Alright, back to Lenten posts – Personal Resolution #1: the 40 Day Rosary Challenge

Ok, so finally, finally getting back to the topic of Lent: several days ago I said I would share some of the personal practices I’ve chosen to incorporate into my life during Lent. It’s been a while since my last post because I’ve been busy with rehearsals for KnL’s Getty show (more on that at the end) and other stuff.

Anyways, what I wanted to write about today is the 40 Day Rosary Challenge!

I’ve noticed Rosaries occasionally worn as jewelry by folks who may or may not be aware of what the Rosary actually is (a tool to aid in a specific form of prayer), so I’d like to start off with this video:

If you’re like the woman in the video, and your mind just got blown by the idea that the Rosary is about prayer and not about the beads themselves, or maybe you’re not familiar with the Rosary and want to know how it works, check out this link to download basic instructions on how to pray the Rosary.

http://rosaryarmy.newevangelizers.com/prayers/

Many books, articles, videos, homilies, lectures, reflections, etc. on how to pray the rosary and why to pray the Rosary have been written/made/given by people who are way more qualified than me, including, priests, bishops, Popes, deacons, monks, friars, sisters, nuns, and Saints, so I’ll leave it to them to share the wisdom of the Church on the devotion of the Rosary (if you’re interested, Google can help:-) ). Instead, I’d like to share why I am specifically making a Rosary-a-day one of my Lenten practices this year, even though it’s a prayer form that is typically associated with the nice old grandmas that hang out at Church a lot:

1. The Rosary (re)acquaints us with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – while the rosary at first glance seems like a boring repetitive exercise of prayers that cradle Catholics learned very young, the Rosary is actually centered around reflection on different parts of Jesus’s life, as outlined in the Mysteries that accompany each decade of the Rosary. The Knights of Columbus (3rd degree member here!) refer to the rosary as praying the Gospel. While Christians of different denominations sometimes disagree on different practices and teachings, one of the things we generally agree on is that knowledge of the Gospel is a foundational aspect of being Christian. The Rosary can be a great tool to help us recall what we’ve read in Scripture.

2. The Rosary can be an exercise in praying using the imagination – praying with one’s imagination is one of the Jesuits’ favorite forms of prayer: as I understand it, in the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, he instructs us to use our imaginations to meet Jesus in several different scenes of the Gospel. Similarly, the rosary is an excellent way to engage this part of ourselves. Since each decade of the Rosary is associated with a part of Jesus’s life, we can engage our imaginations to insert ourselves into the scene: what does the landscape look like, smell like, feel like? What kind of clothes are people wearing? What do Jesus, his Mother, his Apostles and followers, and others look like? What are they talking about? The imagination can be a powerful place in which Jesus comes alive, meets us wherever we are, and even speaks to us directly.

3. The Rosary is a great meditation – This generally flows from #1 and 2 as far as providing us what to meditate on, and how we can meditate mentally. But while the individual prayers of the Rosary themselves can also be the focus of meditation, for the purposes of meditating on the various Gospel scenes presented in each set of Mysteries, the repeated prayers help establish a “rhythm” to the meditation that aid us in entering a meditative state. Also, vocally reciting the prayers allows us to engage our bodies in prayer as we engage our minds, hearts, and souls – in other words, the Rosary can engage the wholeness of the human person.

4. The Rosary is a great way to pray for others – praying a Rosary involves at least (I think) 67 prayers recited, which if offered individually for different intentions, is a lot! If you instead offer the entire Rosary for one specific intention, that’s a lot of prayer behind it! Any way that you decide to offer the Rosary for others is a good thing. As Jesus tells us, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be open to you!”

5. The Rosary can give us a break from our daily lives – yes, one can pray the Rosary even while going about one’s business: it’s one of my favored activities when trapped in the “purgatory” known as California freeway traffic. But to engage in the meditative aspect of it, it helps to set aside a specific time to engage in prayer. While daily life can get overwhelming with tasks, I try to keep in mind the words of one saint who said “everyone needs to pray for a half hour a day, unless they’re busy. Then they need to pray for an hour a day.” Personally, I find that making the time to pray, especially when I’m busy, can actually bring more order to my day: I get a clearer picture of what’s really important that needs to be done, my stress level goes down, I am more relaxed and smile more, and overall, my day just gets better!

6. His mom’s always willing to help us out – Jesus, of course, did a great job on earth of following the 10 Commandments, one of which is honoring one’s mother and father. His mother, Mary, plays a very special and unique role in what is referred to as “salvation history.” Just as Jesus listened to his mother while he was on earth, he still listens to her up in heaven, so while we can always pray directly to Jesus, asking his mom to pray for us (just like we would ask others on earth to pray for us) is probably a smart move!

