Medjugorje Message: March 18, 2009

My thoughts on the Virgin Mary’s message at Medjugorje on March 18, 2009.

Medjugorje Mary Statue

There is a small village in Bosnia-Hercegovina called Medjugorje.  In that village, the Virgin Mary has been giving messages to six individuals since 1981 through the form of apparitions.  To some, She appears every day while others only receive an apparition once per year.  There is vastly more to the story of Medjugorje than I can explain in this post.  If you like, you can read more at http://www.medjugorje.org.

In addition to my rosary meditations and other spiritual musings, I thought I would start posting Mother Mary’s messages.  While many people are skeptical of the messages coming from Medjugorje, I encourage you to still read them.  Even if you do not think they are authentic, there is still a great deal of spiritual truth behind them.  The messages are great meditations and really make you think about your relationship with God.  So I ask that you read this with an open mind.

Dear children! Today I call you to look into your hearts sincerely and for a long time. What will you see in them? Where is my Son in them and where is the desire to follow me to Him? My children, may this time of renunciation be a time when you will ask yourself: ‘What does my God desire of me personally? What am I to do?’ Pray, fast and have a heart full of mercy. Do not forget your shepherds. Pray that they may not get lost, that they may remain in my Son so as to be good shepherds to their flock.

Our Lady looked at all those present and  added: Again I say to you, if you knew how much I love you, you would cry with happiness. Thank you.

I think this is a wonderful message during the season of Lent.  Mary asks all of us to introspect our hearts and souls and ask ourselves how much room we have made for God in our lives.  Are our hearts only filled with the desire for money, power, social status, and earthly comforts?  Or, are we filled with fear and doubt?  In these uncertain times, have we made any room in our hearts with the faith that Jesus Christ will be with us through any trials we encounter?

Like many of Her other message, Mary calls us to pray and fast.  These are the tools by which God enters and occupies our hearts.  While God is always wanting to be in our lives, we have to make room to let Him into it.  Praying and fasting is a way of doing a little house cleaning of our souls in order to prepare it for God’s graces.  So let is follow Mary’s advice.  We should fast and pray and see what spiritual junk lingers in our hearts that we can let go to make room for God.  Do we keep any grudges toward others that we can let go?  Do we spend every day with a constant anger towards other people or groups?  Do we complain about any unfair circumstances and harbor animosity towards those who seemingly have it easy?  Are our causes just and a reflection of God’s natural law or are they merely shallow justifications to make our lives easier?  Let us take a long look at ourselves and ask, “Have I made room for God today?”

It’s always a good time to visit and shop in the RosaryMeds Store.

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What’s Your Prayer Score?

I discuss how you can improve your prayer life by measuring how often your pray and do other spirit-building activities.

I recently acquired a Garmin Nuvi 265wt GPS unit.  Along with the usual GPS features, this one includes something called an “EcoScore.”  This is your “economy score.”  The GPS monitors your speed and how smoothly the car starts and stops.   It rates your driving on a scale of 0-100.  The better you drive (no jack rabbit starts and stops, not spending time idle, not driving at excessive speeds, etc.), the higher your score.  This feature turns my daily commute into a little game where I’m trying to change my driving habits to reach a higher score.  Unfortunately I have not broken the 80 barrier for my average EcoScore on my daily commute.  I’m hoping that one of these days, if I can catch a lot of green lights, I will hit an 85 average score.

So what does this new, shiny gadget have to do with your prayer life?  OK, I would be lying if I didn’t put that into my post to brag about my new GPS device a little.  But it got me thinking about how much more effort I put into various tasks when I know I’m being measured or rated in some way.  I play hard in sports because I want to win.  I work out hard at the gym because I want to keep a trim waistline or be able to do more push ups over time.  I’m focused at work in order to get projects done ahead of schedule.  In general, competition makes people perform at their best.

I think part of the reason why many people are turning away from their faith and prayer is because they do not rate their prayer life.  Because they do not see some sort of tangible, measurable result from their prayers they turn to activities where they can see more visible results (like the accumulation of money or possessions).  I think that if people started rating their prayer life the same way they measure their bank accounts you would see a run on rosaries.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am in no way comparing prayer and faith to sports and work.  I don’t want to trivialize prayer by turning it into a competition with others.  Just to put things in the proper perspective, on a scale of 1-100 I bet most of us are a two or three at best when compared to the example set by Jesus.

