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.”
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”
What I find most interesting is how St. Luke makes specific mention of Zacchaeus’ short stature and how he climbed a tree to see Jesus. He could have just as easily started this story with “Jesus encountered a tax collector named Zacchaeus.” Why the inclusion of the tree climb?
Zacchaeus did not let his short height dissuade him from seeing Jesus. Instead, he did whatever he could because seeing Jesus was important to him. And because of his conviction and conversion, Jesus gives Zacchaeus the gift of salvation. Zacchaeus’ introduction shows us that we all have our limitations and hardships in this life. And yet, we must find a way to “see” Jesus in our lives despite life’s challenges and distractions. When seen through this lens, Zacchaeus’ story sounds more like this popular teaching from Jesus:
“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.”
Might as well add, “Climb and you will be seen.”
I think many times we let our situation dissuade us from truly embracing and practicing out faith. I know I often fall into the thinking of, “well, I’m not a priest,” to justify times when I have not tried hard enough to further my relationship with Jesus. It is so easy to blame work, health, family, or financial difficulties for not praying more often, not going to Mass, not receiving the sacraments, and not being charitable. But as Zacchaeus’ story indicates, those are excuses and not very good ones at that. We need to make our relationship with Jesus a priority and do whatever it takes to receive His grace. Sometimes the road will be easy but other times we need to be like Zacchaeus and think outside the box.
Zacchaeus’ story ties nicely with the Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Nativity. The shepherds in the fields dropped what they were doing to go praise the newborn savior. I previously wrote about how risky it was for shepherds to leave their flock. But they understood the importance of seeing Jesus much like Zacchaeus. They did not allow doubt or concern over their jobs dissuade them from encountering Christ.
When we pray and meditate on the Third Joyful rosary mystery, let us ask God for strength and maybe even a little knowledge to break out of our routines and doubts so that we can truly encounter Jesus. He’s there; always waiting for us and will welcome us into communion with Him. But maybe we just need to get over our worries and maybe put a little more effort to go to Him.
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.
I wanted to write one more post before Christmas. I really thought I would be able to get something out last week but two small boys really just suck up all available time and energy. I don’t have a lot of time and I’m sure many of you are already in party mode. But I would appreciate it if you could just entertain one more rosary insight before diving into the egg nog.
The rosary mystery that relates to Christmas is an obvious one — The Third Joyful Mystery, The Nativity. I want to focus on a group of people in this mystery that I don’t think get a lot of mention in Christmas homilies — the shepherds. To recap from Luke’s Gospel:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.
Remember, being a shepherd nearly 2000 years ago wasn’t an easy job. A shepherd spent day and night taking care of sheep in all sorts of environments. You couldn’t just run off and leave the sheep unattended or else some wolves would have a very grand feast. While they worked in groups, I’m sure a few shepherds leaving created a huge burden on the others. So you have to picture the sense of awe they felt when they saw that great company of the heavenly host in the sky and how deeply the spirit moved them to go and seek out the baby Jesus. They risked their livelihood to catch a glimpse of Jesus, the newborn king. After all, I’m sure the “angel excuse” wasn’t going to hold up very well with their employers if the sheep were eaten by wolves. But they were filled with a sense that seeing Jesus was something unique and important. Their jobs, while important as well, could wait for a bit.
Let’s learn from the Gospel’s shepherds this Christmas. For just a few moments, whether it is a week, day, or just a few hours, cast aside your fears and worries in your life to just bask in Jesus’ presence. Just trust in the Lord that the world won’t come crashing down because you stopped and took a few minutes to pray. Like the shepherds, you don’t need to come bearing great gifts. You just need to give your time and attention and most importantly, show a little faith. Christmas is chaotic, I get that. It’s not always easy to escape our responsibilities of work and family. But I hope we can all just take a few moments to just be with Jesus in prayer and allow Him to remind us what’s truly important — God’s love and a sense of hope for a peace, both inner peace in our souls and an exterior peace with each other.
Lately I have contemplatedprayers, intentions, and how God answers our requests for help. On the Catholic Answers forums, I see so many people angry or saddened because they feel so distant from God and they wonder if He isn’t hearing their prayers. I understand how easy it is to feel discouraged when the news headlines are filled with stories of violent crimes, wars, and civil unrest not to mention the unreported hardships we all face about our jobs, family, finances, relationships, etc. You look at all the problems in this world and it is easy to conclude that God just doesn’t care. However, what I think happens more often is that we fixate on a specific solution and completely miss how God actually answers our prayers.
Here’s an example of God answering prayers in unexpected ways taken from my own experiences. Like many people, I pray in a general sense that I may be stronger in the seven virtues of chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. But how do I know God hears me and answers my requests to be a better person? After all, nothing really seems to change in my day-to-day life that indicates that I’m stronger in any of those areas. I don’t wake up and say, “Thanks God! I feel more diligent today!” So how does God answer my prayers?
I remember all the days and nights I spend with my 1.5 year old son. I play with him when I come home from work although I’m tired and just want to relax in front of the television. I try to read his favorite books to him for the hundredth time with the same excitement as the first time. It’s exhausting work at times. But then it hits me. All those times when I pulled out a little more energy to be there for my family, I was demonstrating acts of patience, kindness, and charity. I asked God for strength and He answered by giving me an opportunity to exercise virtue.
Next, let’s look at a story that made the news rounds lately. There is a picture circulating around the internet of a wife carrying her double-amputee husband on her back. Jesse Cottle lost both his legs after stepping on an IED while serving in the Marines in Afghanistan. In rehab, he met his wife, Kelly. In an interview on Good Morning America, Jesse said that he wouldn’t change anything that happened to him because if he hadn’t lost his legs to that IED, he never would have met the love of his life.
I’m not sure whether Jesse is an overtly praying man, but I’m sure he must have had some very low moments after his injury and asked God to somehow improve his situation. But God just didn’t miraculously grow Jesse’s legs back or change the IED blast so he didn’t lose them in the first place. I’m sure many of us in Jesse’s situation would look for those specific answers from God if we were in that situation. And we would probably be saddened when God didn’t physical heal us. But God often answers prayers in unexpected, but better ways. Sure, God could have physically healed Jesse. But then Jesse never would have met Kelly in rehab. While what happened to Jesse was tragic, God brought about a greater good by touching the hearts of two people, instead of healing the legs of one.
What rosary mystery doesn’t involve God working in some unexpected way? The whole New Testament is the account of Jesus saying and doing unexpected things. Sometimes He did the unexpected to great fanfare like performing miracles. And other times Jesus’ unexpected nature upset people, especially the scribes and pharisees when He challenged their practices and authority. When you pray the rosary, meditate that God’s ways aren’t always our ways. When it comes to God, expect the unexpected. For example:
The Annunciation (First Joyful Mystery): God chose an unwed teenager to be the Mother of God. Mary may have been physically poor, but God raised her up to be rich in spirit.
The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven (Third Luminous Mystery): When Jesus proclaimed that He was the Word made flesh, people chased him out of town. How many times do we get upset when God shows Himself in unexpected ways in our lives?
The Crucifixion (Fifth Sorrowful Mystery): Jesus died and redeemed us all. People challenged Him by saying that if He was really the Son of God, He could save himself. But Jesus knew that it was far more important to save our souls than save His body.
Remember, God’s ways are not our ways. But that should be a reason to rejoice, not for disappointment. God sees the big picture. So shouldn’t we rejoice that someone who sees and knows everything is looking out for us? Do you have any stories to tell of how God answered your prayers in unexpected, but ultimately better ways? Leave a comment.