Free Will and the Nature of Suffering

I’ve read many articles lately about suffering. It’s probably the cold, dark January weather that makes people dwell on the nature of suffering. Perhaps it’s the ending of Christmas celebrations that depress us a bit. Or maybe it’s that we’re going into year three of Covid craziness. Suffering is confusing. Why does suffering exist? Couldn’t God have created a universe where no one suffers?

I break down suffering into two broad categories. There’s the suffering brought about by nature often referred to as Acts of God. Think earthquakes, hurricanes, and typhoons. Or illnesses like cancer or Covid. Perhaps it’s more mental like depression or severe anxiety. I discussed this type of suffering in a previous article. We essentially attach ourselves so deeply to earthly comforts and the status quo that we suffer when something unexpected occurs.

Suffering By Our Actions

The second type of suffering is that brought about by decisions that either we or other people make. This type of suffering is essentially cause and effect such as:

  • Over eat = get sick
  • Don’t get enough sleep = feel tired
  • Get punched in the face = ouch!
  • Drive recklessly = crash
  • Insults and taunts = hurt feelings and sadness

Why did God give us free will knowing that such freedom would lead to self-inflicted suffering? Sometimes it feels like our lives would be better without so much freedom. How nice would it be if we couldn’t do anything that would hurt ourselves or others? But God didn’t do that. In His infinite wisdom, God made free will an essential part of His plan although He knew that it would lead to some suffering. He preferred a world with free will and some degree of suffering to one with no suffering and no free will at all. God’s perfect plan involves us to live in an imperfect world.

God desires us to be free above all else. He wants us to use that freedom and intellect to understand what is right and wrong. God set up the world so that we can see what is right and freely choose that course of action. God does not desire us to be slaves with no choice but to obey Him. Historically, it’s often the weak kings and leaders that resort to totalitarianism to keep people in line. But that is not what God desires. Good kings set up a kingdom where people will want to follow them. God, being King of the Universe, wants us to choose to honor and follow Him without coercion.

Unfortunately, we too often ignore what is good and use our free will to do the opposite. And that is where suffering creeps into our lives. We don’t follow our God-given intellect and commit sin. Suffering is the result of us choosing sin over following God.

Fortunately, our freedom swings both ways. We may choose to turn away from God but we can choose to return to Him, first through the Sacrament of Confession and then through the other sacraments. That is the beauty of free will — when we choose to honor God after choosing sin, He will always welcome us back. He doesn’t reject our choice to follow him nor does He hold a grudge.

Suffering in the Rosary

Let’s look at our 2022 featured Rosary mystery — The Crowning of Thorns. We have a choice to make every day — how will we honor God? Will we use our free will to make good decisions that bring us into closer communion with Him? Or will we dishonor Him through sin causing suffering? Jesus physically suffered when the Roman soldiers dishonored him by placing a crown of thorns on his head. We cause suffering when we dishonor Jesus by not seeing him in our brothers and sisters.

We need to choose our actions wisely. Much of the suffering in this world comes from peoples’ choices. With so much suffering at the hands of so many, it seems futile to think we can reduce it. I know I’ve said this story before, but when a fellow monk asked St. Francis what he could do to make the world more peaceful, St. Francis asked him to close the door softly. Basically, St. Francis was teaching that it’s the small choices and actions we make every day that affect our world. A world with less suffering starts with us choosing to honor God in all that we say and do.

Adam and Eve

Some of you astute Biblical scholars may ask what about the case of Adam and Eve? God designed a paradise for them. Wasn’t His design to have humans live with no suffering? I would argue that a world without suffering was the intent, not the design. For Adam and Eve to truly have free will, there would need to be a choice to make. Without choices, could one really claim to have free will? Furthermore, God created a world outside of the Garden of Eden; a world of hardship and toil. I think that God’s design included free will and consequences for not honoring His commandments as Adam and Eve unfortunately demonstrated. He didn’t desire Adam and Eve to suffer no more than he desires us to suffer. But like physics, our actions have reactions. Sin brings forth suffering. Virtue brings forth grace.

You had one commandment!

2022: The Year of the Third Sorrowful Mystery

I’m going to try something a little different with my Rosary prayers starting this year. In addition to my daily Rosary prayers, I’m going to dedicate this year to a single mystery. I’m going to pray that decade every day. Each year, I’ll change the dedicated mystery. That means I’ll have a different mystery to pray for the next 20 years! And who knows, maybe some future pope will introduce more extending my run.

