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.”
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.
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.
Jesus said to his disciples,
“A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that,
when I am removed from the stewardship,
they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one.
To the first he said,
‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’
The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note;
write one for eighty.’
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
“For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,
who will trust you with true wealth?
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is yours?
No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
I always found this parable of the disgraced steward confusing. I could not wrap my brain around how lowering the amount each debtor owed the steward’s master would bring praise and not further disdain. I always thought the master would be more upset that his steward was essentially letting debtors off the hook for no good reason and hence, cutting into his master’s wealth.
I then read commentary that made this parable all make sense. What if the steward had been overcharging the debtors and pocketing the difference for himself? For example, suppose the debtor who supposedly owed 100 measures of olive oil really only owed 50. When the steward reduced the debt he actually cut out the inflated portion he was keeping for himself. By cutting out his underserved share of the debt he was no longer serving his selfish wants, but the true business of his master. And now Jesus’ warning at the end of the Gospel makes a lot more sense. At first, the steward served only mammon (money). But he then gives that up to serve the will of his master who represents God in the parable.
When I think about this Gospel passage, my mind keeps coming back to the Fifth Joyful Mystery — The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. I think about how Mary and Joseph had to search for Jesus for three long days in sorrow before eventually finding him. I liken that to the redemptive suffering many must undertake to reform their wayward and sinful ways and align with God’s Will. The steward in the Gospel was also faced with a painful situation — being dismissed from his position with few options to earn a living. He also had to undergo a form of redemptive suffering by letting go of the money he was keeping for himself. But in doing so, he redeemed himself in the eyes of his master.
When we pray the Fifth Joyful Mystery, maybe we should be mindful of our attachment to our earthly possessions. Do we need to undergo a form of redemptive suffering by parting with our money and giving it to the less fortunate? Do we have faith that in giving more to the poor we actually receive something much greater — God grace? The steward didn’t know that his master would look favorably upon his actions. Mary and Joseph did not know if they would find Jesus. But we have an advantage in this aspect because we know how God will look at us when we give to the poor instead of holding it for ourselves. Jesus tells us repeatedly in the Gospel how we will be rewarded in Heaven. The question for you is, do you have the faith to believe in that promise?
It’s that time of year again. My house is all lit up like a homing beacon for lost aircraft, my browser history is 99% Amazon.com, and Santa is watching my boys’ every move. It’s Christmas time! But it is also New Years. I’m not talking about January 1st. I’m talking about a new liturgical year that kicked off with Advent this past Sunday. It’s a time to not only prepare your traditional Christmas cookies, but also time to prepare a place in your heart and mind for Jesus. Let’s look at the five Joyful Mysteries of the rosary for ideas on how you can supersize your Advent.
#1. In the Annunciation, Mary accepts God’s plan for her. She said, maybe still afraid and confused, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). This Advent, meditate on what God is asking of you. You never know what God may ask of you or when. Advent is a great time to prepare a spot for Jesus Christ in your heart so that you’ll be able to show the same courage Mary showed when God comes knocking on your door.
#2. In the Visitation, Mary exercises God’s grace by helping her older cousin Elizabeth in her pregnancy. Advent is a time when we can prepare ourselves to best receive God’s grace through good works of kindness and charity. Remember that in helping others, we are recognizing Jesus in our brothers and sisters. When we comfort those less fortunate, we are comforting Jesus. In this season of preparation, make room for Jesus in this world and provide him the comfort, respect, and honor he deserves by providing others comfort, respect, and honor.
#3. In the Nativity, we see shepherds leaving their posts to give homage to the baby Jesus. Later, the wise men traveled far to honor him. Both these stories show that people were willing to drop everything and go through some hardship to see Jesus. In Advent, consider adding a few spiritual challenges like making sacrifices and fasting, receiving the sacraments especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and trying to attend extra Masses. The Christmas season is a fun time, but remember that is is also a spiritual time. Imagine how much more joyous Christmas will be if you not only prepared your house and completed your shopping list, but also kept a space for Jesus in your heart and mind by making small sacrifices for him.
