Lenten Postmortem

I’m a software engineer.  Part of my job is participating in what are commonly called technical postmortems.  In postmortems, my team recalls what went right and what went wrong with a recently completed project.  The idea is that by learning what we did right and wrong we can correct our bad practices while continuing our good ones in future projects.  An important part of engineering is always refining our processes and behaviors.

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I figure, why not do a postmortem on Lent the same way I do with an engineering project?  This way, I can reflect on what I did right this year and what I need to improve upon for next year.  Like other aspects of our life, we need to sometimes assess our spiritual behavior.  If we don’t, then how will we know what to improve?  What goals can we set for the next day, week, month, year, etc.?  In the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus calls us to a life of conversion.  But to convert our ways, we first have to analyze them.

Of course, in this case we really can’t call it a postmortem since Jesus is alive and well (that is the main idea behind Easter after all).  So, I’m going to coin a new term and call this a post-risen or post-lenten.

What went wrong

  1. Didn’t go to Ash Wednesday Mass
  2. Initial Lenten sacrifice was too easy
  3. Took a few “cheat” days on Lenten sacrifice
  4. Only went to one bible study class out of an entire series of classes
  5. Didn’t go to any extra Lenten events (Stations of the Cross, weekday Mass, etc.)
  6. Didn’t acknowledge Good Friday noon-3pm hours with prayers, silent reflection, etc.

What went right

  1. Went to a Good Friday Mass service in the evening
  2. Followed through with my Lenten sacrifice (once I made it)
  3. I said a short prayer whenever I was tempted to break my sacrifice
  4. Contributed to a charitable cause
  5. Attended a bible study class in my parish
  6. Received the Sacrament of Confession

Lent Logo 2008

What I need to do next year is plan my Lenten sacrifice much better.  This year I started out with a “no dessert after lunch” sacrifice which turned out to be too easy since not having desserts was something I was already doing for the most part.  About half way through I changed it to giving up all sweets during the day.  Now that was much more challenging but something I was able to do.  And whenever I felt tempted to have a piece of candy or a cookie, I said a small prayer instead.  So my sacrifice led to more prayer throughout the day.  That was what I learned.  How about you?  Can you think of ways you can improve your spiritual habits from this past Lent?

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The 10 Step Lenten Diet

Mardi Gras has come and gone.  I hope you devoured those sumptuous desserts and succulent calories because now we forgo worldly gluttony for a spiritual one.  For the next 40 days we take time out from filling our mind and soul with food, drink, TV, internet, magazines, and other activities that usually leave no room for God.  And when we tapper off indulging in our worldly appetites, we make room to address the more important need, our spiritual one.

This Lent, work those “love handles,” or rather, get a handle on loving God.

Dr. Manny Alvarez suggests 10 “easy” steps for our Lenten diet.  And this diet has nothing to do with your waistline.  Remember what Sister Margie Lavonis said in my previous article, Lent is more than just skipping desserts.  So here we have a few short Lenten dieting tips:

1. Focus on loving God and all his greatness, instead of celebrities, action figures, “real” housewives or even world leaders that think they know best.

2. Be careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing, like politicians, promising you something but taking your liberties away.

3. Set up standards of morality at home. Enough with the casual cursing. Teach kids some etiquette and manners, and use yourself as an example.

4. Spend time with your family, telling stories, and listening to those around you. Because someday you will wish you had.

You can read the full list here on Fox News’ health section.

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Preparing for the Preparation

It’s that time of year again. Flowers start to grow, the grass turns green, trees get their leaves back, and we get ashes on our forehead. Yep, that’s right, on March 5th we kick off Lent with Ash Wednesday.

English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Ch...
English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian on Ash Wednesday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read a great article in the Catholic San Francisco about how to prepare for Easter this Lent. Sister Margie Lavonis says it best when she wrote in her article, Lent: An opportunity to grow, that we shouldn’t “let this be just another 40 days of the year.”  She talked about many of the same themes I routinely mention on RosaryMeds (has she been reading my work?).  She touches on how our relationship with God needs a commitment from us, through prayer, to grow:

No relationship can deepen and grow unless we are willing to listen and share ourselves with the other person. God is no exception. During Lent, if you don’t already, set aside at least fifteen minutes of your time each day to be with God. Go to a quiet place, if you can find one, slow down and let God love you. Read and reflect upon some scripture each day and get to know the one who loves you unconditionally and who has given you all you have. I suggest using the Mass readings for each day and reflect on what God is saying to you. In fact, it would be good to try to go to Mass more than just on Sunday if you can.

