Rosa Mystica: A Commonplace Book

"Let yourself be saved over and over again"

Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again. And when you go to confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy which frees you of your guilt. Contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let yourself be cleansed by it. In this way, you can be reborn ever anew.

Pope Francis, Christus Vivit (123)

Lent: It's not purely about you

Lent is not a season about self-help or self-improvement for their own sake. It’s not just about giving up caffeine or chocolate (although these could be good penances) or about eating right or being more punctual (although it could be good to improve these habits). No, above all these things, Lent is about the believer deepening in her knowledge and experience of the Suffering, Crucified, and Resurrected God who loves her and seeks to be with her. It’s about grasping - and being grasped by - the radical and self-emptying love of Jesus Christ.

Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, “Lent is not a self-help guide, but about entering Paschal Mystery,” Crux

"Overcome the logic of confrontation, hatred and revenge"

Let us pray to the Lord that he may move hearts and that all may overcome the logic of confrontation, hatred and revenge in order to rediscover themselves as brothers, children of one Father.

Pope Francis (@Pontifex) via Twitter

Good advice for those who still dive into the scary place known as Catholic Twitter. Unfortunately, many of the scariest denizens of Catholic Twitter will completely ignore this, having excommunicated the man they call “Bergoglio” from their world.

Here’s more coverage from Crux on Pope Francis’ visit to Bari, Italy, which is the basis for the above tweet.

Christ “was not cautious; he did not yield to compromises,” the pope said. “He asks of us the extremism of charity. It is the only kind of Christian extremism: the extremism of love. Love your enemies.”

The pope urged Christians to not worry about the malice of others, but to instead focusing on loving God, as those who love him have no enemies in their heart. Worshiping God, he said, is contrary to the culture of hatred, which can be fought by “combating the cult of complaint.”

“How many times do we complain about the things that we lack, about the things that go wrong!” Francis said, adding Jesus knows that there will always be someone in our lives who dislikes us or who makes our life miserable; yet he still asks those who follow him to pray and love.

“This is the revolution of Jesus, the greatest revolution in history: From hating our enemy to loving our enemy; from the cult of complaint to the culture of gift,” he said. “If we belong to Jesus, this is the road we are called to take!”

Pride in the name of Lent?

So, I’ve been waist-deep in’s February photoblogging challenge all month, and it’s been a blast.

Given how much I’ve enjoyed the daily posting, I was looking forward to seeing the Busted Halo InstaLent Photo Challenge. It’s here for 2020, but I’m opting not to do it, mainly because it overlaps with the challenge I’m doing now. I could be ambitious about it and do both, but I know when I get overambitious, I fall on my face and fail miserably.

Also, I’m increasingly inclined to think that Lent, like a lot of things involving spiritual practices, isn’t something to get in-your-face about. Not that I’m trying to hide my spiritual life, and not that I think it’s a bad idea to participate in this kind of photo challenge. (I might do the Advent photo challenge when it rolls around.) But there’s a fine line between living your devotional life openly as a matter of course – and if someone asks about it, certainly discuss it – and barking about every little spiritual practice of yours, unprompted, on social media.

The words of Jesus in the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday have lingered in the back of my head for years:

Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you …

And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

(Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)

I’m particularly prone to pride, especially on social media. A lot of us are. For those of us who are so inclined, here’s a nice list that I found on a Catholic blog, a set of hints that “you might be caught in the spiritual pride trap“:

  • “You believe that you are very holy with few virtues that need improvement.”
  • “You believe that your rash judgments are actually spiritual discernment.”
  • “You believe that any idea you have is inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
  • “You won’t consider another’s opinions on spiritual matters, but hold fast to your own.”
  • “You see much error in the hearts and motives of others, but not your own.”
  • “You take pride in your prayer life and your sacrifices, leading to the point of self-righteousness.”
  • “You are not open to spiritual correction.”
  • “You just hit the ‘share’ button while thinking, ‘None of this describes me, but I sure know someone who really needs to read this …’”

It’s certainly possible to do the Busted Halo challenge without being a spiritual showoff; a lot of the prompts are pretty benign (“Door,” “Family Time,” “Spring Cleaning”). “Parish Pride” seems a little weird to me as a Lenten prompt, though, and the first day, “Ashes,” probably will set off another annoying wave of Ash Wednesday smudged selfies. All that said, I thought Lent was about being reflective; it’s not impossible to be reflective on social media, but its very nature can seem to discourage reflection.

As Bishop Robert Barron, the unofficial patron saint of social media, wrote a few years ago: “…granting all that is truly good about social media (which I use massively in my own ministry), they can easily produce the conviction that we are the stars of our own little dramas, always playing for an eager audience. Authentic spirituality always gives rise to the opposite conviction: your life is not about you.”