I see dedicating a year to a particular Rosary mystery like how the Church dedicates years to a particular theme. For example, 2021 was the Year of Saint Joseph. As someone who loves the Rosary, I think each year should be dedicated to a particular mystery and thereby providing an opportunity to dive into deeper contemplation. Approaching a mystery every few days is great, but reliving the same mystery every day is even better.

The Third Sorrowful Mystery

This year, I’m choosing the Third Sorrowful Mystery, The Crowning of Thorns, as my dedicated Rosary mystery. I think it’s important to ask myself every day, “How will I honor Jesus in my words, thoughts, and actions?” The soldiers crowned Jesus with scorn, contempt, and mockery in this mystery. This is how they “honored” Jesus.

I think this year is a good time to reflect on what I say and do. Do I honor God and not mock Him or make light of His importance? How am I treating others? Am I seeing Jesus in everyone and treating others with dignity, respect, and tolerance? Or am I like the Roman soldiers and choose to honor people with scorn and contempt?

Seeing God in Others

Honoring Jesus by treating others in a Christ-like way is difficult because people are difficult. Often, we want to respond to people in a similar fashion to how they treat us. Yelling begets yelling back. Insults breed more insults. Anger spawns anger. The key to living the Third Sorrowful Mystery is to not respond in the manner we are being treated, but in the manner Jesus would respond. Watch this short clip and see how Jesus responded to people who hated him.

Is it easy to act in a Christ-like way? Of course not. And that is why I’m contemplating the Third Sorrowful Mystery every day in 2022. I’m going to ask myself where I succeeded in seeing Jesus in others and where I fell short. Did I repay hatred with more hatred in thoughts and actions? Or did I make an effort to understand why someone may have acted a certain way in a difficult situation and let go of any thoughts of rage or retribution?

I invite you to join me in this year of contemplation of the Third Sorrowful Mystery.

Bible in a Year

After a year of effort, I finished reading the entire Bible. I had purchased Bible in a Year in late January. For those not familiar with this particular Bible, it’s laid out as follows. The book is dived into 365 sections. Each section contains two excerpts from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. The first Old Testament reading follows the overarching, chronological narrative starting with Genesis. The other Old Testament reading is non-narrative like Psalms, Proverbs, Sirach, etc. The New Testament flows in chronological order. Each day ends with a small explanation and meditation. Let’s jump into my thoughts on this year-long experiment.

What I didn’t like

  1. The Old Testament is repetitive! Maybe this is the software engineer in me, but I like concise language that gets to the point. The Old Testament prophets seem to go on for multiple chapters about how good or how bad the Israelites had been. I get it; they turned away from God and were punished but God still chose the Jews as His people.
  2. Too many details! Reading about the exact layout and dimensions of the temple and Arc of the Covenant or how various rituals were to be performed caused my eyes to glaze over. It made me wish that the Bible had an appendix that included all those details.
  3. Little context. This has more to do with my understanding of the Bible, but I wish this particular series had more of an overview of each book or an overarching summary of the Old and New Testaments. It was often hard to place exactly what was happening into a historical or narrative context.
  4. The commentary comes at the end. This ties into my previous point. I found that reading the commentary first helped me understand the text slightly better. I got a small primer on what to look for in the text.
  5. Psalms! I just don’t understand them. To me, they’re poetry. Nice poetry, but poetry all the same. I have a hard time using Psalms for prayer and meditation. There’s nothing wrong with them, they just aren’t my thing. I mostly skimmed these.

What I liked

  1. Broader context. When you hear readings at Sunday Mass, they don’t make too much sense because they are read out of context. Reading the Bible daily helps establish a narrative. It’s a rich, complex narrative that you really don’t hear if you only listen to 52 snippets on Sunday.
  2. It’s epic! We just saw the 20th anniversary of the initial Lord of the Rings movie. So epic stories are on my mind. And we tend to forget just how epic the Biblical saga is. Leaders, heroes, villains, triumphs, downfalls, redemption, wars, love — it’s all there.
  3. There’s an app. Only recently, I discovered the Amen app which contains the Bible in a Year as audio recordings. Not only that, but they have daily readings, the rosary, and more as audio with pleasant background music. In fact, it has meditations for anxiety relief and falling asleep. It has become one of my favorite religous apps in the short period of time I’ve used it.
  4. There are others. While I read a physical book, there is also a podcast series with Fr. Mike Schmitz. It’s a different series separate from the Bible in a Year series so you can’t mix and match. The few episodes I listened to were nice as Fr. Mike Schmitz does provide more explanation and context around each reading.

