What the Gospel and Rosary Teach Us About Good Works

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is from Matthew.  I’m only including the part I’m going to reflect on in this article.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

In this Gospel passage, John the Baptist makes a distinction between piety and good works.  The Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves good people because they followed the Mosaic law to the letter.  But John implies in his comparison to a tree not bearing good fruit that just following rules or having a certain status does not lead to salvation.  One must follow up with good works, charity, and compassion.

Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees
Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good works, charity, and compassion were the cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry.  He came into this world, not as someone of status and authority, but as a servant who ministered to those people society had excluded.  Jesus repeatedly taught that what matters most to God is what someone does, not what their title is.  Whether it was teaching the golden rule or telling the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had to charity, Jesus’ ministry centered around instilling the value of good works and sacrifice.  Inversely, those who only followed rules and sought status and honor He routinely called hypocrites.

This past Thursday’s Gospel from Matthew echoes a very similar message:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Notice how Jesus is saying that just accepting Him as the Savior is not enough.  You have to follow up with action what you proclaim in your words.  To put it in more modern terms (but now maybe ridiculously outdated), you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

When you hear and read this Gospel, meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary, The Visitation.  Think about Mary in this mystery, someone who recently learned that she was to be the mother to the Massiah.  What does she do?  Does she flaunt the fact that an angel visited her?  Does she go about looking for an elevated stature in the community?  No.  Instead, she travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth and helps her through her pregnancy although she herself was pregnant.  Mary’s initial action after the Annunciation was one of charity.

Also, consider the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary when you reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel.  Mary was assumed into Heaven and now acts as our intermediary to her son, Jesus Christ.  Even when bestowed the title Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery), she has never stopped actively guiding us through the minefield of life.  She protects us from evil, helps those who ask for her assistance, and has continually appeared to many delivering a message similar to John the Baptist in the Gospel — Jesus loves you and wants you close to him, but you must make the effort to love Him through good works, charity, and compassion.

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What This Sunday’s Gospel Teaches Us About Vocations

I read this great article about the role of women in the Catholic Church and how women not being ordained priests should not be equated with having a lesser status or role within the Church.  From the Catholic News Agency, Ana Cristina Villa, a consecrated laywoman with the Marian Community of Reconciliation, writes:

“I think that is a big distortion for the vocation of women, because women are obviously not the clergy,” she said, explaining that “when you get into this discussion about women in the Church you have to understand that there is a wider context.”

In her view, Catholic faithful need to grow in their understanding that, “according to their own vocation,” all “baptized are the Church and all baptized are called to feel the Church as their own and to contribute to the Church.”

When I read the CNA article, my mind immediately recalled this upcoming Sunday’s Gospel. We will be celebrating Jesus as King and yet the Gospel for Sunday focuses on His crucifixion. This highlights how people’s expectations of Christ the King did not match up with the reality — one of the suffering servant. They expected an earthly king with all the power that they envisioned. What they got, but many did not see, was someone infinitely more powerful; not bounded by worldly power but possessing salvational power.

The reason why the CNA article relates to this Sunday’s Gospel is that God created a special role for all of us in His Church. Just because women aren’t intended for the priesthood does not make them any less important. Jesus was not the worldly king people envisioned but that did not make Him any less powerful. When it comes to how we envision women’s role in the Church, we should not limit our thinking to titles and responsibilities.  Otherwise, we fall into the same narrow-minded thinking as those who crucified Jesus for not meeting their pre-conceived notion of a king.

What I want to call your attention to is the importance of reading the Gospel daily and the Sunday Gospel a few days in advance.  If I had not read this Sunday’s Gospel, I would have missed some of the deeper meaning in the article.  By reading scripture and praying the rosary, I can put all the news and events in my life into a perspective that I otherwise might miss.  If you don’t already pray the rosary and read scripture regularly, give it a try.  Advent is right around the corner and it would be a good time to start.