And Lent, in a way, isn’t about you, either.

"Blessed are they who weep with Jesus in His Passion"

Blessed are they who weep with Jesus in His Passion. And with Mary in her sorrows. Theirs is the peace of souls washed clean by love and soothed by pity. They are comforted not only on earth but also in heaven; for, when she sees a face bright-wet because of her, or of her Son, does not the Queen of Heaven rush to kiss the tears away? And blessed are they who grieve but do not cry, who are too strong for tears, or too weak, or too ashamed; for grief enriches all who squander it on others. Yet blessed too are those, like me, who wish to cry but cannot; for the tears of the saints are ours to beg—and to offer as our own. Saints dead a thousand years and more are glad to give their tears to a blind man born centuries after their advent into heaven.

Eddie Doherty, Splendor of Sorrow: The Seven Sorrows of the Mother of God

Memento mori, friends

I was brought up to never consider death.

Whenever the topic of death came up, my mother would mutter something in her Philippine dialect and end the conversation. It was as if its mere mention would beckon the Grim Reaper to take us all at a moment’s notice.

Even when my father died suddenly almost 30 years ago, that fear never seemed to go away.

The concept of memento mori – remember your death – is kind of trendy right now, both in Catholic circles and in secular ones where a kind of manly neo-stoicism is a thing. Because I am Catholic, I think of memento mori in that light. Thinking of my inevitable demise is supposed to strengthen my faith and fear death less.

Writer Angelo Stagnaro explains this view:

Christians need not be fearful. In fact, I would go further to say we must never be afraid of death. We must embrace our mortality because it is the thing that defines us as frail and fallen human beings – fallen and broken, but immensely loved.

Dominican Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau expounds on this further:

The daily reminder of death isn’t something “macabre or depressing,” Guilbeau added, “but it’s something hopeful and joyful, that this veil of tears is not the end of our existence, it’s not the goal.”

“If we live in the love of Jesus Christ and we live in the light of the Holy Spirit, there’s constant preparation and help and grace and strength for that moment when we pass from this life to the next,” he said.

I’ve had a copy of St. Alphonsus Liguouri’s Preparation for Death on my nightstand for a couple of years now, and I often take it with me on retreats – yet I’ve not really spent as much time with it as I would like. Maybe it’s that lifelong fear again: If I read it at length, I’ll suddenly shuffle off this mortal coil or something. But could it be that actively bracing for death is exactly what I need to fend off my childhood anxieties? Here’s what the good saint writes:

And you, my brother, how are you spending the time? And for what reason do you put off until tomorrow that which you can do today? Remember that the time which is already past away is no longer yours: the future is not in your power; the present time alone you have for doing good. St. Bernard warns us saying, “Wherefore do you presume upon the future, O miserable one, as if the Father had put the times in thy power.” And St. Augustine asks, “Do you reckon upon a day, who canst not reckon upon an hour?” How canst thou promise thyself the day of tomorrow, if thou knowest not whether one more hour of life will be thine? St. Teresa thus concludes, and says, “If thou art not ready to die today, thou oughtest to fear lest thou shouldst die an unhappy death!”

Am I ready? And if not, what would make me ready?

Related links: Sr. Theresa Aletheia has almost single-handedly revived the idea of memento mori on social media. Read more from her in America, the Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor.

Ask always for perseverance

Don’t tell Jesus that you want consolation in prayer. If he gives it to you, thank him. Tell him always that you want perseverance.

St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way (100)

This reminder from St. Josemaria ties in well with one of my three words for the year, “perseverance.” I’ll post more in relation to these three words (which function as guiding words for 2020, as opposed to resolutions) as I go along.

"Let your sins serve to bind you closely" to God

Reflect attentively, O Devout Soul, on the teaching commonly given by spiritual masters: namely, that you should at once turn to God after you have been unfaithful to Him, even though it be the hundredth time in the day, and you should be at peace again after your faults and after recommending yourself to God, as has been said. Otherwise, if your soul remains discouraged and troubled by the sin you have committed, you will converse but little with God; your confidence in Him will grow less; your desire to love Him will become cold; and you will make little progress in the way of the Lord. On the other hand, if you turn to God at once to ask His pardon and to promise amendment, your faults will help you to advance further in divine love. It is not a rare occurrence among intimate friends that their friendship is strengthened when one has displeased the other but has afterwards humbled himself and asked pardon. Do likewise: Let your sins serve to bind you more closely in love to your God.

St. Alphonsus Ligouri, How to Converse With God

Setting humility on solid rock

The depth of the foundation is your humility, but its firmness multiplies when it is set on rock. And the rock is this: the sense of _divine filiation_—the joyful realization of being a son or a daughter of God.