What’s next?

Catechism in a Year! There’s no official book by that name, but I’m going to apply the same principle as the Bible and divide reading the CCC over the course of a year. My copy has 756 pages. That’s about 2.1 pages per day which is completely doable. If I can read the Bible in a year, I can certainly read the Catechism too.

This year, I encourage you to take something large like the Bible or Catechism and get through it by breaking it down into small, digestible chunks. I get it, we’re all busy with work, family, and hobbies. It’s just a matter of choice. Is reading the Bible important enough to you to make time for it? It was for me. Are you in?

Adding Joy Through Christ this Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas

As we go into the third week of Advent, I think many of us start to feel a little fatigued and anxious. Some of you may be wrapping up a marathon of shopping, decorating, and attending various events. Others may feel stressed out because you haven’t done much preparation and feel like “you won’t make Christmas.” And others may just feel like Charlie Brown, a time when you are supposed to feel happy, but aren’t.

I think many of us can relate to Charlie Brown. It’s hard to reconcile a supposed season of joy with all the stress we’ve created around Christmas. Besides the normal Christmas stressors, we also have to contend with Covid fatigue, wokism, and politics. Many of us also have work, financial, and family issues. How do we put on a happy face on all of this?

The Nativity

We need to look to Mary and Joseph and the first Christmas. They traveled far in hard conditions only to find no room at the inn. They made due in a stable and delivered Jesus away from family and friends. As any mother knows, giving birth, even in the best conditions, is not easy or fun. The first Christmas wasn’t fun or easy. But through all that hardship there was joy. Through Mary, Christ the Savior was born. That event changed everything for all of us.

This brings us back to Charlie Brown. In all his anxiety over Christmas, what turns it around for him? It’s not directing the Christmas play or buying a tree. It was Linus’ monologue retelling the Nativity story that turned everything around, not just for Charlie Brown, but for the whole Peanuts crew. They became nicer to him, saw the hidden beauty of his scrawny tree, and wished him a merry Christmas.

Add More “Christ” To Christmas

We can learn a lot from Charlie Brown, Mary, and Joseph in finding joy this Christmas. We won’t find real joy at Target, Walmart, and Amazon finding great deals or that perfect gift. We’re not going to find it through our amazing lighting displays. It may not easy or even happy as in “laugh out loud happy.” But we can find a level of joy and peace if we add Jesus to this Advent and Christmas.

“Let’s not live a fake Christmas, please, a commercial Christmas,” the pope advised Dec. 10. “Let us allow ourselves to be wrapped up in the closeness of God, this closeness which is compassionate, which is tender; wrapped in the Christmas atmosphere that art, music, songs, and traditions bring into the heart.”

Pope Francis: Avoid ‘fake Christmas’ of commercialism by reflecting on God’s closeness | Catholic News Agency

We only have so much time and attention. We have to choose how we are going to fill that time. Are we maximizing joy by shopping for gifts and trying to create that Norman Rockwell-depicted Christmas? If that is leading to great anxiety and stress, maybe you should try adding more Jesus to your routine in the coming weeks. Jesus brought joy out of hardship to Joseph and Mary. He will bring joy to us as well.

If you want joy this Christmas and Advent, you should remember to add “Christ” and the “Mass” to your day. Ease up on Amazon and ramp up on the Rosary. Don’t focus on finding the perfect gifts, rather pray perfectly. Don’t dwell on what things you don’t have, but rejoice in the real joy you receive when you make Christmas about Christ.

How Much Do We Want God This Advent Season?

Advent has started and it’s time to prepare our hearts for the miraculous gift of Jesus’ birth. This should be a time of joyful prayer and reflection on how we can bring Christ to our brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, this season is overshadowed by consumerism and, particularly this year, crime. How do we navigate these next few weeks when our culture doesn’t make room for Jesus?