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How the Rosary Teaches Us About Jesus’ Mercy

This Sunday we celebrate The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  The Gospel is from St. Luke:

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The rosary connection is fairly obvious as St. Luke writes about Jesus’ crucifixion which is the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery.  Here we see Jesus’ divine power amidst His human weakness.  Battered and broken, Jesus is minutes away from shedding His humanity by dying on the cross.  But almost like a scale, what Jesus loses through his physical body is counter-balanced by His authority and power in the spiritual realm.  He shows us He is king, not by any earthly standard, but by redeeming us all through suffering and death.

Jesus, on the cross, is mocked in Calvary as t...
Jesus, on the cross, is mocked in Calvary as the King of the Jews, Luke 23:36-37 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is amazing is that Jesus’ kingly authority is so transparent to one criminal and opaque to the other.  One challenges Jesus to save them while the other humbly asks Jesus to simply remember him.  And doesn’t the difference in the two criminals interaction with Jesus remind us of how we often treat Jesus?  One day we humbly ask Him for guidance and protection and other days we are challenging Him to prove Himself by answering our every wish and desire.  Sometimes we treat Jesus as King of Heaven and humbly submit to His will.  And other times we come close to threatening Him if He does not give us what we want.

When you reflect on this Gospel and pray the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, ask yourself, how much of your life is spent treating Jesus as your king and how much as your servant?  Do you have the strength to look past your immediate circumstances and see that Jesus is willing to offer you something so much better — eternal joy in His Heavenly Kingdom?  Instead of telling Jesus what you want Him to do, do you have the faith to just ask Him to remember you knowing that He will take care of you?

The Church is celebrating the year of mercy.  Consider this.  Both criminals crucified next to Jesus were sinners.  But Jesus showed mercy telling one that he would be with Jesus in paradise that day.  Jesus’ power and mercy are so great, there is no amount or type of sin that it cannot overpower.  All you have to do is humbly ask the Lord to remember you.

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How Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Complete Faith in God

Hopefully, you can take a break from all the election related news and meditate on this Sunday’s Gospel.  It’s a long one so I’m just pasting the part I want to focus on in this post.

“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

This Gospel reading focuses on the importance of having faith by putting your life entirely in God’s hands.  We all too often think that we can manage our lives on own without help from anyone, including God.  When faced with challenges, many of us have a tendency to try to fight it on our own because we would think of ourselves as weak by admitting that we need help.  Or we will think that we somehow cheated by receiving assistance.

Illustration for Cheating Français : Illustrat...
“No fair! You got help from God!”

Jesus tells us not to be foolish.  God offers us not only His assistance but is willing to take the entire burden if only we let Him.  Jesus told his disciples to not prepare a defense for He would provide wisdom.  That promise is not just true for times of persecution, but for all our challenges, big and small, we encounter daily.

So many of us only tentatively accept God’s help and usually only on our terms.  We tend to treat God’s help as a last resort.  We come to Him in prayer when all else seems to have failed.  This creates a manager/employee relationship where we falsely take the role of manager and God exists to take direction from us.  The Gospel tells us that we need to put God 100% in control of our lives.  Any other amount shows arrogance on our part believing that we can manage our lives any better than God can.

When I think about the power of faith, the Fifth Luminous Mystery of the rosary comes to mind.  Jesus asks us to have incredible faith in His presence in the Eucharist.  He asks us to put away that idea that what we see, smell, feel, and taste is not a piece of bread but is entirely Him!  That is a tall order and similar to the amount of faith He asked of His disciples to let Him guide them when faced with challenges and persecution.

English: Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, t...
English: Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, the Body of Christ. The Eucharist is held in a modern monstrance, flanked by candles. We gaze over the shoulders of altar servers who are kneeling in adoration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we should remember that all things good come from God.  A reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us of that fact:

For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?

If God wants nothing but the best for you, do you have enough faith to yield to His Will 100%?  Or are you holding anything back?  Jesus tells us he will take care of us.  Is your faith strong enough that you believe Him?