Fr. Edward Maritany, Call Him Father: How to Experience the Fatherhood of God

God "gratifies even our need to be needed"

Being sons and daughters of God also means being privileged with a great responsibility. We belong to a universal family, and our heavenly Father has arranged things in such a way that our contributions are vital. He didn’t have to need us, and, of course, in a strict sense he doesn’t. However, he loves us so much that he gratifies even our need to be needed. He has chosen, in some real sense, to actually depend on us.

Fr. Edward Maritany, Call Him Father: How to Experience the Fatherhood of God

"No circumstance warrants despair"

She ponders a love so true, a grace so great, that it cannot be compromised by the ugliness of circumstances. … In this moment, Mary is a sign to us that no circumstance warrants despair. No human circumstance offers an excuse to proclaim and blame God’s absence, because there is no human circumstance in which he is not present. And thus there is never a reason to abandon hope and to lose our joy.

Fr. Richard Veras, Magnificat Rosary Companion, on the Third Joyful Mystery (The Nativity)

Biblical basis for Mary as queen

In the Davidic kingdom, when a new king assumed the throne, his mother was given the special title gebirah, which in Hebrew means ‘great lady’ or ‘queen.’ As queen mother, she possessed the second most powerful position in the kingdom—second only to the king himself. Since the queen mother was both the wife of the previous monarch and the mother of the current king, she stood as a symbol of the king’s royalty, tying him to his father’s royal blood. In this sense, she guaranteed the legitimacy of the king’s place in the dynastic line of succession. …

Just like the queen mother of the Davidic kingdom, Mary continues to serve as an advocate for the people in the kingdom of God today. This is why we can ask Mary to pray for us. As queen mother, she is the most powerful intercessor in Christ’s kingdom and is able to take our needs to the throne of her Son.

Edward Sri, Treat Her Like a Queen: The Biblical Call to Honor Mary as Royal Mother

A social media quote repository to call my own?

I come across so many good quotes on social media (mainly Twitter and Facebook, though I’m on FB maybe once a week, tops) that I need to find a way to collect them here – once I can somehow verify them. Maybe a regular post collecting the best ones over the previous week? Still thinking about this.

"Necessary grace" at the start of the day

Never forget that it is at the beginning of each day that God has the necessary grace for the day ready for us. He knows exactly what opportunities we shall have to sin … and will give us everything we need if we ask Him then. That is why the devil does all he can to prevent us from saying our Morning Prayers or to make us say them badly.

St. John Vianney

The "sweet monotony" of the beads

“The beads help the mind to concentrate. They are almost like the self-starter of a motor; after a few spits and spurts, the soul soon gets going. Every airplane must have a runway before it can fly. What the runway is to the airplane, that the Rosary beads are to prayer -— the physical start to gain spiritual altitude. The very rhythm and sweet monotony induce a physical peace and quiet, and create an affective fixation on God. The physical and the mental work together if we give them a chance.”

Fulton J. Sheen, The World’s First Love

The Little Flower's struggles with the Rosary

“I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary; I don’t succeed in fixing my mind on them. For a long time I was desolate about this lack of devotion, which astonished me, for I love the Blessed Virgin so much that it should be easy for me to recite in her honor prayers which are so pleasing to her. Now I am less desolate; I think that the Queen of Heaven, since she is my MOTHER, must see my good will and she is satisfied with it. Sometimes when my mind is in such aridity that it is impossible to draw forth one single thought to unite me with God, I very slowly recite an Our Father and then the angelic salutation [‘Hail Mary, full of grace,’ etc.]; then these prayers give me great delight; they nourish my soul much more than if I had recited them precipitately a hundred times.”

St. Therese of Liseiux, Story of a Soul

Mary: "She's our mother as well"

The one common thread in all the many praises of and petitions to Mary is the request for her blessing. Why has it been so important to holy men and women throughout the centuries that Mary extend her blessing? Why should we care if Mary blesses us? We need Mary’s blessing because she’s more than the mother of Jesus; she’s our mother as well. In receiving her blessing, we gain the backing of a mother’s love, which is one of the most powerful forces in the universe

Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, 365 Mary: A Daily Guide to Mary’s Wisdom and Comfort

Persevere in prayer

If you quit praying because no feeling comes along, your rectitude of intention leaves much to be desired. If, on the other hand, you persevere in prayer, you prove that you are there not to receive consolation, but to console this God of ours who is so basely treated by his own children.

Fr. Edward Maritany, Call Him Father: How to Experience the Fatherhood of God

We need "a faith like the Magi"

Look how gently the Lord invites us. His words have human warmth; they are the words of a person in love: ‘I have called you by your name. You are mine.’ God, who is beauty and greatness and wisdom, declares that we are his, that we have been chosen as the object of his infinite love. We need a strong life of faith to appreciate the wonder his providence has entrusted to us. A faith like that of the Magi, a conviction that neither the desert, nor the storms, nor the quiet of the oases will keep us from reaching our destination in the eternal Bethlehem: our definitive life with God.

