Growing up, I enjoyed constructing blanket forts in the living room or playing under the deck with my siblings in our dirt-laden bunker. Something about forts invokes nostalgia. Security and strength also are words that immediately come to my mind when I think of fort [and fortresses].
Over the past few years, I have noticed an increased anxiety, not only from myself, but from society as a whole. Americans enjoy the pleasure of living in a wealthy and free society—privileges not afforded in other places and times.
My aim here in this post is not to analyze the causes for the increased angst. That I will leave to professionals in psychology, medicine, and psychiatry. Instead, I am going to share a couple reasons why retreating to my cerebral citadel as opposed to actively engaging the stress inducers has worked for me for the past month.
Note: Please be aware, that while this approach may work for me I am in no way endorsing a fortress mentality being a miracle-cure method to fending off fretfulness for everyone.
Defense beats offense
Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote,“Negativity can only feed on negativity.” From personal experience, I know that negativity only grows when you give attention to it, too much attention will lead to negativity consuming your life. Fighting negativity with an offensive attack does not work. I came across this anonymous quote that stuck a cord on this subject, “When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department generally uses water.”
Different approaches are necessary when battling stress and negativity in your life. An image of a faucet comes to mind when complaining controls my life. Last month, I allowed my emotions to get the better of me: both at home and work. Frustrations about unmet expectations caused grievances which poured out like water running from an open faucet.
To combat my weaknesses, I simply went to source—my words and shut off the valve of verbal complaints. This month instead of vocally sharing my grumbles aloud, I created a laconic lock for my tongue. According to James 3, the mouth and tongue act as a gateway for various despicable behaviors. Keeping our words bridled is key to stopping negativity. The Apostle writes in James 3:2-5,
If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.a 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. 5In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.
Fortifying not fleeing
The brilliant Albert Einstein once declared, “Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” Sometimes turning away from the stresses and negativity going on in life gets equated with running from your problems. Withstanding the temptations to give into the negativity that surrounds you displays strength.
Known as fortitude, courage is the foundation upon which virtue and the ability to withstand the assault of pessimism is built on. Author Maya Angelou succinctly states, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Shifting my mindset toward stoicism and fortress-like greatly helped me weather the storms of stress.
Becoming more self-aware of my vocal complaints, grumbles, and murmurings prevented me from stumbling into the sea of stress. Distancing myself emotionally from the “bad” or “negative” experiences I faced in the workplace or at home helped me to move more quickly onto the next task or event of the day. The image of a fortress best represents for me the virtue of fortitude and ability to block negativity.
Questions for reflection
Are you currently in a negative environment?
What steps have you done to change your situation?
Think of three things you can do to take action in the next week to decrease negativity in your life.
Quotes for further reflection
“But you, O man of God, must flee from these things; and strive for uprightness, godliness, good faith, love, fortitude, and a forgiving temper.” –1 Timothy 6:11
November 1st—the Celebration of the Feast of All Saints—among my favorite feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Only the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the Most Precious Body and Blood eclipses All Saints Day in significance for me personally.
Who are the Saints?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC 956).
In other words, the reason we honor the holy men and women in union in Heaven with God is because they draw of closer to unity with God. November 1st is not meant to be a Holy Oscars or a rolling out of a theological red carpet.
The Saints Point Us to God
Saints are witnesses to the faith and reflect the light Holy Trinity. I am reminded St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney when he said, “We are all like little mirrors, in which God contemplates Himself. How can you expect that God should recognize His likeness in an impure soul?” This likening of the human soul as a reflection, a mirror of God’s love can be found even earlier in Church tradition. St. Theophilus of Antioch [circa 2nd century A.D.] declared,
A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.
Below I formed a list, a sort of personal litany of saints, and applicable holy writings that have helped me grow in holiness and polish my soul to better reflect the love of the Holy Trinity.
Along with the names of canonized saints who personally influenced me, I outlined several Christian writers who lived fairly recently or are currently alive and are not officially canonized. Nevertheless, the books from the suggested reading still helped me grow in my Catholic faith.