She also covers some ideas for fasting and alms giving. Remember, it’s not all about giving up desserts and writing checks. I know it may sound cliche, but I’m really going to try to remember that it’s Lent every one of these 40 days leading up to Easter whether that means praying more, offering small sacrifices to God, or giving a little more of my time and patience to those who need it.  How about you?  Are you prepared to get prepared?

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Palm Sunday — Sorrow

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane),...
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The Palm Sunday Gospel for April 17, 2011 covers the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, and Jesus’ Passion and death (Matthew 26:14-27).  This Gospel covers all the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.  There is just so much in this Gospel it is almost a shame that we read it all at once instead of breaking it up over several Masses.  But just because you read the Gospel straight through during Mass does not mean you cannot meditate more on it yourself.  Take your time in this last week leading up to Easter to really absorb the central themes behind the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.  Meditate on Christ’s Passion and death and thank Him for all he does for us.

I know that many times we walk into the church on Palm Sunday and it hits us that this is that LONG Mass and we develop a bitterness because the Mass might run longer than an hour.  Try not to think about how long the Mass is or how it seems to upset your plans for the day.  That extra time should be seen as a gift, not a burden.  Use that time to focus on all Jesus does for us and what He asks us to live.  Jesus sacrificed His life for us so the least we can do is spend a few extra minutes with Him in prayer.

I encourage you to read my postings on the Sorrowful Mysteries throughout this week.  Think about the quantity and quality of your prayers when you read the First Sorrowful Mystery — The Agony in the Garden.  Pray for all those who suffer, especially those who suffer because they strayed from God’s path, when meditating on Jesus’ Scourging in the Second Sorrowful Mystery.  Ask yourself how much respect you give to Jesus and His Church in the Third Sorrowful Mystery — The Crowning of Thorns.  Look around at the crosses other bare and see if you can help them any way you can when you think of Jesus taking up His cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  And finally, follow Jesus’ example in His crucifixion and ask God for the strength to do His Will no matter where that takes you.

Make the most of Holy Week.  Do not treat it like every other week of the year but really make an effort to turn it into a time of more intense prayer and meditation.  God Bless!

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Gospel for April 10, 2011 — Eternity

Raising of Lazarus by Jesus
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The Gospel for April 10, 2011 is John 11:1-45. In this Gospel, Jesus performs the miracle of raising His friend, Lazarus, from the dead.  This Gospel foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection which we pray in the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  Both this rosary mystery and the Gospel remind us that there is more to our existence than this earthly life.  God’s divine plan for all of us does not end with the death of our physical bodies.  His plan also includes our souls living for all eternity in His heavenly kingdom.

News flash, we all have a terminal illness.  I do not want to be a downer, but we all had this illness from the we were conceived.  Our terminal condition is our earthly existence.  No one will physically live forever.  But we should not despair as Jesus said this in the Gospel:

This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

While Jesus was referring to Lazarus, He might as well have spoken about the human condition and our mortality.  None of our lives will end in death if we define death to be a transition to nothingness.  Instead our souls will live for all eternity.  We should recognize that reality and adjust our lives by avoiding sin and doing good works.

In addition to our final, physical death we also encounter little deaths throughout our lives.  I refer to the death of our relationship with God when we commit mortal sin.  When we sever ourselves from God’s grace our soul experiences a type of spiritual death.  However, like how Jesus physically raised Lazarus from the dead, the Holy Spirit raises our soul from its death through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Our return to God’s grace is just as miraculous, and I would say vastly more important, as if Jesus raised us physically from the dead as He did with Lazarus.  Especially in this period of Lent, it is so critically important to do a little spiritual spring cleaning of our souls and go to confession.  We all should experience the miracle of God rising our souls from their spiritual sleep.  And we must pray for all those in this world who are spiritually dead through sin that they have the courage and humility to return to God’s grace.