St. Josemaria Escriva, Christ Is Passing By (32)

Praying at Epiphany

‘Going into the house they saw the child with Mary, his Mother, and they fell down and worshipped him.’ We also kneel down before Jesus, God hidden in humanity. We tell him once more that we do not want to turn our backs on his divine call, that we shall never separate ourselves from him, that we shall remove from our path all that may be an obstacle to our fidelity and that we sincerely wish to be docile to his inspirations. You, in your own heart, and I in mine — because I am praying intimately with deep silent cries — are telling the child Jesus that we desire to fulfill our duties as well as the servants of the parable, so that we too may hear the response: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’

St. Josemaria Escriva, Christ Is Passing By (35)

Backbiting: "Even the worthiest of men" not exempt

… one must not only avoid backbiting when it attacks charity and justice directly, but even when it turns on light defects and weaknesses of little importance.

Even the worthiest of men are not always exempt from this sort of backbiting. Perhaps it is a lack of prudence or reflection, but even they take pleasure in relating the defects and faults of others to willing listeners. It would seem that we have taken this verse from La Fontaine as a motto:

I attempt to turn vice to ridicule,

Since I cannot attack it with the arms of Hercules.

And why be surprised? The human race has an instinctive propensity for criticizing other people’s behavior. We all carry the scarlet with which we paint everyone. Everything that seems blameworthy in our sight turns into vice at once, and it is all the greater in the proportion that we want to appear wiser and more religious.

Saint Jerome says, ‘The passion of this evil has so infested the world that people who have totally renounced other vices still fall into this one. One might say it is the last trap the devil sets for them.’

Fr. Jean-Pierre Belet, Sins of the Tongue

Okay, NOW I begin. Again. No, really.

New year, new blog.

Actually, this is a reboot of an online commonplace book originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Although much of this new iteration of Rosa Mystica – or “Mystical Rose,” one of the many lovely titles of Mary in the Litany of Loreto – will be devoted to Our Lady, I’m broadening the focus here to cover Catholic spirituality in general.

These initial posts probably will reflect some of my most recent reading:

  • Call Him Father: How to Experience the Fatherhood of God, Fr. Edward Maritany
  • I Will Think of Everything. You, Think Only of Loving Me: The Ceaseless Act of Love, A Sister of Mary
  • The Hidden Power of Kindness, Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik
  • Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva, Eric Sammons
  • Sins of the Tongue: The Backbiting Tongue, Fr. Jean-Pierre Belet
  • Splendor of Sorrow: The Seven Sorrows of the Mother of God, Eddie Doherty
  • The Way, Furrow, and The Forge (three separate books), St. Josemaria Escriva
  • Thoughts of the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney

My spiritual reading tends toward some of the classics (I just started diving anew into The Imitation of Christ), practical books on holiness and persistent sins, and devotional texts on the Blessed Mother. I have been partial to the simple and straightforward works of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. (No, I am not a member of Opus Dei.)

Overall, I am drawn to straightforward reading, stuff that gets right to the point. I could collect dense 13th-century theological treatises that look impressive (and I have at one point or another); however, I don’t have the time or patience to wade through them. I turn to spiritual reading for prayerful time with God to get to know Him better and how to live a holy life, and if it gives me a headache because it’s written in Middle English (or translated into arcane English phrasing), it’s useless to me. I intend to use this virtual space to collect texts on which to ruminate, texts that might inspire other readers. Sometimes these texts are found in books, sometimes on social media or elsewhere on the Internet.

This place is intended to be a simple and quiet repository where readers, like Mary herself, can ponder these things in their hearts. Welcome.

Now I begin!

Say slowly and in all earnestness: Nunc coepi — now I begin!

Don’t get discouraged if, unfortunately, you don’t see any great change in yourself brought about by the Lord’s right hand… From your lowliness you can cry out: Help me, my Jesus, because I want to fulfil your Will… your most lovable Will!

St. Josemaria Escriva, The Forge (398)

Mary "a home for all"

Physically, Our Lady was the first home for God become incarnate. Then, after the birth of her Divine Son, Our Lady became more than ever a home for him, a home where he was cared for, where he was always loved, where he was taught. The Church is made up of pardoned sinners, and she is a home where the pardon can be made effective, where it is not a listless and unproductive thing. The Church has room for everyone. She is not a specialized home; she is a home for all.

Mother Mary Francis, Cause of Our Joy: Walking Day by Day With Our Lady