Recently I have taken up a completely different way of praying the Rosary from the method I have used up to now. It has made at least two major changes in my life, both to the good:
a) Contrary to my so far irregular saying of the Rosary I have actually succeeded in saying it at least once a day and often twice and sometimes three times. I have kept this up for over a month now. What’s more, I look forward to saying it instead of regarding it as a chore.
b) The effect on my spiritual life has been astonishing. Sins which I thought were with me for life have simply gone away, my focus on what is good and right has improved immensely, and my strength in the face of some very trying and life-threatening circumstances has surprised no one more than myself.
I have been doing a lot of weight training and running recently, and it struck me that with physical exercise improvement comes not from how good you feeling or how sincere you are while you are training, but from the fact that you do them. What if the same were true with prayer? Spiritual muscle comes from doing spiritual exercise, not from thinking about doing it or feeling good about doing it.
Far from being a spiritual weapon, the Rosary the way I had been praying it was more like waving some pretty flowers around in the hope they might scare off the enemy.
So I decided to go back to basics with the Rosary. This is what I did.
I threw out all the accumulations which have attached themselves over the centuries - all the voluntary extras. The compulsory parts of the Rosary are fifteen mysteries, each consisting of one decade of one Our Father and ten Hail Mary’s. All fifteen mysteries can be said together or they can be split into three sets of five. And that’s it.
Out went the Gloria, the Luminous Mysteries, the Fatima Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, the Hail Heavenly Queen and everything else.
“Everything else” includes intentions. I don’t pray the Rosary with intentions. Instead I see it as affecting all my life and everything I am involved with or engaged in. If you like, my life is the intention.
I started saying the Rosary as fast as I could, on the basis that it takes more concentration not less to do something fast. Experience showed that to be true - no more was I drifting off to sleep or forgetting where I’d got to. I found myself using as much concentration as a runner running a race. I aimed to say the words as fast as I could without slurring them.
I was also influenced by the advice given by the Orthodox to those saying the Jesus Prayer. They advise against using one’s imagination. Instead they tell one to concentrate on the words.
But how could I meditate on the mysteries without using my imagination? The mysteries are an essential part of the Rosary. The answer was to use a method recommended by St Louis de Montfort in The Secret of the Rosary. He called it:
A SHORTER WAY
OF COMMEMORATING THE LIFE, DEATH AND GLORY OF JESUS AND MARY IN THE MOST HOLY ROSARY, AND A WAY TO CURB OUR IMAGINATION AND TO LESSEN DISTRACTIONS
In this meothod of St Louis a word or short phrase is added to the Hail Mary after the word “Jesus”. It varies according to which decade you are saying.
born in poverty
Saint among saints
in His agony
crowned with thorns
carrrying His Cross
risen from the dead
ascending to heaven
filling Thee with the Holy Spirit
raising Thee up
So, if you were saying the first decade of the Glorious mysteries, each Hail Mary of the decade would go as follows:
Hail Mary, full of Grace. The Lord be with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus, risen from the dead.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen.
The result of praying the Rosary as fast as possible with clear diction while inserting this short variable addition within each Hail Mary is a very high degree of concentration, quite unlike the diffuse and meandering prayer which I’d been used to.
I decided to stick to the traditional arrangement for the 15 decade Rosary of saying the Joyful Mysteries on Monday and Thursday, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday and Friday, and the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday and Saturday. On Sunday the Joyful Mysteries are said from Advent to Lent, the Sorrowful Mysteries during Lent and the Glorious Mysteries from Easter unti Advent.
In the event that I was able to say the Rosary more than once during a day, I would repeat the mysteries for the day.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that this is the only way to pray the Rosary, but I’ve found that it’s not just transformed my prayer life but seems to be in the process of transforming all my life. Why not try it?
Reading back through this blog, I found the extract below which after I wrote it I rather neglected and forgot about very quickly. Now I’m beginning to think it was the most important post that I made during the life of the blog.
I don’t think I’m the only person who feels that the papal conclave, which is in process at the moment, is the start of a hugely important phase in the life of the Church (and hence all of us) - in fact a life or death struggle.
The issues are quite clear in my mind. In fact there is only one issue, which is whether the Church is about acting or about being.
Maybe the Lord is bringing this passage back to my mind because I am going to need it.
One of the things that I learnt over the last month was that the methods I have been using to follow God’s will are very difficult to apply when on holiday. Actually they are very difficult to apply at any time - but virtually impossible on holiday!
Instead I learned a very simple way of keeping myself on the right path. That was to ask myself regularly throughout the day “Is this God’s will?” without seeking for a precise answer. What I found was that my actions would change in response to the question, a bit like a sailing boat responding to the helm.
I’ve decided that it is no longer right for me to blog anonymously, and so I have decided not to continue with this blog any longer - though I shall leave the content on-line for the time being.
I’ve been continuing to read back in this blog, and another article I came across was God Says No!
Today I came to another realisation, which is that God tells us what not to do, as well as what to do. This is hardly a difficult conclusion to come to considering the number of prohibitions in the Bible! But for some reason it had never occurred to me that when seeking God’s will moment by moment, he was just as likely to tell what not to do as what to do.
This has in fact made a considerable difference to me today. Up to now, I have (in theory) been waiting for a positive impulse from the Holy Spirit before doing anything. Now this is incredibly difficult to do, especially when one is in the midst of one’s daily work. So even on my best days I have only succeeded in hearing the Lord for short periods. This has been a source of anguish and frustration to me.
But as soon as I realised that I could also listen for the Lord telling me not to do things, life became much easier. I found that I didn’t have to wait for a positive impulse. I could just start doing whatever I felt like doing, and if it wasn’t right I would be told not to do it. Like the positive instructions, this is felt as an internal impulse - but is much easier to hear. I found that I could work much better and more confidently as a result. It’s a very good guide to the “one right thing” that I should be doing, because if I try to do anything else, I get told it’s wrong!
This strikes me as a very valuable insight, and I will try some experimenting with it.
After writing last night’s blog entry, I started to read back through the blog and came to something I’d written in 2007 about Obedience. Here is a short extract (as if Christ is speaking):
Asking what my will is is not the only method for obeying my will in detail, but it is the best one for you at the moment. And it is the one I want you to follow. Accept its disadvantages as part of your submission to my will.
I realised on re-reading this that I had been entirely disobedient to what had been said - no wonder I’ve been having such problems!
I also realised that what I had written there gave me the answer to the problem that I have had with Schryvers’ method - it’s often very difficult to hear what God is saying. It is much easier if both the question and the answer are verbalised. So rather than just “raising my eyes for a moment to the Divine Master”, I intend to keep asking the question “What will you have me do, Lord?” and verbalising the reply.
Q. What will you have me do, Lord?
A. Publish this blog entry.
It is well to choose some one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon it.
So St Philip Neri said in his maxim for today, January 5th, from his Maxims and Sayings. This is exactly what the problem has been for me. Instead of sticking to one good devotion I have jumped all over the place. Of course the result of that has been that nothing has taken root.
I decided that I must follow the saint’s advice and choose one good devotion. What should it be? I was not looking for a devotion like the rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours, but more a way of living my life day by day, moment by moment. Much of this blog so far has been a record of my searching for just such a devotion. How could I decide what the right one was for me?
There are two books (apart from the Bible itself) which I have read over and over again in my Christian life. One is de Caussade’s Self Abandonment to Divine Providence and the other is Schryvers’ The Gift of Oneself. Of all the books I have read, those are the two I keep coming back to. It seemed to me that the right answer to my search must lie in one or other of these two. In fact they are both probably describing exactly the same thing - but there is no doubt that I find The Gift of Oneself easier to understand and to follow.
So I have decided that my “one good devotion” will be the path described in The Gift:
Poor scrupulous Soul, learn to serve God in peace and tranquility!
The obligation of the present moment ceases to be a duty for thee when thou dost not recognize it. If thy mind does not perceive it, for thee it is no longer the Will of God. It is not necessary to devote long efforts to this examination. A second suffices, time to look toward God. Conscience will give the answer. If it is affirmative, the will accepts it; if the answer is negative, the will gives up the idea; if it is doubtful, the will goes on without being disturbed.
When God wishes to give us a command, He does so clearly. He does not desire us to be troubled; for trouble is a cloud that hides Him from our view.
Take each action by itself, and perform it as if thou hadst nothing else to do today. Work diligently, without laziness, without slowness; but do not be tormented by the desire of finishing. The first action done, raise thine eyes for a moment to the Divine Master; then begin another duty.
There is far more in the book of course than these two quotations, but they are a good starting point. Anyway one of my two Epiphany resolutions is to stick to this and never to abandon it. My other resolution is to write about my experiences daily on this blog. Which will be the easier to keep to, I wonder?
Speravit anima mea in Domino
In the meantime the snow has been quietly falling outside.
My son, you have been wandering away from me and have taken no notice of what I have said to you. Why do you despise what I said? Do you imagine that I have promised you instant perfection? And yet you would have instant perfection if you were really to follow the path I outlined to you.
In the meantime you have discovered only how barren every other path is. You have turned from one thing to another, only to find that each one leads equally to nowhere. Do not despair - that is a good lesson to have learned.
You have also discovered that it is quite possible to live in the right way if only you set your mind to it and pick yourself up whenever you fall. The secret is a simple one - persistance. I have said that to you often before. Just as you write these words, so you can live your life - as it comes from my Spirit to you.
I have no other command to give you. Everything else you will find by doing. He who does the Will of the Father shall know the Truth. You can theorise and theologise as much as you like, but it is only in the doing that you will learn the Truth. I am the Truth - follow me.
You are always wanting to do better. You want to stand out. You want to be special. All these wishes are delusions. They are all ways of puffing yourself up. Even in writing this you are thinking about how great it will look on your blog - how others will admire you. Truly there is nothing to admire about you. You cannot avoid sin even for a moment without my grace. And in what way have you merited my grace? In no way at all.
My word to you is only this - do as I have said to you, and worry about nothing else.
Today is the feast day of St Josaphat of Polotsk, the patron saint of Reunion between East and West.
Raise up, O Lord, we pray thee, in thy Church the Spirit whereby blessed Josaphat thy Martyr and Bishop laid down his life for the sheep; that, by his intercession, we, being moved and strengthened by the same, may not fear to lay down our lives for our brethren.
His intercession is particularly necessary and timely in the context of Archbishop Hilarion’s remarks yesterday:
“Today it can be said that we are moving to a moment when it becomes possible to prepare a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow.”
Our Lady, Joy of All Who Sorrow, pray for us
Saint Josaphat of Polotsk, pray for us
My frustration at the limited view of Christianity which I’ve found in ecumenical groups was even greater this evening when I went to my Anglican housegroup. The members of the group basically confessed themselves completely unable to make anything of the two passages of scripture we were studying. One was the first half of Hebrews 10 on Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All, and the other was The Destruction of the Temple and Persecutions Foretold from the beginning of Mark 13. And indeed who can blame them - what do these passages have to do with the version of Christianity usually found in Anglican churches?
This afternoon I went to a purely Catholic housegroup meeting in our local Convent. The aim was to do a bit of Lectio Divina and to discuss a talk about Catholicism which had been given in the Church the week before.
It was an interesting contract with the other Lectio Divina group which I have quite often attended in our Church. The difference is that the latter group is open to Christians from other denominations, while the former isn’t.
Not for the first time I noticed that there is a very different dynamic between Catholic groups and ecumenical groups. In the ecumenical groups I very quickly get frustrated with the limited view of Christianity that seems to be the norm. I’ve characterised this before as “We’re all nice people, and God is a jolly nice person too”. In Catholic-only groups there seems to be a much greater willingness to engage with the full spectrum of Christianity.
However true or untrue my perception of this may be I usually come away from a Catholic group feeling satisfied and built-up, and from an ecumenical group feeling frustrated and unhappy.
One of the things I feel very strongly about, as a convert, is that Catholicism is not “just another denomination” - it is radically different from the other denominations. I don’t have enough experience of the Orthodox churches to know whether the same would apply to them - but I suspect that an ecumenical Catholic-Orthodox group might be challenging rather than frustrating!
This morning I read Robert Moynihan’s latest despatch from his visit to Russia, in which he gives an account of a meeting with Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev “the second most prominent figure in the Russian Orthodox hierarchy”. Unfortunately I can’t give a link to the article because it doesn’t yet appear to have been posted on the website.
Dr. Moynihan gives a quote from an interview which he conducted with the Archbishop four years ago:
I believe that it is in Europe that the most deadly battles between Christianity and relativism are going to take place in the nearest future. It is in Europe that the onslaught of militant secularism against religion takes the most aggressive forms. It is Europe that most obsessively denies its Christian heritage. It is in Europe that crucifixes are taken away from schools, religious symbols are banned from public places, and Christianity becomes an object of constant criticism, outrage and mockery. It is in Europe that a profound demographic crisis affected Christian population, threatening its very survival. Not that these processes do not take place in other parts of the world, but it is in Europe that they become so stunningly evident.
This quote stood out for me because it is just exactly what I believe about the situation in Europe. With the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon the situation is likely to become much graver from a Christian point of view.
One of the causes dearest to my heart is Catholic-Orthodox unity, both formal unity and unity in action. May Our Lady, Joy of All Who Sorrow, pray for us.
For many years I was unable to make up my mind whether I believed in God or not. Sometimes I tried to live as an atheist and sometimes as a Christian, but without much success at either. As I grew older I found myself in a state of constant oscillation.
One thing did remain constant though. I was never in any doubt of the importance of the question. Some people seem to be able to live life completely indifferent to such things - but I have never been one of them.
Then one day I got completely fed up with the struggle and said to God: “I give up. I’m just going to trust you to get me there somehow”. Since that day I’ve never been tempted to go back to atheism. A few years later I was received into the Catholic Church.
But then an even worse struggle began - the struggle for holiness. It was only when I made a serious attempt to follow Christ, that I discovered the real power of sin. Like Paul, I cried out “Who will deliver me from this body of sin?”
And like Paul I found the answer to be “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ Our Lord”. In fact the answer was exactly the same one that pulled me out of atheism into the Church of Christ - “I give up. I’m just going to trust you to get me there somehow”.
Isn’t this the meaning of “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”? Christ doesn’t condemn us, he saves us. My mistake was that I was struggling to be good instead of giving up and trusting the Lord to do the work.
This now the third full day since I’ve made the commitment to “The Gift of Oneself”, and not surprisingly nothing spectacular has happened. But nevertheless there have been some themes appearing - some of them quite unexpected:
1) I’ve been saying the Liturgy of the Hours rather than any of the older breviaries. I don’t much like the Liturgy of the Hours, so this is perhaps a sign that God wants me to conform to the Church as it is, rather than my imagined idea of what it ought to be.
2) I’ve got going again on learning German, Spanish and Portuguese, which are the languages of the countries which I will be going on pilgrimage to next year.
3) I’ve been studying photography - now why God would want me to do that is a mystery to me - but perhaps it is connected with next year’s travels.
4) I’ve been studying the Book of Revelation in the Orthodox Study Bible - looking up all the references.
5) I’ve started reading the Catholic Bible Dictionary (Scott Hahn) from cover to cover - again looking up all the references.
The last time I tried to follow “The Gift of Oneself” I found that my life had become much more spacious and that many of my backlogs of work were cleared up almost immediately. This doesn’t seem to be happening this time. But it’s not really concerning me - whatever God decides to send to me is fine by me.
On Monday I wrote:
“Realised that my difficulty with how to do God’s Will was lack of commitment. So swore an oath to God that I would use the Gift of Oneself for the rest of my life and no other method.”
It’s the final session of the ecumenical Lent housegroup meetings tonight. One of the things we will be discussing is what it means to be “persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. As for me, I am broadly in agreement with what it says in the Orthodox Study Bible:
Children of God uphold truth, refuse to compromise with the ways of the world, and give themselves to no other. Like Jesus, these will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
The Course booklet defines it thus:
Being persecuted for righteousness’ sake means:
- being willing to stand out from the crowd even if this means being thought odd or subversive;
- speaking and standing up for what is true and right;
- being prepared to go against the flow.
Now there are a lot of resemblances between these two definitions. So why is it that the images conjured up by each of them are so different in my mind? If we take Jesus himself as the model for each of the Beatitudes which description fits him better?
Don’t worry. Do my will. What is it to you what that will is? If I wish to make you mighty, what is that to you? If I wish to humble you, what is that to you? I am everything you could desire. Put your ambitions into learning to know me.
My son, you have brought yourself into the depths of despair because you have ignored what I have said to you. You cannot live any other way and expect there to be any blessing on your life. I have made that clear to you but you still ignore it. When did I ever tell you that it would be easy? You must work through the difficulties.
Let me once again make clear to you what you must do.
First, dedicate yourself to doing my will in the morning as you start your day. You establish your INTENT to do my will.
Then you act in the BELIEF that you are doing my will.
Whenever your INTENT or your BELIEF waver, then you must re-affirm them. See your actions throughout the day as my will unfolding.
Now I am well aware that you need a great degree of faith and trust in order to do this. You have to overcome your feelings of frustration and worry that things won’t get done. So that brings me to the third and final part of what you need to do: PERSEVERE. You are always looking for the instant answer. I understand why that is - you need re-assurance that you are on the right path.
The important thing is to follow me one day at a time. Set your intention for the one day only. You have started to follow me today by writing these pages. Continue to follow me for the rest of the day. Just watch my will unfold, trusting that it is indeed my will - how could it be otherwise? As long as you have the intent to do my will all will be well.
Then renew your intention the following day. Take it one day at a time. Do not let anything take you away from it. If you feel that you cannot hear me in the midst of the distractions of daily life then still persevere. If you still have the intent and the faith then you can be assured that all is well whatever the outer circumstances appear to be.
One of the things which I afflict myself with during Lent is to join an ecumenical housegroup. Actually last year’s was very good and I enjoyed it - possibly because there were several other Catholics in the group. But this year I am the only Catholic and am having the interesting experience of finding out what passes for Christianity in the United Reform Church and the Baptist Church these days.
Sadly they seem to have fallen from their former evangelical glory - in fact I have the odd experience of being the most evangelical member of the group. We are studying the Beatitudes, which I am relieved to find out are not the complete challenge to my every assumption that I thought they were, but are simply exhortations to give a bit more money to charity, be nice to other people and make sure we recycle.
I exaggerate a bit of course - but sadly not that much!
Tonight we are doing “Blessed are the merciful” and “Blessed are the pure in heart”. I’m interested to see from the course booklet that “they will see God” means that we will “recognise the possible, and God as the source of all our ‘possibility thinking’”.
I think one of the oddest things I find about re-dedicating myself to the path of sainthood is that I have at present absolutely no idea about what it is that I will do. I haven’t got any great plans for converting the world or tending the sick or raising vast sums for charity or spending all day in prayer interceding for others.
In fact I feel that to have any such ideas would be asking for trouble. All I feel is that I need to be open to whatever God asks me to do, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.
A conversation with a dear friend on Friday about the direction my life might take led to my re-dedicating myself to the path of sainthood.
On Saturday I attended Mass and confession and spent half-an-hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with the intention of gaining a plenary indulgence - to be applied wherever the Lord directed as most fitting. Sunday and today every step of the way I have concentrated on doing God’s will as I have understood it.
Already I can feel the sense of rush and urgency that has recently been filling my life dispersing. God has begun to re-impose order on my chaos - the difference is noticeable in only two days. What is most noticeable to me is a sense of spaciousness and freedom.
Quam magna multitudo dulcedinis tuæ, Domine,
quam abscondisti timentibus te;
perfecísti eis qui sperant in te in conspectu filiorum hominum!
O how great is the multitude of thy sweetness, O Lord,
which thou hast hidden for them that fear thee!
Which thou hast wrought for them that hope in thee, in the sight of the sons of men. (Psalm 30: 20)