Flash Mobs

Crime is on an uptick across the United States. It’s taking the shape of flash mobs — groups of people coordinating online to rush into stores and take as much as they can grab in a few minutes. These groups overwhelm the store’s staff who are told to stand back and not get involved due to potential lawsuits. Basically, it’s a mob looting the store in broad daylight, in full view of cameras and staff, without a care about the ethical and moral implications of their actions.

When I was young, it was the thieves who wore masks, not the customers

It’s not surprising that we came to this place in our culture. Black Friday mobs in the USA have been escalating with arguments, fights, tramplings, and shootings. It was only a matter of time before these mobs started skipping the formality of actually paying. After all, if someone doesn’t have qualms about punching someone over a discounted toaster oven, why would he have qualms about not paying for it at all?

You Can’t Follow What You’re Not Taught

This escalation seems to coincide with a decline in the promotion of basic ethics. Think about where we traditionally learn about what is right and wrong — through our family, schools, culture, and faith. Now, look at the declining faith participation and empty churches. Look at how our society basically preaches that stealing and vandalism are righteous forms of social justice action fighting against large, dispassionate corporations. And when our kids see their parents participating in these Black Friday mobs, that behavior becomes normalized in their minds. We can’t expect people to follow rules like “though shalt not steal” if it’s not reflected anywhere in our society.

What do we do now? We can’t go back in time and teach these adults the basic ethics they should have learned as children. There’s plenty of voices out there warning us about the dangers of wokeness and secularism that are being silenced and ignored. We’re in a hard place right now. Our society is crumbling into warring factions and common sense ideas of how to treat each other have deteriorated. But this is where the awesome power of God comes into play. Nothing is outside His ability to fix. We just need to understand that God’s fix most likely won’t involve a shoplifting mob to magically disappear. But it might be someone changing his mind at the last minute and choosing not to participate.

What Can We Do?

We need to increase our devotion to prayer if we’re serious about changing our world. We need to ask God to help change all our hearts and minds to know and do His will. We have to want God to have a place in our world if we desire to have His truth present. God is the ultimate gentleman and will respect our wishes. If we don’t want Him to get involved in our world, we can remain silent. Or, we can pick up our rosary beads, bibles, and Mass schedules and ask for His help to heal our broken world.

Advent is a great time to look beyond the gifts and celebrations and see the need for God in our lives. Like Lent, Advent should be a time of reflection. Ask yourself, “Do you want God in your life?” And if so, are you making room in your life for Him? When Jesus was born, there was no room for him at the inn. Will there be room for him in your heart?

God: King of the Very Large and Small

Isn’t it amazing that God chose you to live at this particular time and place? Of all the billions of years the universe has existed, of all the years people have roamed the earth, of all the cultures, you happen to live now. You can read this web page, pray the Rosary, and appreciate the Real Presence of God in the Eucharist. Cosmically speaking, we are in a very small group of people who can do all that. God is the king of both the very big and very small. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He created all that there is and ever will be. But he also humbled himself to become one of us through His son, Jesus Christ.

The Vastness of Space

I once heard an astrophysicist say that when it comes to space and the universe, whatever large size and distance you think objects are, you’re probably 10,000 times off. For example, our Milky Way galaxy is slowly headed on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy. Both galaxies are made up of billions of stars. And yet, when they collide billions of years from now, the chances of two stars colliding are infinitesimally small. And to think that our galaxy is one of the billions of galaxies. It boggles the mind how large our universe is.

In this great vastness are sets of rules and laws that govern everything. God engineered a universe where there are causes and reasons on how everything fits together from massive black holes, to the movement of waves in the sea, to the interaction of subatomic particles. As we discover more about how our universe works, it makes God all that more impressive. He is a creator of such a complex universe and yet everything works in harmony. Nothing happens arbitrarily. To compare, most software developers can’t write more than a few lines of code without introducing a bug or vulnerability. And yet God designed a universe of near-infinite complexity.

The Smallness of Humanity

But God is also the king of the very small, namely us. In this interstellar stew of galaxies, stars, black holes, and nebulas, we exist. And not only do we exist, but we have the gift of knowing God through His son, Jesus Christ. The universe is billions of years old. We hit the galactic bullseye that of all the time and places, we have the honor and privilege of knowing Jesus. For billions of years, the universe was just gasses and rocks in a vast emptiness. Generations of humans went through their existence without being able to experience Jesus.