***Note: I added the book(s) that I have actually read that have impacted me and deepened my relationship with God through the saint. This is in no way an exhaustive list –it is merely a list of saints whose writings and/or witness influenced me positively***
November Nourishment for the Soul
Mary- The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Venerable Fulton Sheen
Athanansius: On the Incarnation; Life of St. Antony
Pope John Paul II: Fides Et Ratio; Redemptoris Misso; Veritatis Splendor
Maria Faustina: Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life
Louis de Montfort: True Devotion to Mary
Terersa of Avila: Interior Castle
John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul
Therese of Lisieux: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul
Luke: Acts of the Apostle; Gospel According to Luke
Josemaria Escriva: The Way
Pope Pius XII: Humani Generis
James: The Letter of St. James
Pope Pius IX
Pope Leo XIII
Francis of Assisi
Ignatius of Loyala
Ambrose: De Incarnationis Dominicæ Sacramento [on the Incarnation and Sacraments]
Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica
G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy
S. Lewis: Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Space Trilogy
Bishop Robert Barron: Catholicism
Peter Kreeft, P.H.D.: Socrates Meets Jesus: History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ; Prayer for Beginners; Between Heaven and Hell
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings
Now these readings aren’t replacement for the Mass. Hopefully you find this list helpful in your spiritual journey!
“The Rosary is the Bible on a string” —Fr. Ronan Murphy
By design, to participate in praying the Rosary is a spiritual journey through the life of Christ, accompanied by his Blessed Mother in a multi-sensory experience. In the past two weeks of this Month of the Rosary, I have heard several stories of fallen away Catholics who even refused to let go of their rosary for the great peace it brings them.
For as much as the Rosary is a favored devotion of most practicing Catholics, there are a lot of funny ideas going around about it. Over the years people have shared some quirky stories about this “necklace” of beads. Each anecdote taught me a little something for my own rosary embrace each day. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said,
“The Rosary is the best therapy for these distraught, unhappy, fearful, and frustrated souls, precisely because it involves the simultaneous use of three powers: the physical, the vocal, and the spiritual…”
Rushing the Rosary
A group of men and women friends had a conversation about how long it took them to “say” their rosary. “How long does it take you, Meg?” they asked me.
Honestly, I had never timed myself, but I knew with the way my brain works the answer was going to astound. “Um, maybe 35 min?” Some of the “competitors” were saying “I can get mine down to 5 minutes and 30 seconds!” It was a silly conversation, but it got me wondering…what is the amount of time it should take say a proper rosary?
Soon after, I listened to different rosary podcasts. I noticed that they varied in recitation time. Some rosaries only took 18 minutes–without any bells or whistles—to between 30-45 minutes if you added music, scriptures or prayed in Latin. Which one is right for me?
In the end, the amount of time really does not matter. Whatever pace you take, let it be one of a rhythm that lulls you into the spiritual state. The rosary can be like music. Whether your tempo is adagio (slowly with great expression) or allegro (fast, quickly an`d bright), you need to find the count that allows your heart and mind unite to the heart of Christ.
Praying it in a group or as a family
Once during a homily, our pastor told us the story of his family rosary growing up. One uncle, who usually lead the prayer, was always messing up the order of the Apostles’ Creed.
Because he spoke the prayers with lightning speed, the whole family would crack up every time one of the aunts would stop him in the middle of the first minute to ask if he was sure he got the order right. “Jesus ascended into Heaven and then descended into hell…” and then the argument ensued.
Since there was no Google at the time, it became part of the weekly family rosary to stop and discuss this finer point. Once the giggles stopped and the concentration was reeled back in, the family rosary commenced again. St. John Paul II proclaimed, “How beautiful is the family that recites the Rosary every evening!”
Praying it all
“Just pray your rosary as you fall asleep. The angels will finish it for you”.
While struggling to “check” my rosary off for the day like an errand, I had to run when someone once gave me the advice above. Just let the angels finish saying it for me as I fell asleep. Later, the same person told me she later mentioned this in confession and the priest responded with, “Yes. And the ANGELS get the credit, too.”
Falling asleep to the rosary at times is easy to do. As stated above, there is a certain rhythm to the prayers which is meditative and comforting. Conversely, people I know have said they keep their rosary by the bed because they sense when their eyes pop open at 3:00 am, they are supposed to pray for a soul in trouble. This is the stuff of saints! A friend in our prayer group reminded us that being on your knees is a much better way of keeping alert during prayer when possible and much more reverent.
Start small and be consistent in prayer
When I first started spiritual direction, I was told to make sure to say at least one decade a day for my husband. As a starting point, I felt my assignment was realistic.
