Catholic Fun Facts

Alternate clickbait title: 16 Crazy Things about the Catholic Church That Will Leave You Stunned!

  1. All Catholics are expected to perform some act of penance every Friday and the US Bishops recommend abstaining from meat. Turns out that didn’t go out with Vatican II.
  2. These guys say it tastes good....

    These guys say it tastes good….

    Beaver doesn’t count as meat. Not because we don’t know they’re mammals. Theories differ as to why, but the consensus seems to be that beaver tail is plenty penitential enough. So eat up!

  3. You don’t have to fast (or abstain) on Solemnities. Even in Lent, if the Solemnity of St. Joseph falls on a Friday, grab a plate of bacon and chow down. Feast days don’t have the same weight, though, so stick with the fish sticks on the Feast of the Chair of Peter. Makes you want to pay a little more attention to the liturgical year, doesn’t it?
  4. You can only get indulgences for yourself or for people who are dead. No fair racking them up for anyone else, not even your favorite neighborhood hobo.
  5. You genuflect on your right knee in church, not your left. The left knee is for people, the right knee for God. So ladies, if your good Catholic boyfriend goes down on his right knee when he proposes, accuse him of idolatry and storm off. Or something like that.
  6. 4Hipster St Catherine of the 35 Doctors of the Church are women. If you’re not impressed, think about this: zero of the United States’ 43 presidents have been women. And once you consider that the most recent Doctor of the Church was a 19th-century nun—you know, back when most colleges wouldn’t even admit women—it becomes harder to play that “the Catholic Church hates women” card.
  7. All the liturgical vestments have a meaning. That’s why the chasuble, which symbolizes love, goes over the stole, which symbolizes authority. “Over all these, put on love.”1
  8. All the Church requires of you is .65% of your life. Do the math: if you go to Mass every time you have to, that comes out to about 57 hours a year in the US. So all you give God is .65%? You can do better than that.
  9. The palms from Palm Sunday are burned to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday. I’m sure there’s some great symbolism in there but all I’m seeing is a connection between the two days you get free stuff for going to church. Cha-ching!
  10. Nshroudo modern scientist has been able to explain how the image on the Shroud of Turin was made. Say what you like about the dubious carbon dating. How are you going to tell me that’s a 14th-century forgery when you can’t replicate it with all your 21st-century technology?
  11. Luther didn’t reject the Deuterocanon until an opponent of his proved that purgatory is Biblical using a Deuterocanonical book. After that, he started throwing books out left, right, and center. He tried to toss Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation, too, but his followers weren’t having it.
  12. The Big Bang Theory was devised by a Catholic priest. Everybody laughed at him—“You silly Catholics, thinking the universe has a beginning!” Turns out he was a physicist as well as a Christian. Looks like Pope Francis was (as usual) saying nothing revolutionary when he agreed that the Church has no problem with evolution.
  13. Catholic religious also invented the scientific method, genetics, and the university system. Because we hate science. And progress.
  14. Pope St. Silverius, from Butler's Pictorial Lives of the Saints

    Pope St. Silverius, from Butler’s Pictorial Lives of the Saints

    At least 3 popes have been heretics.2 Not one of them proclaimed heresy from the see of Peter. How’s that for infallibility?

  15. Sunday’s first reading is always picked to match the Gospel. The second reading (in Ordinary Time, anyway) takes us through different epistles, giving highlights from each, and isn’t necessarily connected to the other readings. Still pay attention to it, though.
  16. If you read 8 paragraphs of the Catechism every day, you’ll finish the whole thing before the year is out. Consider that a challenge.
  1. Colossians 3:14 []
  2. Liberius, St. Silverius, and Honorius I []
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A Comprehensive List of Crimes that Merit Death

From what I’ve seen in the news–and the comboxes–in recent months, there seems to be some confusion. Obviously you’re never supposed to kill an innocent, but when can you kill someone who committed a crime? Turns out, there’s a definitive list of sins that are so bad they warrant a death sentence. Ready?

2015-01-08 23.22.38

In case the graphic didn’t come through, let me list them out for you:



That’s right. Nothing.

Not drawing a blasphemous cartoon or fighting racism. Not being a terrorist. Not torturing terrorists. Not even torturing innocent people who “look like terrorists.” Not selling loose cigarettes or playing with a toy gun. Not being unwanted or unborn or incurable or “illegal.” Not being a burden or a lesbian or a Muslim or a bully or a jerk. Not poverty. Not rape. Not murder. Nothing.1

I kind of thought this went without saying, but apparently I was wrong: you don’t get to decide who deserves to live and who doesn’t. Everybody deserves to live. So can we quit for a minute with the conservative/liberal/patriotic/radical nonsense that tell us the lie that some lives are worth more than others? Pro-life means all life. Liberal means freedom for everybody. Nobody is “subhuman” or “worthless” or “unnatural.” However inconvenient or appalling he might be, every person was made worthy of love by a God who died to save him. Nothing he does can ever negate that.