#4. In the Presentation in the Temple, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph become one family in the eyes of God. This mimics how we have a physical birth but also a spiritual one through the Sacrament of Baptism. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, but the Holy Family was unified under God in the Presentation of Jesus. Advent is a good time to prepare a place in your heart for your family. I know many of us have strained relationships with our families, either immediate or extended. Maybe a family member has hurt you or you have hurt them. Make Advent a time for family unity and peace. Pray and meditate on how to best tear down any walls that separate you from your family. Not only will it bring peace to your soul, but it will make Christmas dinner so much less awkward.
#5. In the Finding of Jesus of the Temple, Mary and Joseph traveled for many days just assuming Jesus was with them we he really was not. This reminds me of the modern mindset that assumes we are close to Jesus no matter what we do. In preparing for Christmas this Advent, stop assuming and start examining. How central is Jesus in your life? Have you done anything that has moved you away from God’s grace that requires the healing power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Even if you don’t have any mortal sins on your conscience, ask yourself what you have done to honor Jesus. Advent is the start of a new liturgical year. So like a New Year’s resolution, Advent is a time to analyze where you are in your faith and make a spiritual resolution to improve it.
In the United States, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It is a time to give thanks for all that God has given us. And yet for many, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of be thankful about. Family, financial, spiritual, work, and global worries are in abundant supply. But for one day out of the year, we manage to push those aside and focus on our good graces. But that’s one day. What about the other 364? Here’s five ways the rosary can help you be thankful every day.
For thousands of years and hundreds of generations, people’s notion of God was one of a supreme being that was very distant and often very angry. The God as the Israelites knew him was a god of rules, laws, and punishments. But we have the grace to have what millions of people never had — God made man through the being of Jesus Christ. When we pray this mystery, give thanks that we have the opportunity to know God as someone who walked with us, laughed with us, cried with us, and died for us. Unlike millions of people who lived before Jesus’ birth, we have a face to put on God. And while we may be removed from Jesus by nearly 2000 years, we should rejoice that we have the benefit of coming 2000 years after Jesus’ birth, not before.
The Fourth Luminous Mystery
Following a similar theme from the birth of Jesus Christ, how lucky are we that God humbled himself and took on a human form so that we can come to know him more intimately? As we see with Jesus’ clothes turning dazzling white and God’s voice telling the apostles to listen to his son, we get an idea of the majesty in Christ. Jesus could have come into this world floating down from Heaven in dazzling glory as witnessed in the Transfiguration. But he didn’t. And we should be ever thankful about that. Jesus, the human, wasn’t “God Lite” who wasn’t any less approachable or mysterious as God himself. No, he was a human like all of us who we could relate with and listen to his teachings in plain, not intimidating speech. Of all the ways God chose to manifest himself, we should give thanks that he chose the person of Jesus Christ.
The Fifth Joyful Mystery
I always associate the Finding of Jesus in the Temple with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Mary and Joseph’s searching for Jesus and then finding him in his father’s house is a nice analogy to how we rediscover God’s grace, which we lose through sin, through Confession. But where does thanksgiving come into this mystery? I don’t know about you, but I’m thankful that every day is a day to live in God’s grace but also another opportunity to rediscover that grace through Confession if I’ve lost it (either in part through venial sin or whole through mortal sin). Once you die, you no longer have that ability to seek forgiveness. Be thankful that no matter how deep in sin or despair you are, as long as you can draw breath you have an opportunity to rediscover God’s grace and achieve the same glory in Heaven as the saints.
The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery
How can we not be eternally thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake? Through his crucifixion, Jesus redeemed all of mankind for the disobedience of Adam and Eve — the original sin. We are thankful that through his sacrifice, Jesus made Heaven a possibility for all humanity, something that wasn’t open to us before. Humans failed God through Adam and Eve and we continue to fail through sin. And we would live in despair if there was no way to set things right. And that is exactly what Jesus’ crucifixion was — setting things right that were once broken.
How fortunate we are that God set aside Mary to serve a special role, not just in her earthly life, but in her heavenly one too. She was assumed into Heaven and acts as our mediatrix to her son, Jesus. But what do we mean by mediatrix? That’s just a special way of saying that Mary is our spiritual lawyer (but with a heart). Like how a legal lawyer helps us navigate the often confusing laws and regulations, Mary helps us navigate the often difficult spiritual waters. She helps us understand what is not understandable — God. We should be thankful that God, knowing that we need some help understanding his truth, set aside Mary to act as our guide.
