Not Fully Knowing

By Sarah Streitwieser

The Presentation marks another mystery in which Mary is the recipient of lively, weighty, and (presumably) unexpected conversation.   In each early moment of Jesus’s conception and birth, it seems that someone is “dropping in” on Mary with astonishing announcements or sweeping proclamations.   

In the Annunciation, Mary is visited by Gabriel and asked to become the Mother of God, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).  In the Visitation, Mary is unexpectedly greeted by Elizabeth, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42).  At the Nativity, the Holy Family is visited by shepherds, who share their story of angelic contact.  We are not privy to the details of exactly what was said, but we are told that Mary and Joseph “were amazed by what had been told (to) them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:18) 

Now in the Presentation, Simeon greets the Holy Family with what must have sounded like another strange and unexpected bidding.  Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph together, then he turns, looks only at Mary, and speaks to her alone.  “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). 

Mull over these words.  What do they mean?  Mary, though sinless and perfectly faithful, is not all-knowing.  Perhaps she does not yet know the meaning of this prophecy either.  It is clear that this prophecy (perhaps not unlike all of the announcements she has received thus far), contains notes of joy and sorrow together.  “Fall and rise … sign and contradiction … heart will be pierced.” 

How does Mary receive and react to round after round of unexpected, life-altering information?  How does she behold that which she may not yet completely understand?  Does she know what is coming her way, or like us (albeit, infinitely more faithful), does she wade through life’s mysteries with only partial information, only able to make sense of her circumstances retrospectively? 

Throughout the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, we see Mary and Joseph question and wonder with perfect faith but not total understanding: “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34), “they were amazed at what had been told to them” (Luke 2:18), “the child’s mother and father were amazed at what had been said about him” (Luke 2:33), and “But they did not understand what he said to them” (Luke 2:50). 

Mary is endlessly receptive – even when news is unexpected, difficult, or incomplete.  I heard the statement recently that “love always receives.”  In the Presentation, receptivity means that Mary is willing and ready to joyfully accept the prophecy of Simeon, even without complete understanding.  Personally, I find that Mary is much easier to relate to when I realize that (like me) she does not have foreknowledge or complete understanding of her circumstances.  This is part of what makes Mary so beautiful.  Trusting God through life when we don’t know all of the eventualities or outcomes – that is true faith. 

The phrase that is written twice to summarize the early events of Jesus’s life is, “Mary kept all of these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51).  Not only does Mary receive the (sometimes difficult) words and prophecies of God spoken through others, but she keeps them, cherishes them and reflects upon them in her heart. 

For more on the Presentation, click the link below.  Share your thoughts and prayers with your family.  Come back next week for something new!

The Presentation

Detaching

By Sarah Streitwieser

Detachment is the spiritual fruit that is associated with the mystery of the Nativity.  But what exactly is detachment, and how does it differ from callousness or apathy?  Certainly the Holy Family was neither callous not apathetic, yet we can rightly assume that they were radically detached.  But what exactly does this mean and how would our lives be different if we were detached? 

Detachment can also be thought of as poverty of spirit.  But, it seems that from our modern perspective, poverty of spirit is a very underappreciated and misunderstood virtue.  Imagine what would happen if you took a random survey asking your neighbors and friends, “Would you like to be poor in spirit?”  What do you think the typical response would be?  I would expect to hear a resounding “No.”  Why is this?  What do you think it means to be poor in spirit?  Does one have to be monetarily poor to be poor in spirit?  Is spiritual poverty the same thing as detachment? 

In my experience, detachment can best be understood through the observation of my own attachments.  Personally, I tend to not be aware of my attachments until they are tested.  This is to say, I usually do not even know I am attached until the object of my attachment is taken away from me.  This “pruning” process is a great grace offered by God (although admittedly it does not always feel so great in the moment!).  “Every branch that [bears fruit] he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (John 15:2).   

I often notice that my attachments create small pangs of interior disquiet or unrest when they are removed or provoked.  For example, perhaps I observe one of my children behaving in a way that is the very opposite of how I want them to act.  I feel flushed with embarrassment and overwhelmed with the need to control or correct the situation.  Whatever interior peace I once experienced has now completely vanished. 

This is an opportunity to explore my own attachments.  Perhaps I am embarrassed because I want others to think well of me, and I am attached to my own reputation.  Perhaps I want to control the situation because I want to be the perfect mother or have perfect children, and I am attached to my own desired excellence.  The opportunity to explore interior unrest helps me to identify and behold my own attachments.  However, only God has the power to remove them. 