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Book Review: Be a Man

Are you a person who:

  1. reads the Bible?  Are you spending time reading Scripture every day?  Are you living with the mindset, “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed?”
  2. surrenders to the Holy Spirit?  Do you make a commitment to say a daily prayer of submission to the Holy Spirit?
  3. takes responsibility for your life and your past and not blame others?

Those are three of thirty tasks that Father Larry Richards asks of his readers in his book, Be a Man: Becoming the Man God Created you to be.  In this book, he explores how one grows strong in faith by imitating the manly example of Jesus Christ.  Through stories of his ministry and personal experiences, Fr. Larry breaks down the popular misconception that being deeply spiritual and close to God is something weak or passive.  His book reflects an attitude of a drill instructor or fitness coach telling people to “man up” and actively embrace their faith.

Despite its title, Be a Man is a great guide book for all Catholics, not just men.  Except for a few stories and maybe a few male-specific words of advice, this book will just as easily appeal to women as well as men.  To me, the title seems more like a marketing gimmick to separate itself from all the other “how to live a Catholic lifestyle” books that are available.

Father Larry Richards’ advice is not an easy one.  He is very up front that living a truly Catholic life is difficult.  But he stresses the importance of “manning up” and tackling those challenges because it will ultimately benefit you and the ones you love.  At its core, he lays down arguments on the importance of dedicating your life to God.  Contrary to popular belief, lay people are called to lead a fully spiritual life of prayer, fasting, chastity, charity, and dedication to following God’s will just like any ordained priest.  God does not let us off easy just because we happen to be on the other side of the alter during Mass.

Personally, my largest takeaway from the book is the need to go to church more than once a week on Sunday.  As Fr. Larry says, the Our Father says “give us our daily bread.”  It does not say “weekly bread.”  Even if you cannot attend daily Mass, it is important to try to go into a church, say a few prayers, and tell God that you are starting your day as his disciple.  While I have not been able to go to church every day, I do try to find times to squeeze it in when I can.  I hope, much like rosary prayer, it provides a sense of peace knowing that God is in control and is guiding me regardless of the chaos of our world.

This book has been out for seven years and has a 5-star rating on Amazon.  It is that good and is something you will want to give away to your friends and family after you read it.  Buy a copy and be the one who starts a new chain of lending of this powerful book.

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What Rosary Prayer Teaches us About Initiative

This Sunday’s Gospel (10/30/16) comes from Luke:

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

What I find most interesting is how St. Luke makes specific mention of Zacchaeus’ short stature and how he climbed a tree to see Jesus.  He could have just as easily started this story with “Jesus encountered a tax collector named Zacchaeus.”  Why the inclusion of the tree climb?

Zacchaeus being called down from the tree. Fro...
Zacchaeus being called down from the tree. From book: The Life of Jesus of Nazareth. Eighty Pictures. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zacchaeus did not let his short height dissuade him from seeing Jesus.  Instead, he did whatever he could because seeing Jesus was important to him.  And because of his conviction and conversion, Jesus gives Zacchaeus the gift of salvation.  Zacchaeus’ introduction shows us that we all have our limitations and hardships in this life.  And yet, we must find a way to “see” Jesus in our lives despite life’s challenges and distractions.  When seen through this lens, Zacchaeus’ story sounds more like this popular teaching from Jesus:

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Might as well add, “Climb and you will be seen.”

I think many times we let our situation dissuade us from truly embracing and practicing out faith.  I know I often fall into the thinking of, “well, I’m not a priest,” to justify times when I have not tried hard enough to further my relationship with Jesus.  It is so easy to blame work, health, family, or financial difficulties for not praying more often, not going to Mass, not receiving the sacraments, and not being charitable.  But as Zacchaeus’ story indicates, those are excuses and not very good ones at that.  We need to make our relationship with Jesus a priority and do whatever it takes to receive His grace.  Sometimes the road will be easy but other times we need to be like Zacchaeus and think outside the box.