The Awe of the Transfiguration

When we pray the Fourth Luminous Mystery, The Transfiguration, let’s thank God for giving us the gift of knowing Jesus and his Church. God’s design didn’t need to include Him taking human form. Imagine the great humility that the God who created this vast universe wanted to become human so that we may know him better. And not just “us” in that universal sense, but he wants a special relationship with each one of us individually. The Transfiguration should remind us of just how much of a gift Jesus is to humanity. Put yourself on that hill with Peter and John and marvel at God’s compassion for us.

When you go to Mass, just think of everything that God made happen to put you there in His presence. Of all the billions of years of the universe’s existence, of the trillions of stars spread out millions of light-years, of all the generations of humanity, you can sit in a Catholic church with Jesus through the Eucharist. And like how the laws of physics align to make the universe, God’s design aligns to put you into a church on a specific day celebrating Mass. Take advantage of this remarkable gift.

How to Have Joy in the End Times

Fear of Loss

In 1992, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus reaching the New World, the movie 1492: Conquest of Paradise was released. It wasn’t a great movie but there was a scene that stuck out in my memory as I was listening to Sunday’s readings at Mass. The Spaniards created a colony complete with buildings and a church made of stone and brick. It was quite modern and luxurious compared to the straw huts the natives lived in. But then a tropical storm hit wiping out all buildings and structures. It was devastating to the Spaniards who had devoted so much time and materials to their earthly paradise. The natives, having simple dwellings adapted for the environment, rebuilt their homes quickly and moved on with their lives.

This scene from Conquest of Paradise showed me the dangers of attachment to earthly luxuries. Inversely, it showed the freedom of living simply. Many of us spend so much of our lives accumulating things. Even if you’re not wealthy, you still have much to take care of — a dwelling, a car, clothes, phones, TV, etc. We also are concerned about our bank account balances, jobs, and bills. We live with the anxiety of losing these things and facing difficult times. Unfortunately, our media and politicians feed on this fear by promising they will provide security or that their opponents will take everything away.

End Times

In this past week’s readings, we catch a glimpse of the end times. These readings often conjure up images of darkness and suffering. And for many of us, it brings to mind the loss of our comfortable lives of readily available food and entertainment. Many of us can’t imagine a day when our phones don’t work, there’s no food at the market, and our hard-earned money disappears or is worthless. We fear that the lives we’ve spent a lifetime accumulating will disappear.

McDonald’s will survive but their sundae machine will still be broken

It is this human weakness towards earthly comfort that Jesus preached against. It’s what these end times readings address. To summarize, they revolve around the stripping away of all those earthly luxuries to live in the freedom Christ provides. The end of our worldly comfort doesn’t have to frighten us. Jesus tells us repeatedly in the Gospel that we will find greater treasure and comfort in Heaven than whatever the world can provide. He doesn’t want us to worry over the temporary loss of physical things because it will mean that the coming of something far greater is near.

The apostles at Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion exemplify our fear of loss. They probably enjoyed their status of being close to Jesus when he was the rock star. But they scattered when “things got real” upon his arrest. They didn’t want to give up their status of being close to Jesus the celebrity and have everything, including their lives, taken away. I think we can all relate — it’s easy to say you love God and have total faith in him when life is good. It’s much harder when life starts to fall apart.

The Rosary Connection

When you meditate on the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, the crucifixion, think about how Jesus gave up everything worldly to follow God’s will. Jesus is the Christ, and yet he suffered a terrible death because he understood that God’s kingdom and the salvation of humanity are infinitely greater and more substantive than anything physical. The only worldly things Jesus had left at the end of his life were the cross, a crown of thorns, and nails driven through his body. He asks the same of us when he tells us to take up our cross and follow him. He implies that we must give up what is worldly as he did.

Does giving up everything sound impossible? If it does, you’re in good company. It was initially impossible for the apostles too. They just weren’t spiritually mature to understand the greater glory of God’s kingdom. But when they did understand it, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, they gladly took the path that Jesus took — giving up everything worldly for God. The saints also took similar paths. And Jesus asks the same of us.

I’m definitely not there yet. I’m more like the apostles at Jesus’ crucifixion, not them after his resurrection. I can hardly go an hour without indulging in some luxury whether that be some screen time, coffee, or a snack. But it’s something that I do try to work towards through periodic fasting from food or screen time. I want to have that maturity to see the freedom and joy that comes from detaching from my “stuff.” It’s still a long road and I do stumble. But with God’s help, I do hope to have that outlook that Jesus asks all of us to have — total trust in God and living for His eternal kingdom of Heaven.