There is a lot of evil in this world. Fight it with love.

  1. Because you’ve always got to nuance everything on the internet, I’ll point out that I’m not talking about just war or legitimate defense. Even then, nobody deserves death. Killing is a last resort in an attempt to prevent atrocities. []
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14 from 2014

2014 was a busy year. I weathered the polar vortex in Hawaii


It actually made for some super crazy winds.

and then immediately after in Kansas, Wisconsin, and Michigan.


I saw two friends ordained

first blessing

and 5 couples married.


I visited 11 foreign countries (that sign in the background says France)


along with some of the most beautiful places in this one.


I spent a lot of time with my sweet nieces and nephews


but far more time driving.


I walked where my heroes walked,


The lamp post at Oxford that’s said to have inspired the Chronicles.

where they were born,


and where they died.

I marveled at the beauty of God’s creation


and at what men have made to glorify God.


I am blessed beyond imagining.



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I Wore a Hoodie Today

I wore a hoodie today.

I was pretty excited about it. It had been in my trunk, so it was actually my first hoodie day of the season. “I love hoodies!” I thought. “I love them so much it almost makes hoodie weather worth it!”

This is what I think about hoodies. Because wearing a hoodie has never made me a target.

I got pulled over for speeding a few months ago. When the officer approached the car, I was annoyed at myself for not hitting the brakes when the speed limit changed. I wasn’t scared. Because police officers won’t hurt me. They won’t harass me or assault me or strangle me while I beg for breath.

I don’t get followed in upscale stores. I don’t have cops called when I walk with my hands in my pockets.

I read the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag on Twitter and think wryly that they’d probably use something sweet and wholesome like this:

2014-06-07 14.45.44And then I remember. They won’t gun me down.

Since Mike Brown and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and a dozen other dead black1 men whose names I haven’t bothered to learn because it’s not news, my Facebook feed has been split. Some people are sharing posts left, right, and center about racism and violence and solidarity and protest.2 A few are sharing articles with titles so ignorant I know clicking them is just going to enrage me. And most of us are still talking about turkey and sales and weather and everyday life like thousands of our brothers and sisters aren’t angry and desperate and running for their lives.

I’m in that third group. People are being killed and I can’t even manage to be a slacktivist. Because I don’t know what to say. I’ve wrestled with this in adoration every day for the past week and a half. I don’t know how to say I’m so sorry and I wish I could suffer this for you. I’m so sorry for the ways I’ve done this to you and I didn’t even know it. I’m so sorry I’m afraid to pick a side without feeling like I know everything I need to know to defend it.

I’m on the side of lives. Black, brown, white, old, gay, disabled–all lives. But right now I am particularly and vocally on the side of black lives. Because that’s where the attack is. I know white people are killed by cops,3 too–but young black men are 21 times more likely to be. THAT IS NOT OKAY! And your misdirect about looting or your blatantly racist claim that black people are criminals doesn’t fix it.

NOT the same thing!

NOT the same thing!

I don’t know what fixes it. I like to rant about injustice and suffering and then tie everything up with a sweet Jesus bow because he makes everything all right. And he does. But today, I just need to say this, to my largely white audience: this should upset you. Your black brothers and sisters are being judged and jailed and killed while their white counterparts get a slap on the wrist.4

I Can't BreatheDon’t deny it. Don’t defend it. Just listen. Read the articles that make you uncomfortable. Stop reading The Conservative Tribune. Move past the specifics of the one homicide you know about and look at the underlying problem. Because whatever you think happened with Michael Brown, you can’t deny that something’s wrong with our country. And burying yourself in Duggar pregnancy announcements and Dancing with the Stars won’t make it go away. Pray. Pray for the victims, the families, the killers, the innocent officers, the bigots, the oppressed, the lawmakers, the nation. Pray for yourself–for mercy and for justice and for eyes to see.

I hate that I can’t do anything about this. But at least that feeling of desperate futility gives me something I can share with people of color in this country. I guess I’ll be grateful for that. And wrap myself in my hoodie while I pray and love and listen and try to be better.

Written by Senator Cory Booker--22 years ago. Progress?

Written by Senator Cory Booker–22 years ago. Progress?


  1. I’m leaving both black and white uncapitalized. This is basically why. []
  2. Thank you! []
  3. And I know that most cops are good. And I understand they’re just trying to stay alive. But there’s a lot of cops killing unarmed black people without so much as a slap on the wrist. The problem isn’t cops–the problem’s the culture they (and we) come out of. []
  4. Really. Check out #crimingwhilewhite. []
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Advent Boot Camp 2014

I put out an Advent Boot Camp last year and the response was great, so I thought I’d do it again. Just a little tweaking since Christmas isn’t always the same day of the week. Read the intro here or just dive right in and prepare for the Spirit to pump you up.1

This “Advent Boot Camp” is a guideline, not a foolproof plan. Feel free to substitute anything. What’s essential is that you’re spending time in silent prayer–not just prayer but silent prayer–and that you’re easing into it.