Instead of prayer being a competition with others, I want to challenge you to make prayer a competition with yourself.  Ask yourself, how often do you pray earnestly?  How often do you go to church, pray the rosary, attend adoration, and go to confession?  Do you contribute time and/or money to charity?  I’m sure no matter where you are in your faith journey, there are ways you can improve.  Especially during Lent, we should rate our prayer life and compare that to where we want to be.  Let us look to the Lord and the Catholic Church as our coach in this competition.

Here are a few things to get you started on rating your spiritual life.  Remember, this is used to measure your current habits against where you want to be, not measure yourself against others.  If you are rating yourself against others you might as well knock off some points for pride.  Look at this list, or create your own, and see if you can improve each week.  It’s time to evaluate your Prayer Score!

  • Go to Sunday Mass: +1
  • Go to Mass on a weekday: +2
  • Pray the rosary: +2
  • Go to confession: +5 (+10 if it has been more than five years since your last confession)
  • Go to adoration: +5 (+20 if you stay all night)
  • Fast for a day: +4 (+7 if you fast on bread and water only)
  • Say grace before each meal: +1
  • Read a chapter in the Bible: +2
  • Donate money to charity: +3
  • Donate time for a charitable cause: +5
  • Learn something from the Catechism: +3
  • Commit a venial sin: -2
  • Commit a mortal sin: -10
  • Do not defend the Church or the faith when others mock it: -5

Good luck!

It’s always a good time to visit and shop in the RosaryMeds Store.

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Rosary Meditation: The Second Sorrowful Mystery

My rosary meditation on the Second Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus’ Scourging. I reflect on how, through suffering, we mimic the ways of Jesus Christ.

This week’s rosary meditation focuses on The Second Sorrowful Mystery — The Scourging.  Before being condemning Jesus to death, the Roman authorities brutally whipped Him as was the sentence for various crimes at that time.  While innocent of any wrongdoing, Jesus suffered greatly for preaching God’s truth which undermined any human authority, particularly the Roman’s.  Scourging, like other forms of corporal punishment, helped cement Roman dominion over their territories and deter anyone who dared to speak out against them.

Jesus’ suffering is one of the harder aspects of His ministry to understand.  It is easy to think of Jesus as the great teacher or the miracle worker.  It is much more difficult to picture Him, God made man, as someone battered and bruised like any one of us.  So why does He choose this time of great suffering and hardship to be the most human instead of showing His divine nature?  After all, would not more people come to believe in Him and His way if He miraculously stopped His torturers from harming Him?  Wouldn’t a legion of angels descending from Heaven to defend Jesus turn the most skeptical into believers?

Jesus’ suffering and death mimic His ministry.  While I often wish that Jesus’ message was, “follow me and you will be on easy street for the rest of your life,” I know that He doesn’t let us off that easy.  He did not teach that no harm will ever come to those who believe in Him.  In fact, He taught repeatedly that following His way would be fraught with inconveniences, hardship, and suffering.  It is an unfortunate that our earthly kingdom and God’s kingdom are largely incompatible and you can only live for one of them.  But Jesus repeated that those who kept the faith, despite any suffering, would find their reward in Heaven.  Like His parables, His message through the scourging was that those who endure great hardship by living for His kingdom will be the first to inherit it.

When I think about those who suffer I break them down into three main groups.  There are those who are actively persecuted, suffer, and even face martyrdom for their unrelenting faith in Jesus’ word.  In many places such as Africa, the Middle East, India, and China, being Catholic is incredibly dangerous.  But these people are our greatest example of living Jesus’ way since they face physical suffering and even death because they keep the promise of one day coming into the kingdom of Heaven.  While many of us will never face such extreme hardship we should pray that we can learn from their example of faith and commitment.

The second group is lot larger, but I fear that its membership numbers are dwindling.  These are the people who suffer small hardships in their daily lives in order to live their Catholic faith.  These hardships include small sacrifices such as not eating meet on Fridays, taking time out for Mass, and fasting.  However, in more extreme cases they risk losing friends, quitting jobs, or moving away because they find themselves in situations that are in direct opposition to their faith.  While I would like to say that giving to charity and praying should always be moments of great comfort and happiness, in reality those can be times of small difficulty and hardship.  Sometimes turning off the television to pray or putting some more money in the collection basket at church are incredible challenges.  After all, those who do not live by any faith do not have these obligations and can watch as much television as they want or spend their money on themselves.  But we should pray that we live the truth of Jesus Christ always despite the perceived hardships it puts on us.  We must remain strong to His message despite the increasing volume of society’s message that faith in God is not important and is just silly superstition.

