Imitating Heaven by Creating a Joyful Family Life

Joy is an elusive feeling missing in many of our lives.  Perhaps many of us are not joyful because we do not make finding it a priority.  We tend think joy is something that just happens to some and not to others.  But joy is something that requires our active participation in many small but often challenging ways.  Joy starts within the home.  Father Ed Broom wrote an article about 10 ways to vitalize the Catholic family which I think has a lot to do with finding joy.  The TL;DR summary of a joyful family is:

  1. Family prayer
  2. The father as head of the family
  3. Forgiveness
  4. Saying “I’m sorry”
  5. Servant attitude
  6. Gratitude
  7. Take a break from gadgets
  8. Listen
  9. Celebrate
  10. Marian Consecration

When I look at these ten points as a whole, I get the idea that a vitalized family is a joyous family.  It is one centered around building each other up, acknowledging when we mess up, forgiving, and moving on.

We all know the saying that money does not buy happiness.  But that does not stop many of us from trying.  I’m not just talking about extravagant or needless purchases either.  We all want what’s best for our spouse and our children and often plunk down a lot of money trying to achieve that.  We spend a lot for organized sports and activities, days out having fulfilling experiences, and nice family meals out.  But all that stuff and activities can also drown out true quality time that produces joy.

Modern “family time.” Where’s the joy emoji?

True family happiness is not something that comes through a Disney cruise or Hawaiian vacation.  It comes from much smaller but probably more costly actions.  It means taking the time to listen to your kid stumble through a joke he heard at school.  It means having some silly time with a toddler even when there is housework to be done.  It means just stopping and asking how your kids’ day went.  It means setting aside time to listen to your spouse talk about the day.

Life is busy.  And we so often get bogged down in doing what is immediately necessary.  We need to wake the kids up, we need to finish breakfast, we need to get to school, we need to drive to baseball practice, we need to get started on homework, we need to clean the house, we need to…  And so our days become a checklist of tasks where the joy and happiness are jettisoned for the sake of efficiency.  We may not even feel unhappy because everything runs so smoothly.  But we miss out on that feeling of joy because we are so busy running our families like a business that we don’t take the time enjoying being a family.

Joy is an important aspect of the Catholic faith and yet is one that is too often forgotten.  We forget about the joy amongst the talk of fasting, penance, sin, and dogma.  What we fail to understand is that the rules, fasting, and penance make way for joy because they tear down our natural human resistance to God’s grace and pave the way to ultimate joy in His Kingdom of Heaven.  You cannot experience joy with a soul burdened by sin.  Like someone shedding weight and feeling better through intense exercise, we need to shed the weight of sin through prayer and fasting to truly feel that joy that God intends for us.

When I pray the First Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, Jesus’ Resurrection, I remember that the Catholic Church is first and foremost a joyful Church.  Without Jesus’ resurrection, the Church would be based on little more than a philosophy of a man who lived thousands of years ago.  But with the resurrection, we celebrate with Jesus who conquered death as He said He would to His disciples.  Jesus is alive and present in our lives today helping us achieve that joy of having a close relationship with God our Father.  His resurrection proved that our lives do not end with the challenges and suffering of this world.  It does not end at all because He desires all of us to find true joy in His Heavenly Kingdom.

Circling back to the original topic of joy and family.  We should all try to make our family life an imitation of the joy we desire for ourselves in Heaven.  Maybe, if we give others in our family a small taste of joy, they will desire that true joy that God gives that much more.  And while our family life may never replicate Heaven, I think we can all agree that a pale imitation of Heaven is much better than an imitation of Hell.  If you are looking to spread joy in this world, start with the people who share your roof.

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Scripture and the Rosary: Being Prepared

When I glance at news headlines, I see a world that is going downhill at an ever-increasing pace.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, shootings, and fires are sweeping our planet.  In addition to natural and man-made disasters, there is so much anger and division surrounding politics that has crept into everyone’s daily consciousness.  And while I don’t think we’re living in the end times, seeing how quickly things can go from normal to chaotic makes me take stock of my life.  Am I prepared for an emergency?  Is my soul prepared in the event of an unexpected death?  How does scripture and Rosary prayer prepare me for the unexpected?