Being a rather attached individual, I can only imagine what it must feel like to live unrestricted by attachments.  I think that it would be radically freeing.  I imagine that one living with open hands and hearts (not full of wants or entanglements) would be free to follow God completely and without reservation.  Empty spiritual pockets and a trim spiritual waist line (i.e. poverty of spirit) would make one more agile and available for God’s call. 

For more on detachment, click the link below.  Share your prayer with your family.  Come back for something new next week! 

Detachment

No Room

By Sarah Streitwieser

Do you ever find it difficult to imagine the Nativity with fresh eyes and an open heart?  Does it seem particularly challenging to avail yourself to new insights from a story you have (most likely) heard so many times? 

Perhaps more than any other story or Biblical encounter, the mystery of the Nativity invites us to wonder.  Imagine Joseph and Mary (who is perhaps already in the early stages of labor) as they enter overcrowded Bethlehem.  “No room,” is their only greeting.  This is my first “stop” when meditating on the Nativity.  I find myself in the innkeeper’s words, “No room.”  I see myself overcrowded with pride, often too busy to receive the Christ Child.  Here I ask for the grace to be still and open, to be uncontrived and humble like the stable – not so full as Bethlehem. 

Now Imagine Jesus newly born – literally the God of all creation embodied in a downy-skinned, heart-faced infant.  Imagine His legs curled up in fetal position and His little feet, puffy and rounded out, so many months away from being ready to walk.  Perhaps His arms are flailing because He does not yet have the capacity to control His own limbs.  Mary swaddles Him to help Him rest.  What would it be like to cradle God, made present to the world as an infant? 

Take a moment to behold this beautiful spiritual reality, now, plunge the scene into actual human reality.  Consider the dirty stable, perhaps the “mess” of birth, the muck of the manger, the noise of animals, and the smell of manure.  Next, imagine the shepherds – scruffy, unpolished, and unbathed – crowding in the already cramped quarters.  How ordinary – even less than ordinary or well below average – the initial moments of Christ’s human life must have seemed. 

With the shepherds, I want to empty myself of possessions and attachments, so that there is room enough in my arms to receive my Infant Lord.  Like the manger I want to be humble and empty, so that there is room for me to hold Him. Too often I am like Bethlehem and the innkeeper, crowding out Jesus with task lists and schedules.  “No room,” I say, with my calendar in hand. 

The guided meditations linked below can be used as an aid to enter into the mystery of the Nativity.  Meditate on the parts that speak to you; skip over the sections that don’t.  Share your thoughts and prayer with your family.  Come back next week for something new. 

The Nativity

Entering In

By Sarah Streitwieser

In last weeks’ blog entry I mentioned that somehow between many “failed” rosary praying attempts and regimens, I began learning this one simple fact:  the mysteries of the Rosary are not something that we are meant to master. Rather, we are called to enter into them and to let ourselves be mastered.  But what exactly does it mean to be mastered by the mysteries of the rosary?  How are we invited to truly enter in? 

St. Ignatius encouraged others to prayerfully enter into Christ’s life by imagining His life events from different perspectives.  One may enter as another person explicitly involved in the scene, as an unseen observer from a distance, or even as an inanimate object (i.e. one could imagine being the hay in Jesus’s manger).  St. Ignatius encouraged silence, and for meditation to sink deep rather than spread broad.    

Considering the mystery of the visitation we may contemplate: What does it feel like to be Mary, perhaps nauseous in the early stages of pregnancy, traveling a far distance by foot?  What is happening in the heart and mind of Elizabeth as she enters the late stages of pregnancy at an advanced age? What does it feel like or what happens when John is filled with the Holy Spirit?   Imagine the perspectives of John the Baptist of even Jesus, experiencing the visitation in utero.  Or perhaps imagine yourself as Zechariah, witnessing such beautiful displays of faith in total silence. 

If you find yourself unable to enter in as deeply as you would like, go back and read the text in the Bible.  Try reading slowly until a particular detail or phrase sticks out.  Sit with that thought for a while.  Don’t be afraid of silence and don’t feel discouraged if nothing “happens.”

Entering into the mysteries of the Rosary is ultimately a grace that comes by way of asking, not by forcing or trying harder.  “Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (Matt 7:7).  Repetition may prepare your heart for receptivity, but ultimately it is Jesus who teaches and God who causes growth. 

If you are want more in-depth resources, meditation suggestions, or discussion questions, click the link below.  Don’t forget to share your experiences in praying the rosary with your family!

Love of Neighbor

What’s so Mysterious?

When I first started praying the rosary, I have to admit that I initially felt a bit underwhelmed by most of the suggested meditation points – the so-called “mysteries.”  Honestly, I just didn’t understand them.  Or more accurately, I assumed that I did understand them and therefore didn’t get what all of the fuss was about.  In short, the mysteries just didn’t seem all that mysterious. 