I fear this last group grows by leaps and bounds daily.  These are the people who suffer because they have lost their faith.  They suffer because they make bad decisions that, while marketed as making life better, actually make their lives worse.  Sure, many of them have nice homes, plenty of money, and fancy clothes.  While they laugh at the rules and regulations of organized religion and seem to be perfectly content with life, they are often the most unhappy.  Basically, the message of a better world to come is drowned out by the message of “do whatever you want whenever you want.”  You only have to look at their faces or hear the anger or despair in their voices to know that their lifestyle has only brought them nothing but anguish and misery.  And because sometimes our pride is greater than our faith, we do not admit that our decisions are wrong, ask Jesus for forgiveness, and try to find the correct path of His truth.  For obvious reasons, these people need the most prayers.  Let us pray that they find the courage towards taking that first step in reconnecting to their faith and filling that void with Jesus’ love instead of easy choices and material possessions.

Let us remember that life involves suffering in some way or another.  Jesus did not come into this world to eliminate suffering as seen in His own suffering through His scourging.  We should pray that we gather the strength to follow Jesus’ example whether that means enduring life’s small hardships of living the faith or reconnecting with the Church after following a more worldly path.  Remember, we do not suffer alone but are called to a life where we share these burdens together along with Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, and the saints and angels.  Have no fear; you have a great support group!

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Lent: A Time for Spiritual Fitness

Lent is a time to get spiritually fit and our souls in shape for God. I’ve outlined some activities you can do during Lent to prepare your soul for Easter.

The season of Lent is already here.  This means that it is time to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls for Easter.  Think of this as your spiritual equivalent of a New Year’s resolution.  It is time to get our souls in shape so that we can fully embrace our faith and Jesus’ love.

In the Gospels, Jesus spent forty days in the desert before starting His public ministry.  In that time, He prayed and fasted.  But He was also repeatedly tempted by the devil.  In a similar way, Lent poses many temptations and challenges for the modern Catholic.  We live in a world that no longer values self-sacrifice.  The idea that someone would deliberately deny himself something is a very alien concept in a society where you can get anything you want whenever you want.  But the point of fasting, sacrifice, and preparation during Lent is to clear out our hearts and minds of all these material goods and make room for God.  Like a diet, Lent is a time to clear our souls of all that “junk” we accumulate in our daily lives (work, money, politics, wealth, power, etc.) and really focus on our faith and relationship with God.  While it is so easy to treat a day in Lent as just another, normal day, let us really make an effort to make these days extraordinary by taking more time to examine, prepare, clean, and mend our hearts for God.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, prayer is our spiritual exercise. So below I have prepared a Lenten spiritual fitness checklist.  And like any exercise program, I’ve divided it into different levels so you can go at your own pace.  The clock is ticking folks so lets get moving!

Beginner:

  • Give up something you enjoy (chocolate, cookies, coffee, television, video games, etc.).  Whenever you have a craving, fill it by saying a prayer.
  • Arrive early or stay after mass on Sunday and say an extra prayer.
  • Actually sing the hymns and speak up during responses at mass.  Participate!
  • Find an annoying habit or sinful behavior that you do.  Make an earnest effort not to do it.
  • Go to confession at least once.
  • Do not eat meat on Friday.  But that does not mean you should go out and have a lobster dinner either.  Remember, this is a time of sacrifice.
  • Pray daily.

Intermediate:

  • All the beginner tasks.
  • Meditate on a mystery of the of the rosary daily.
  • Read scripture daily.
  • Go to the Stations of the Cross at least once.
  • Go to adoration at least once.
  • Fast once a week.
  • Learn something new about the Catholic faith by reading the Catechism.

Expert:

  • All of the intermediate tasks.
  • Pray all four mysteries of the rosary daily.
  • Fast twice a week.
  • Refrain from having or going to large, boisterous parties.  Instead, use that time to pray.
  • Make plans to meet with your parish priest in a non-religious setting.  Get to know your priest outside of Church.  Remember, they are human beings and like social events too.