Last Sunday’s Gospel speaks to our lack of preparation for something we all know is coming.  The Gospel likens the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast to which everyone was invited.  And yet, one of the people was not prepared for the wedding feast and did not have the proper attire.  The king, who was hosting the party, threw the unprepared guest out.

Whenever I hear this Gospel I can’t help but feel sorry for the person who did not have the proper wedding attire.  After all, he was not planning on going to a wedding banquet on that day.  Why would he be walking down a road with his wedding attire in hand?  Or even more curiously, why did everyone else have their wedding clothes at the ready?  He was just going about his business, was told that there was a party and he was invited, and then the king humiliated him and threw him out.  I sometimes feel like the lesson of this parable is that we should be cautious in accepting God’s offer of grace because it comes with strings attached.  What is Jesus trying to tell us?

I don’t know much about Jewish customs in the first century AD so I may be making some very incorrect assumptions.  But I like to think that maybe, upon receiving the invitation to the wedding feast, people had time to quickly go home and get dressed appropriately.  But the one man who did not fetch his wedding garment maybe thought, “I’m sure the king will be okay if I just come as I am.”  He may have thought that since the king was inviting everyone that he probably wouldn’t be very choosy about how the guests chose to conduct themselves.

In case you haven’t made the connection, the parable of the wedding feast is about our death and God’s judgment.  Like the king inviting everyone to the wedding, God invites us all into His heavenly kingdom.  But we do have to come prepared with a soul free of mortal sin.  God will not accept us if our souls are not in the proper state.  For many of us, that may mean time in Purgatory.  For others, they will be turned out of the kingdom entirely.  But unlike the travelers on the road who received a surprise invitation to the king’s banquet, we all know that God invites us to His heavenly banquet.  We have plenty of time to get ready so that we can enter into His kingdom confidently because we adequately prepared.

When I pray the Rosary, I often meditate on my death and judgment on the Second Glorious Mystery — Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven.  I recall the words of the Creed, “He ascended into Heaven and is seated next to God, the Father Almighty.  He will come to judge the living and the dead.”  It’s right there in the creed we profess every time we pray the Rosary and at Mass.  Jesus will judge us and assess our worthiness to enter His Father’s house after our death.  There’s no mystery, surprises, or ambiguity about that.

“Why am I here? Oh right… the sins”

Yes, God is a God of love and mercy which is why He so readily forgives us when we ask for it through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  But we have to show that we want to be with Him and His kingdom through our words, thoughts, and actions.  We have to choose Heaven and work towards it and not assume God will be okay with our inappropriate choices we made in life.  When we make the assumption that we can enter Heaven no matter how we chose to live, we are like the foolish man who had time to prepare and did not take advantage of it.

Lord, as I pray this second glorious mystery of the Rosary, may I remember that You have prepared a place for me in Your kingdom.  May my every action, thought, and word be conducted with the knowledge of Your final judgment.  May my love for you, Oh Lord, be so great that I avoid bad choices in life that would make me unprepared to enter into Your kingdom.

Honor Mary by Asking for Her Help

In his article, Prayer takes Practice, Fr. Ed Broom lays out five ways to improve your prayer life.  For the TL;DR crowd, the summary is:

  1. Conviction — Have faith that prayer is actually important
  2. Confession — Mend your relationship with God whenever you sin
  3. Set a time and place to pray — Routine helps you pray consistently
  4. Mass and holy communion — Mass and the Eucharist are the greatest prayers in the world
  5. Seek our Lady of the RosaryPray the rosary to bring about peace

I want to focus on that last point — seeking out our Lady of the Rosary (naturally, this is a rosary prayer blog after all).  On Aug 22nd, we celebrate the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary which we pray in the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  When we pray the rosary we are in essence “crowning” our Heavenly Queen.  Mary wants nothing more than for us for to have a close relationship with her son, Jesus Christ.  We honor and crown her whenever we show faith and conviction that our relationship with Jesus matters to us.