My mediation on the Visitation would have followed like this: 

“Okay, so Mary decides to go visit her Cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant.  Got it!  Elizabeth sees Mary coming and is somehow filled with the Holy Spirit.  Now this is pretty amazing, and I certainly can’t explain what is happening here, but without additional objective data, there really isn’t anything left to explore.  Now Mary responds to Elizabeth with a beautiful hymn of praise. She is the Mother of God after all, what else would you expect? Now I can check the box on meditating.  Done.” 

The mysteries of the Rosary are supposed to call us to wonder.  But, from the perspective of thinking I had the mysteries all figured out, there really wasn’t much left for me to consider.  In my early experiences of the Rosary, there was very little space for prayer and almost no room for genuine spiritual encounter.  As a result, my version of praying the Rosary felt very repetitious and (to be blunt) exceedingly boring. 

My early attempts to pray the Rosary daily faded with exhaustion.  Carefully considered prayer plans fizzled.  What was I missing?  Somewhere between my many failures I began to learn.  The mysteries of the Rosary are not something that I am meant to master. Rather, I am called to enter into them and to let myself be mastered

Entering into the mysteries of the Rosary takes time and silence.  Repetition (even when riddled with apparent failures) really is the best teacher.  This is your invitation to enter into the mysteries of the Rosary and to let yourself wonder (and maybe wander a bit too).  You can check out the Rosary Encounter on our social media pages or in the bulletin.  Try praying it with your spouse or with your kids.  You can also come here to find additional resources and something new each week.  Click the link below for hints on meditation and discussion questions.

The Visitation

Finding the Fruit (In a Trifold Pamphlet)

It wasn’t until I was well into my journey of learning to pray the Rosary that I discovered that each mystery is associated with a spiritual fruit.  I think that I first noticed them listed in a “How to Pray the Rosary” pamphlet – probably something that I had casually picked up from the church vestibule. 

Written under each of the 20 mysteries was a specific spiritual fruit.  In this particular pamphlet there was no instruction beyond this.  As a convert to Catholicism, I had initially found the layered praying experience of the Rosary to be a touch overwhelming.  This may seem entirely second nature to a cradle Catholic, but for me, the idea of praying one set of prayers (Hail Mary, Our Father, etc.) while meditating on something else (i.e. the annunciation), initially felt dizzying and mainly impossible. 

Now I had discovered a whole new layer to the Rosary experience.  To be honest, I had no idea what to do with this new piece of information.  I began by just saying the name of the virtue before beginning each decade: “The annunciation.  Humility.  Our Father …”

To be honest, I had no idea why any given virtue was associated with a particular mystery of the Rosary.  Furthermore, I wasn’t totally certain what I was supposed to do with these virtues.  In the example of humility and the annunciation – was I supposed to look for the virtue of humility demonstrated in the annunciation Bible story?  Could I mystically obtain the virtue of humility just by praying the Annunciation?  How many times did I need to pray to be truly humbled? 

As with much of my Catholic experience, I have found that my initial questions – while honest and well-intentioned – are not ultimately the questions whose answers I most deeply seek.  The answers that I truly want are not something that can be neatly printed in a pamphlet or answered with a simple response.  Rather, they are answers that come in pieces, slowly with repetition and prayer.

This is your invitation to continue the Rosary Journey with your family (with your Parish, and with me, too!).  You can check out the Rosary Encounter on our social media pages or in the bulletin.  Try praying it with your spouse or with your kids.  You can also come here to find additional resources and something new each week.  Click the link below for materials on meditation and discussion. 

Humility

Praying the Rosary: Easy as Pie

As a child I thought that pie crusts only came in preformed aluminum pie plates.  It wasn’t until my late teens that I first tasted a true homemade pie.  I was immediately smitten.  As a young adult I decided to learn the art of pie making myself.  I looked up an old fashioned pie crust recipe and was excited to see how simple it was.  Just 5 ingredients: flour, salt, butter, shortening, and water.  Easy peasy – or so I thought! 

I began learning then what I am still learning today.  Sometimes the recipes that appear to be the simplest are actually the most complicated.  The discretion of using just the right amount of ice water, the finesse of cutting the fat evenly into the flour without overworking it, and of knowing which pie recipes would benefit from sneaking a few pinches of sugar into the dough – all of that can only be learned through experience and repetition.  I am a much better pie maker than I was when I first started, but even so, sometimes my pies still don’t turn out just right. 