And here is a little motivation from the ultimate spiritual fitness guru, Pope Benedict XVI:

Lent, A Time for More Intense Prayer and Penance

Pope Urges Fight To Do Good This Lent

It’s always a good time to visit and shop in the RosaryMeds Store.

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Rosary Meditation: The First Glorious Mystery

This week’s rosary meditation centers around the First Glorious Mystery — Jesus’ Resurrection.  After Jesus’ death on the Cross, the Roman and Jewish authorities thought that they had taken care of that “troublemaker.”  However, despite His death, the solid rock walls of the tomb, the large boulder sealing the entrance, and the guards, nothing of this world could silence the Truth of Jesus Christ.

Jesus rose from the dead showing us that our earthly death is not the end of our existence.  We are more than just physical beings in that we have eternal souls.  Jesus calls everyone to a new life with Him for all eternity.  We should all remember that our lives here on earth are only temporary.  What’s a few decades on this planet compared to the infinity of the next life?  I’m not saying that our earthly lives are unimportant.  We must make the most of what God has given us and live to the best of our abilities.  But we should remember that there is more to our existence than what we can see and hear.

If we are eternal beings, why do so many of us live as if our entire existence is bound to this world?  The news is filled with accounts of people trying to accumulate as much wealth and power as they possibly can regardless of the effects.  We live in a culture where people live only for the moment without regard for the consequences in this life, let alone the next one.  We continually commit all the oldest sins in the book (lie, cheat, steal, lust, greed, anger, envy, etc.) as if they were virtues because we have this misguided notion that as long as no one finds out, we did not do anything wrong.  As humans our faith is inherently weak.  We hear that there is more to our existence than this world.  We might even say we believe it.  We proclaim it every time we pray The Creed.  And yet, we frequently do not have enough faith in those words to put away our sinful ways and fully embrace the life of grace to which Jesus calls us.

A priest on ETWN once told a parable that I think communicates this mystery’s message quite well.  He likened this world to a giant land bridge.  The bridge is so long and wide that it appears more like a continent than a crossing.  We hear that at the end of the bridge there is a place more glorious than whatever we can imagine.  And yet, so many people, not believing what lies ahead, build their entire kingdom on the bridge.  They believe their castles and treasures are all they need and they ridicule those who do not built their own castles but continue on their journey.  The kings shout, “Don’t you know there is nothing on the other end?  Why don’t you build yourself a castle and gather as many riches as you can?”  However, one day the oceans rose and submerged the land bridge taking all the castles with it.  The travelers, always packing lightly and moving with haste, made it to the other side safely while the kings drowned trying to hold on to as much treasure as possible.

The moral of the story is that those who only live for this world (the bridge) might not make it to the other side (Heaven).  It is those who remember that bridges are not permanent and always make their focus the “other side” who will make it into Christ’s kingdom.  So, are you a king or a traveler?  How many times are you like the kings and do not believe that there is more than what you can see, hear, and touch?  How many times do you live only for this world despite the calling that Jesus desperately wants you to live for His kingdom in Heaven?  He rose to a new life much like we will rise to a new life after our earthly death.  The question is, will you be so bound by the treasures of this world that you did not make room in your heart for the treasures of Heaven?

This mystery makes clear that Jesus conquered sin and death, rose to new life, and He calls us to a new life with Him.  He gives hope to everyone who tries to live honestly and faithfully despite the hardship it causes in a world that values immediate gratification.  Those who are truly faithful realize that there is nothing that can be gained here on earth that remotely matches what can be gained in Heaven.  We should pray that we gather the strength to live for Jesus’ kingdom in Heaven despite all the temptations that bombard us to live only for this world.  We must also pray for those who live only for this world and do not have the faith that a much better life lies ahead.

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Pop Quiz

Pop quiz!  Can you honestly answer these questions without looking them up?

  • Can you name all 10 Commandments (bonus if you get them in order)?
  • How many sacraments are there?  What are they?
  • What are the three parts of the Holy Trinity?
  • Who are the four Gospel writers?
  • Who was the first pope?
  • What are the four dogmas about Mary?

How many did you get right?

  • All of them: Someone’s been reading their catechism!
  • Some of them: There’s always room for improvement.
  • None of them: Boy howdy!  We have some work to do.

I’m guessing that most of you fell in that middle category (myself included).  As I was driving today it hit me just how little I know about my Catholic faith.  While far from being a great theologian I should at least know the basics of something that is supposed to be of great importance to my life.  When you think about it, countries and societies are drawn along very few lines.  We group each other mainly along gender, ethnicity, and religion.  So if being a Catholic makes up a large part of who I am why do I know so little about it? And not just me, but it seems like everywhere you turn you see and hear people who do not know the basic foundations of Catholicism. We see it from the “casual Catholic” to even very educated priests.

The basis for our faith is very simple — a love for God.  But how can we love Him and His church if we do not make the effort to really know Him? We go about saying that we are Catholic without knowing what defines the Catholic faith.  Think about it like this.  Would you marry someone after your first date?  Of course not.  In order to love someone you need to know him or her.  A relationship requires a commitment of time and attention.  Of course there is that spark; that little indescribable feeling you get when you are around someone you love.  But that does not completely replace the knowledge of one another that is required for a strong relationship.  The same goes with our relationship with God.  Prayer is that “spark” which moves us closer to God.  But prayer alone cannot replace learning, knowing, and practicing our faith.  We have a much fuller relationship with God when our prayer is matched with understanding the basis for those prayers.

It is of growing importance and urgency that Catholics really embrace their faith and learn it.  No doubt you probably know that many people are leaving the Catholic Church.  While many do not leave the faith for another religion, many stay in name only and do not actively participate. We have all heard descriptions like “Christmas and Easter Catholics”, “Buffet-style Catholics”, “Casual Catholics”, etc. I believe that a lack of knowledge about Catholicism has created this mass exodus. People are losing that strong foundation in their faith, rooted in knowledge and understanding, to the point where the Catholic Church really becomes meaningless in their lives.

If this sounds like doom and gloom, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Remember that our simple prayers can transform even the most hardened hearts amongst us. I truly believe that a single prayer, said earnestly, has the ability to reach millions.  Remember, the Catholic Church started with one man and a dozen apostles.  And with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there is no limit to what a few people can achieve.  If we make an earnest effort to learn our faith we will see greater returns on that investment than we can possibly imagine.   Because that knowledge, combined with prayer, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit has the power to save souls.  And in the end, that’s what truly matters.

If that was the pep-talk, it is now time to discuss strategy. What can we do to grow in faith and love for God?  After all, we do not transform from couch potato to St. Thomas Aquinas overnight (if you do not know who he is, consider learning about him as your homework).  Here’s a very simple start — read the Bible.  I know, it’s a huge book that will take forever to read right?  Well, you may not have all eternity to read it, but a lifetime should be plenty of time for most of us.  I’m on year three of reading the New Testament and I’m almost done (just three more chapters to go). It’s amazing how much more you get from the Bible when you read chapters in full as opposed to hearing snippets in daily or weekly readings. The foundation of the faith is all right there at your fingertips waiting for you to discover it.

Not ready to give up your couch potato ways? That’s all right, me neither. I really enjoy watching television and browsing the web. But I know I can carve out a few minutes to enjoy some Catholic programming or read some Catholic news. In the long run, I am much better served keeping up to date about the Church than watching reruns of “Friends” and “Seinfeld”.  There are many great Catholic video and radio channels on the web that you can access almost anywhere.

Two feeds I like to watch are the Catholic News Agency:






And the Eternal World Television Network:



Happy learning! Remember, millions of souls depend on it (no pressure or anything).

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Is God One of Your Friends?

I’m taking another break from my usual rosary meditations to talk more about my thoughts on prayer in general.  Why?  For starters, the remaining mysteries are ones that require a bit more thought and personal meditation in order to present them in a meaningful way.  Also, while meditating on the holy rosary is an important part of our prayer life, it is also important to understand our motivations for prayer so that we can get the most out of it.

Have you ever heard of facebook?  That’s fine if you have not and don’t worry, I won’t go into too much detail or pitch its many uses.  It is a social networking web site where you build a community of family and friends.  One of its most-used features is that you can broadcast your status to others in your network.  People use this to express anything from small, mundane details of their lives to announcing important events.  Different status updates include:

  • “I don’t feel like studying right now.”
  • “I’m sick.”
  • “Wish me luck on my big date!”
  • “I just finished my taxes and I can enjoy life again!”
  • “I just came back from the doctor’s office and I’m waiting on my test results.”

What I find most interesting is the ease in which we share every detail of our lives with one another.  We have no problem expressing our joys, disappointments, angers, frustrations, and gratitude to each other whether it is on a social networking web site, the phone, email, or in person.  And the reasons we broadcast are just as diverse as the content of the messages.  Perhaps we need advice on a particular subject or problem.  Maybe we have a big announcement or we are excited about something and we want everyone to know.  But I think we update our status, regardless of the message’s importance, mostly because we want to feel connected to one another.

Unfortunately, we often cut God out of our daily status updates.  While we seem to have no problems informing people about everything we do, we shy away from discussing our hopes, fears, frustrations, and gratitude with God.  Perhaps we figure that since God is omniscient and He already knows everything about us whether we inform Him or not, maybe we don’t feel like bothering Him with our daily problems.  However, the purpose of relating our lives to God is not for His benefit, but for ours.  Just as social networking sites connect us to each other, prayer connects us to God.  And we are not only connected to Him, but His network of saints, angels, and the Church.  That’s one powerful network!

It is so incredibly important to build our relationship with God through earnest prayer.  When we vocalize our worries and frustrations we also open ourselves to His intervention.  How can He help us if we don’t ask for His assistance?  In the Gospels numerous people ask Jesus for healing and forgiveness and He never refused them.  But the healing required them to first make the effort, approach Jesus, and ask Him for help.  As we learn in the Gospel of Matthew 7:7,  “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”  We must make the effort to talk to God through prayer if we are to receive His guidance and graces.

The other important aspect of vocalizing our thoughts through prayer is that we begin to better understand how God will answer us.  God always answers us, but because we do not understand the true nature of our problems we cannot understand His solution.  It is like someone handing you wooden boards, nails, and a hammer and you do not know what you need to build.  When we begin to formulate our concerns in prayer we won’t overlook or dismiss God’s response.  If we pray continuously to God then we are always on the lookout for His response in whatever form it may take.  Similar to my thoughts on prayer as spiritual exercise, when we include God in our network of family and friends and talk to Him constantly, His influence grows in our lives.

Let us learn from the example of Don Camillo — a fictional Italian priest who talks to Jesus Christ regularly as you would to a friend or relative.  Don Camillo is far from perfect.  He has a short temper, steals, and fights with the local, communist party members.  But take note on how he has a very personal relationship with Jesus and allows the Lord to guide him especially when he finds himself in a difficult situation.  If you have never seen the movies or read the books, I highly encourage you to check them out.

Let us go out and really work towards incorporating God more into our lives through prayer.  Let us not be afraid to include our Lord, Jesus Christ into our inner circle of friends and family.

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Rosary Meditation: The First Sorrowful Mystery

This rosary meditation reflects on the First Sorrowful Mystery — The Agony in the Garden.  Before Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, He prayed in a garden for strength.  First, He prayed that God would let this horrible ordeal pass over Him.  He later found his apostles asleep after he asked them to pray with Him.  Finally, Jesus said that He would do God’s will despite any fears He had.

This mystery revolves around prayer as well as the lack of it.  First we see Jesus facing His certain death.  But what does He do in that situation?  Does He run and hide?  Does He ask the apostles to fight and protect Him?  Does he complain endlessly and ask, “why me?”  No, instead He prays and prays earnestly.  Jesus prays so hard that He starts sweating blood.  That make me wonder, have I every prayed so hard for anything in my life?  When I face large challenges, do I first turn to prayer and ask God for strength and guidance or do I try to figure out some way to avoid them?  Or do I just throw out a quick “God, help me!” without much effort or faith that God will actually do anything.

This rosary mystery really forces us to focus on the quality of our prayers.  Ask yourself, do you earnestly lay your soul before God in prayer or do you just go through the words and motions?  I know from my experience that when I pray I am often thinking of other things.  I’m thinking about work, a television show or movie, finances, something someone said, or politics.  When we pray are we like Jesus laying ourselves out before God or are we like the apostles — physically there but spiritually asleep?

We also see the dichotomy of Jesus being both fully human and fully God.  He shows us very human emotions such as the fear of being tortured and killed and disappointment upon discovering His apostles sleeping instead of praying.  He pleads with God that this terrible fate not befall Him.  Fear and desperation are not exactly traits we associate with God but ones we use to describe ourselves.  And there lies the reason why we see Jesus in this very human state.  If we saw the fully divine Jesus go to His death, fully at peace because He knew about His ultimate resurrection and redemption, we would not be able to relate to Him much less imitate Him.  Seeing Jesus scared reminds us that being scared is a normal human response when facing monumental obstacles and challenges in our lives.  However, Jesus shows us that we cannot let those emotions impede us from doing God’s will.  We truly follow in Jesus’ footsteps when we imitate His ways despite our human fears and doubts that make us want to do otherwise.

Jesus’ experience in the garden mirrors the apostles’ experience in the Third Glorious Mystery – The Decent of the Holy Spirit.  The apostles were scared of the fate that might befall them but God gave them strength and guidance through the Holy Spirit.  Their worldly circumstances did not change and they still faced some rather monumental challenges.  Similarly, God did not change the world so that Jesus could escape crucifixion.  God knew, as Jesus did, that ultimate salvation could only be found at the cross.  We should remember that the reason God does not remove obstacles and challenges in our lives is so that we can grow closer to Him and become better people by enduring those challenges.  In other words, God shows His might, not by removing obstacles, but by giving us the strength to overcome them.

What can we do to put this mystery into practice?  For starters, let us try to pray earnestly with our whole heart, mind, and soul.  Our relationship with God is something too important for Him to occupy our thoughts alongside the latest episode of “American Idol”, a funny joke, or where the stock market is currently trading.  Wherever we are in our prayer life I know we can all probably step up our intensity.  That might mean trying to concentrate harder when praying the rosary, taking time out to say grace before a meal, or really focusing on prayers during Mass.  Perhaps we can take the time to go to Adoration and really focus and building a stronger relationship with God.  We should also pray for those who are feeling scared and trapped by life’s obstacles.  Whether they know it or not, they follow in Jesus’ footsteps and God will give them strength and guidance just as He gave those gifts to Jesus in that lonely garden.

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Rosary Meditation: The Third Glorious Mystery

Holy Spirit Stained Glass

This rosary meditation reflects on the Third Glorious Mystery — The Decent of the Holy Spirit.  The apostles, scared of suffering a similar fate as Jesus Christ, hid in a locked house.  Suddenly, a strong wind came through and tongues of fire appeared above the their heads.  Strengthened with the gift of the Holy Spirit they went out and made bold proclamations understood in any foreign language.

Many of us have heard this story before.  In fact, we often pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us through our daily lives.  We ask for just one good day where we don’t make any big mistakes at work.  We ask the Holy Spirit to be with us as we take that big exam.  We ask that we say all the right things to all the right people.  In short, we ask the Holy Spirit to make our lives easier and not screw up in any large ways.

But what gifts does the Holy Spirit really give us?  Is the Holy Spirit supposed to be a sort of spiritual cheat sheet to give us the answers to life’s big problems?  How many times do we ask God or the Holy Spirit for a “favor” with the only purpose to make our lives easier?  Like the Second Luminous Mystery, we have the tendency to only ask for God’s gifts when it will somehow help us out.  For example, how many times have you uttered a small prayer when buying a lottery ticket?  Like a little child we like to tell God that we’ll be good if He just helps us out this one time.  That, of course, is missing the entire point of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit does not come down to magically change the world to make our lives easier.  As much as we may wish it, the gifts do not “pave over” all of life’s obstacles so that we may continue living any way we wish.  The world in which the apostles lived did not magically change after they received the tongues of fire.  The people who wished them harm were still there.  Those who crucified Jesus did not vanish.  Nor where the apostles filled with any more knowledge than what they had learned from Jesus’ own words.  After all, did they not already have experience preaching the way of Christ when Jesus was still alive?

The real gift of the Holy Spirit is courage to do God’s will.  When it comes down to it, we all know the basics of right and wrong.  Very few of us deal with those moral edge cases on a daily basis if at all (my prayers go out to those that do).  We know the Ten Commandments and we have an understanding that Jesus’ way is one of love.  And yet, often we fail to act on that knowledge.  But there are those times when we do the right thing even when we know doing something different would be a lot easier.  I think those are the times when the Holy Spirit is driving us the most in our lives.  In short, if we resolve to live God’s will — to choose good over evil and right over wrong the Holy Spirit will give us that little push in the right direction.