Each day’s prayer starts with a 5 minute warmup. It’s hard just to snap from all the noise of the world into prayer, so take some time to slow down, talk to the Lord about what’s weighing on you, and get quiet. Then see what God has to say to you through his Word, his Saints, and the prayers of his Church. Finally, spend some good time in silence, either processing what you’ve read, talking to God, or trying to be still in his presence. If your prayer life has consisted solely of grace before meals and Mass on Sunday, this might be tough. But it will get easier. And what better time to seek silence than in the mad bustle leading up to Christmas?

Advent boot campWeek 1: Begin each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make one chapel visit

  • Day 1: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 40; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 2: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 9:1-6; one decade of the rosary, 5 minutes silence
  • Day 3: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings2; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 5: 5 minute warmup; Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 6: 5 minute warmup; Chaplet of Divine Mercy; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 7: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice

Week 2: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend one extra Mass

Week 3: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend two extra Masses

  • Day 15: 5 minute warmup; John 1:1-18; reading from St. Gregory Nazianzen; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 16: 25 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 17: 5 minute warmup; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 18: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 20: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 61-62; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 21: 5 minute warmup; make a good examination of conscience, asking God to cast light into all the areas of sin in your life and to make you truly repentant and grateful for his love and mercy; go to confession; 15 minutes silence

Week 4: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make two chapel visits

I’ve compiled the non-Biblical readings here if you want to print them in advance: Advent Boot Camp readings

This is going to max you out at 30-35 minutes of prayer at one time. If you feel like you can do more than that, go for it. But if you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, this might be a good way to get started. Whether you’re interested in this approach or not, do spend some time praying about how you’re going to try to grow closer to the Lord this Advent. But don’t stress about it–it’s supposed to be a time of preparation and peace, not frantic anxiety, despite what the mall might do to you this time of year. You might consider starting to read the Bible through in a year using this schedule. Or read Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God. Just be sure you do something more than bake and shop to prepare for Christmas this year. The Christ Child is coming, after all. Offer him your heart.

  1. Ten points if you read that in your Hans and Franz voice. []
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The Best Catholic Kids’ Present Ever

I am so excited.

I am a godmother to 5, all under 8. That means that at this point, my job mainly consists of praying and buying presents. I buy them a lot of books–my friend’s little girl once told her, “Godmothers are good at picking books,” since that’s about all I manage to do–but I don’t think books are enough. Don’t get me wrong, I adore books! But if you’re raising saints, you need to baptize their imagination, which means encouraging holy play as well as holy reading. I try for Saint dress-up clothes, but those are expensive. The Catholic toys tend to be equally expensive or rather disappointing. So we’re stuck with books.

Until now!

My friend Lindsey (who does my awesome headshots) is a brilliant artist and a Catholic mom of 5. She had the same trouble I had with finding Catholic toys, but she actually has the ability to do something about it. And she has! Introducing Blessing Blocks from AlmondRod Toys. (Follow them on Facebook!)

Blessing Block NativityI’ve shown you the Nativity before and I still think it’s the loveliest children’s nativity I’ve seen. It’s not just not breakable, it’s also beautiful. But children’s Nativities aren’t too hard to come by and maybe you already have one (or six). So as much as I adore the Nativity, it’s not my new favorite thing. My new favorite thing? Saint blocks!

Blessing Block SaintsThese little wooden blocks come with images of any of 60 different Saints. The images are beautifully painted with appropriate iconography. On the back, there’s the Saint’s name, feast day, and other info, including patronage, a short description, and a prayer or a quotation.

Blessing Block Saints A-BThe other day, I brought my nieces and nephews some Saint blocks. Saints John Paul, Cecilia, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Clare, and Peter for John Paul, Cecilia, Elizabeth, Mary Claire, and Peter. They were thrilled. Seriously, they shrieked and squealed and played with them all day. They built towers of Saints and put them on block towers. Cecilia (age 3 1/2) brought hers to Mass and snuggled it the entire time. John Paul (5) wore cargo pants just so he had a good pocket to keep his in. Elizabeth and Mary Claire (2) kept begging to hold everybody else’s blocks. Only Peter (11 days) was fairly uninterested.

Peter's tender age didn't keep his siblings from showing him the blocks. Nor did it keep him from tasting them.

Peter’s tender age didn’t keep his siblings from showing him the blocks. Nor did it keep him from tasting them.

I’ve seen what happens when kids pick up these blocks: they’re hooked. The Saints become their best friends. They shriek with glee when they run across one of “their” Saints in a book or in the liturgy. They want to know their stories and to imitate them. I’m not telling you about these blocks because I want to help my friend make money. I’m telling you because I really think this kind of thing helps to form young saints. It makes virtue something tangible and gives them a real experience of the vast family they’re a part of. It wraps the Church inside joyful memories so that when they’ve run away, they’ll still think of her fondly and maybe make it back. When they’re playing, they’re asking the Saints’ intercession even without knowing it. AlmondRod Toys’ motto is “Sprouting Saints through Play” and I think that’s exactly what these blocks do.