In Defense of the Pharisees

Leaders of a Defiant People

What comes to mind when you think about the Pharisees in the Bible? Hypocrites? Dogmatic? Unfair? You probably conjure images of Jesus “knocking them down a peg” when he answers their “gotcha” questions. Needless to say, the Christian view of the Pharisees isn’t the most flattering.

But maybe we’re being a little too harsh on the Pharisees. Remember, the Jews had a long history of disobeying God as chronicled throughout the Old Testament. It’s a history of God guiding and providing for them only to have them turn away from Him in sin by following false gods and breaking the Commandments. They were punished by famine, war, and pestilence and ultimately exiled to Babylon and subject to Roman occupation.

I think many of the Pharisees only wanted to avoid God’s further judgement and punishment. That may account for their dogmatic approach to following the Mosiac law. Like a parent enforcing rules, I think the Pharisees felt responsible for protecting the Israelites from incurring punishments. What do parents do when kids repeatedly disobey them? They usually make more rules and enforce them more rigidly. Now imagine a people who had disobeyed God for generations. Think about how rigidly the Pharisees felt like they needed to enforce the law so that their people would “toe the line.”

This is not excusing the Pharisees’ actions and hypocrisy. They did impose rules and burdens that they themselves did not always follow. Or they got so consumed with the letter of law that they forgot about the spirit of the law until Jesus reminded them. Or they got too used to their power and prestige that they forgot that they were foremost teachers of the people. Jesus showed them how they were supposed to be guiding the Jewish people.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

I bring up the Pharisees to show that people aren’t always so easy to label and categorize. We so often label the Pharisees as “bad people.” But that isn’t taking into account the historical and cultural circumstances they found themselves in. We should remember the saying, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Before we look at someone and make a judgement about their character, we should take some time to consider their circumstances and maybe try harder to understand their motivations.

Think about Mary in the Annunciation. Imagine how quickly people must have judged her when learning about her unwed pregnancy. And her explanation stretched believability, to say the least. But now extend that idea out to the Israelite people. God led them out of Egypt and through the desert but asked them to show a lot of faith in His plan. What he asked of them wasn’t easy and often seemed impossible. And that disbelief caused many of them to disobey God. How quick they were to judge what God could and could not do. Mary, on the other hand, showed complete faith in God’s plan despite how unorthodox it seemed.

Understand, Don’t Judge

What about you? Are you quick to judge what God is capable of? How much faith do you put in your prayers when you bring your intentions before God? How about how you see others? Maybe we’re too quick to label people based on a Twitter or Facebook comment. Maybe we see how someone is dressed or how they speak and assume certain things about them. Maybe we read about the bad actions of a few people and associate that with an entire group.

Whatever the case may be, let’s ask God for more understanding. We know that God’s ways aren’t always our ways. Before we determine whether a certain event or person is “bad” or “good,” let’s remember that it’s part of God’s divine plan for us. Let’s come before God in prayer and ask him for patience and understanding when confronted with situations we do not understand. We may be surprised how God answers if we listen to Him instead of making judgements based on our limited understanding.

If You Want God, You Have to Put in the Effort

No Effort, No Goals

I coach youth soccer. My team is composed of 6 and 7-year-olds, many of whom this is their first time playing organized sports. Unfortunately, today’s kids don’t spend as much time playing sports as previous generations. The reason this is unfortunate is that they miss out on working hard towards something that is a little outside their comfort zone. The other day, my team didn’t score many goals in our game. However, they also seemed uninterested in playing that day. They sort of wandered around the field without that drive or that passion to play their best. They wanted to score goals and win but didn’t want to put forth the effort to make it a reality.

I think adults can often act the same way when it comes to their spirituality. We want to form a deep connection with God, but we don’t want to put in the work needed. We wonder why it feels like something is missing in our lives and why it seems so unfulfilling. Or we look at the terrible news and get depressed or frustrated with the state of the world. But at the same time, we don’t pray, don’t participate in Mass, or receive the Sacraments. We want God to do something, just as long as that “something” doesn’t require extra effort from us.