Zacchaeus’ story ties nicely with the Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Nativity.  The shepherds in the fields dropped what they were doing to go praise the newborn savior.  I previously wrote about how risky it was for shepherds to leave their flock.  But they understood the importance of seeing Jesus much like Zacchaeus.  They did not allow doubt or concern over their jobs dissuade them from encountering Christ.

English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Me...
English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. Español: Portal de Belén en la Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires Français : Crèche de Noël dans la Cathédrale métropolitaine de Buenos-Aires (Argentine) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we pray and meditate on the Third Joyful rosary mystery, let us ask God for strength and maybe even a little knowledge to break out of our routines and doubts so that we can truly encounter Jesus.  He’s there; always waiting for us and will welcome us into communion with Him.  But maybe we just need to get over our worries and maybe put a little more effort to go to Him.

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The Importance of Reading the Sunday Gospel on Monday

It is honesty time!  When is the first time you typically read or hear the Sunday Gospel reading?  Do you:

  • read it a few days before Sunday?
  • glance over it in the missal before Mass?
  • hear it for the first time as it is being read during Sunday Mass?
  • usually run late and miss the Gospel entirely?

I’m guessing that many of you said that the first time you hear the Sunday Gospel is during Mass.  And that is not bad by any means.  But I think someone can get so much more out of the Sunday Gospel by putting in more time and effort reading it midweek.  This is why I try to prepare an article connecting the Gospel to the rosary so that you have time to meditate on it before Sunday Mass.

I’m going to share with you an analogy on preparation from my experience in software engineering.  Talk to any software programmer and they will tell you how they wish they could go back in time and start their project from scratch in order to correct mistakes based on what they discovered while developing their code.  No matter how experienced we are, our initial drafts of code just never have the same level of polish as later drafts.  There is nothing more valuable than just working out a problem over the course of several days often making new discoveries and having novel insights that do not come in shorter time frames.

I think the same principle applies to the Sunday Gospel reading.  The more times you read it and meditate on it, the more you discover and learn.  It makes intuitive sense that someone who has read and meditated on the Gospel five times will have a deeper understanding of it than someone who hears it once at Mass.  The homily does not become the only reflection on the Gospel, but more of the cherry on top of a week-long exercise of prayer and meditation.

I’ve found that layering the Sunday Gospel, daily readings, and the rosary into my daily prayer routine helps form a much richer spiritual life.  I start to see connections between the rosary mysteries and the Gospel readings that were not immediately apparent in initial readings.  Those repeated readings motivate me to approach God in different ways — asking for forgiveness, thanking Him for His many blessings, asking for His guidance, etc.  I start to see current events through the lens of the Gospel and rosary of Jesus’ teachings.

What are you waiting for?  The daily and Sunday Gospels are readily available for you to read anytime.  I like to view them on the web page of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) but you can choose whatever location that suits you best.  Even better, pick up a lector’s workbook and keep it somewhere visible like on your nightstand.

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Speak Up! — What Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Stating Intentions

Do you remember one of the early scenes in Million Dollar Baby where Client Eastwood’s character kneels in prayer next to his bed? He says something to the extent, “Lord, you know what I want, there’s no use in me repeating myself.” Boy, how often can I relate to that sentiment! I sometimes think to myself that God knows everything and definitely knows my intentions and my needs better than myself so why go through the exercise of formulating them in prayer? The Gospel reading from 10/6/16 addresses this dilemma.

Last Thursday’s Gospel reading included this popular verse from Luke:

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The Regnum Christi website’s meditation on this Gospel reading talks about how we fall into the sin of pride when we don’t explicitly ask God for help through prayer.  From their website:

When I Don’t Ask for What I Need, I Treat God as My Servant: When we expect God to give us all we need without asking, are we not placing the whole burden of our salvation on him and nothing on ourselves? Are we not in a sense being lazy? “You know what I need, Lord. Just give it to me, take care of it, while I focus on my own interests.” Not only is this laziness, it is pride, treating God like a servant whose role is to provide whatever I need. We forget he is God. Certainly God is generous and loving, willing to give us everything that is good for us; but he is still God, and he deserves our respect, adoration, and especially our gratitude.