Later, I knew I could do better. I started to add more decades, attempting to keep up with a few friends who were more diligent with their devotion to the rosary. Before I knew it, however, I was rattling off decades and getting to the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer at the end before looking behind me like “Did I actually pray those decades?” In the end, if I didn’t remember praying them, I knew it wasn’t really prayer. I had reduced this beautiful prayer to a habit.
It has been recognized by many saints that just saying one Hail Mary with your whole heart is worth more than thousands said with our mouths alone. St. Louis de Montfort plainly stated, “Recite your Rosary with faith, with humility, with confidence, and with perseverance.”
We cannot even begin to understand the graces behind this powerful weapon, as named by the great Saints, Padre Pio, Louis de Montfort, and Dominic. With the power of such a devotion, you would think we should “wield” it intentionally, but so many Catholics I know couldn’t explain the rosary to non-Catholics. Still yet they aren’t even sure the purpose behind the prayers.
I remember one couple we knew who were married . The husband he was Catholic and the wife wasn’t. She was very strong in her non-Catholic Christian faith. As the wife brought up one thing after another that she did not understand about Catholicism, the rosary at the top of her list, I looked at him and asked why he didn’t tell her? He answered, “I don’t know.” And by that, he meant he didn’t know the answers, but he still identified himself as Catholic.
Solving the Mystery of the Mysteries of the Rosary
What we need to know above all, is that the rosary is a set of five mysteries. Each decade of beads that is entwined in our fingers—not just with wooden, plastic or glass beads—but also entangled with the extending fingers of our Divine Mother—Mary.
As we speak the Hail Mary from the words of Luke’s gospel, she directly leads us through Jesus’s most precious life moments. We see him incarnate into his mother’s womb, meet John the Baptist in utero, hear about Christ’s birth, witness Jesus enter into the temple for dedication, and ponder Joseph and Mary’s joy after finding Jesus in the temple.
Our hearts wrench with pain as we see him sweat blood with our sins bringing a painful crucifixion commencement: whipped, stabbed in the head with thorns, walking the Via Dolorosa (way of sorrows), and his death on the cross.
We continue to ponder the Glorious mysteries of his resurrection as well as miraculous encounters with his mother and the apostles with the remaining Glorious and Luminous mysteries. The Rosary retells Jesus’ entire life!
The best part of all, is that you not only hold his beautiful mother’s hand throughout this journey, but you grab the hands of all of those you know who need protection and prayer. Behind you comes a long line of souls—as many as you can imagine—along on the spiritual pilgrimage that is the rosary.
Wisdom from the saints on the Rosary
“You must know that when you ‘hail’ Mary, she immediately greets you! Don’t think that she is one of those rude women of whom there are so many—on the contrary, she is utterly courteous and pleasant. If you greet her, she will answer you right away and converse with you!”
Saint Bernardine of Siena
“When the Holy Rosary is said well, it gives Jesus and Mary more glory and is more meritorious than any other prayer.”–Saint Louis de Montfort
The Rosary is the Weapon.~St. Pio
The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin…If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labors.~Pope Pius XI
Megan Naumovski is on a mission to remind the world of the love God has for each and every soul, and how that love deserves our response. Every day she is a wife and mom in her domestic church, but in the world she helps lead others to Christ though ministry leadership, teaching, speaking and blogging at The Domestic Church of Bosco, http://boscoworld.blog.
Among my favorite saints is the Spanish Carmelite nun Teresa of Avila. Her spirituals works bring peace and comfort to my life. I discovered a simple, but powerful prayer, a poem Teresa wrote, that brings comfort in distressing times.
Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.
We thank God for the wonder witness of the life of St. Teresa of Avila. May we look to her as a faithful spiritual toward Jesus Christ. St. Teresa pray for us!
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
This prayer is a staple in every Catholic’s spiritual arsenal. I used to believe that St. Michael was the greatest rival to Satan. Over the course of the past few years, my thoughts on spiritual warfare have developed. While I cannot pinpoint a precise date and time on when my thoughts changed, two distinct books influenced my thinking: Fulton Sheen’s The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God and St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. Along with a closer reading and re-reading of Sacred Scripture, I have determined that Mary, not St. Michael the Archangel is the true general of God’s army and greatest rival to the Devil!