I do not want to reduce the Holy Spirity to just one characteristic.  Instead, I think we should look at courage to do God’s will as one of the gifts we often overlook.  Let us pray and reflect that the Holy Spirit will give us the courage to do God’s will even if it makes our earthly lives more difficult.  The next time we think about taking an easy way out of a difficult situation, let us look to the Holy Spirit to lead is back to what is right and face whatever consequences come our way.  After all, God never gives us challenges we cannot handle, is more than generous in His gift of the Holy Spirit, and is infinitely forgiving when we fall short and sin.  Armed with knowledge of Jesus’ teachings, courage from the Holy Spirit, and God’s forgiveness, what do we really have to fear from this world?

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Exercising Spiritually

I am going to take a short divergence from my rosary meditation to offer up some thoughts on WHY I think prayer is such an important part of life.  Thank you for reading my meditations on the mysteries of the rosary and there will certainly be more to come.  However, I know that there are many out there that ask, “why should I pray the rosary at all?”  While there are more reasons to pray it than you and I can possible know (and definitely more than what I can put into one article) I want to try to explain the importance of the rosary by comparing it to exercise.

First of all, why do we exercise physically?  It is hard, sometimes painful, takes time, and often we do not see any immediate, tangible results for our hard effort.  However, many of us exercise because we understand that it has many benefits:

  • Keeps us in good health and decreases the chances of illness.
  • Increases our strength and endurance for those times when we need it (like sports or work).
  • Improves our physical appearance.
  • Relieves stress.

Many of us, no matter how busy we are, make the time to exercise because we know that it is an important part of healthy living.  Not only is exercise important enough to schedule into our daily routines, but it is also important enough to spend our hard-earned money on gym memberships, equipment, clothing, and diet foods and supplements.

It is amazing how much time, money, and effort we put into physical exercise and how little we put into spiritual exercise.  Many of us somehow find an hour of our day to “hit the gym” but we cannot find one hour a week to go to church, 20 minutes to pray a rosary mystery or even 30 seconds to say a short prayer of thanks before a meal.  If the exercise analogy does not work for you, then replace that with work or a hobby (and go for a walk).  How much time do you spend browsing the Internet or playing video games compared to how much time you spend in prayer and mediation?

It is important to work out our spiritual muscles just as much as our physical ones.  When you build up your spiritual muscle you will be much more prepared when you are challenged.  Whether the challenge comes as a problem of faith or just handling day-to-day complications, you can better handle any challenge when you pray regularly.  Trying to handle difficult life challenges without a deep faith is like trying to run a marathon with only minimal training.  Sure, you may finish the race but it will be more difficult and painful than if you were adequately prepared.  But more likely, we tend to just give up when the going gets tough because we have not conditioned our heart, mind, and soul to work through life’s obstacles. 

Like exercise, you only need to put in small, but constant effort praying in order to feel results over time.  It takes 20 minutes to pray a mystery of the rosary which is shorter than the time it takes to watch a sitcom.  You most likely will not feel like a saint after a week of prayer (or a month or even longer) but it will start to change you over time.  It will change the way you see the world and your life and really puts into perspective what is really important.  I have a hard time explaining how praying the rosary has changed me.  Unlike exercise I cannot point to a certain metric that tracks my progress.  Unfortunately there is not a faith ranking I can improve.  But I know the rosary has affected me positively as seen in the way I interact with others and in just my overall outlook on life.  It has also brought me closer to my Catholic faith by making it a priority in my life.  Now my faith is every bit as important as my physical health, my finances, my family, and my career.

I could draw out the exercise/rosary analogy longer (since I love analogies) but hopefully you get the idea.  I hope these words might encourage some of you to give rosary meditation a try. 

And like many exercise programs advertised on television (like this one), I’m going to end with my prayer sales pitch:

You can change your life in just 20 minutes a day!  Increase your faith and spiritual health for no money!  That’s right, you can start living a better life and it will not cost you a thing!  Millions of people have tried this program and have seen remarkable results.  So what are you waiting for?  Go and pray the rosary today!

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