Effort Rewarded

Let’s look at two women who exemplify what it means to put in effort in serving God and ultimately being rewarded for that effort. It meant that their earthly lives would be upended. They would face ridicule, sorrow, and a lack of earthly freedoms. They had a choice — would they put their faith in God and make the adjustments and sacrifices necessary to find greater joy and happiness? Or would they choose the easier, worldly path?

The first woman who had a choice to make was Bernadette Soubirous, better known as Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. By all accounts, she was just a normal girl from a poor family in France. But she then had an encounter with the Virgin Mary who asked her to return to the grotto where she was appearing and eventually build a chapel there. Whatever plans Bernadette had for her life came to an end when she accepted Our Lady’s requests. She became the subject of ridicule and much scrutiny from church and government authorities. She later entered a convent and died from tuberculosis. Saint Bernadette led a challenging life but she never stopped making an effort to serve God by doing what our Mother Mary asked of her. Like other saints, she put in the effort to form a meaningful relationship with God because she understood the value of doing so.

Full-body relic of Bernadette Soubirous. The photograph was taken at the last exhumation (18 April 1925). The saint died 46 years before the photo was taken; the face and hands are covered with a wax coat.

Think about Mary in the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. On Catholic Exchange, Romano Guardini has this to say about Mary’s decision in the Annunciation:

The lesson of the angel’s message alone should suf­fice for every one of the faithful who reads it aright; it is not the announcement that the divine decree was to be consummated in her, but the question of whether she agreed that it be so. This instant was an abyss before which one’s head reels, because here stood Mary in her freedom facing the very first decision on which all of salvation depended. But what does it mean when the question “Will you help the Savior’s coming?” coincides with the other question, “Will you become a mother?”

Why We Linger on Mary in the Rosary (catholicexchange.com)

I don’t think Mary’s plans included becoming an unwed mother to God. And then after Jesus’ birth, her earthly life wasn’t any easier. It was a life of concern and sorrow that we meditate on when we pray the Seven Sorrows of Mary Rosary. But Mary was ultimately rewarded when she was crowned Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery). She knows the value of doing God’s Will better than any other human. As Queen of Heaven, she is willing to help all of us find that strength to make that effort as she did so that we all may live in the joy of Heaven.

Spirit Willing, Flesh is Weak

When God comes knocking at your door with His plan for you, are you going to reject Him because it is difficult? Has God ever not rewarded those who make the effort to follow Him? If we truly believe that God offers us something 1000x better than anything we could create on our own, why do we have such a hard time committing to Him?

Think about the apostles in the First Sorrowful Mystery. I think we can relate to them. Jesus asked them to stay awake and pray with him and instead they all fell asleep. These are the future leaders of the Catholic Church! And they knew Jesus was the Messiah and yet they still couldn’t muster the effort to pray with him or stand by him when he was arrested. They must have enjoyed being some of the chosen few to journey with Jesus when he was curing people and riling up Pharisees. But when things got tough, they couldn’t follow through. They wanted the honor of being apostles without making the sacrifices.

There’s Still Time

What about us? When God asks us for one hour a week to celebrate Mass, are we too tired or too busy? Do God’s requests interfere with a football, baseball, or soccer match? Are we like the apostles, wanting the benefits of being close to Jesus but lacking the will to do what he asks?

The good news is that there’s always time. The apostles may have shrunk away from Jesus’ calling in the Garden of Gethsemane but they made up for it after Jesus’ resurrection. They went to the far corners of the known world preaching Jesus’ Gospel and most of them gave their lives doing so. So maybe you haven’t mustered the strength to follow Jesus. The beauty of our faith is that Jesus always offers us a way to “get back into the game.” We can always receive Reconciliation, go to Mass, and pick up those rosary beads. Jesus will accept anyone willing to put in the effort whether they have 100 years left in his life or 1 minute.

Finding Hope When the World Hates You

Bad News

There seems to be so much unhappy news lately. But more than that, there is so much anger, rage, and despair as well. It’s more than just people getting angry over world events; we’ve been doing that for generations. What’s more concerning is seeing how people vilify each other and tear each other apart in reaction to the news. Whether it’s the tragedy in Afghanistan, laws in response to Covid19, pro-life laws, or California recall elections, I see more than just disagreement; it’s hate. It’s hard going through my day knowing there’s so much hatred towards my faith and morals.