Insight from Fulton Sheen
According to Catholic Church tradition, the followers of Christ on Earth are known as members of the church militant. When Jesus ascended to Heaven in Acts 1, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide us. He also gave Mary as mother to all of humanity (see John 19:27). Fulton Sheen put it this way, “God gave hope to our disturbed and weak humanity. Oh, yes! He is our Model, but He is also the Person of God! There ought to be, on some human level, Someone who would give humans hope, Someone who could lead us to Christ, Someone who would mediate between us and Christ as He mediates between us and the Father” (The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God p. 9).
We are called to be soldiers for God in the spiritual battle against the Devil. May we look to Mary as our general to lead and intercede for us on behalf of Jesus- King of Kings!
Insight from St. Louis de Montfort
Arguably the most influential saint of modern times regarding devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort impacted me greatly during the past few years. In reading his True Devotion to Mary, my wife and I participated in our first consecration to Jesus through Mary this spring! My devotion to Mary and understanding of Mariology increased due to the intercession of the 17th century saint. While his entire treatise on Marian devotion is excellent, I will highlight my favorite passage that I bookmarked and underlined in my copy of True Devotion to Mary. De Montfort says,
Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin’s, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God (p.52).
When I first read this passage I immediately re-read it. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Did St. Louis really claim Satan fears Mary more than God? The more I reflected on his intrepid claim, the more I saw his logic. The pride of Satan is so debilitating that he must sink to the level of creature-hood. As a part of creation, the devil’s true adversary would need to be a creature, not the Creator—Mary fits that bill better than St. Michael based off my reading of St. de Montfort.
Insight from Genesis
Along with evidence from the Tradition of the Catholic Church, the Bible references Mary’s adversarial role against Satan. A commonly cited Old Testament text on Mariology is Genesis 3:15. Referred to as the proto-evangelium, or pre-Gospel, this text foreshadows Mary’s role in salvation history of being the Mother of God. God’ promise goes as follows, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15). Throughout history, Christian art depicted Mary standing triumphant, crushing Satan’s [represented by a snake] skull. Such imagery reminds me of the Blessed Virgin’s role as a spiritual protector and warrior against evil!
Insight from Judith
Marian figures depicted as a warrior continues in the Old Testament with the Book of Judith. Catholic Church tradition connects the title hero of the Book of Judith as an Old Testament prefiguration of Mary. The official public prayer of the Catholic Church—the Liturgy of the Hours— cites Judith 13:17-18 and 13:18-19 on the mid-morning reading on the Feast of the Assumption and the noon reading on the Feast of Mary’s Birthday respectively.
The praise by King Uzziah on Judith mirrors the angel Gabriel’s announcement of Mary as “Blessed among all woman”. The Old Testament monarch declared to Judith, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies” (Judith 13:18). Judith helped free the Israelite people from evil. In similar fashion, Mary is depicted as leading the charge against Satanic forces in the world.
Insight from Judges
Another Old Testament figure traditionally interpreted as a type, or foreshadowing of Mary is the judge from the Book of Judges. Judges 5 contains the Song of Deborah which is a hymn proclaiming the wisdom and strength Deborah demonstrated in leading victory over the Israelite’s oppressors. As a good general, Deborah delegated authority to her special forces agent- Jael. It was Jael who snuck into the enemy camp and killed Sisera the evil Canaanite general. According to Franciscan University professor Mark Miraville,
“The crushing of the head of Sisera by Jael and the victory over the Canaanites by Deborah and Barak brings peace for a generation after them. This is also a foreshadowing of the peace Christ and Mary will bring, “through the blood of His Cross,” for all generations!”
Both Scripture and Tradition attest to the prefiguration and eventual role of Mary as general of the Church militant. Seeing Mary as the spiritual commander obedient to the King of all Kings has helped me better understand the honor we bestow on the Blessed Mother. Mary is not greater than the Holy Spirit, rather she is the servant of servants. Let us reflect on the words from the Majestic Queen of Heaven Prayer and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to properly treat Mary with respect and dignity:
Majestic Queen of Heaven and Mistress of the Angels, thou didst receive from God the power and commission to crush the head of Satan; wherefore we humbly beseech thee, send forth the legions of heaven, that, under thy command, they may seek out all evil spirits, engage them everywhere in battle, curb their insolence, and hurl them back into the pit of hell. “Who is like unto God?”
O good and tender Mother, thou shalt ever be our hope and the object of our love.
O Mother of God, send forth the holy Angels to defend me and drive far from me the cruel foe.
Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us and keep us.