importantly, grow closer and closer to God.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Making the Scriptures Your Own

Vatican II's Dei Verbum reminds us that in the Sacred Scriptures, “The Father Who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them...” (#21). Through His inspired Word, God reveals Himself to us and tells us about His wonderful plan of salvation, a plan that is designed to bring us into intimate relationship with Him. “In His Goodness and wisdom,” Dei Verbum explains, “God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature....Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God...out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends...and lives among them..., so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself” (#2).

Thank carefully about that for a moment. God reveals Himself to you. He has a plan for your life, a purpose for you. He speaks to you through the Scriptures as a loving Father and Friend. He invites you to intimacy, to a loving, personal relationship with Him. Isn't this amazing? God has written you a love letter!

Now it's your job to respond, to make the Scriptures your own, and to accept God's great love for you. How can you do this? There are countless many as there are children of God. But below are a few ideas that might help you to more easily meet God in His Sacred Word of Scripture and to embrace Him and His will for your life.

1. Read Scared Scripture daily. – It seems simple, doesn't it? To meet God and hear Him speak to you, read the Bible! You don't have to read much every day. Even a few verses are enough. You just need to get into the habit of picking up the Bible everyday and reading it. If you haven't read the Scriptures very much in the past, start with the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, which tend to be more accessible than other books. If you find that you need more structure in your Bible reading, try a one-year reading plan like the one at the “Catholic Bible in a Year” website. You might also follow the daily Mass readings on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

2. Ask yourself the “three big questions.” – Sometimes the Scriptures can seem a little confusing. After all, they were written long ago by people who lived in a culture much different than our own. To help you understand the Bible a little better, you can try to answer the “three big questions” for every passage you read: 1. What does this text tell me about God? 2. What does this text tell me about myself and my life? 3. How can this text enrich and deepen my relationship with God? Careful meditation on these questions will help you interact with God's Word and hear the message He has for you.

3. Listen for words from the Holy Spirit. – Pay special attention as you read to words, phrases, or verses that really jump out at you. Sometimes you can read the same passage again and again and just skim right over it. Then, suddenly, it seems to leap right off the page. When this happens, you may be receiving a special message from the Holy Spirit, Who is speaking directly to your heart. Stop and ask the Spirit what He's trying to tell you. Ask Him to open your heart and mind so you can understand His words. You might also want to jot down the passage so you can return to it in prayer throughout the day.

4. Chose a “life verse.” – Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters chose a passage from Scripture as a “life verse” and return to it frequently in study and prayer. Usually a life verse arises from a passage that the Holy Spirit has presented to your attention as a special message. Such a text will seem to describe your life as it is and/or challenge you to grow in faith and love. My life verse is Colossians 3:12-17, and in it, I've discovered an unending source of meaning and inspiration.

5. Practice lectio divina. – As you read more of Sacred Scripture and become more comfortable with asking yourself the “three big questions” and listening for words from the Holy Spirit, you may want to try lectio divina. Lectio divina is a way of attentively and prayerfully reading the Bible in order to understand the message of the written words and, even more importantly, to personally encounter the Author of those words, God Himself. It involves four dimensions or stages: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Lectio divina requires time and effort, but it is an incredibly rewarding way of making the Scriptures your own and accepting the Bible as God's personal love letter to you, His beloved child. For more information, please read my ten-part series on lectio divina here.

God has communicated Himself to us in His Sacred Word. He has given us a share in His divine life, and He waits for us to respond to Him, to say, “Yes, Lord, I want to know You. I want to love You. I want to give myself to You as I read Your Word and write a love letter back to You through my prayer and in my life.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lessons from Ramona

Remember the Ramona Quimby books? I received my first Ramona book in 1984 as a gift from my parents, and I haven’t stopped reading them since. Every once in a while I still pick them up for a chuckle and a little nostalgia.