On Thanksgiving, Cecilia (still clinging to her block) wrote St. Cecilia on her thankful turkey. "The Saint AND the block!" To be fair, she also wrote hermit crabs, which she's never seen, and crab, which she's never eaten.

On Thanksgiving, Cecilia (still clinging to her block) wrote St. Cecilia on her thankful turkey. “The Saint AND the block!” To be fair, she also wrote hermit crabs, which she’s never seen, and crab, which she’s never eaten….

And here’s the best part–you can afford them! They’re not the $25 peg dolls I find on Etsy–they’re 5 for $30.1 Even if that seems steep for blocks, consider that it’s far and away the best on the market for a Saint toy.2 If they don’t have the Saint you’re looking for, you can order one custom made or just wait a few weeks as Lindsey continues to add to the roster. She’s even thinking about putting the images on other things–8×10 prints, t-shirts, postcards–or just selling the electronic copies for you to use as you please. And if there’s any justice in this world, some publisher will recruit her to illustrate children’s Bibles and books about the Saints. We all know how many less-than-lovely Christian books out there, and it’s my life’s dream that Lindsey will have the opportunity to produce some really beautiful, meaningful ones to counterbalance them.3

So head on over to her shop and place an order quick–she makes all these blocks by hand and I’d bet money that she’ll sell out well before Christmas. Then get excited to watch your little ones fall in love with Christ through his Saints.

BONUS: For a limited time, you can get a free Saint block with any order! Just say a Hail Mary for the conversion of sinners and put the code KYRIE ELEISON into the notes section of the order form along with the name of the Saint you’re requesting from her list of options. Sweet deal–and you know you want to support the kind of woman who gives stuff away to people who pray for souls!

  1. Up from $25 since she’s getting so many orders she’s having to contract out the sanding. Still a deal! []
  2. Really, if you find anything else in this category, please send it my way! []
  3. But seriously, if you connect her with a publisher, I’ll be your best friend. I really, really want to buy her books but I can’t do that until someone prints them. []
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Hobo Abroad–Turkey, England, Belgium

Thanks to your prayers and support and encouragement, I just spent 6 weeks in Europe! If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you know all about this. But I thought you might like me to fill in some details so you can see some of the marvelous things God’s been doing in my life.

2014-10-08 02.01.19

In patriotic Taksim Square

I flew into Turkey (which was rather more dramatic than I was expecting), where I ate baklava and Turkish delight and went to Mass in Turkish. The extent of my sightseeing was out the bus window, but I made my flight the next morning without any unnecessary drama, so I’ll call it a win.

My first real stop in Europe was Huddersfield, England. I was met at the Manchester airport by a godly priest whose insights over the next few days were very challenging and encouraging. I spent my visit speaking in schools and a church and got a crash course in the difficulties of the English Church, where they seem to be struggling between relativism from without and apathy from within. There are almost no laypeople working for the Church, where weekly giving in the wealthiest parish in the diocese averages less than $2 per person. This obviously puts a lot of pressure on a dwindling number of priests and results in aging congregations when there’s no youth program. But I met a solid group of young adults who have great hope for the Catholic Church in the UK and further experiences in England bore out that opinion. God is working, my friends, and while I get the feeling that the Church in the States is a few decades ahead of the English Church in terms of renewal and passion and orthodoxy, God willing they’re headed the right direction.

With the lamppost that allegedly inspired The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; the church where Newman gave his last sermon as an Anglican; a sign in the pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to meet with their fellow Inklings; the ceiling of the theology college, where Campion used to debate his colleagues.

With the lamppost that allegedly inspired The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; the church where Newman gave his last sermon as an Anglican; a sign in the pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to meet with their fellow Inklings; the ceiling of the theology college where Campion used to debate his colleagues.

After a visit to York to see St. Margaret Clitherow‘s hand, I was off to Oxford for a rough afternoon. I spent the evening with a group of Oxford students, talking about life and prayer and discernment and my new favorite book I haven’t read. The next day, Brother Oliver, OP, gave me a “short” three-hour tour of campus, where I made a pilgrimage to the holy sites of St. Edmund Campion, Bl. John Henry Newman, Tolkien, and Lewis. I’m pretty sure I kept shrieking over the excitement of hanging out where all my favorite people hung out. Br. Oliver was very patient. There followed afternoon tea with a group of young ladies and a bus to Paddington Station, where I kept my eyes peeled for a bear from Darkest Peru.