The rosary connection to this Gospel reading is the Fifth Glorious MysteryMary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven.  Traditionally, the mother of a king held tremendous prestige because while a king may have multiple wives, he only has one mother.  The king’s mother was referred to as the gebira.  It makes sense then that Christ, being King of Heaven, would coronate his mother Mary as Queen of Heaven.

The chief responsibility of the gebira was to act as a mediator and speak on behalf of the king.  When we pray the rosary, we acknowledge Mary as our mediator of our needs and intentions to her son, Jesus Christ.  But she can better mediate on our behalf when we consciously and humbly come to her and ask for her help in prayer.

Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671
Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Think of Mary like a doctor and you are the patient.  Mary is here to help you and she will do whatever she can to cure the illness of sin and bring you into God’s grace.  However, she will be better able to help you if you are forthright and honest with her by humbly stating your needs in prayer.  The better the patient you are, the more effective Mary can be in her role as your Queen of Heaven.  When you can formulate your intentions in prayer then you will be able to understand how God responds to your request.

If you know what ails you spiritually, speak up!  Because if can’t form the request in your head, how will you recognize the heavenly response?

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Committing Ourselves to Victory: October and the Feast of the Rosary

It’s October. For many of us, that means complaining about pumpkin flavored food and drinks being offered everywhere, acting surprised how early the Christmas season starts every year, gloomy weather, and Halloween.  What I often forget is that October is the month of the holy rosary.  That’s extremely embarrassing since I run a rosary website!  May and October should be my rosary playoff season where I give 100% effort praying the rosary as well as writing about it.

I think it is important to understand why October is a month dedicated to the rosary because it highlights the power and importance of the rosary.  You need to go back to October 7, 1571, to the Battle of Lepanto.  This was a huge naval battle between the Christian European nations under the banner of the Holy League and Ottoman Turks that were advancing through the Middle East and across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

The Christian fleet was vastly outnumbered.  Pope Pius V called on the faithful to pray the rosary publicly asking for the intercession of the Blessed Mother to halt the Turkish armies.  Despite all odds, the European fleet defeated the Turkish one and the victory was attributed to Mary’s intercession through rosary prayer.  Pope Pius established an annual commemoration to honor Our Lady of Victory, and his successor, Gregory XIII, decreed that the first Sunday in October would be the feast of the Holy Rosary.  The Church then extended the celebration of the rosary throughout the entire month of October.

lepanto_f3
Polish procession – detail of Battle of Lepanto by Tomasz Dolabella

Rosary prayer and asking for Mary’s intercession helped the European navy to overcome overwhelming odds at the Battle of Lepanto.  But the answer to those prayers didn’t come in the form of legions of angels visibility descending from Heaven or God sending a huge title wave swallowing the Turkish fleet.  The rosary did the seemingly impossible by transforming the hearts of minds of those involved in the battle.

Remember, the Turkish ships were mostly powered on the backs of captured Christian slaves.  Many accounts speak of these slaves sacrificing their own lives by intentionally moving and orienting the Turkish vessels in ways that gave the European fleet clear shots and other advantages.  I believe it was rosary prayer and dedication to Mary that gave these slaves and soldiers the courage to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

God’s answers to our prayers are not always what we expect.  In fact, the answer may not be something that is even easy or pleasant.  The victory at Lepanto was achieved through the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers and slaves.  Our redemption was achieved through the sacrifice of God’s only son Jesus Christ.  If you find yourself doubting the effectiveness of prayer, commit yourself to praying the rosary this month asking God for both faith and peace in his divine plan for you.  If rosary prayer changed the course of history at the Battle of Lepanto, surely it can achieve the even more difficult goal of increasing our faith and turning our hearts towards God.

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