I’ve learned a lot from Ramona over the years. Below are just a few of those priceless “Lessons from Ramona”:

1. Be creative in solving problems. – Ramona is always creative when faced with difficult problems. In Ramona Quimby: Age 8, Ramona’s teacher gives her the book The Left-Behind Cat for a book report. Ramona doesn’t like the book and doesn’t want to be a nuisance, but she can’t picture herself standing up in front of the class and presenting a plain, boring, old book report. Her father suggests that she sell the book to her class. After all, she’s watched enough television commercials and should know exactly how to present any product. So Ramona gets busy in her “studio” and makes three cat masks, one for herself and two more for her friends, Sara and Janet. On book report day, Ramona’s faithful, masked friends keep up a chorus of meows while a masked Ramona begins to sell her book. Unfortunately, she has probably spent more time on the cat masks then on memorizing her presentation because right in the middle, she completely forgets what she meant to say. Creative to the end, Ramona, after a short pause, exclaims, “I can’t believe I read the whole thing!”

2. Sometimes imagination can go too far. – Creative Ramona has an imagination that doesn’t quit, but she often ends up in trouble when her strong imagination gets carried away. In Ramona’s World, Ramona and her best friend Daisy spend a wonderful afternoon playing dress-up at Daisy’s house. Wonderful, that is, until their imaginations carry them a little too far. Daisy (the wicked witch in her black velvet gown and green hat) pushes Ramona (the beautiful princess in her long, pink dress and high-heeled sandals) into the attic (a dark dungeon). Ramona, the princess, struggles valiantly, only to lose her balance, step off the solid attic boards, and fall through the lath and plaster. She stops halfway through so that her bare legs are dangling from the ceiling over the dining room table. Much to Ramona’s embarrassment, and relief, Daisy’s brother rescues her from her predicament, none the worse for wear except for a few scratches and a lesson that sometimes a good imagination might be too much of a good thing.

3. Make due with what you have. – In Ramona and Her Father, Ramona has the opportunity to be a sheep in the Sunday School Christmas play. She wants to be a sheep so much that she volunteers her mother to make her a nice, fluffy sheep costume. Mrs. Quimby, however, works full time and simply doesn’t have several hours to spare on sewing. Ramona fusses and fumes when her mother presents her with a sheep costume made out of some old, worn pajamas with pink bunnies on them, rolled up black socks for hooves, a terry-cloth tail, and a terry-cloth hood with ears. After seeing her friend Howie’s wooly, soft costume, Ramona decides that she is simply not going to be a sheep if she has to wear old pajamas. She hides beneath a Christmas tree in the church basement until three older girls (who were portraying the Three Wise Persons) find her. They exclaim over Ramona, calling her adorable, and with a little mascara, they give her a nice, sheep-like black nose. Ramona decides that maybe it isn’t so bad to be a sheep after all. Maybe she could make due with the costume she has, especially with her adorable black nose. Ramona’s Christmas spirit returns, and she lets out a joyful “B-a-a!” just to let everyone know how happy she is to be a sheep.

4. Names really do hurt. – There’s an old saying that runs, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Ramona learns otherwise in Ramona Forever. Her sister Beezus is experiencing typical teenage angst over acne. She keeps busy washing her face with medicated soap several times a day and avoiding any foods that might give her more pimples. The girls’ parents agree to let them stay home alone after school if they behave themselves, and things go along smoothly for a while…at least until Ramona’s friend, Howie, comes over to let Ramona ride his new bike. Beezus decides to play her big-sister-in-charge role and tells Ramona that she can’t go out unless she asks first. Ramona informs Beezus that she is being just plain bossy and mean, and she punctuates her words with “So long, Pizzaface” and firm door slam. Ramona knows immediately that she has crossed a line. Beezus’ face crumples almost into tears even as her sister closes the door. Names really do hurt, and only the death of a beloved pet reconciles the two girls.

5. Take control of the situation. – Also in Ramona Forever, Ramona learns that sometimes she just has to take control of a situation. As a bridesmaid in her aunt’s wedding, Ramona’s official job is to stand perfectly still at the front of the church and look pretty. But when the best man accidently drops the wedding ring (which had been attached too tightly to ring bearer Howie’s pillow), Ramona decides that she needs to take charge. She is, after all, the only one who knows where the ring landed. The bride had stepped back into it during the search, and it was glittering on the heal of her sandal. Ramona carefully lays her bouquet on the carpet, gets down on her hands and knees, crawls over to her aunt, grabs the bride’s ankle to lift up her leg, removes the ring, hands it to the best man, and returns to her place, pleased that she had saved the day.