While in London, I was speaking at a school in Ilford, East London, working with a young woman who has such a heart for Jesus and such zeal for souls. The British school system is structured in such a way that Catholic schools often have a high percentage of Muslim students. On my second day in the school, I found myself speaking to the sixth form, the oldest students in secondary school who have been liberated from their uniforms. I ended up preaching the Gospel to a group that was 1/3 hijabis. What a grace, to stand before women who’ve been told that God does not and cannot love them and to tell them,1 “You are loved beyond imagining by a God who died to know you!” Some of them looked angry, but many more had tears in their eyes. Pray for them, that they would come to know the love of Christ and have the courage to follow him.

Westminster Cathedral (not Abbey), Buckingham Palace, Tyburn.

Westminster Cathedral (not Abbey), Buckingham Palace, Tyburn.

I had one day of sightseeing in London, after a lovely evening with a dear friend from college. I saw all of London in a rushed few hours so that I could spend two hours at Tyburn. Tyburn was where many of the English martyrs were killed during the Reformation, hanged, drawn, and quartered–including Edmund Campion, one of my dearest friends. I was blessed to be given a private tour of the relics from a story-telling Aussie nun, a real once-in-a-lifetime experience for someone who loves the English martyrs as I do. Then Mass at Westminster Cathedral to top off a lovely day.

After London, I was off to the south of England, to Southampton and Portsmouth where I spoke in 2 parishes and one school. I met a 12-year-old boy who was moved to tears when telling me the story of St. Tarcisius and a new bishop who spent half an hour talking eagerly with me about evangelization. I gave a talk before adoration and Father had to stay an extra 45 minutes to finish hearing confessions. See what I mean about hope?

On a bridge in Ghent; Trappist-made beer; an atypical sunrise; a bridge over the river; my dear friend St. Damien, originally form Belgium; a typical Belgian building.

(clockwise) On a bridge in Ghent; Trappist-made beer; an atypical sunrise; a bridge over the river; my dear friend St. Damien, originally from Belgium; a typical Belgian building.

Then an early morning cab to the airport, a short flight to Brussels, and a train to Mons, and there I was in Belgium! I had plenty of bread, chocolate, waffles, and beer, and the opportunity to minister to people from 8 or 10 different countries at NATO headquarters. We talked about prayer and evangelization and Mary and the Eucharist and the Resurrection and I was so encouraged to see how well the people in this community love Christ. On my day off, we went to Ghent to see the famous much-stolen altarpiece, go to Mass in Dutch, and enjoy the marvelous architecture along the river. The next day, I searched in vain for a Mass (hard to come by in Belgium, where the churches are open but empty all day long), explored a few marvelous churches in Mons, and then caught three trains and a bus to get to Germany. Up next: Germany, France, Austria, and Italy. Get excited!

  1. This is no attack on Islam–just an explanation that “God is love” is a uniquely Christian concept and that most Muslims would be outraged by the claim that God loves them. Allah tolerates you, perhaps even approves of you, but to claim that he loves you is a denigration of his dignity. []
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I Don’t Like the Rosary–6 Reasons I Pray It Anyway

A few months ago I went to confession at a conference where I was speaking and made the mistake of wearing my nametag into the confessional. Now, I’m not terribly concerned that Father would connect my name with my sins–it’s not like there’s anything he could do about it if he did. But my nametag identified me as a speaker at the conference, which evidently gave him the idea that I was serious about holiness because he gave me a rosary for my penance.

You read that right. A whole rosary.

I wanted to be like, “Sorry, did you mean three Hail Marys?” Because you know it’s always three Hail Marys.1 But I figured I’d show off instead.

“Do you mean in addition to the one I’m already praying today?” See, Father? I’m so holy. I shouldn’t have to do a hard penance.

“Yes.” Well, shoot. “Do you pray a rosary every day?”

“Yes, Father.” Now you get it. I’m really awesome.

But instead of congratulating me, he started talking about how I should really pray three rosaries a day. THREE! Ain’t nobody got time for that! As he talked, I sat there stewing. I can’t pray more rosaries. I barely have time for what I’m doing already. I’d have to cut out mental prayer or spiritual reading and I know that’s a terrible idea. Really, I’m too pious for any more rosaries.

Moral of the story: I’m arrogant.

But there’s a confession in there, too: I don’t like praying the rosary.2

If you’re a Catholic of my variety, you’re not really supposed to say this. We love Mass and we love Mary and we absolutely love the rosary. But I don’t.

Sometimes I tell people this and they beg me to try again. Believe me, it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve prayed the rosary daily since I was 16–three times a day in college.3 That’s something like 5000 rosaries. I’ve prayed the rosary with music, with extemporaneous meditations, with Bible passages. I’ve prayed in several languages, alone and with thousands of people. I’ve prayed in fits and starts throughout the day and start to finish in one shot, while walking and driving and kneeling and sitting. I’ve read books about the rosary, taught others to pray the rosary, given talks on the merits of the rosary. I just don’t like praying it.