In this Gospel reading Lazarus’ rise from the dead foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection.  We remember Jesus’ resurrection in the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  One of the central themes of this mystery is that our physical death is not the end of us.  Rather, it is just the beginning of a new life either in Heaven or in Hell.  I believe that our spiritual life is actually our real life as it is eternal.  Our life here on earth, even if we live one hundred or more years, is nothing compared to eternity.  So which existence is really the one where we live as our true self?  Our current, temporary, and imperfect life or the eternal existence in the afterlife?  When we pray the rosary, think about this Gospel, and meditate on Jesus’ resurrection may we remember to make the most of this short time we have in this life by being a testament to the glory of God.  God desires all of us to be with Him in Heaven.  Through Jesus’ resurrection, He showed us that there is so much more to our existence than what we experience in this world.  Let us not become so obsessed and consumed by all the material wants of this life as they will all one day disappear.  Instead, we  should pray that we can endure and reject the temptations of this world and live for the greater goal of an eternity of joy and happiness in Heaven.

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Gospel for April 3, 2011 — Judgement

Gavel | Andrew F. Scott: P6033602
Image by afsart via Flickr

The Gospel for April 3, 2011 is John 9:1-41 (yep, it is a long one).  Jesus angers the pharisees by healing a blind man on the Sabbath.  The high priests are outraged because they see Jesus as someone who undermines their authority and performs miracles without their approval.  But Jesus says that He came to open the eyes of the spiritually blind while also blinding those who see through a lens of self-righteousness like the pharisees.  We remember in The Second Glorious Mystery of the rosary, The Ascension, that Jesus will one day judge us and so we must not be blind to His teachings.

The pharisees question nearly all of Jesus’ miracles throughout the Gospel and the healing of the blind man is no different.  They throw out the usual accusations — Jesus must derive His power from Satan or that He is not sent from God since He disobeys the Mosaic laws.  Each time the pharisees question Jesus they end up embarrassing themselves as Jesus points out the flaws to their blind adherence to the Mosaic Law. You would think they would have learned their lesson the first couple of times Jesus set them straight.  By interrogating the blind man, his family, and Jesus we get a sense of the pharisees’ growing frustration with Jesus since He threatens their authority.  Like modern-day politicians, the pharisees’ goal is not to show God’s truth but keep as much earthly power as possible.

Jesus’ response to the pharisees’ criticism is found in verses 39-41:

Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”  Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin;  but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

We see like the pharisees in that we know the truth of Jesus’ divine nature.  We know Jesus’ will through the teachings and traditions of the Church, the Bible, in prayer, and the natural law written on each of our hearts.  God gave us the law through Moses and completed that law through Jesus Christ.  And yet, despite making His will known to us we often disobey Him through sin.  As Jesus implies in the Gospel, our sin remains because we can see the difference between right and wrong but we choose to sin anyway.  We look at the silliness of the great lengths the pharisees went to to discredit Jesus.  And yet we too go through great lengths to sidestep living according to Jesus’ teachings.  If you think about all that Jesus, the saints, and prophets have revealed to us about God’s will we also look very silly when we choose to sin in the face of all that knowledge.

We often take a self-righteous view of ourselves and believe that God approves of all that we do in life.  Like the pharisees, we holler and yell when the Church tells us that our world view conflicts the truth of Jesus Christ.  We shout, “How dare you say abortion is evil!”  Or, “The Church’s teachings are so out of touch regarding premarital sex!”  To many, the idea that we must humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation seems draconian.  No one likes being told they are wrong or punished for bad behavior.  But instead of avoiding bad behavior we seem to go out of our way to redefine what is bad and what is good.   We try very hard to make God conform to our worldview instead of changing our worldview to fit God’s plan.   Do we see that we are like the pharisees in the Gospel when we argue and rebel against God’s teachings instead of embracing them?

