Make Lent a Time to Practice Patience

Have you ever heard the term, the patience of a saint?  Like many virtues, patience is a hard one to demonstrate as that quality seems to be reserved for the select few.  Lent is a great opportunity to reflect on and practice the virtue of patience.

One of the most obvious ways of practicing patience is sticking to your promise to fast and give up something pleasurable.  I know it can be hard, but keep in mind that you will get back in 40 days whatever you give up during Lent.  You aren’t giving up sweets, alcohol, or Facebook permanently.  You just have to be patient.  Lent is the perfect time to push yourself and say, “I know this is hard but exercising patience in small things will help me be patient in the large things.”

What do I mean by patience in large things?  Look at last Sunday’s Gospel about the leper.  My parish priest gave a great homily about how there are many lepers around us.  They may not have the physical disease of leprosy but we cast them out all the same.  These lepers are the friends and family that we hold grudges against.  They are the poor and helpless that we ignore.  And they are the people who we are short-tempered with and don’t show much patience.  We quickly snap at them because they inconvenience or annoy us.  Maybe we are even impatient with ourselves and are too quick to beat ourselves up over the smallest imperfection.

By showing patience by giving up something small for Lent, we establish a base that we can build up to show patience with others, especially the lepers in our lives.  If we can go 40 days without a particular treat, we show ourselves that we can handle certain challenges and inconveniences in doing God’s Will.  And that shows us that we are capable of pushing ourselves and opening our heats up to what God really wants of us — to love and be patient with each other.  Because ultimately, the purpose of Lent isn’t about giving up treats.  Lent is not some sort of Church mandated diet plan.  It’s about opening ourselves up to what God is asking of us by clearing our hearts and mind of earthly pleasures and showing patience for the Holy Spirit to work through us.  By practicing patience in the small, we can work our way up to the true level of patience God asks us to demonstrate.

Your Rosary Meds

We can turn to the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary and see Saint Simeon‘s demonstration of patience.  He prayed and waited in the temple because God promised him he would see the Chosen One.  It couldn’t have been easy for Saint Simeon waiting and preparing to see the baby Jesus.  Did he have other plans for his life that didn’t include spending much of his time in the temple praying?  Did he ever grow frustrated as the days passed without seeing the Chosen One?  Do we grow impatient when God’s plans for us aren’t immediately obvious?

We can also meditate on Saint Joseph and Mother Mary in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.  Both of them seemed to have been planning for a normal life together before God upended those plans in the Annunciation.  Joseph even had doubts about God’s plan when he tried to divorce Mary (Matthew 1:19).  But ultimately, he showed patience and great faith by protecting Mary and Jesus even if he didn’t completely understand God’s ways.

Pope Francis gave a great homily on the virtue of patience.  Meditate on his words and think about them throughout Lent.

So often we are impatient: When things don’t go our way, we complain. But, step back for a moment, think about the patience of God the Father, embrace patience, as Jesus did. Patience is a beautiful virtue. Let us ask the Lord for it.

Fill Your Understanding of God with Faith

Often times I find it easy to read the Bible and think, “well isn’t that obvious!”  I am amazed at how foolish Saint Peter acts in Jesus’ presence or how arrogant the Pharisees are when they doubt Jesus’ divinity.  We so often forget just how radical Jesus was and the fact that He was the Son of God was not taken for granted.  Even Jesus’ own parents were confused by His actions.  And while we may scoff at their unbelief, are we any better?

When we read about the finding of Jesus in the temple, which we meditate on in the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, let’s recall the passage when Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus:

When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

I find it hard to believe that Mary did not understand Jesus’ behavior and why she was confused when He referred to the temple as “His Father’s house.”  This is the same boy who was miraculously conceived, whose birth was heralded by angels, who wise men searched for with gifts, and Saint Simeon said was the Chosen One at His presentation in the Temple.  I’m confused by Mary and Joseph’s bewilderment.  How do they not understand that Jesus is special?  How do they not understand the many signs that He is the Messiah?

Okay, so we’re puzzled by the Mary, Joseph, and the apostles’ behavior in the presence of Jesus.  We marvel at their unbelief and confusion.  But now put yourself in the shoes of someone in Purgatory or Heaven.  They see us sinning.  They see us skipping our prayers, skipping Mass (or participating half-heartedly), and not following what Jesus taught.  They must look at us with the same level of astonishment that we have towards those in Scripture.  They must be frustrated and saddened thinking, “How do they not get it!!!??  If they know who Jesus is, why do they sin?  Why do they not make more of an effort to live in His grace?  Why are they not following His teachings?”