Even though I know it’s good for me for all these reasons and more, I’m really bad at it! The fact is, I am quite well acquainted with the fact that I’m a sinner, that I have tendencies and inclinations that aren’t the best, that I don’t always find the motivation to do the right thing. Especially when it comes to the Rosary, I tend to find that I lose myself in the ins and outs of daily life and won’t always make the time to pray and talk with God. And those times that I do, I always find it a challenge to stay focused and engaged: when praying, my mind can flash through a seemingly countless number of things that don’t have anything to do with prayer (mostly this is an unconscious wandering, but occasionally it can be intentional)! Sometimes I even nod off or fall asleep!

But, one of the reasons that I call myself a practicing Catholic is because I stink at being one, and as they say, practice makes perfect, no? 😛 I am also fully aware that my desire for sainthood is not something I could hope to attain through my own effort and actions, that only the gift of God’s grace could even make this a possibility. Fortunately, God’s the generous type, so much that he sent his only Son who not only suffered and died for our sins and rose from the dead, he founded the Church on earth to help guide us back to Him and sent his Holy Spirit to guide this Church, as well as each one of us individually and personally! So, I took up the Rosary Challenge as a way to get better at it, and I’m hoping that it bears much spiritual fruit. 🙂

So, here’s where audience participation comes in! If you have any special intentions that you would like me to pray for, or even if you’d just like to have someone praying for you in general, feel free to hit me up: drop a comment here, or get in touch with me via Facebook or Twitter, and I’d be glad to pray for you! This helps out both of us: you get someone praying for you and you’re helping me keep one of my Lenten practices going, and I get help keeping up with a Lenten practice and get to engage in a spiritual work of mercy. Now that’s what I call “winning”!

If you would like more information on the Rosary, including the history behind it, what each of the prayers mean, why Catholics pray (or should pray) it, and how we should pray it, check out Catholic Answers page below:

http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-rosary

In my next post, I’ll discuss why I am part of Kayamanan ng Lahi, a Philippine folk arts organization based in LA. Why would I write about folk dance on a spiritual blog? Well, you’ll just have to come back to find out, won’t you? It probably won’t come up until after we perform in this though:

http://www.getty.edu/museum/programs/performances/sounds_la.html

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One thing I am NOT giving up during Lent – my sense of humor

In my last post I promised to share some of the things I’ll be doing for Lent…but I ran into this article (see the link at the end) and thought I’d share something I’m not giving up during Lent – my sense of humor 😀

Yes, Lent is a time for reflection and penance, but that doesn’t mean you have to be dull and boring about it: Christianity is fundamentally a religion of hope and joy, because despite our sinfulness and our unworthiness, God loves us anyways! There is nothing we can do to earn more of his love, nor is there anything we can do to make him stop loving us. He continues to love us, provide for us, and give us opportunities to grow closer to him in this life so that we can prepare to be with him forever in the next! Jesus is our hope for everlasting life, the God who became man, who knows from experience the things we go through every day, what we struggle with, how we are tempted. And out of love for us He chose to suffer, die, and rise from the dead! Pope Benedict XVI titled one of his encyclicals “Spe Salvi” or “Saved in Hope,” and indeed, we are!

So yes, be reflective, do penance, return to God…but also be open to the experiences of hope and joy that God is offering you, right here, right now, and especially, right in front of your face 🙂

So in that spirit, I hope you enjoy a super-funny post from one of my favorite bloggers, Simcha Fisher:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/simcha-fisher/a-non-catholics-guide-to-lenten-weirdness

It’s Ash Wednesday! Tips for a Productive Lent

Hello everyone, it’s Ash Wednesday! I went to Mass this morning at 6:15, and it was poppin’ for a weekday Mass, filled with folks who just couldn’t wait (like me) to receive the Eucharist and their ashes on their foreheads. It was pretty awesome!

In my last post, I promised to share some practical tips on making this Lenten season one of spiritual growth. But if you’re still unclear on what Lent is and why it’s important in the first place, check out that post a bit more and click some of the links.

So with that, let’s begin!

1. Lent is NOT just about giving up stuff or doing stuff for the sake of doing it. – During Lent, the question that often comes up in conversations is, “So what are you giving up for Lent?” But Lent isn’t fundamentally about “giving stuff up”; fasting (and more broadly, self-giving) is important, but it’s a means to an end, not the end itself. The purpose of Lent is to renew and deepen our personal relationship with God (and with his Church, which is the Body of Christ on earth). The pillars of Lent, which are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, are tools to help us in this purpose, to help us turn away from sin and grow closer to God.