6. Think before you act. – Now and then, just like the rest of us, Ramona acts before she thinks and has to face the consequences. Ramona is in first grade in Ramona the Brave, and she has some major “owl trouble” just before parents’ night. The class is busy creating owls out of paper bags when Ramona notices that the girl in the next desk, Susan, is copying her work. Ramona makes her owl look off to the right. So does Susan. Ramona gives her owl spectacles to make it look wise. So does Susan. Ramona tries to hide her owl so Susan couldn’t copy anything else, but she covers her work too well, and the teacher picks up Susan’s copied owl and exclaims over it. Ramona is furious! Now the class is going to think that Ramona copied Susan’s owl instead of the other way around. Ramona doesn’t stop to think what she’s doing. She crumples her beautiful owl and throws it away. No one was going to call her “Ramona Copycat.” But Ramona does not stop there. All week long, she has to look at all the owls lined up across the blackboard. She becomes more and more angry. Then, on the afternoon of parents’ night, the class sets their owls up on their desks for their parents to admire. Susan gives her owl a smug little pat, and that is the last straw for Ramona. She doesn’t stop to think. She just acts. She seizes Susan’s owl and crushes it. Throwing the twisted bag on the floor, she runs out of the room. By the time she gets home, Ramona realizes that she has done a horrible thing and will be in big trouble when her parents find out. Thankfully, her parents are understanding people, but they do insist that Ramona apologize to Susan. To Ramona’s horror, her teacher makes her stand up in front of the whole class to make her apologies. Ramona does get the last word, though, as she whispers to Susan, “Even if she is a copycat who – stinks!”

7. Don’t follow the crowd. - In Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Ramona is in third grade, and she enjoys the various fads popular with her classmates. After being left out of the last fad (individual bags of corn chips), Ramona is pleased to participate in the current fad, hard-boiled eggs. With a hard-boiled egg tucked firmly in her lunchbox, Ramona heads off to school one fall morning, eager for lunch time. The whole purpose of bringing a hard-boiled egg to school is, of course, the pleasure and humor of cracking that egg on one’s forehead. Who cares about eating it, after all? At lunch time, Ramona saves her egg for last, just to build up the drama. She grabs the egg and knocks it soundly against her head. Then…yuck! Ramona finds herself covered in sticky, icky raw egg! Mrs. Quimby, caught up in the morning rush, had grabbed an egg from the wrong shelf in the refrigerator. Humiliated and eggy, Ramona dashes out of the cafeteria to seek the help of the ever-patient school secretary, Mrs. Larson. Ramona has learned that sometimes following the crowd can lead her into a real mess.

8. Make a joyful noise. – Perhaps Ramona’s most important lesson is about joy. Even with all her troubles, Ramona is a happy, often joyful, girl. She delights in the simple things of life, things like sharp crayons, gummy bears, good books, drawing sessions with her father, tin-can stilts, new pajamas, tasty hamburgers at the Whopperburger, and grown-up letters. And she knows how to make a joyful noise to the Lord. At the beginning of Ramona and Her Father, Ramona is happily making out her Christmas list (in September) and singing “Ye-e-ep!” When her mother asks her what all the yeeping is about, Ramona cheerfully explains, “I’m making a joyful noise until [sic] the Lord like they say in Sunday school. Only they don’t tell us what the joyful noise sounds like so I made up my own.” Another priceless lesson from Ramona…

Friday, August 5, 2011


...the Pine County History blog! On my newest blog, you'll discover a whole bevy of fascinating facts, articles, photographs, newspaper excerpts, historical documents, and quizzes relating to the history of Pine County, Minnesota.

Pine County, which is located in East Central Minnesota, has a rich history. In fact, according to the Minnesota Preservation Center, Pine County is one of the most interesting and unique counties in the entire state of Minnesota. Over the years, the county has been home to Native American camps and burial grounds; logging endeavors; quarrying operations; a military road; railroads; agricultural activities; popular forests and lakes; and countless businesses, schools, churches, and organizations. This blog will examine all of these features with a special emphasis on the stories of Pine County's people.

Joining me in researching and writing this blog will be Pine County historians Jim Foster, LaJune Troolin, and Richard VanDerWerf.