When you pray the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, try to flip your perspective to the saints in Heaven.  Do you look foolish in their eyes by not making the most of your faith?  Do you downplay or ignore the truths taught by the Church?

How an angel must feel seeing us sin

I really like how the account of the finding of Jesus in the temple ends.  It says Mary TREASURED all these things in Her heart.  That word “treasured” is really interesting.  She didn’t fully understand Jesus’ nature at a cognitive level but she still treasured who He was.  That is a great showing of faith.  We may not understand all the teachings of the Catholic Church and struggle to appreciate Jesus’ true nature as God made man.  And yet, we can still treasure the Church’s teachings and our relationship with Jesus even when it’s confusing.  It is the truest measure of faith — treasuring that which we do not understand.  Mary is Queen of Heaven because she embraced Jesus even amongst Her confusion.

When you pray and meditate on the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, ask God to help you accept and treasure what you don’t fully understand.  Our human minds will never be capable of fully understanding Jesus.  After all, the finite (our minds) cannot take in the infinite (God).  But thankfully, faith is there to fill the void.  When you pray, ask God to fill the void in understanding with faith.  And then treasure the fact that your understanding of God is complete when you combine what you know with what you take on faith.

Make Rosary Prayer a High Priority

Many of us, including myself, often think we are too busy to pray. We may understand the value of prayer and enjoy praying and yet we too often find ourselves bogged down in day-to-day responsibilities (and let’s be honest, leisure) that we don’t pray as much as we want or should. I know that my goal of a rosary chaplet and scripture reading every day often goes only partially filled.

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, when addressing seminarians, had this to say about prayer:

One hour each day is necessary, a time for the Lord, to allow oneself to be encountered by Him and to grow in His friendship . . . The time that we dedicate to the Lord in prayer, in meditation, and in a personal encounter, is never lost time.” “On the contrary, the more generous we are with those times offered to God, the more we will be able to go to brothers with a pastor’s heart and as precious instruments of the Father’s tenderness.

And yet, I think many of us do see prayer as lost time. It may not be consciously, but what we put ahead of prayer does reveal the priority we put on it. For example, what was I doing right before writing this article? I was watching clips from The Simpsons on Youtube. And while downtime after a busy day is important, was rewatching a Tree House of Horror episode really more important than Rosary prayer or Bible reading?  If actions speak louder than words, then my actions are saying that I don’t always put a high value on prayer.

Also, note that Cardinal Beniamino Stella is talking specifically about meditative prayer.  Not all of us have time to sit quietly for an hour and meditate. However, there are other ways to integrate prayer into your day.  For example, look at St. Therese’s Little Way as a means of incorporating God and reflecting on your relationship with Him in everything you do:

Catholics would do well to imitate St. Therese’s Little Way if they want to be happy in this life, as well as happy in the next.  That “Little Way” consists of simplicity in life, prayer from the heart to Jesus, total trust in God as our Loving Father (not a stern judge), being a true child of God our Father rather than doing our own thing, seeking God’s will in our everyday activities, doing everything for the love of Jesus with humility, being kind to people we can’t stand, and a sincere desire to be with Jesus forever rather than to be in this world.

Let’s look at the Rosary and what it says about prayer.  Prayer was obviously important to Jesus.  In the First Sorrowful Mystery, Jesus turned to God at His darkest hour to find strength.  What did the disciples do after witnessing Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven?  They went to the temple and praised God (Luke 24:53).  Look at Saint Simeon and Anna in the Fourth Joyful Mystery who spent their time in the temple praying and praising God.  Prayer surrounds Jesus in these Rosary mysteries and hence we need to surround ourselves in prayer if we are to have a deep and meaningful relationship with God.

How the Rosary Teaches Us Humility (Again)

Have you ever thought about all the ways the Catholic Church teaches us the value of humility?  I never really gave it much thought, but there is an intimate connection between faith and humility.  To have faith in the power of God you must first be humble enough to realize that there is a power greater than us.  If you don’t have humility then you wouldn’t acknowledge God’s awesome power.  And if you didn’t have faith or trust in God then you are exercising pride, not humility.

