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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5 Ways the Rosary Offers Relief from Today’s Headlines

Meditation ideas on the Glorious Mysteries of the holy rosary for dealing with all the troubling news the world is encountering right now.

Lately there has been a lot of news that has many people thinking the world is falling apart. We hear of people suffering from natural disasters across the globe, atrocities committed by groups like ISIS across the Middle East, silly presidential election news (Trump?  Hillary Clinton’s favorite ice cream flavor?), and troubling social/political news about Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage and ObamaCare. Basically, if you’re looking to get worried and upset about something, you don’t have to look much further than your Facebook news feed to grow a few gray hairs.

To me, praying the rosary is all about gaining perspective. And I think everyone could use a little perspective right now. I try to remember that the world has never been a perfect place and has been marked by problems both natural and man made. However, we live in a time when news has never been more accessible which means we get more bad news at an accelerated pace. Or we get a distorted view of the scope of outrage or support on any given issue. But thinking society is falling apart isn’t new.  Mankind has always had its share of problems.

Picture back to the time Jesus lived. If Facebook existed then people’s walls would have been filled with complaints about cheating tax collectors, Roman occupation, and corrupt pharisees. Furthermore, people were probably praying for the same types of solutions we pray for today.  Something to the tune of “Please God, make all our problems go away.”

Jesus did not come into this world to magically change the world with a wave of his hand.  He didn’t make all the Jews’ problems go away. But he did answer the people’s prayers. He did that not by making things easier but by challenging people to look beyond the troubled state of the world and their immediate, physical needs. He wanted them to concentrate more on the state of their souls rather than the actions of Cesar.  For example, he told the rich man to look beyond earthly wealth and to gain riches in Heaven by being charitable (Mark 10:17-31).  He said that those who are persecuted in this world will find glory in Heaven (Matthew 5:10).  He said that we all have to take up our crosses in this life so that we may find comfort in the next (Matthew 16:24-27).

In that spirit, let’s take a look at the Glorious mysteries of the rosary and meditate on gaining a more heavenly perspective instead of dwelling so much on the today’s troubling issues.

#1. Live for something more than this earthly world

The First Glorious Mystery is about Jesus rising from the dead.  The perspective gained from this mystery is that our earthly death is not an end.  Jesus’ crucifixion and death was only a transition from his earthly life to his true, heavenly one.  Jesus’ rising proved that there is so much more to us than the physical realities of this world.

When we think about all the injustice, death, and suffering in this world we should remember that none of it will persist after our earthly death as we rise to new life in Jesus’ kingdom.  And while a lifetime of pain and suffering may seem like an awfully huge cross to carry, it isn’t even a measurable instant of time compared to the eternal joy and happiness Jesus prepared for us in Heaven through his resurrection.

#2. Pray for those have fallen

The Second Glorious Mystery is about Jesus ascending into Heaven.  The perspective gained from this mystery is that Jesus sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, and will judge the living and the dead.  This is important to understand because we need to pray for the repentance and conversion of those who live in sin and cause so much scandal, misery, and unhappiness.  It may seem easy to complain and become stressed over others’ misdeeds.  It’s also easy to ignore them and focus only at our own salvation.  But we do need to pray for them and always be an example to the world of Jesus’ Truth.  Because everyone, including those who live in sin, will one day stand before the Lord with their sins in plain view.  Since we are called to love one another, we should do whatever is possible so that everyone, saint and sinner alike, will enjoy eternal happiness in Heaven.

#3. Let the Holy Spirit guide you

The Third Glorious Mystery is about the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles after Jesus’ ascension.  We live in a difficult world but we can look to the Holy Spirit to give us the strength and courage to persevere and maybe even change the hearts of others.  I don’t think any of the apostles would have thought that they were going to change the world when Jesus first called them to put down their nets and become fishers of men.  But with the guidance of the Holy Spirit they did just that by boldly venturing out and spreading Jesus’ truth.

We too may not think that there is much we can do when we see what appears to be impossible situations to fix or the deep seated hatred in people’s hearts.  But the Holy Spirit does give us the power to live according to Jesus’ truth and to lovingly bring people into God’s grace.  Like when Jesus was here in this world, he did not provide a quick fix to humanity’s problems.  Similarly, the Holy Spirit won’t give us a quick fix either.  But if we have faith and let the Holy Spirit guide us, we can personally thrive and bring others to know Jesus Christ.

#4. Follow our mother Mary’s roadmap for happiness

The Fourth Glorious Mystery is about Mary’s assumption into Heaven.  God had a very special plan for Mary and her assumption shows just how revered and elevated she is.  She was not only set aside to be the vessel through which God would manifest himself in human form, but she was also set aside to be our guide and mediatrix after her earthly death.  Like with the Third Glorious Mystery, the perspective we should gain from this mystery is that Mary is always there to help guide us closer to her son’s love.  She has appeared many times with a message of hope, love, and a call to action for conversion.  Over the generations, she has laid out a roadmap of prayer, fasting, and repentance which we should follow.  While it’s easy to get down and think nothing we do can do that will make much difference, Mary says otherwise.  And we should all listen to our mother.

#5. Remember that you are protected

The Fifth Glorious Mystery is Mary’s coronation in Heaven.  We have to understand that there are evil force at work.  And Satan and his minions are playing the long game where they want you to focus all your energy on this world in the hopes that you will be led astray and become his slave for eternity.  He wants you to “go with the crowd” even if what is popular in modern society goes against God’s plan.  Or he wants you to fall into despair, blame God for all that is wrong with the world, and turn away from your faith. But Mary is a powerful queen who reigns in Heaven.  When we accept and live for God’s Heavenly Kingdom then we fall under Mary’s protection against evil and Satan’s influence.  No matter what transpires in our world we know that we will have protection for what matters most — our eternal soul.

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Have Better Rosary Meditation by Preparing for a Confrontation

The other day I took a short break at work and went for a walk to clear my head. It was a bright, sunny day so I took a path that followed a small inlet of water from the San Francisco Bay. While I usually listen to an audiobook on my walks (remember, I’m still trying to get through the entire Catechism this year) I discovered that I forgot my headphones. Instead I took my rosary out of my pocket and began to pray it.

As I was taking my prayer walk, I suddenly got a sinking feeling in my stomach. What would happen if someone saw me and was offended by my public display of religion? How would I respond if someone told me to put those beads away? As outrageous as that may sound, remember that I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was very possible to come across an atheist with the ACLU on speed dial in my neck of the woods.

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“How dare you pray in public! What if a child saw you?”

I then got my wits together and thought of a more realistic scenario. What if someone saw me walking with my rosary and curiously asked what it was? What if someone asked me to describe rosary prayer or describe the mysteries I was meditating on? That got my mind racing on how I would explain the rosary to a casual passerby.

I rehearsed talking about how I meditate on not being so materialistic when I pray the First Glorious Mystery. I ran a through a small monologue in my head about living a clean life of good works when praying the Second Glorious Mystery. I pictured myself saying how I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me when I pray the Third Glorious Mystery. And so on…

And while I didn’t know it at the time, when constructing my defense for a possible confrontation I was in fact meditating and thinking about the themes and lessons of each rosary mystery. I wasn’t thinking about work. I wasn’t thinking about a movie, tv show, or news article. I wasn’t thinking about any of those topics that usually distract me and put me on prayer “autopilot.” Like a student furiously cramming for a test, I was focused of all the reasons I pray the rosary and what lessons it teaches me.  In short, I was praying the rosary correctly.

I was never cornered by atheist. I didn’t have anyone come up and ask questions. I didn’t get any odd stares from people I passed. But by preparing for the worst I did experience one of my deeper, least interrupted rosary meditations.

Are you prepared to explain what you’re meditating on if someone asks?  Suppose you had an apparition of the Virgin Mary while you were praying.  Sound crazy?  Remember, you don’t pray the rosary in a vacuum.  Who do you think you’re asking to intercede for you when you pray the rosary?  What if Mary vocally responded as she’s done to a select few throughout history.  What if Our Lady first thanked you for praying the rosary and then quizzed you on what exactly you were praying for.  Would you be ready to answer or scrambling because you zoned out?

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Easter is the Beginning, Not the End

Easter Sunday has come and gone which means life can get back to normal right? No more Lenten sacrifices so the donuts, chocolate, and beers can come out of the hiding spots. No more meatless Fridays. No more long Gospel readings. No more stations of the cross, rosaries, and being hounded to go to Confession.  Time to shelve that piety until Advent yes?

Don’t start making plans for that vice-filled weekend quite yet.  Lent was a time of preparation. But preparation for what? What happened on Easter Sunday that required 40 days of training? Surely Lent wasn’t about fine tuning your egg finding abilities or expanding your sugar tolerance. In terms of process, the Easter Mass wasn’t any different than other Sunday Masses.  There really wasn’t anything different on Easter Sunday than any other Sunday. What was all the preparation for?

Technically, Easter isn’t a day but a whole season.  It lasts 50 days starting with Easter Sunday and ending at Pentecost.  Did we spend 40 days of Lent preparing for 50 days of Easter?  Do we just have to practice our faith extra hard for three months and then we don’t have to think about it until Christmas?  Of course not.  In fact, there is no end date or time limit to what we profess during Easter.

When we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, we acknowledge the truth of his ministry. Jesus said that he would die and rise again and we celebrate the reality of that claim on Easter. But it’s not just about celebrating that single promise, but all of his promises. Easter is a celebration of the entire Gospel where we rejoice in all the promises and teachings Jesus gave us.  If Jesus was right about the outlandish claim of raising from the dead then he was right about everything else he preached. And we celebrate and give honor to Jesus’ resurrection by promising to go out and live according to his teachings.  Jesus asked us to go out and love our neighbors and our enemies.  He asked us to show compassion to the suffering and less fortunate.  He asked us to forgive those who wronged us.  He asked us to turn away from sin.  He promised eternal joy in Heaven.  He fulfilled that promise on Easter by rising from the dead and opening those gates for all of us.

Jesus Resurrection 1778
Jesus Resurrection 1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s spring so I’m going to use a baseball analogy.  Think of Lent as the pre-season.  We exercise and got into spiritual shape through fasting and prayer.  It was a time where we worked extra hard to shed those bad habits that crept in over the past year.  But if Lent is pre-season, Easter Sunday is opening day.  Yes, it’s a grand event filled with joy, hope, and optimism.  But it’s one day of many. And it is one Easter season of many.  Following Jesus’ teachings doesn’t end on Easter Sunday any more than the baseball season ends after the first game.  Instead, it is a time of hope and renewal as we look towards living out the Gospel in its entirety for the rest of our lives.

Easter Sunday has come and gone.  The candy will disappear over the next few days.  The pastel decorations and colorful eggs will be takn down.  But the celebration continues and requires your active participation.  Continue praying the rosary.  Continue attending Mass.  Continue fasting (maybe after indulging a little on the things you gave up during Lent).  When you meditate on the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary, picture Jesus opening the gates of Heaven in his resurrection.  He showed us that there is so much more to our lives than just what we experience on earth.  We are eternal beings with souls destined for Heaven if we choose.  Our praying, fasting, penance, and charity doesn’t end on Easter.  It ends when the Lord welcomes us into his kingdom that he made available to us through his resurrection.  Keep your rosaries close and God even closer!

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Catechism Thoughts: Living for Heaven

As I read the Catechism as part of my new year’s resolution I’m going to share little insights and passages that I find relevant to rosary prayer. I came across this prayer in section 260 which I think highlights the power and peace that comes from prayer.  It’s part of the prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity:

O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.

In business there is a saying — work the job you want, not the job you have. In other words, if you want to receive a promotion or have greater responsibilities at work, then take the initiative to display your skills now in your current role. Otherwise, you’ll always stay where you are because no one will see that you have the abilities or desire for anything greater.

A businessman's silhouette.
A businessman’s silhouette. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer is the spiritual equivalent of that business philosophy. Act like you’re already one of the saints at peace in God’s Kingdom. After all, Heaven is our ultimate goal (or at least it should be) where we will realize how inconsequential and petty many of our problems really are. Why focus so much time and energy on the problems of this life?  This life is temporary and fleeting and is not where God calls us.  God calls us to look past our earthly selves and look towards raising to new life with Him in Heaven.  If you want your soul to live in Heaven, then act heavenly while on earth.

This prayer’s message is echoed in the First Glorious Mystery, Jesus’ Resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead He showed us that our earthly death is not the end, but only a transition.  In His resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of Heaven and provided a place for us. Our souls are not temporary and bound only to this life but will live on for eternity. But how do we want to live that eternity? In the grace and joy of Heaven or in the despair and anguish of Hell? When we pray this rosary mystery, we should meditate and examine how much we are truly living for the place in Heaven Jesus prepared for us in His resurrection.

English: Resurrection of Christ
English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer also recalls themes from the Third Luminous MysteryJesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion.  She talks about how our journey into God’s grace is achieved “each minute.”  In other words, grace is achieved in small steps, not in one fell swoop.  It’s not like we fall asleep one night wallowing in sin and wake up the next day a saint.  Conversion is a process made up of a lifetime of small steps into God’s grace.  We should take that to heart when we pray this mystery because it can be so easy to become discouraged when it seems like no matter how hard we try we don’t find that peace we so desperately crave.  Remember, Jesus didn’t find peace here on earth either.  True peace is found only in Heaven.  And you find Heaven only when you convert your earthly ways into heavenly ones.

If you want peace and you want Heaven, work towards it now.  Pray, confess, fast, receive the sacraments, and learn and follow Jesus’ teachings.  You don’t have to be officially recognized a saint to act like one.

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