Jesus said in the Gospel that He came into this world for judgement.  We remember Jesus’ coming judgement when we pray the Second Glorious Mystery.  He ascended into Heaven to judge the living and the dead.  Jesus will judge us based on His divine law.  That judgement may be harsh since we have knowledge of His laws and yet chose not to follow Him.  Remember, because we can see God’s truth, our sins remain.  God will not care whether something was legal in some worldly court.  He does not care about popular opinion.  And so, an important goal in life should be following God’s laws because in the end, that is how He will judge us.  When you pray the Second Glorious Mystery of the rosary acknowledge that we are all subject to God’s judgement one day.  And may that knowledge translate into the courage to live according to God’s will by avoiding sin.  Pray that we can humble ourselves and admit when we do stray from God’s path and embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially in this period of Lent.

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Gospel for March 20, 2011 – Hear Him

Poland, Mielno, church, stained glass - Transf...
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The Gospel for March 20, 2011 is from Matthew 17:1-9.  It is about The Transfiguration which is also the Fourth Luminous Mystery.  There is not much more I can add beyond what I already wrote about this mystery of the rosary.  I want to point out that this Gospel not only connects to this mystery, but it also connects to the Gospel for January 9, 1979 on Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.  In both cases, God reminds us through a booming voice in the sky that Jesus is His son and that we should listen to Him.  In this time of Lent, may we focus on listening to Jesus’ message, not because He is a prophet with some good ideas, but because Jesus is God made man.  May we hear Him in prayer and find the strength to always do His will.

Sometimes showing strength to to God’s will is more than avoiding sin.  For many of us, it might take just as much strength and courage to open our wallets to those who are in desperate need of help as it is to not avoid the temptation to do evil.  This Lent, we have much opportunity to be a Good Samaritan to those who are in need and I urge you to help however you can.  I am fond of Catholic Relief Services who are always responding to the major disasters around this world.

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Knowing Your Facts

Read this article, “Ten Facts Most Catholics Don’t Know (But Should!).” There is some pretty interesting (although heated at times) debate in the article’s comments. This article reminds me of something I said in a previous article on Lent that to succeed in our endeavours (sports, business, personal faith, etc.) you need to understand the rules of the game. Enjoy!

Holy Mass
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I read this story on Catholic Exchange and then heard an interview on ETWN radio by the author, Gary Zimak.  Gary was a “Mass once a week only” Catholic before he had some medical difficulties.  That was a turning point in his life where he decided to learn more about the Catholic faith and educate others.  He’s not a priest and does not hold a theology degree.  He is just someone who got really excited about learning and teaching the faith.  Wanting to explore my faith and share it with others was one of the main reasons why I started rosaryMeds.  So Gary’s story really hit home.  Maybe one of these days EWTN will interview me about rosaryMeds!

Read his article, “Ten Facts Most Catholics Don’t Know (But Should!).”  Also, there is some pretty interesting (although heated at times) debate in the article’s comments.  This article reminds me of something I said in a previous article on Lent that to succeed in our endeavours (sports, business, personal faith, etc.) you need to understand the rules of the game.  Enjoy!

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The Story of St. Mary of Egypt

Thursday, April 1 is the feast day of St. Mary of Egypt. I came across her story of forgiveness and redemption on EWTN News and thought I would share it with you since it ties in so nicely with many mysteries of the rosary. Mary of Egypt was born in 344 A.D. and worked as a prostitute for 17 years. She joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem so that she could sell her services to those travelling to venerate the relic of the True Cross. Upon arriving at the church where she intended to lead many into sin, a mysterious force prevented her from entering with the other pilgrims. After trying several times she gave up, went into a small courtyard, and began to cry in remorse. Upon seeing a statue of the Virgin Mary, she prayed for permission to enter the church promising to give up her sinful ways. Mary granted her permission. Changed by the experience and touched by God’s mercy Mary of Egypt lived as a hermit in the desert for 47 years.

desert
Image by Wolfgang Staudt via Flickr

Thursday, April 1 is the feast day of St. Mary of Egypt.  I came across her story of forgiveness and redemption on EWTN News and thought I would share it with you since it ties in so nicely with many mysteries of the rosary.  Mary of Egypt was born in 344 A.D. and worked as a prostitute for 17 years.  She joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem so that she could sell her services to those travelling to venerate the relic of the True Cross.  Upon arriving at the church where she intended to lead many into sin, a mysterious force prevented her from entering with the other pilgrims.  After trying several times she gave up, went into a small courtyard, and began to cry in remorse.  Upon seeing a statue of the Virgin Mary, she prayed for permission to enter the church promising to give up her sinful ways.  Mary granted her permission.  Changed by the experience and touched by God‘s mercy Mary of Egypt lived as a hermit in the desert for 47 years.