Despite what some may lead you to believe, the Catholic Church is based on faith and humility, not pride and judgment.  We aren’t people thinking we are so great while others are so bad.  We are people who acknowledge our sinful nature and work together to always do better.  Fr. Nnamdi Moneme, in his article on CatholicExchange, does a great job outlining the many ways the Church is built on the value of humility such as:

  1. The nature of the Church — we are humble enough to know that Jesus is the head of the Church.
  2. The Eucharist — we are humble enough to know that the bread and wine are Jesus’ bloody and body.
  3. The ordained priesthood  — we show humility to accept that there are a select few with the power to forgive sins and offer the Eucharist in Jesus’ name.
  4. The Church’s Magisterium — we acknowledge the role of the Pope and other leaders in helping us understand Christ’s teachings.
  5. Confession — we humble ourselves to confess our sins and have faith that God, through the priest, forgives us.
  6. Mary and the saints — we show humility asking others to pray for us and looking to them for guidance and inspiration.
  7. The mission of the Church — we are called to serve God by serving others.
  8. The Church’s liturgy and prayer — the humble soul continues to pray to God even in the absence of visible results.
  9. Suffering — the humble person acknowledges that God has a great plan, even if that means temporary suffering in this life.

I could probably pick any of the 20 mysteries of the Rosary and tell you how it teaches us about the value of humility.  I’ll focus on the Fourth Joyful MysteryThe Presentation in the Temple.  When I first started praying the Rosary, this mystery always confused me because I couldn’t find the lesson I was supposed to draw from it.  Jesus took part in many Jewish rituals throughout his life.  Why was this one important enough to make it into the Rosary?

You need to focus on Saint Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery.  The Holy Spirit promised him that he would see the Chosen One before he died.  And day after day he worshiped in the temple waiting for that day to come.  The pride-filled man would have given up after days, months, or even years of waiting for God to fulfill that promise.  But Saint Simeon showed the humility and patience to allow God’s plan to manifest itself which, as we know, it did when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the temple.

Let us all be like Saint Simeon and put aside our pride and show sincere humility.  We may not like the particular plan God lays out for us at times.  We may not like the pace of God’s plan.  We may be envious that others seem to have it so much easier.  But being one of Christ’s disciples means being humble enough to let go of what we want and have faith that what God wants for us is infinitely better.

I’ll end with the words of Saint John of Avila who I think sums up how a humble person approaches life’s challenges:

A single “Blessed be God!” when things go wrong is of more value than a thousand acts of thanksgiving when things are to your liking.

One Trick to Start Your Day Right

Now that my son has started kindergarten, my family’s leisurely mornings are a thing of the past.  We now have to wake up early and help get our son fed, dressed, packed, and out the door before the opening school bell.  Like race horses at the starting gate, when that alarm clock rings in the morning we need to be off at a full gallop to get everything done.

My week day routine is not unique.  Many people start their day ten steps behind and are in a constant rush.  And among the snooze alarm pushing and coffee chugging, something very important is often missed.  And this one action might determine whether you have a good or bad day.  Here’s a clue, it’s not checking your Facebook and Twitter feeds the instant you get up.  Long time RosaryMeds readers can probably already guess where I’m going.  Morning prayer may be the difference between a good day or an off day.

When we skip morning prayer, we so often go through our day not realizing that we are fighting a battle with our hands tied behind our back.  We are like soldiers going off to battle with no weapon and no protection wondering why everything is so hard and miserable. This is because we did not include Jesus in our day by praying to Him or asking our Holy Mother or the saints for their help and intercession.

In his book,  Live Today Well, Fr. Thomas Dailey writes about the importance and benefits of starting your day focused on God from the instant you open your eyes.

Beyond an existential awareness, the practice of directing our minds to God corresponds to and fa­cilitates a positive psychology. Experience shows that the mood with which we begin the day tends to color the entire day. What Francis de Sales understood is that start­ing the day with God in mind leads to keeping God in mind throughout the day.

All of this is intended to turn our morning routine into a sacred one. Routines play a key role in human life. Able to be done without our giving them much thought, they are comfort­able, and often comforting, acts. Psychologically, even if not consciously, they represent a way of exercising a modicum of control over the chaos of our surroundings. Our habits lead us to do the same thing over and over again each morning; were we to deviate from this habitual routine, we would probably think something was “off ” or just not right.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary (The Finding of Jesus in the Temple) exemplifies this common human weakness to leave God out of our everyday lives. In this rosary mystery, Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was with them in the caravan leaving Jerusalem. When they finally discovered that he was missing, they started to panic and searched for Jesus for three days in sorrow.

How does this rosary mystery explain our daily routine? Mary and Joseph’s assumption and lack of attention led to three days of worry, anxiety, and sorrow. I feel like many of us do this as well when we fail to start our day in prayer. When we don’t actively keep Jesus visible in our lives, from the moment we wake up to the moment we close our eyes, we bring unneeded anxiety and sorrow because we take our attention away from the one who can help us find true happiness.  Jesus wants nothing more than to help us and carry some of our burdens.  But we have to come to Him and ask.  Rember Luke’s Gospel:

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Luke 10:28-30).