Here’s the thing: I don’t like sushi, I don’t like The Phantom of the Opera, and (if we’re being quite honest) I’ve never much cared for Hopkins. I know that sushi is wonderful, that Phantom is beautiful, and that Hopkins will take your breath away. I know these things are good. I just don’t like them. Perhaps if I try and try and try again I’ll find that I do. And perhaps not. But my opinion isn’t a judgment against them, just a personal preference. It’s the same with the rosary–I know it’s good, I just don’t enjoy it.

I haven't read the whole thing, but what I read was awesome.

I haven’t read the whole thing, but what I read was awesome.

I know that I’m bad at praying the rosary. I know that if I were really meditating on the mysteries I’d begin to see the value of the prayer. I also know that not all prayers work for all temperaments. One of the many gifts of the Catholic Church is that there are as many ways to be a Catholic as there are to be a person. You don’t have to love adoration or weekly confession or Taize or lectio divina or 40 Days for Life or immigration reform or Latin or Matt Maher. There are so many ways to pray, so many spiritualities, so many acts of piety to choose from. Not everybody’s going to love the rosary. I even read a book recently4 that said people with my temperament will almost always struggle with the rosary. I felt absolutely vindicated.

You’d think I’d give up. But I’m not going to. Largely, it’s because I felt absolutely convicted that God was calling me to pray the rosary and I haven’t yet felt released from that call. But I don’t think mine is an unusual situation. I think a lot of us don’t enjoy the rosary. And I think most of us should be praying it anyway. Every day. Here’s why:

6 reasons rosary

Rosary Sheen1. It’s objectively a good way to pray. The rosary is a scriptural prayer. It’s shot through with the words of Scripture and built around the mysteries of Scripture. It was given to us by Our Lady,5 who keeps returning to encourage us to pray this miracle-working prayer. When you recite a prayer written by a modern author, sing a hymn, or read a book about God, it might not be fantastic. The rosary always is.

2. You need your mother. Ever call your mom when you didn’t have anything to talk about? And maybe she didn’t either. But you talked for a little while anyway, because talking to your mom is important. Whether you enjoy the rosary or not, it keeps you connected to the mother of Jesus and your mother. And when you’re connected to Mary, she keeps drawing you closer and closer to Jesus. Praying the rosary daily keeps you in check.

Rosary de Sales3. You’re in good company. The rosary has been prayed by countless Saints–I’d hazard a guess at nearly every Saint since it was introduced to the world. It’s a great equalizer, prayed by popes and peasants, geniuses and fools. Any given day, there are millions of people throughout the world praying the rosary. If it’s made saints of sinners for nearly a thousand years, who are you to refuse?

4. It consecrates a busy day. I’ve found that I struggle most when I try to sit down and pray a rosary all the way through. It just makes my mind wander more. Instead, I pray a decade as I drive to the store, half a decade while I’m waiting for the microwave. It seemed like cheating at first, until I realized: every time I have a free second, my automatic inclination is to pray. I’m squeezing the rosary in wherever I can which means my default action is prayer. Back in college (when I prayed three rosaries and still had time for naps) I used to pray the rosary to help myself fall asleep in the middle of the day. I did this so often that when I woke in the night, I found that I was praying Hail Marys. Maybe it’s better to set time aside for a full rosary, but when you’re fitting it in as best you can, it transforms your whole life.

Rosary Josemaria5. Sometimes mindless prayer is the best you can do. The rosary shouldn’t be mindless. It should be wrapped up in the mysteries of Christ’s life. But there are times when you can’t meditate. When God seems far, reading the Bible can be nothing but frustrating. Praise music rings hollow. There’s no time for the Liturgy of the Hours and you wouldn’t be able to mean it even if you tried. But the rosary you can do. Even when doubts are creeping in and you feel abandoned, you can cling to Mary’s apron string and murmur those words. Even when you’re so distracted by contractions or mile 24 of your marathon that you can’t think, you can repeat the prayers you’ve said so many times. Maybe you can’t call the images of the mysteries to mind, but you can keep saying the words–day in and day out–until they mean something again. If you’ve committed to a daily rosary, perhaps only stubbornness will keep you praying. But God can work in stubbornness to draw you back to him. Promise God a daily rosary in time of consolation and it will sustain you through desolation until you’re feeling his love again.

Devotion by Luke Fildes

Devotion by Luke Fildes

6. It’s something to cling to in a crisis. When all is well, the rosary is something I do out of duty. When my life comes crashing down around me, though, I run for my Momma. After a dreaded phone call, after a breakup, while racing to a survivor’s side, my hand reaches automatically for my rosary. Even while I’m struggling to see God working in my pain, I’m being drawn back to him by my Mother. When I’m lost, I’m already found because I go home to Mary before I even know what I’m about. Because the rosary is the rhythm of my life, it’s what I fall back on even when I’m not feeling it. Not song lyrics, not video games, not even phone calls to friends. It’s not even a decision because the commitment I’ve made makes it automatic. And that automatic turning to the rosary has gotten me through more than I ever would have imagined when I first picked one up 15 years ago.