But having conviction and faith is not easy.  Think about it.  You may brood for days over a friend’s disagreeable Facebook post.  You can get into a funk at work or at home when it seems like nothing is going smoothly.  Many of us get tied up in knots over our finances.  But how much time and energy do we devote to thinking about the state of our relationship with Jesus?  Do we put more energy into worrying about Facebook posts than finding time to go to Confession?  Do we spend hours on our hobbies and minutes in prayer?

If you feel like you are falling short in improving your prayer life, I suggest starting with the fifth point on that list.  Pick up a rosary and earnestly tell Mary that you need her help.  Tell her you need the courage to go to Confession.  Tell her you need help to be more engaged at Mass.  Tell her you need help praying on a more regular schedule.  Tell her you need more faith and conviction that prayer actually means something.  Praying the rosary will make all the other items on that list easier to accomplish.

 

You crown Mary through the rosary when you earnestly say, “I need your help!”  Speaking as a parent, I feel honored when my kids need my help no matter how trivial the matter.  I’m lucky that my kids are young because it will feel odd when the day comes when they no longer need my help.  Mary isn’t satisfied with the title of a queen but with nothing to do.  She wants us to come to her with all our worries and problems so she can help us.

And let’s face it, we all need Mary’s help because having a perfect relationship with Jesus is nearly impossible because of the active attempts by Satan to derail us and our own weakness towards sin.  But God knows this challenge and doesn’t leave us in a hopeless situation.  He gave us a Heavenly Queen in Mary and the means for her to help us through the rosary.  Honor Jesus by honoring Mary by asking for her help through rosary prayer.

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How the Rosary Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

I don’t watch a lot of television.  However, when I find a few minutes and don’t feel like doing anything serious, I enjoy watching American Ninja Warrior.  It’s a show where athletes run through an obstacle course trying to complete increasingly more rigorous feats.  Most people fail to complete the entire course.  But those that do are ecstatic because they overcame the temptation to quit even when they were fatigued and were entertaining thoughts that they didn’t have the ability to complete the course.

The same conflict between completing a goal or giving up because the obstacles seem too great appears in many of our spiritual lives.  Many of us have a hard time mustering up enough energy to make it through an entire rosary chaplet or Bible reading.  We all want to do God’s will and form a deep relationship with Him through prayer.  And yet, despite all that we desire, we let trivial obstacles like a television show, website, or video game distract or derail us from doing what we know is good.

Saint Peter highlights what happens when we let obstacles overpower us and distract us from God’s will.  In the Gospel, St. Matthew wrote about Jesus walking on the water in a terrible storm.  Peter also tried walking on the water and was initially successful but then was overcome by fear and doubt and sank (Matthew 14:22-36).

Does Saint Peter’s story sound a lot like yours when it comes to prayer and doing God‘s Will?  I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “This time I’m going to stick to a rigid prayer schedule.”  Or I read a book about the importance and benefits of prayer and get all excited initially only to be overcome by distractions.  Like Saint Peter walking on water, instead of staying focused on my relationship with Jesus Christ I get distracted by the world around me.

But when we make an effort to pray and act according to God’s will, we actually act in a way that is doubly pleasing to God.  Rev. P.J. Michel explains in his book, Temptations:

On this principle, when you observe the law of God and do His will in a way that is displeasing to nature, you acquire a double claim to reward: first, you have obeyed, and secondly, you have obeyed with difficulty and against resistance and combat. The sac­rifice you have made of the natural inclination that solicited and impelled you is rewarded here by new graces and hereafter by an increase of eternal glory and happiness.

Temptations

What does the rosary teach us about praying through distractions and temptations?  You can probably pick any of the Sorrowful Mysteries and see Jesus’ example of doing God’s will despite the pain and suffering.  But that’s too easy of an example for regular RosaryMeds readers!  I want to look at the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation.  Here we have Mary being asked to be the Mother of God.  At first, she focuses on all the earthly limitations of such a request.  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asked (Luke 1:34).  But Mary didn’t let all those concerns distract her from accepting the burden and the honor God wanted to bestow on her.

Now jump to the Fifth Glorious Mystery, Mary’s Coronation in Heaven.  Going back to the passage from Temptations, when you do God’s will in the face of difficulty, you increase your eternal glory and happiness.  What better example is there than seeing Mary crowned Queen of Heaven?  She followed God’s will even when that meant seeing her son rejected and crucified.

When you don’t feel like you have the time or energy to pray the rosary, look to Mary’s example of the grace God gives you when you make the effort to pray and do God’s will despite the difficulty.  It may be hard, but the reward dwarfs the inconvenience.

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How to Recover After a Disappointing Lent

We’re now in the middle of the Easter Octave and Lent 2017 is in the history books.  Maybe you didn’t have the most spiritual Lent this year.  Maybe you didn’t give something up or cheated a bit.  Maybe you didn’t receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, didn’t fast, or didn’t commit yourself to prayer.  Some of you may not have acted any differently during Lent than any other time of the year.

In the wake of a disappointing Lenten season, it’s easy to throw your hands into the air and say, “well, better luck next year.  That’s when I’ll really take Lent seriously.”  With that attitude, you basically turn Lent into some sort of spiritual open enrollment period where, if you miss it, you have to wait an entire year before you can make changes to your spiritual behavior.  Granted, I haven’t read the entire Bible (yet) but I don’t think God specified a time window on when you can convert and invest in a deeper relationship with Him.

I also hope there isn’t a three month wait list to receive God’s grace.

What can you do now that Lent is over?  Easter is a celebration that lasts for 50 days.  What better way to celebrate than committing yourself to increased prayer, fasting, and receiving the sacraments.  Like Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast, we want to come dressed to this glorious Easter celebration “dressed” appropriately.  That means with a soul cleansed of sin and a humble spirit of conversion.  Sure, we may not have used all 40 days of Lent to adequately prepare, but getting prepared now and arriving a little late to the party is better than missing the party completely.  Better late than never, right?

On the flip side, maybe you had a great Lent which is turning into a great Easter.  And while we may ease up a bit on the fasting and sacrifice, we shouldn’t do a complete 180 and undo those gains by sinning, not praying, and ignoring our faith.  Hopefully, what you did during Lent will have a lasting impression.  For example, I gave up snacking for Lent.  But just because Lent is over, it doesn’t mean I’m going to become a glutton (although I may have gone overboard on the donuts last Sunday).  While I may not be as steadfast as I was during Lent, I think I will continue to abstain from snacking at least two days a week.

Remember, it will all still be there tomorrow. Stay strong and resist temptation.

After Jesus’ death, many people thought they could back to their “old” lives and basically wrote off Jesus as someone who had some interesting ideas but died tragically.  Saint Peter momentarily went back to fishing.  Jesus’ disciples started leaving Jerusalem to pick up where they left off.  We too may have that feeling that now that Easter Sunday has passed, it’s time we return to our “normal” lives.  But Jesus’ resurrection actually created a new normal and permanently altered human kind‘s relationship with God.  Similarly, each Lent and Easter, we should be creating a new normal for ourselves as well; always pushing ourselves to form a deeper relationship with God.  Let’s not make the same mistake Jesus’ disciples made treating Jesus as a passing fad.  Instead, prolong the spirit of the Resurrection and make your relationship with Him something you work on every day for the rest of your life.

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And Jesus Wept…

We are coming down the home stretch of this Lenten season.  Like a movie, the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is hitting its climax as Jesus’ miracles get larger and more public but so does the ire of the Jewish authorities.  It, of course, culminates with Jesus’ crucifixion and then resurrection.  Similar to how the readings are hitting their crescendo, so too should our observance of Lent.  It’s time to pick up the praying, fasting, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and just putting our faith front and center in our lives.

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  I want to focus on one specific verse.  It’s a short, three-word sentence — “And Jesus wept (John 11:35).”  It is easy to overlook the significance of this sentence when you know what Jesus is about to do.  In fact, this sentence does not seem to make a lot of sense.  If Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, why did he weep?  Naturally, the other people wept because they did not know Jesus was going to raise Lazarus.  But why would Jesus, someone who healed and raised others from dead, weep when he knew that Lazarus’ state was only temporary?

English: Picture of the And Jesus Wept statue ...
English: Picture of the And Jesus Wept statue that stands next to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus’ weeping ties him to our shared humanity with him.  It is so easy to see Jesus’ divinity in the accounts of him healing others, performing miracles, and resurrecting from the dead.  On top of that, we have the Catholic Church and it’s billion+ members in all its grandeur.  But after 2000 years we tend to forget that Jesus was also human.  He shared all the same emotions as us except the tendency to sin.  Even when he knew that he was going to raise Lazarus, his weeping told people that he sympathized with them and understood their grief.  He did not distance himself but instead drew us closer to God by making himself more relatable.

When we pray the rosary, we should remember Jesus’ humanity in addition to his divinity.  Remember that despite all the miracles he performed, Jesus was one of us.  He showed grief at the death of a loved one.  He showed fear in the Garden of Gesthemene before being arrested and crucified.  He showed anger when he threw the merchants out of the temple or the countless times he chastised Peter.  Even going back to the story of Lazarus, the Gospel says that Jesus was “perturbed” by everyone’s lack of faith.  Yes, it seems like Jesus wasn’t immune from frustration.

Jesus asks a lot of us.  He asks us to live for the Kingdom of Heaven and convert by turning away from our sinful or earthly ways.  Like a defiant teenager rebelling against his parents, we may tell Jesus, “Easy for you to say!  You’re perfect!  You just don’t understand what it’s like to be me!”  But Jesus replies, “I understand perfectly.   Remember, I know what it is like to be human.  I shared the same feelings and emotions.  And I ask these things of you because I know what it is like to be you.  I’m not some distant God who does not know the human condition for I experienced it personally.”

You think you have it tough, try healing a man on the Sabbath!

Fasting, praying, reading the Bible, and confessing sins are all difficult during Lent.  And in general, living a spiritual life can be difficult.  But the Church calls us to this life not because it expects us to fail.  The Church does not call us to a holy life that is completely beyond our ability to grasp.  The Church follows Jesus’ teachings born out of his experience being human and knowing what we are capable of.

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How the Rosary Helps Us Avoid The Unforgivable Sin

Last Monday’s Gospel reading contains a verse that has always disturbed me:

He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12:22-32).

I never liked this idea of an unforgivable sin. I was always taught that there was nothing you could do that God could not forgive. Jesus‘ entire ministry focused on redeeming those that Jewish society labeled unredeemable — tax collectors, prostitutes, Romans, and criminals. And while Jesus forgave all these people, He taught that there was a sin that He was unwilling or unable to forgive. That didn’t seem right to me.

Jeromebosch1503
Ummm… no thanks!

I did some digging on this verse and came across an article on EWTN titled THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN written by James Akin. It’s a long read but worth it for an in-depth analysis of Jesus’ words. But Mr. Akin summarizes the unforgivable sin like this:

Jesus asserts (v 30) that one must ally with him or be opposed to him and “through this” he tells us (v 31) that the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Blaspheming the Spirit is thus a failure to repent and ally oneself with Jesus. Since this can always be done during one’s life (cf. 20:1-15), blasphemy against the Holy Spirit must be a final refusal to repent, or final impenitence.

When one refuses to ask for forgiveness, those sins remain unforgiven. The unforgiveness does not come from Jesus as He is always willing to forgive. It comes from us refusing either to acknowledge our sins or refusing to ask for His forgiveness. The comforting fact in all of this is that there are two ways to escape the trap of the unforgiven sin:

1) Do not commit any sins. Unfortunately, this is impossible for any human outside of Mary and Jesus. Everyone from the most devout popes to every saint fell into sin at various points in their lives.
2) Ask for forgiveness. Penitence is the only realistic way to avoid committing the unforgivable sin of impenitence.

There is one more aspect to this topic that I’m hesitant to mention because of its immense risk. Even if you die with unforgiven sins, that does not mean you’re automatically damned.  After all, many good people do die with unforgiven venial sins and the Church teaches that they can go to Heaven. God does have infinite mercy which He can show to anyone. But, as I heard one theologian put it, don’t gamble you soul on God’s mercy when receiving genuine forgiveness is so simple.

Repentance and reconciliation are themes found throughout the rosary. The Fifth Joyful Mystery shows just how far many of us can move away from Jesus and not even realize it.  It is only when we come back looking for Him with a sorrowful (aka, remorseful) heart that we find Him again.  Jesus echoes our battle with sin, a cycle of falling and finding the courage to get back up, in the carrying of the cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  Finally, let’s remember that Mary, assumed into Heaven in the Fourth Glorious Mystery, has constantly taught in her apparitions to approach her Son with a repentant heart.

The unforgiven sin is a serious and scary prospect.  However, avoiding it is completely within our power.  It’s called the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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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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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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How Rosary Prayer Teaches the Glory of Humility

I’m a lector at my parish.  One of the perks of serving as a lector is that my parish provides me with a workbook for the readings that contain explanations and commentary.  Reading this book during the week helps me obtain a deeper understanding of the readings at Sunday Mass.  I want to start providing you insight into the Sunday Gospels and how they relate to the rosary.  This way, when you pray the rosary, you can integrate the Sunday readings into your meditation as well.  Think of this as doing your Sunday Mass homework.

The Gospel for Sunday, August 28, 2016, is:

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

When I initially read this Gospel passage, I felt like I was reading the biblical equivalent of an Amy Vanderbilt etiquette book on how to politely find your place at a banquet table.  The reading confused me because it seemed like Jesus was giving his disciples a social hack for getting to a place of honor in a disingenuous way.  Is it not false humility to sit at a lowly spot of the table expecting the host to come and fetch you and put you where you think you deserve to be?  I can almost picture that fake humble person sitting next to the stereotypical “chatty lady,” not even listening to her but scanning the room making sure the host sees him so he can “rescue” him from the dregs.

How long do I have to listen to you?
How long do I have to listen to you?

The confusion lifted when I realized that Jesus asks us to behave as the guest and the host!  Jesus talks about the host not looking for reciprocity or acknowledgment for his efforts.  But that is also the same requirement for the guest who takes the lowest spot at the table.  He should not be looking for the host to save him from his situation but rather, accept and enjoy his situation regardless of the outcome.  After all, the guest should be thankful and grateful that he was invited to the feast at all.  We too should be grateful for all the blessings God bestows on us even when it seems like others have it better.

The people who are truly humble and accepting of their situation are ultimately the happiest.  They are not always looking for something better but find contentment with what they have.  That is because they do not come with any preconceived notions of their importance but they just do what needs to be done.  They do not worry about who notices them or if they will receive a certain level of reward.  In a sense, the humble person is free from the burden of self-imposed expectations or entitlement.  When you do not feel entitled to that place of honor, being elevated to it makes it that much more glorious.

Just about every mystery of the rosary teaches some aspect of humility and the glory that comes out of it.  The rosary itself is bookended by these two traits by the First Joyful Mystery and the Fifth Glorious Mystery.  In the Annunciation, Mary humbly accepts God‘s plan for her.  She does not turn God down or try to reshape His request into something she would prefer.  God is essentially upending Mary’s life but her humble reply is,  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Thy Will be done.
Thy Will be done

When we walk and talk with Jesus through the rosary, we finish with Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven.  Like the person sitting at the lowest spot of the banquet table only to be seated at the place of honor so was Mary glorified after her lifetime of humbly accepting God’s plan for her and the pain and sorrow that it entailed.  She is our model for our ultimate elevation to a place of honor in Heaven when we live in earnest, humble service of God’s plan for us.

When you pray the First Joyful and Fifth Glorious mysteries of the rosary, pray and ask yourself:

  • Am I living a sincerely humble life or showing a fake sense of humility as a means to more selfish ends?
  • Am I content and satisfied with all God has given me or am I expecting something better?
  • Am I looking to Mary as an example of humility?
  • Am I showing humility by putting my trust in God’s plan or am I trying to avoid or amend it?

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