For example, look at what’s happening with the heartbeat law that recently passed in Texas. It’s a law protecting human life. The people who support it have a noble intention — all human life is sacred and deserves protection. And yet, the pro-abortion crowd characterizes pro-life supporters as tyrannical monsters on par with the Taliban (while trying to downplay what the actual Taliban is actually doing). They hate us because we don’t condone murder. I don’t want to get into the details of this law. I could pick any headline (or better yet, events that don’t make headlines because they don’t fit the media’s narrative) and it will lead to the same outcome — people attacking each other over deeply held beliefs because they don’t align with someone’s political agenda.

Read this opinion piece in the Washington Post by San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone. It’s about the Catholic Church’s history of defending civil rights when it was culturally unpopular. He makes a comparison between those events in the 1950s and what is playing out with abortion now. But if you have the stomach, look at a few of the 8,000 comments. You will see post after post of people attacking the Catholic Church, pro-lifers, conservatives, and anyone who doesn’t ascribe to a specific liberal, woke agenda. As a Catholic, it’s hard to read these comments and not become depressed that there are so many people out there who don’t just disagree with me but hate me because of my morals and faith.

Age-old Persecution

Is this rage and persecution of the faithful new? Unfortunately, it goes back thousands of years. Let’s take a look at Psalm 73. It’s a long one, but worth reading. King David asks why God allows such terrible things to happen to His flock, the faithful who follow him. Read and meditate on this.

Why, God, have you rejected us so finally?
Why this rage against the sheep of your flock?
Remember those you have gathered,
those who were yours from the beginning.
The stock you redeemed to be your own possession;
the mountain of Zion, where you chose to dwell.
Turn your steps towards the final devastation:
the enemy has laid waste the sanctuary.
Those who hate you have roared
in the midst of your flock.
They have set up their emblems,
taking the place of your own.
They have raised their axes high,
hewing the wood.
With hatchets and axes
they have hewn down the doors.
They set fire to the sanctuary,
profaned and trampled your tabernacle.
They said to themselves, ‘Let us crush them
once and for all.’
They burned to the ground
every shrine of God in the land.
Our emblems have vanished,
our prophets are gone,
and none of us knows any more.
How long, O God, will the enemy deride?
Will he insult your name forever?
Why do you keep your hand away?
Why do you fold your arms?
God is our king since the beginning,
he has given us help throughout the earth.

Universalis: Afternoon Prayer (None)

I couldn’t help but think of Christians now and how our beliefs are being constantly profaned and trampled by politicians, the media, and anyone with a Twitter account. While King David may have been talking about physical tabernacles, sanctuaries, and emblems being destroyed, we can think about the spiritual, ethical, and moral emblems of Christianity that are under attack now. The powerful are destroying not structures (although look at the vandalism happening against churches), but people’s spirit and will to follow God’s Will.

Finding Hope

What’s my takeaway from all of this? Is there any message of hope? Can I see the rage over Texas’ pro-life law or the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and find something positive? You bet! I take comfort that King David saw similar events thousands of years ago. And yet, those faithful to God remain. The world has never been a welcoming place for God’s people whether they be Jewish or Christian. And yet, God has never allowed those forces to completely overwhelm and destroy the faithful. The hate and persecution will always be there, but so will God’s protection of His Church.

I know it sucks that we live in such difficult times. It’s even worse if these events directly affect you. Knowing that God protects His flock as a whole is little comfort if you’re personally suffering. I believe that the Church will live to see another day but that doesn’t make the insults sting any less. But that’s how martyrs are made — seeing that we are part of something larger than ourselves and committing to it, even onto death. We should take comfort and maybe even some honor knowing that we live for something greater than a politician, political party, or social fads. We live for a Church that God has protected for thousands of years. And while we may bend, He will never let us break. We endured when King David lamented in Psalm 73 and we will endure now.

Praying for Those who Hate You

As Jesus instructed us, pray for those who hate you. I can’t imagine the suffering that so many people carry with them because of their hatred. What’s worse is that much of their anger and hate isn’t based on reality, but false narratives and characterizations by people with ulterior motives. Those who spread lies to advance their interests also need our prayers. If you want to find peace in a world that hates you, you need to pray! It’s that simple.

While I don’t usually associate with Twitter, I found this post interesting.
Sue Perkins 💙 on Twitter: “Who shook the jar? https://t.co/Gzm26UTopH” / Twitter
Before you get upset over someone’s post attacking a deeply-held belief, ask yourself, “who’s shaking the jar?”