Please check the Pine County History blog often because we hope to update frequently.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 9

The Emmaus Disciples' Story – Luke 24:13-35

          We shall now turn to our final text, the story of the two downhearted disciples on the road to Emmaus. Here we shall learn how the presence of God made manifest in the Risen Christ reaches out to people in unprecedented ways, transforming their minds by infusing a profound, living knowledge of God and His plan for salvation, their hearts by inspiring repentance and love, and their lives by animating them with a new power to witness to their Resurrected Lord.
          What were these two men, Cleopas and the other disciple, like before their encounter with the Risen Jesus? At this point in their life story, they might best be characterized as disillusioned followers of Christ. They had believed that Jesus was Someone special, Someone worthy of their trust, of their hope, of their loyalty. They had accepted Him as a “prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” and they had hoped that “He was the One to redeem Israel” (24:19, 21). In other words, they had regarded Jesus the Messiah of God sent to claim His temporal throne and rescue Israel from Roman oppression. (51) Now He was dead, crucified by the “chief priests and rulers,” before He had fulfilled their expectations (24:20). The hopes of these two disciples had fallen to pieces around them, and they were now disappointed, discouraged, and downhearted. They had not properly understood Jesus' teachings; they had not grasped the true nature of His Messiahship of sacrifice and redemption nor the necessity of His passion and death. They had let their own opinions and desires cloud their vision and determine their faith, and when their expectations did not come to pass, their faith faltered and all but disappeared. Jesus was simply not Who they had thought He was, and they seemed “to have given all up for lost.” (52) Even reports from those of their company who had seen the empty tomb, as amazing as they were, did not to shake their incredulity, for they themselves had not seen Jesus, nor had He appeared to the most “important” of the disciples. (53) Their actions reflected their state of mind. They left Jerusalem, deserting the other disciples, ignoring Jesus' promise that on the third day He would rise, and clinging stubbornly and pridefully to their own conception of what was “supposed to happen.” They lacked the humility and the patience to wait for the true fulfillment of Jesus' mission.
          What happened, then, to these two discouraged men as they trudged toward Emmaus, discussing the occurrences of the past few days (24:13-14)? As they were walking along, “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them” (24:13-15), but they were prevented from recognizing Him (24:16). This was the first time the Risen Lord appeared in the Gospel of Luke, and those blessed enough to be on the receiving end of that appearance did not even realize it! Were they blinded by their own disbelief and disappointment, or did Jesus conceal His identity on purpose in order to teach His disciples “under cover” and strengthen their faith? The text does not tell us, but in any case, these disciples encountered the divine presence of the Resurrected Christ for the very first time. (54) Feigning ignorance, Jesus asked them what they were talking about during their journey (24:17). He would have known, of course, but He wished them to express their dashed hopes and weak faith to Him directly. They stood still, looking sad. Cleopas asked if He were the only one in Jerusalem who did not know what had happened (24:18). Jesus persisted in his “ignorance,” prompting Cleopas to describe the situation as he saw it. When he had finished, Jesus chided the two, rather gently, for their disbelief. “O foolish men,” He said, “and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (24:25-26). He had, after all, predicted His death and resurrection several times, and as Jews, these men should have been well aware of the Scriptural prophecies that pointed to the suffering, dying, and rising Messiah. Patiently, Jesus began to explain again, interpreting in the Scriptures all “things concerning Himself” (24:27). This divine exegesis continued for quite a long time, for although Emmaus was only about seven miles from Jerusalem, the journey on foot would probably have required several hours. (55) As the trio approached their destination, the disciples begged Jesus to remain with them, for He “appeared to be going further” (24:28-29). Their hearts had been touched by this “Stranger's” teachings although they did not realize it consciously. Something deep within them was responding to Jesus' words, and their desire for His presence was growing steadily. Jesus consented to stay, and as He sat with them at the table, He “took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them,” deliberately recreating the structure of the first Eucharistic meal (24:30). (56) At that moment “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight,” leaving behind two surprised and transformed disciples (24:31).
          How exactly had these two man been changed through their encounter with the Risen Lord? What was different about them? What were they like by the time Jesus had vanished from their sight? Most importantly, they now firmly believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, just as He had promised. They had a strong and unwavering faith in the resurrection, for they had seen Jesus, spoken with Him, listened to His teaching, and received the broken Bread, the Eucharist, from His own hands. How could they be discouraged and depressed any longer? Jesus had proven to them that, while He was not the Messiah they had been expecting, He was much better. His plan was superior to their greatest hopes and dreams, and now, because of His patient explanation, His thorough interpretation of the Scriptures, these two men understood that plan as never before. “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” they asked each other, finally identifying the feeling they could not quite grasp as they had listened to Jesus' teachings back on the road. (24:32). They had been touched emotionally, spirituality, even intellectually, and their hearts were inflamed with a new knowledge, a new hope, a new faith, a new love. As a result, Cleopas and the other disciple turned back. They could think of nothing else but returning to Jerusalem and sharing the wonders of their experience with the other disciples. They longed to become witnesses to the Risen Jesus and His plan of salvation. They were eager to share the good news, literally to preach the Gospel, and to lead others to the transformation they had just experienced. They rose immediately, “that same hour,” and left for Jerusalem, so anxious to spread the word that they traveled by evening, braving Israel's danger-filled roads to humbly return to the companions they had deserted in their dejection. Through their encounter with the Risen Jesus, these two men had been converted from disillusioned and downhearted to enlightened and joyous, from doubtful and depressed to faith-filled and fervent, from prideful defectors to humble, eager witnesses.
          What can we learn about God as we reflect on the story of Cleopas and the other disciple? What does this passage teach us about the Risen Christ? We discover first that Jesus seeks us out, even when we are heading in the wrong direction like the two disciples were as they traveled away from Jerusalem. He accompanies us on our journey through life, patiently waiting for us to recognize Him. We can also see from this text that Jesus, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the primary Teacher and Interpreter of the Bible. Only God can properly open up the Scriptures in such a way that our hearts will burn within us as He imparts His life and light to us through His Sacred Word. All of our interaction with the Bible, then, all our reflection and study, all our meditation and exegesis, must be centered on Christ, Who will show us the best ways to interpret the Scriptures, which are, after all, filled with “things concerning Himself” and His plan for our salvation (24:27).
          As always, we will end our reflections on this text by applying it to our own lives. How is the loving and transforming presence of the Risen Christ reaching out to us as we read and ponder the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? The following questions will help us in our meditations:

1. Do we become disheartened or disillusioned when things do not go as we think they should? Do we feel despair, like Jesus is failing us? Do we run away from difficult situations?

2. Do we recognize Jesus in our lives, or are we blinded by our discouragement or lack of faith?

3. Do we disregard the testimony of others because it is not what we expect? Are we prideful in thinking that we know the best way?

4. Do we spend time with the Scriptures, praying and listening to what Jesus is telling us through His Word? Do we open ourselves up to the Bible so that our hearts burn within us?

5. Do we recognize Jesus in the Eucharist? How might we increase our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament?

6. Do we witness to the good news of Jesus? Are we eager to tell others what Jesus has revealed to us?

7. How have we personally encountered the Risen Christ? How have these meetings transformed our minds, our hearts, and our lives?

A God of Transformations

          In our journey through the Gospel of Luke, we have seen how the dynamic, loving presence of God touched and transformed the life stories of a whole host of Biblical characters. We have watched as minds, hearts, and lives were changed in dramatic ways. Men and women were awakened to God's love. They grew in knowledge and understanding of God's plan for their lives and for the world. They repented of their sins. They learned the nature of true prayer and worship. They were healed spiritually and physically and restored to their families and communities, where they served as witnesses to the power and love of the God Who had renewed their whole existence. Along the way, we have discovered some of the attributes of this God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who desires us to know and love Him and Who reveals Himself through His words and deeds on each and every page of the Scriptures. Finally, we have seen how God reaches out to us through the Bible and inserts His presence directly into our world as we read and meditate on His Word. He longs to touch and transform our minds, hearts, and lives, just as He touched and transformed those of our Biblical counterparts. What must we do, then, with this new knowledge, these fresh insights, that we have acquired through our reflections on the transforming presence of God as revealed in the Gospel of Luke? We must open ourselves to that presence, to that power and love, to that God Who can and will orchestrate a change in our life story, a change that will draw us into His arms and eventually lead us into an eternity of unchangeable beatitude with Him in our heavenly home.
51. Hahn and Mitch, 68.
52. Barnes.
53. A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (e-Sword, Version 7.9.8, 2008).
54. Henry.
55. Clarke.
56. Hahn and Mitch, 68.