In my last post I talked about how Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco was battling opponents over his additions to the high school teachers’ hand book about leading a Catholic example while on the job. He wrote a fantastic clarification about why he added the new clauses and what he hopes to accomplish. You can read the full letter at Catholic Minority Report. I know that for many of you who don’t live in the archdiocese of San Francisco, or even the USA, the details of this battle may not hold much interest. But like many things in life, this controversy does tie back to the rosary (and hence the RosaryMeds website) and provides some thoughts for meditation. Let’s take a look at the Joyful Mysteries.
I said in my previous post that teaching at a Catholic school is as much of a vocation as it is a career. I do think God calls people to use their talents specifically at a Catholic school instead of a secular or public school. The First Joyful Mystery is all about vocations and reflecting on how God calls us to follow the path He sets before us. We may have our doubts about God’s plan, similar to Mary questioning the angel Gabriel about how she could become the mother of God since she was an unwed virgin. But like Mary, when we put our faith in God’s plan for us, no matter how outrageous it may seem, He will bestow upon us the graces to triumph. We pray that we all reflect on our vocation and do what God asks of us even if we have our doubts.
To me, the Visitation is primarily about ministry. I’ve said in many past articles how Mary had every right to feel like she was a queen to be pampered and honored because she was to become the Mother of God. But instead she headed off to the countryside proclaiming how she is the handmaiden of the Lord. Her initial instinct was to go out proclaiming the glory of God when bestowed with God’s grace. Similarly, Catholic schools are a ministry as well. They are a place where young minds come to learn, not just reading, science, and mathematics, but also about what it means to be Catholic. We pray that we remember to show what the Catholic faith professes through our words and actions in a direct, unambiguous way.
The birth of Jesus revolves around the theme of humility. God humbled himself by not only taking shape in the imperfect human form, but also as a lowly peasant. And yet, through this unexpected person came God’s perfect revelation as taught by Jesus. I think the archbishop is asking teachers and also the entire Catholic community in the archdiocese to show a lot of humility for the Church’s teachings as revealed by Jesus Christ and handed down over the years by the Magisterium. It is difficult to accept and promote teachings that you may personally disagree with or are contrary to societal norms. I’m not just talking about high school teachers either. We all probably have a hard time accepting some of the Church’s teachings. When we pray this mystery of the rosary, we should ask God for the humility to accept His perfect teachings although we may have an imperfect understanding of them.
Jesus’ presentation in the temple focuses on adherence and obedience to the law. Mary and Joseph waited the prescribed forty days before taking Jesus to the temple. They also offered a sacrifice of turtledoves as was the custom. Later, Jesus insists that John baptizes him although Jesus needed no purification. When I think about many of the objections over the additions to the faculty handbook, I see an absence of the respect of an ancient institution. The Church hasn’t been secretive about her teachings over the last few millennia nor has it dramatically changed them. And yet so many people complain about the archbishop’s request to honor the sacred traditions of the Catholic Church in a Catholic school.
When we pray this mystery, we should remember that the Church is an institution that teaches what it teaches for a reason. Church Scholars have pondered and written brilliant defenses for the Church’s teachings and its rituals over the years. These “rules” and doctrine of the Church are not arbitrary but are insights into the natural law imprinted on our hearts. By following those rituals and taking them seriously we follow in Jesus’ footsteps when he, who is the Law, also respected the Law.
When I think about Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the temple I recall Jesus’ words about needing to be in his father’s house. What is amazing to me was Mary’s reaction of not understanding what Jesus meant. What!?? An angel came to Mary and told her she would be the Virgin Mother of God! Angels proclaimed his birth. Wise men followed a star and paid homage to him. What part of Jesus being special does Mary not yet understand?
When I think about those protesting the archbishop’s words I also wonder what part of teaching Catholicism at a Catholic school are they not understanding? Through all the prayers, Masses, retreats, and religion classes, how are the archbishop’s words, which are essentially the Apostles’ Creed, something new and shocking?
Like the other mysteries, I pray this one for an understanding and acceptance of the Church’s teachings. I also pray that I see those teachings even in the most unlikely of places. The scholars were amazed by the knowledge of Jesus Christ as a young boy. It goes to show that God tries to teach us in many different ways. We should look for God’s Truth not just in the readings on Sunday, but everywhere around us. Even a letter of clarification from the archbishop may hold wisdom and offer new insights.