 

Here’s my challenge to you.  Get up 10 minutes earlier than normal.  Spend that 10 minutes in prayer.  You don’t have to get out of bed but I do encourage you to sit up to avoid falling back asleep.  I bet your body can handle 10 minutes less sleep and your mind and soul will benefit from an extra 10 minutes of prayer.

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.

How the Rosary Improves Your Soul’s Health

I know I’ve talked about living a spiritually healthy lifestyle in previous posts.  It looks like I’m not the only one who believes in the importance of practicing good spiritual hygiene.  I came across a post on spiritual healthy living on Catholic Exchange the other day which espouses many of the same themes I’ve pushed on my site.  The TL;DR summary of living a spiritually healthy lifestyle is:

  1. Avoid gossip and gossipers
  2. Dress properly
  3. Avoid bad company
  4. Avoid impure images
  5. Think before you act
  6. Consume electronic media responsibly
  7. Don’t be a couch potato
  8. Constantly exercise your mind
  9. Avoid gluttony
  10. Avoid contrary views of Mary

I find it interesting how much time and energy people generally spend on their physical health.  After all, collectively we spend billions on diets, rare and exotic “superfoods,” supplements, and all sorts of workout programs to obtain those six-pack abs.  We also spend a lot of time exercising our minds (see #8) with all sorts of creative hobbies, DIY projects, reading books and articles, and watching informative videos.  And while we muster up the energy to power through our daily workouts and gulp down kale smoothies, we begrudging go to Mass once a week and fly through our daily prayers.  We so often see the value of eating well and exercising our mind and body but fail to see the much greater value of exercising our soul.

Hey Hulk, maybe it’s time you cut back on the kale and spinich and pick up a rosary.

My go-to Rosary mystery that reminds me to live a spiritually healthy lifestyle is the Fifth Joyful Mystery — The Finding of Jesus in the Temple.  It reminds us how easily we can forget about Jesus in our lives and the state of our relationship with him.  Mary and Joseph incorrectly assumed he was with the caravan leaving Jerusalem.  And so we often have a tendency to assume we have a close relationship with Jesus even when we don’t actively work on it.  And while Jesus will always be there to “share the yoke” (see last Sunday’s Gospel), he also is patient and doesn’t force his assistance on us.  We have to make the effort to work on our relationship with Jesus.

Let’s look at this another way.  I’m sure many of us have co-workers, friends, spouses, or family members we occasionally take for granted.  Yes, we may value them or love them, but maybe we don’t let them know how important they are to us.  We just assume they will always be there filling the role we’ve come to expect and depend on.  It’s not until they get tired and get upset with us that we realize how we’ve taken our relationship with them for granted.  Maybe a kind word or small token of appreciation was all that was needed to maintain that valued relationship.

“Just one kind word! That’s all I ask.”

Our relationship with Jesus is similar to our relationship with people.  We can so often just take our faith for granted that we do not make any effort to improve upon it.  Jesus actually asks relatively little of us compared to what he is willing to offer.  But we have to remember that we are in a reciprocal relationship with Jesus and want to maintain that relationship if we are to get any benefit from it.

Looking at the ten tips for living a spiritually healthy lifestyle from Catholic Exchange is a good place to start.  Many of us maintain todo lists, either physical or mental, of exercises to perform, daily tasks to complete, and foods to eat and avoid.  But perhaps it would be wise to keep a list of the daily spiritual tasks and goals we need to consciously work on.  If you’ve been coasting spiritually then perhaps it is time to take a more active interest in your soul’s health.  Maybe you’ll find that you’re already quite fit or maybe you’ll find that you’re really on spiritual life support.  Either way, you’ll never improve your relationship with Jesus unless you analyze it periodically and correct those weak spots.

Take a look at that list.  What dimensions of your soul’s health do you need to work on?   When you pray the rosary (hopefully daily), ask Mary to help you work out those weak spots in your spiritual health.  She’ll be more than happy to help.

How the Rosary Removes the “Beams” from our Eyes

The Gospel reading from this past Monday, June 26, 2017, was from Matthew 7:1-15 about the well-known analogy about judging others hypocritically.  This lesson could also be about not letting the actions of others blind you to your abilities of living God‘s will.  First, the actual text:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

By now we all know we shouldn’t judge others considering that we all have our own flaws. I think many of us understand Jesus’ teaching and work hard to avoid judging others.  Note, this does not mean we don’t care for others and help them become better people living in God’s grace.  But we must do so caringly knowing that we also must work out many of the same sins on our own souls.