I find this story inspiring in this last week of Lent.  As I said in my earlier post about Holy Week, it is not how you start but how you finish that counts.  We see this theme played out in Jesus‘ parable of the workers.  Each worker received the same wage regardless of when they started working.  Similarly, we all receive the same grace no matter what time in our lives we start to follow Jesus.  Or look at the parable of the Prodigal Son.  He left his family and squandered his inheritance.  And yet his father welcomed him back with open arms.  And even a prostitute of 17 years not only found redemption, but was ultimately exalted by becoming a saint.

So you haven’t been as vigilant as you would have liked for Lent.  Maybe you didn’t abstain from meat on Fridays, fast, or keep your Lenten sacrifice.  But if Mary of Egypt’s example is any indication, there is always time to turn around and embrace the way of our Lord.

Mary of Egypt’s story fits into many mysteries of the rosary.  Here are some meditation ideas the next time you pray the rosary:

  • The First Joyful Mystery — Like the Virgin Mary,  think about how God is calling you in your life.  And like Mary of Egypt, God often calls those who seem the most unlikely and unworthy.  Maybe sometimes you feel like someone undeserving of God’s grace.  But He calls you all the same.  You just have to have the courage to say yes to God’s plan for you.
  • The Fifth Joyful Mystery — I talk about how it is never too late to look for God in your life.  Mary and Joseph could not find Jesus for three days.  Mary of Egypt “lost” Jesus for 17 years as a prostitute.  And yet she found her way back, received forgiveness, and lived in God’s grace.
  • The First Luminous Mystery — John the Baptist called all of us to repent and make way for the Lord.  That is exactly what Mary of Egypt did.  It is no coincidence that after being allowed into the Church, Mary of Egypt travelled to Jordan and received communion at  a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist.  Her healing and coming back to God started by renouncing sin, receiving forgiveness, and making room in her life for God.
  • The Second Luminous Mystery — At the wedding at Cana, Mary instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus asked of them.  Mary of Egypt also did whatever Jesus asked of her which meant living out her life alone in prayer.  That could not have been an easy life.  But it shows that when we put our faith in God, miracles do happen.  What miracle did the Lord give Mary of Egypt?  The gift of grace and the solitude for her to fully embrace it.

Mary of Egypt’s story relates to many more lessons in the mysteries of the rosary such as doing God’s will, receiving forgiveness, and never giving up on God who never gives up on us.  Remember, it’s not how you start, but how you end that counts!  And I hope you all have a wonderful and blessed Easter.

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Lenten “Weight” Loss Program

Welcome to the middle of Lent! I hope it has been a good season for you to really examine and work on your relationship with God. I came across this article on Catholic Exchange and thought it correlated nicely with my idea of spiritual exercise.

Welcome to the middle of Lent!  I hope it has been a good season for you to really examine and work on your relationship with God.  I came across this article on Catholic Exchange and thought it correlated nicely with my idea of spiritual exercise.  From the article:

Let’s face it, we are all weighed down to some extent by selfishness and assorted vices.  Given a choice, very few of us will choose suffering over comfort.  Many times, we don’t even realize how much we love to be comfortable.  Fortunately, the Church gives us the season of Lent to examine our souls and remove the extra “weight” that keeps us apart from the Lord.  Here are five simple steps that you can use during Lent to identify and eliminate some of this excess “poundage” from your life.

The article discusses examining ourselves, setting goals, and not giving up.  Where have we seen this before?  Oh yeah, losing Lenten “weight” can probably be seen as a requirement on becoming a Lenten Superstar!  And if this Lent hasn’t been a period of deep reflection like you hope it would, don’t worry.  You still have three more weeks of Lent.  And like Jesus‘ parable of the workers in the field, God doesn’t care what time you get on board and follow Him just as long as you do.

So let’s attack these next few weeks with spiritual fervor and tenacity.  Hands in… READY… GO LENT!

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