I did not grow up praying the Rosary.  Perhaps you did?  Maybe your childhood memories of praying the Rosary seem cold and distant – a sort of endless monotony that you were forced to endure.  Perhaps you have memories of praying with your family as a young child, wrought with youthful mysticism and warmth that you long to return to as an adult.  Regardless of what your childhood Rosary experience was, it seems like the practice of praying the Rosary is something that is often pushed aside or pushed through, not something that is fully embraced. 

When I learned to pray the Rosary as an adult, I approached it like a pie crust.  Just a few ingredients – easy enough!  Now say these prayers, now these, now meditate on this.  The only problem was, I was missing all of the finesse – all of the warmth and joy (and sorrow and shared suffering) that comes from repetition and experience. 

As Catholics we love to talk about our Rosary devotions.  We have Rosaries in the adoration chapel and in the back of our church; we give them as confirmation, first communion, and baptism gifts; we have family rosaries, Rosary groups, and Rosary podcasts.  These are all wonderful resources, but often they do not help us get past the “ingredient list” method of praying. 

The Ascension Family Life ministry wants to challenge you to enter into praying the Rosary a new way.  Hopefully you have already seen the Rosary Encounter on our social media pages or in the bulletin.  That is a short, weekly challenge that is meant to be shared/prayed with your family.  In this blog, you will find additional Rosary resources that can supplement your journey as you enter into praying the Rosary and meditating on its mysteries in a new way.   

Click the link below for additional materials for meditation and discussion.  And come back next week for something new! 

The Annunciation

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The Marriage Shield – Faith Devotion

by Ray Martin

If someone told me that there was a simple solution out there that relieved anxiety, fear, depression, and was known to strengthen my marriage to the point that it was less likely to break down, I’d be like, “how do I buy a bottle of that?!?”  The truth is that it’s not a pill or product, but rather an uncomplicated thing that we all can do: pray.  Prayer is a powerful tool.

In this final installment of The Marriage Shield we come to the third F: Faith Devotion.  Previously we covered fidelity and fiscal stewardship, but faith is the magic ingredient that has such a profound influence on our behavior that it guides our choices to be faithful to our marriage and responsible stewards of our finances.

Time For Family

In The Choice Wine Steve Bollman’s father-in-law, Riley Leggett, advised him to sit with his family in church every Sunday.  This wisdom has a profound impact on a family.  Couples attending weekly church services have a divorce rate 60% lower than those who never attend church services.  Why?  Because going to church changes the behaviors that lead to divorce: infidelity, using money foolishly, and substance abuse which all decrease significantly when you regularly worship with your community.

Prayer changes the functioning of the brain during and afterwards:

  • It reduces anger, fear, and anxiety.
  • Makes one more empathetic and compassionate.
  • Strengthens a person’s sense of self.
  • Leads to lower levels of loneliness, depression, anxiety; less substance abuse.
  • Prayer changes you, which changes your marriage.

Statistically Protecting Your Marriage

The General Social Survey used in The Choice Wine found a baseline of close to 30% experiencing a marital breakdown, but this included newlyweds.  The national average today is closer to 40% or more, but here’s the statistical rundown of how The Marriage Shield protects your relationship:

  1. Couples who don’t cohabitate prior to marriage and are faithful reduce the likelihood of marital breakdown from around 30% down to only 11%.  This is why infidelity is the greatest threat to your relationship.
  2. Attending weekly worship drops the rate to 9% and praying daily takes it down to 5.9%.
  3. Many who are fiscally responsible have earned a certification or bachelor’s degree and combining that with fidelity and faith brings the probability down to nearly zero.  Considering that the foolish use of money is the second leading cause of marital breakdown it makes sense.

Sex, Money, And Religion

The Marriage Shield covers three topics people don’t like to talk about, but that’s because they are the leading causes of problems in a relationship.  Steve Bollman says that nailing these three areas of your life will nearly divorce proof your marriage because they substantially lower the probability of a marital breakdown.  In our first discussion on The Marriage Shield, we covered that married people are generally happier, healthier, and wealthier than average.  Spending time at the dinner table proved to not only save us money, but is also a huge benefit to our children which is why protecting marriage is so critical to the future of our community making it all the more important to protect following the three F’s:

  1. Fidelity
  2. Fiscal Stewardship
  3. Faith Devotion

Faith is that intangible spirit that changes us into better spouses.  I hope that you will take the three F’s to heart and think about the wisdom shared by Riley Leggett that we should be eating with our family each night and going to church with them every Sunday and I can’t stress enough how important it is to be engaged in your church community who is here to cheer on your family life.  Change and habits are hard to break, but little changes every day will keep you on the path to a lifelong, holy marriage.

Resources: The Choice Wine by Steve Bollman of Paradisus Dei

<—Part III Fiscal Stewardship

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