I don’t know that I’ll ever like the rosary. Maybe one day I’ll be holy enough that I won’t spend the whole time distracted. Or maybe even at my holiest it still won’t fit my personality. No matter. I’ll pray it either way, not because of what it does for me but because of what it does to me, even when I don’t notice it.

Will you join me?

  1. Note to priests: it wouldn’t hurt if you switched it up some. []
  2. Pause for the reader to freak out, except that I already put it in the title, so maybe it’s no surprise. []
  3. Take that, rosary-loving priest! I mean…uh…bless me, Father, for I have sinned…. []
  4. Well, skimmed a book and then lent it to someone who forgot to give it back to me. Story of my life. []
  5. Or at least by Saint Dominic, if you want to call the story of the rosary a legend. []
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The Wrong Questions

We are a faithless people, aren’t we? We know to say “God is good” and follow it with “all the time” but the moment something goes wrong, we’re questioning him: “Why would God let this happen to me?” “What good could possibly come of this?” “How am I ever going to get through?” “When will God step in and save me?”

silhouette churchThey’re totally natural, those questions. And in a sense, they’re good because they do, at some level, presuppose that God has a purpose. But they’re the wrong questions. When we’re lost or suffering or alone, the question is not “Why?” or “How?” or “When?” The question is “Who?”

Who is this God we worship? If he’s a puppetmaster or a strategist, messing with our lives with no regard for our hearts, it makes sense to doubt him. But if he’s the God who is love, the God who calls Israel his darling,1 the God who was stripped naked, beaten to a pulp, and nailed to a cross to suffocate to death on the off chance that you’d love him back, we have to change our attitude. Because if that’s who God is, then your first thought in times of trouble ought to be, “The God who loves me is at work in this.”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see where God is in your pain or wondering when you’ll be released. The problem is when you’re seeking those answers because you don’t really trust that God is who he said he is: the Lord and Lover of souls.2

stream in French countrysideWhen people are suffering, I don’t often have answers. I can begin to see the ripples, the way their pain is working to make them holier and happier—ultimately. But in the moment of anguish, it doesn’t feel like enough. And so I find myself, again and again, saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know what God’s doing, but I know who he is. I know that he’s for you. I know that he loves you more than you could possibly imagine. I know that there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you. And so if he’s not stepping in to save you, I have to trust not in what I can see and understand but in who I know him to be. He is yours and you are his. There is nothing to fear.”

It’s the difference between Job and Jonah, the difference between a man whose response to difficulty is trust in God and a man whose response to prosperity is despair. Job loses everything and cries out, “Though he slay me, still will I trust in him.”3 And when he finally calls out to God, God doesn’t tell him what he’s doing. He doesn’t explain why he’s allowed Job to suffer. He simply says, “Remember who I am. Remember that I am wise and powerful, that I am sovereign creator.” Having known Christ, we can add, “Remember that I am for you. Remember that I am love.” And Job is content in knowing who God is, despite the miserable failure of his life.

Jonah, on the other hand, is called by God to be a prophet, an honor and a dignity sought by many in Israel. But Jonah doesn’t know why God would send him to the hated Ninevites and so he runs from God. In the belly of the fish, he relents, only to lament God’s will once again when his preaching is successful. He longs for death, a drama queen to the end. God reminds him that he loves the Ninevites, that he loves even their cattle, but Jonah is unsatisfied. He so caught up in his idea of how things ought to work, so caught up in the why and the how, that he’s forgotten the who.

Belgium sunriseYou will never understand God, whose ways are as far about your ways as the heavens above the earth.4 “What you understand is not God.”5 And holding him accountable to your plan dictated by your finite understanding of things is just ignorant. God would not be God, after all, if he were God the way you would be God if you were God.6 Read that again. He is God and you are not. And while there’s nothing wrong with asking, “Where is God in this?” or “What good thing is God doing?”, any questions you ask have to be rooted in the answer to the one question that matters: who is God?

Nietzsche claimed, “He who knows the why of his life can bear with almost any how.7 It certainly does help to have a sense of the why of your life but the more important question is the who. As you struggle through whatever situation is trying your soul right now, take this question to prayer. Who is God? What has he done in the past to reveal his power, his mercy, his love? What has he done in salvation history and what has he done in your life? Get to know the God of consolations instead of looking merely for the consolations of God. There is peace.

2014-10-22 17.28.35

  1. Is 44:2 []
  2. Wis 11:26 []
  3. Job 13:15 []
  4. Is 55:9 []
  5. St. Augustine []
  6. Thanks to Msgr. Edward Dillon for that marvelous line that’s brought me through many a confusing situation. []
  7. With thanks to Fr. Stephen Billington for the quotation and the response. []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

I Talk a Big Game

Remember when I told you how I’m so good at trusting God now? Ha. Just like 2 years ago, I trust him plenty in the big things. The day-to-day gets a little dicier. Let me tell you what happened the very day I wrote that post about trusting God in Turkey.

