Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Grace in Action

If there is anything that places me squarely on the introvert side of the spectrum, it is that for eight days I traveled the country (four of them in the car) and ate fast food and consumed ungodly amounts of chips and salsa and guacamole, and pan dulce and breakfast tacos, and had several servings of alcohol for several days in a row, and when I came home I found that I'd lost a pound or two. Sure, you can chalk that up to muscles atrophying in the car, but I have to think that it has something to do with the sheer amount of energy I burn up in being "on" when I am in society. Being "on" isn't performance mode or anything. It's a social awareness, a mental filter which keeps me from running my mouth too much, graciousness as an activity as much as an attitude -- none of which are all that difficult, and most of which are second nature, and yet which consume strange quantities of energy. I recently realized that my preference for doing nothing at all militates against the fact that I am my best self when I have to shake off lethargy and live for other people. It gets me out of the house, it seems to be more effective than diet and exercise for my health, and it keeps me from sloth. But oh, I am so tired when I get home.

While driving, we read the gospel passage about the two men forgiven their respective debts of 500 pounds and 50 pounds. Although neither could pay, the man forgiven more was more grateful, perhaps because the man forgiven the lesser debt figured that his benefactor really hadn't put himself out all that much. It was just 50 pounds, right? No big deal for a rich guy. But every kind of deal to someone who can't pay. I'm that 50-pound debtor. In the grand historical sense, my faults are pretty pedestrian. I can't get organized. I do what I want, to the exclusion of what I ought. I can't be bothered. I find it easier to create interesting fictions in my head than to do the boring grunt work of reality. Minor stuff, maybe, but I can't seem to break free on my own. It doesn't matter if the trap is big or small if you can't get out of it. I have to have grace, or I cannot die to myself. Do you understand how easy it is to be inspired by spiritual reading or scripture, and how hard it is to start dinner on time or to speak mildly to a whiny, provoking child? And yet the fruit of the former is in how I deal with the latter, and it avails me nothing to have deep thoughts if I cannot walk the tedious walk. I must have grace, or I perish, and I drag little souls down with me.

To that end, I've been thinking about the rosary. Again. It's time to dispense with the idea that I can consult my own tastes and simply go with the style of prayer I prefer. Every time I come across a saint talking about the value of simply living the Christian life, it turns out that the saint is already saying the rosary and having a regular prayer time. Heh. I think that the way to approach the rosary, for myself, is as if it and I were in an arranged marriage. Not a sexy arranged marriage, like the kind in books, where, as an outside observer, you already know that the characters are made for one another and that love will blossom around page 300. This is an awkward arranged marriage in which I need to make my peace with this prayer and do my best to treat it with civility and respect because I'm going to have to live with it for a long time whether I find it interesting or not. As I find that more and more of the saints have said the rosary and had a great devotion to it, I begin to suspect that the problem here might be me, and not the prayer.

What helps is to break it up into bite-sized chunks, and lo, it comes in convenient decades. Right now my decade is the second sorrowful mystery, The Scourging. When I find myself assailed by temptation, I pray this one because of Isaiah 53:5, "By his stripes we are healed." Scourging is the kind of visceral brutality I hate to think about, but when I consider that each rent in Jesus's body actually heals a rent in my soul, I find more courage to face it headlong. His body is disfigured so that the scars of my sin can be softened and transformed by the blood dripping onto them. I do take a mild comfort in fact that I too have given life through the literal disfigurement and tearing and scarring of my body. (Still not watching The Passion of the Christ again, though.)

And yet, here's a lot of talk about how great prayer is, but the proof will be if I actually say the rosary tonight when I get into bed. Talk is so stupidly, ridiculously easy -- I could extemporize about praying the mysteries of the rosary all day. But the doing of it is stupidly, ridiculously hard. Lord, help me to act rather than talk. Without your grace, I can, and will, do nothing at all.


Anonymous said...

I think your description of your relationship with the rosary is spot on for me, too. But I've been at it for a month or so now. I find it helps enormously if I fit it in during the day. Shower rosary, watching the little kids play outside rosary, cooking dinner rosary. Ideal? No. Sometimes just mechanical because my mind and body are otherwise occupied, but if I wait until bed, I pass out. And if I do stay awake, my mind wanders no matter what! But I find myself less resentful and more enthusiastic about the job if I do it during the day.

Good luck!


Sarah said...

Well there's your problem: you're trying to do it in bed! Any time I think "oh I'll pray before falling asleep" it never happens.

Agreed on the introvert thing too. It takes a ridiculous amount of energy just being at work around people all day, even though I like my job. It's hard to remember that pure isolation isn't good for the soul....

Anonymous said...

No better way to drift off to sleep -- I was always told if you fall asleep, your guardian angel finishes for you. :) I can relate to so much of this! One thing I am trying to overcome my difficulties with the rosary is using Christianica (sp?) Publications's Scriptural Rosary. The booklet is great if you can sit down and say with others, and the CD is nice for the car, while doing chores, etc. I don't absolutely love the recording but it doesn't have annoying voices or music like so many devotional cds.

Enbrethiliel said...


Coincidentally, I had my own rosary habit jump-started for me again, by two things. The first was a reminder of St. Louis de Montfort's saying that devotion to the rosary is a sign of predestination. He wrote (and I paraphrase) that as crazy as the idea sounds, he has never seen someone who prays the rosary every day going astray, even if that person had been a notorious sinner in the past . . . but again and again he has seen those who disparage the rosary just growing worse and worse. And as odd a red flag as it is, I can't argue with it: a friend of mine who, two years ago, actually argued with people who promoted the rosary has since lost her faith. So now I say my rosary for both of us.

The second thing was a note at the beginning of a very pious prayer booklet (the kind that lists the promises and indulgences that accompany every prayer), which said that the devotions in it were for those who want to pray more after they have finished the rosary. To think I had picked up the booklet because I had wanted something different from the rosary. =P

Well, maybe there is a third reason . . . I've been reading quite a bit about the Mass this year, and a few months ago I started thinking that it was insane that any priest who could offer the greatest prayer ever would actually want to be laicised. To which my inner advocatus diaboli retorted, "You can offer the second greatest prayer ever and you rarely do that."

PS -- Piggybacking on what Chris said, for me the waiting-for-the-bus rosary and riding-the-bus rosary are the best. Lying-in-bed rosary? My Guardian Angel knows it's an excuse for me to be lazy. ;-) No offense to anyone who finds this way the best way and whose Guardian Angels don't mind!