Let’s take a different look at this passage. Perhaps Jesus was also instructing his disciples to understand the greater influence one’s personal actions can have over the actions of others. What if the “beam” is not someone’s faults, but rather the amount of influence we give others for our situation in life? We are, in a way, judging others according to their perceived effect on our lives.  And many times, we place that judgment in a disproportionate way. So many of us tend to look at others as the main source of frustration or disappointment in life, even when they have a minuscule amount of influence, while overlooking the much larger effects of our own actions.

Just look at how much time and energy we place on the influence of politicians, companies, media outlets, etc. Many of us consume news and show more concern over what President Trump tweeted than who needs help, attention, and kindness in our own family or circle of friends. We give politics so much attention even when the day-to-day soap opera of government has actually relatively little effect on our happiness.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t be involved in politics and not hold our government responsible for their actions.  But we need to find a balance and not tip towards government and news being EVERYTHING to us.  That diminishes our own ability to find peace and happiness in our lives.  It becomes our “beam” that prevents us from helping others.

How can you live happily if all you focus on is politics?

I think the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, The Visitation, communicates this idea of not letting others blind you to your ability to control your well being.  Mary had every reason to dwell on how others might perceive her pregnancy outside of marriage.  It could have consumed her to the point of inaction out of fear and embarrassment.  After all, things weren’t really going the way she had planned.  But instead of dwelling on the thoughts and actions of others, she went out and did God’s will which, at the time, was being with her cousin Elizabeth.  Mary was able to remove any “beams” in her eyes which would have prevented her from clearly seeing God’s plan for her and acting accordingly.

When we pray the rosary, let us ask God to clear our minds of the fear, hatred, and overall energy spent on the people and events that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of our lives.  We need to ask God to block out the noise that can distract us from doing His will (turning off the TV is a good place to start).  We should ask Mary through our rosary prayers for the strength to imitate her and remain focused on serving God instead of living in fear of the influence others have on our overall happiness.  When we take out the distractions which act as the “beams” in our eyes we can then see more clearly and help others better see how God is calling them to receive His grace.

Saint Joseph — Our Model for Perseverance

Poor Saint Joseph. Even on his feast day, which we celebrated earlier this week, the news was all about Mary and Jesus. The Gospel reading was either the story of Joseph almost divorcing Mary or the Finding of Jesus in the Temple which is the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the rosary. He’s not exactly cast in the best light in either story. It would be like your friends coming to celebrate your birthday by telling everyone that story about the time when you almost left your wife over some marital problems or that time when you left your child in a large city coming back from a vacation.

Flash forward to the Nativity which we celebrate when we pray the Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary. Again, Joseph is a side character in those events. While he makes up 1/3 of the Holy Family, in most accounts he’s a background character.

But God teaches us a valuable lesson in the person of Saint Joseph. There is the lesson of remaining faithful even when life does not turn out exactly how you envision. I’m sure Saint Joseph did not anticipate telling people a story that stretched credibility about how his wife-to-be become pregnant. Nor did he probably want his son born in a stable so far away from his home. And he probably wasn’t too happy learning that they needed to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod‘s wrath. I’m sure, like many of us, Saint Joseph probably wanted a “normal” life but it just never seemed to be in the cards for him.

And yet, Saint Joseph did whatever he was asked to do or what needed to be done given the circumstances. He did not question, complain, or rebel. He is the example of following God’s Will no matter where it may take you because of the intrinsic happiness that comes from serving God. At many times, Saint Joseph could have acted in a way that would have made his life easier and happier.  He could have divorced Mary and found himself a more normal life as a carpenter. But that would have been a shallow, temporary happiness because nothing outside of God’s grace can be anything but that.

We too often find ourselves in a situation that is far different than what we expect or want.  Maybe we have a hard time finding a job or hate the job we have.  Maybe we dream about and desire a lot of nice things that we cannot afford.  Maybe our family life is challenging or feels unfilling.  Maybe we have illnesses or limitations that prevent us from leading a “normal” life.  But all of us, no matter who we are or what are circumstances may be, have one ability we can exercise if we choose — to follow God’s plan for us.  It may not lead to the easiest life or the one you have always envisioned, but it’s the one most aligned with God’s Will.  And ultimately, that’s the best life to lead.

If there was ever a patron saint of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” it would be Saint Joseph. When you find yourself in difficult times or if your life just hasn’t worked out the way you thought it would, pray to Saint Joseph for strength and guidance.  Think of him as your spiritual drinking buddy who can sympathize with your problems and can give you advice even if it’s just, “be strong, stay the course.”

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.