Boiled pigs' blood that takes like floury charcoal. Glad I tried it, but next time I think I'll pass.

Boiled pigs’ blood that takes like floury charcoal. Glad I tried it, but next time I think I’ll pass.

The day started off a little rough with black pudding, which is (unsurprisingly) not my new favorite food. After Mass, I headed to the train station to get on my way to lovely Oxford. I waited in a long line at the ticket counter only to discover that I could have saved 30 pounds on my train ticket if I’d bought it the night before, as I was considering doing. 30 pounds! I stewed over the money for a while (as I am wont to do) but really had a rough time getting over it. I’ve got the money to spare, I just hated that being stupid cost me 50 bucks. Pride.

Nursing wounded pride, I caught my train to Oxford, where I was planning to head straight to Littlemore to see the home of Blessed John Henry Newman, a great favorite of mine. But, of course, I have no data plan over here. So I asked how to catch the 16 bus and tried to follow the directions I was given through the winding streets of Oxford. With no map and no sense of where I was going, it took me a frustrating hour to find the stop. By the time I got there, I had only an hour before Newman’s home closed for the day and a 20 minute bus ride still to take.

Rushing unaware past beautiful and historic things the whole time. Like this church, where Newman preached his last sermon as an Anglican before draping his master's hood across the altar as a sign that he was renouncing his preaching authority in the Church of England. Quite a flair for the dramatic, that one.

Rushing unaware past beautiful and historic things the whole time. Like this church, where Newman preached his last sermon as an Anglican before draping his master’s hood across the altar as a sign that he was renouncing his preaching authority in the Church of England. Quite a flair for the dramatic, that one.

So I got in what I thought was a “queue.” My bus pulled up and I waited patiently as the line inched forward, pleased with myself for doing the proper British thing. Until my bus pulled away. At which point I discovered that people getting on that bus got out of the line to board the bus while the others moved forward to wait for a different bus. I had missed my bus even though I was standing there! I was furious and near tears. The next bus wasn’t due for half an hour. By the time I got to Littlemore, I’d only have ten minutes!

But I’ve loved Newman for years, so I stayed in line, trying very hard not to hate my stupid self. When my bus finally came, 30 agonizing minutes later, the old lady in front of me told the driver she was getting off at Catholic Church, Littlemore. Generally, I try to take care of myself, but after the afternoon I’d had, I wasn’t above asking for help. I had to endure some awkward racist comments1 but she pointed the way and I was off for a few minutes with Newman!

Except the door was locked.

Me with a bust of John Henry Newman. At his house. In the room where he was received into the Church. Across from the desk where he wrote his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

Me with a bust of John Henry Newman. At his house. In the room where he was received into the Church. Across from the desk where he wrote his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

But Ivy hadn’t left me yet. She and her friend Ruby were waiting at the corner to see if I’d gotten where I needed to go. And when it was clear I hadn’t, Ruby took me around to every door—even behind gates I would never have opened—until someone answered. Turns out the place had been closed all day. But since Ruby knew the community running it, I got a private tour of Newman’s library (the room where he was received into the Church) and bedroom and chapel. How marvelous!

If I hadn’t been lost, if I hadn’t missed my bus, if I hadn’t been so frustrated that I caved and asked for help, I never would have gotten in. Every single stupid, frustrating thing of my day was leading toward this. Everything I was so upset about, angry and lamenting my terrible life, was making such a beautiful afternoon possible.

God isn’t just in the big things. He’s in the small things, too. Maybe God isn’t protecting you from riot police. Maybe he’s just getting you a little lost or making you miss your bus. Or maybe he’s putting Ruby on the bus you’ll be on. Somehow he’s working, in big things and small. Especially in small.

It’s easy to tell the stories of how all the bad things were leading to a good thing that ties up all the loose ends and makes for a pleasant resolution. I tell those because I know the happy endings. But there are other upsetting stories whose happy endings I don’t know. The traffic jam that kept you out of a car accident. The broken bulb that sent you to the store where you walked by an old man and reminded him to call his daughter. The bad grade that made you stop at the library where you checked out a book that was then at the top of the pile where someone who needed it could see it.

One day, we’ll know all the happy endings. One day, we’ll know the only happy ending that matters. Until then, I’ll keep trying to trust the Author that the plot twists are working to resolve something, in my storyline or another.

Oh, and by the end of the day, strangers had given me 30 pounds. They probably would have anyway, but I wouldn’t have seen the hand of God in it so well if it hadn’t been exactly the amount whose loss I was lamenting. Glory be to the God of small things.

With the lamp post that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia. I almost died.

With the lamp post that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia. I almost died.

  1. When a Muslim lady got on the bus: “There’s too many foreigners here now.” “Well, I’m a foreigner.” “Oh, no you’re not dear. I mean those Muslims.” “I love her scarf. Isn’t that pretty?” I mean, how do you correct the racist remarks of an old British lady who’s doing you a favor? I just changed the subject. []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments