It is almost time for me to put away at least some of my Christmas decorations. I am a figurine collector. All year round, most of the flat surfaces of my living space display some sort of decorative accessory amid framed family photos. Christmastime is special, with a number of angel figurines, three figures of singing children figures, and two Nativity scenes. There is also a Christmas village with small figures engaged in seasonal activities. So it is a job to put all these decorations back into their storage boxes.
I noticed this morning something that should have been obvious. The traditional décor is sharing the space with additional occupants: small bottles of disinfectants and sanitizers. I had left them out so as to be handy and to remind my husband and me of the importance of trying to avoid contracting any viruses lurking beyond our domicile.
I have a bowl of peppermint candies handy near my front door; I often grab one on my way out the door just to make sure my breath is not offensive to anyone I might encounter.
I got to thinking about the idea of keeping important things handy. I possess a large number of small prayer pamphlets and holy cards I have gotten from many different sources. They are stuffed in among books on my three bookcases, but they are not really handy or obvious reminders like the sanitizers on my tabletops.
When I taught second graders in Sunday school, I tried to explain why we sometimes choose to sin. I would slowly walk backwards as I talked about what I called “back-up thinking” and explained to the children that we make choices that we initially see as good. For example, I see Susie’s unattended candy bar on her desk. I like the taste of candy; it is good; she is not at her desk, so I can safely take the candy and eat it. My thinking stops there, and I take the candy bar. However, if I back up farther, I might say, “But God says stealing is a sin, and I am not being the best person I can be in this situation if I choose to sin.”
Thinking things through is important, but it may take a little extra reverse-thinking time. In this speedy 21st century, we are used to thinking and doing things in a forward hurry, sometimes without thorough consideration. We also get into habits that are really thought shortcuts. Sometimes with habits comes less sense of value or appreciation. We might take some things for granted or get a bit lax.
Have you ever thought of backing up in some block of your routine and perhaps switching into slower first gear just to get a new perspective? I read an article years ago about changing the usual way you do something just to keep your brain active and flexible. For example, how about sitting on a different chair at your kitchen table? How about holding your toothbrush in your non-dominant hand as you brush your teeth?
In a more spiritual vein, I got to thinking about backing up and saying grace in-between courses of a special meal instead of before and after the meal. It may cause some interesting family conversation at the dinner table—for example, thanking God for our tastebuds, being grateful for Grandma and her recipe for baked potatoes, praying a prayer for the truckers who deliver the foods to the stores.
So often I hear about praying one “Our Father,” one “Hail Mary,” and one “Glory Be” part of a series. How about mindfully praying them in the opposite order? Granted, routines are useful for efficiency and comfort, but especially now, during this pandemic, when our routines are somewhat disrupted anyway, it may be a good time to back up and start over in some areas of our lives. Take a new detour. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you be creative.
We might start some new spiritual habits, such as praying daily an abbreviated version of the Divine Office or praying a decade of the rosary in breaks throughout the day. Meditate on just a few verses of a book of the New Testament. We might back up and look again at little near occasions of sin to avoid—-maybe certain words we shouldn’t use or thought patterns we should avoid—-one patient backup step at a time.
October is the month the faithful devote to Marian devotions and praying the rosary. Our Blessed Mother deserves all the appreciation and respect we can give her. I offer 10 short meditations and prayers relating to her unique life.
1. The Immaculate Conception. From the very moment of her conception in Anne’s womb, Mary was free from any taint or inclination to sin. Innocent and spotless, Mary was highly favored and being prepared by God for her life of sacrificial love.
O Mary, conceived without sin,
pray for us who are trying to resist temptation
and to atone for our many small and not-so-small sins.
2. The Annunciation. (Luke 1:26-38) Gentle Mary, bathed in Gabriel’s angelic light, was ready to surrender to God’s will regardless of her youth and inexperience. Her brave openness to God is truly inspirational.
Mary, thank you for your humble generosity.
Help us be ready to do God’s will.
Pray for us that we may understand what is asked of us
and trust in God’s protection in every challenge.
3. The Visitation. (Luke 1:39-56) Mary shared joy with her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth. The two women were together one trimester, serving, loving, and encouraging each other as their babies grew within them.
Joyful Mary, be our example of joy as the word of Jesus grows in us,
and we endeavor to share it with our families and companions.
4. The Nativity of Our Lord. (Luke 2:1-7) In far from ideal circumstances, Mary gave birth to our Savior. The sights and smells around her must have presented numerous problems in the stable setting as Jesus entered the world.
Mother Mary, intercede for us with your Son.
Please ask Him to help us to make the best of bad situations.
May we learn your patience and ingenuity as we strive
to help the helpless in our troubled world.
5. The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. (Luke 2:22-38) Amazed by the words of Simeon and Anna, Mary paid attention to these holy people. Mary followed prescriptions of the Law and treasured the good words in her heart that would eventually be pierced as with a sword.
Sweet Mary, pray for us that we may keep our worries at bay
and try to stay optimistic with the knowledge that
our merciful God does not abandon us.
6. The Flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-15) Most likely with a measure of anxiety and urgency, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous plan for their Son. Just thinking about that journey that, most certainly, was far from comfortable makes us more aware of how comfortable our life often is.
Mary, pray for us that we may use good judgement
in our care of ourselves and our loved ones.
Remind us not to take our freedom and safety for granted.
7. Searching for 12-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:42-50) Mary and Joseph must have been concerned when, for a while, they could not locate Jesus. Their understanding of Jesus’ mission fell somewhat short, according to their son. We might remember, if we are parents, when our young children’s agendas were not what we expected or encouraged. Parenting is not easy.
Long-suffering Mary, pray for us who sometimes lose close contact
with your son through laziness, omission, or sin.
Remind us to see Jesus in the poor and the lonely,
especially now as we suffer through the pandemic.
8. The Wedding at Cana. (John 2:1-11) Mary knew her son well enough to expect he would somehow help the host who was caught short on wine. Although Jesus said it was really not his time, he helped after all.
Wise Mary, pray for us as we try to do whatever Jesus tells us to do
to turn our problems into solutions, to never sell ourselves short.
Ask the Holy Spirit, to bless us with wisdom.
9. Dying, Jesus gives Mary to Us. (John 19:26-27) Jesus gave Mary into John’s care. As Jesus hung on the cross, he thought of others. Mary, in her agony at seeing her son’s suffering, is given a mission to mother all of us.
Mary, mother of all of God’s children, hold us closely as a loving mother does.
Be our model of perseverance.
Keep us mindful of the price your son paid for our eternal reward.
10. The Assumption of Mary. How ecstatic Mary must have been when she, in her body, was assumed into heaven and reunited with her son! Mary, the Queen of Heaven, had fulfilled her mission of love on earth. And, in heaven, she still loves all of us!
Dearest Mary, we thank you for all you do for us,
for all of your intercessory prayers.
Hail Mary! Full of grace! Praise to the Queen of Heaven!
Painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, CT. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.
RENEW's two Marian resources, At Prayer With Mary and No Temas, María will deepen your appreciation of and devotion to our Blessed Mother Mary and enrich your prayer experiences. Appropriate for seasonal groups, small Christian communities, and individual reflection and prayer.