2. Lent is NOT Catholic Weight Watchers! – if you’re giving up junk food, candy, ice cream, or other foods just because you need something to give up for Lent, and you think it’ll help you get that beach body…stop right now and read through point #1 again. And again. And again. Now rethink what you’re intending to give up, and why you’re intending to give it up, and move on to the next points 🙂

3. That being said, true fasting is an important spiritual practice. – Real fasting is not simply a physical act, but also an act of the mind, heart, and soul. The intent behind fasting and other forms of self-denial is to strengthen our wills by controlling the physical appetites of our bodies. Some of these appetites can be benign, but others can be sinful and harmful to our souls (think lust, gluttony, etc.). Fasting reminds us, as Jesus said, that man cannot live on bread alone; it reminds us that we are not solely defined by our physical aspect, but that we have mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of ourselves which also need care. Sometimes we get so distracted by physical wants and desires (as opposed to legitimate needs) that we lose sight of what is most important, which is God. For example, we know that living a healthy holistic lifestyle to help prevent illness and injury is a good thing, but going overboard over diet and exercise because you want that sexy beach body (and “benefits” associated with such…a matter for another day) might be a bit off track.

Another aspect of fasting is that these acts of self-denial bring us closer to Jesus, who made the ultimate act of sacrifice by giving up his life for the whole world. Giving up your favorite dessert might seem like nothing compared to that, but it does in fact move our wills closer to the will of Christ, which is one of self-giving love to others. On the other hand, giving up deeply ingrained unhealthy or sinful habits can be a major challenge that even more clearly helps you relate to the sacrifice the Jesus made for us, and if you choose to take that on, God will send you grace to help you through it.

So basically, it’s not as much what you give up that will help you grow spiritually, though that can be quite significant and challenging on its own; it’s why you give it up that makes a difference.

4. Don’t forget about prayer and almsgiving! – Prayer and almsgiving often times get neglected, but these also are opportunity to grow in relationship with God. Prayer is, quite simply, conversation with God, and all strong relationships have good communication. There are many ways we can pray, whether they’re the classic prayers you were taught when you were little, deep written reflections from spiritual writers, even casual conversation with God.

Another important aspect is almsgiving and works of charity, which helps to reconcile us to God in the people he created, our neighbors, especially those in need. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that whenever we give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, welcome a stranger, give clothes to someone who doesn’t have them, visit and comfort the sick or imprisoned, we do it to him (he also reminds us that when we ignore the least of our neighbors, we ignore him). It is important to share the gifts that God has given to us with the people around us, not just our money, but also our time, and most especially our love. Mother Teresa once observed that the people in third world countries suffer from physical poverty, but those in developed nations tend to suffer from emotional poverty.

5. Today on Ash Wednesday, get your ashes as early in the day as you can. – You might be thinking to yourself, “What’s wrong with you? People would be staring at me all day! So not down for that! And didn’t Jesus say something about anointing your head and washing your face when you fast so that no one knows what you’re doing but God?” But here’s a few reasons why you should:

5A. In Matthew 6, Jesus does say that…but if you read the entire chapter, we see that what Jesus is instructing us to do is to not to act like the hypocrites, i.e. to perform public religious acts specifically to get the attention and recognition of others. Just as I’ve been saying all along with this post, it’s not just about doing, it’s about the intentions we hold in the depths of our hearts.

5B. It serves as a reminder to the Catholics (and Christians, as some denominations also celebrate Ash Wednesday) you see today that today’s a good day to go to Church and receive their ashes. Seriously, we all get busy and forget important things in our daily lives, so having reminders are very helpful. Plus, think of it as your act of charity for the day! 🙂

5C. It’s good for your humility – Yes, people may look at you funny, and maybe even point (people have done this to me today). But if we get caught up in our appearances and what other people think about us, we don’t have time to serve God and the people around us.

5D. It presents the opportunity to allow Jesus to use you to share your faith with others – as a whole, Catholics tend to be pretty lousy about sharing our faith, often using the cop-out by quoting St. Francis (but not really, as he never actually wrote it) “Preach the gospel, and use words if necessary.” But in 1 Peter 3:13-17, the first pope, St. Peter, tells us that we always need to be prepared to give an explanation for the reason for our hope, Jesus Christ. While we wear the ashes that reflect our inward penitence today, there will be people who ask us why we do it. You might be worried about not knowing what to say, or how to say it, so this might be a whispering from the Holy Spirit that you need to study up a bit on what the Church teaches. But also keep in mind what Jesus tells us in Luke 12:11-12, that we don’t need to worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit will teach us what needs to be said. So be courageous, be studious, and do not be afraid!

6. And finally, absolutely THE MOST IMPORTANT BIT OF ADVICE: take time to reflect on your life, on your relationship with God, and most importantly the times you chose to turn away from God by choosing to sin. Then get your butt to Confession. – If you ignore everything else that I write, please please at least consider this one! Whether you’re a regular at the confession line or you haven’t gone in months/years/decades, now is the time to go. Scripture tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” A sin is an action, a lack of action, or a thought that violates God’s law and therefore damages our relationship not just with God, but with the people around us, even sins you commit that you think people don’t know about. But God, even though we choose to turn away from him, chooses to continue to love us, want what is best for us, and offers us the opportunity to be reconciled to him through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus, while on earth, gave his Apostles his authority to forgive sins, and the successors to the Apostles, the bishops, and the men who assist them as priests, offer us this chance, so take Jesus up on the offer!

I hope this was helpful to you! If you just can’t get enough and you’re looking for even more practical advice on Lent, check out this article by Deacon Bickerstaff:

http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2012/02/deacon-bickerstaff-practical-advice-for-lent/

In my next post or two, I’ll share some of my personal plans for Lent, especially because I’ll need your help with one of them. Have a blessed Lenten season!

Ash Wednesday, Lent, and why I’ll have dirt on my forehead tomorrow =)

As I said in my previous post, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. You may have noticed Catholic friends on Facebook or Twitter puzzling out what they want to “give up” for Lent, or reminding themselves to receive ashes at church tomorrow. Actually, you may even have noticed your friends list noticeably decreasing, which probably means you have some friends giving up Facebook for Lent 😛 But what is Lent, and why do we do this stuff?

Lent is the liturgical season in the Catholic Church that is penitential in character and serves to prepare the faithful for they mysteries of Holy Week, which culminate in the memorial of Jesus’s suffering and death on the Cross for everyone’s sins (Good Friday) and his resurrection on Easter Sunday, which offers us the promise of everlasting life with him. Lent is a time for personal reflection on our relationship with God, especially on our sinfulness, in which we willingly choose to distance ourselves from God. It is a time for reconciliation to God, especially via the Sacrament of Confession, which in turn leads to a renewal in our spiritual lives. Lent is traditionally lived out in practical ways by taking on practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving or charity.

If you’ve looked around the Catholic blogosphere, you’ve probably already found a lot of articles written on Ash Wednesday and Lent, so instead of elaborating on my own, I’ll share a few good links here for you to check out:

http://marysaggies.blogspot.com/2012/02/5-simple-ways-to-share-your-catholic.html – This is a post from the blog Aggie Catholics which shares 5 simple ways to share the Catholic faith tomorrow.

http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2012/02/21/this-lent-let-yourself-be-loved/ – This post on the social network Ignitum Today reminds us not to allow ourselves to wallow in the misery of our sinfulness, but rather to reach out and accept the mercy, forgiveness, and healing that God continually offers us, so that we can live our lives in true joy.

http://wdtprs.com/blog/2012/02/ash-wednesday-fasting-abstaining-and-you/ – On Father Z’s blog, he reminds us of the practical definitions and requirements of the Church in regards to fasting (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) and abstinence from meat (Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent).

http://www.catholic.org/clife/lent/story.php?id=44865 – Deacon Keith Fournier gives a detailed explanation of Lent: what the season is and why we do what we do.

http://lifeteen.com/why-do-catholics-put-ashes-on-our-heads-on-ash-wednesday/ – Mark Hart offers the explanation of why I’m gonna have dirt on my forehead tomorrow 🙂

In my next post, I’ll offer a few tips and tricks of my own regarding Lent, and perhaps share a couple of my own personal practices that I’ve chosen for this year.

Welcome to my new blog!

Hi everyone, and welcome to my brand new blog! If you didn’t know, today is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), which makes tomorrow Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is the penitential liturgical season which prepares us for Holy Week, which recalls the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross on Good Friday, and culminates in Easter Sunday, celebrating Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, giving the faithful hope in eternal life with him. Traditionally during Lent, one takes up practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (charity) to help grow in our personal relationship with God.

I’ll talk more about Lent in the next post, but one of things I’ve chosen to do this year is start up this blog as a tool to help me better witness to Christ and fulfill his command to spread the Gospel as a part of the Church he founded on Earth. The Catholic Church has placed an emphasis on the New Evangelization, first articulated by Blessed Pope John Paul II, which means finding new, creative, and inspiring ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In keeping with this missionary spirit, I’ll be sharing interesting articles that I come across as well as some of my own writings and reflections, which hopefully lead you (and me!) to greater relationship with Christ and his Church. I hope this blog is a helpful resource to you, but even more so, I hope that it honors and glorifies God. As the Jesuits say, Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam! (For the Greater Glory of God!)