Don’t Envy Those Who Didn’t Work All Day

Jesus told the parable of the laborers in the field in last Sunday’s Gospel. In the parable, an owner of a vineyard paid his workers the same wage regardless of how long they worked. Some worked all day while others worked a single hour. And while people often question the fairness of how God pours out His grace, this parable fills me with hope and comfort.  Here’s why.

One of the lessons I take away from the parable of the vineyard laborers is that it does not matter how late you come into God’s grace when it comes to earning a place in Heaven. A life of sin can be wiped clean by the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the final moments of someone’s life. This fills me with hope because I know that no matter how badly I mess up in life, there is always the opportunity for salvation as long as I come before God with a humble heart.  And not just me, but when I see or hear about all the lost souls around me I know there is also hope for them to turn around their lives and receive all of God’s grace.

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard
The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But what about the ones that did work all day in the field? How could they not feel cheated? I can’t help but feel sorry for those who worked all day only to learn that they could have received the same pay for a lot less work. There are a few ways to look at this scenario. Yes, some people only worked an hour. But on the flip side, they were only an hour away from not being hired at all and would have received nothing. Those who were hired in the morning, assuming that they worked hard throughout the day, guaranteed their reward.

The same can be said about earning our spot in Heaven. Yes, there are those who come late to God’s grace. But there are also those who run out of time and do not come into God’s grace at all and miss eternal salvation. Given how little God really asks of us to receive His grace, we need to pray for those who continue to live in sin that they don’t wait to receive God’s mercy and possibly lose out entirely.

If we follow the parable, those who are working in the field all day can be compared to those who faithfully follow the teachings of the Catholic Church throughout their lives. We should feel comforted knowing that God promised us the gift of Heaven for dutifully following His Will.  Is it always easy?  No, work is often challenging.  But it’s rewarding.  And I’m not just talking about the final reward of Heaven either.  In doing God’s Will, you also have a sense of security knowing that God will look after and help those who follow Him much like an employer making sure his employees are safe and taken care of.  By working for God, you stay focused on that goal of Heaven and won’t be as easily tempted to sin.  Remember, idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.  If you’re too busy working for God, you leave Satan little opportunity to influence you.

Think about this parable when you pray the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion.  Jesus told us that Heaven is open to everyone and provided a roadmap to get there.  He said to love your neighbor.  Is that hard?  You bet!  Loving some of the people around you may be the hardest job many people will ever have.  And don’t envy those who may have started working on following Jesus’ teachings late in life.  You never know how much more challenging their lives were before working towards God’s Kingdom of Heaven.

Rosary intentions

  • We pray for those who live in sin; for their conversion.
  • We pray that we don’t envy those who start following God’s Will late in life.
  • We pray for God’s mercy on those who died in a state of sin.
  • We pray for those who believe living for God’s kingdom is too hard.
  • We pray that those who do live for God’s kingdom reamin faithful and not become tempted by Satan’s lies.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Replaying Our Faith Through the Eucharist

I’m in the process of digitizing old home movies originally recorded on videotape.  What I find so interesting is the amount of footage my parents recorded for each event.  I have tapes with two hours of footage of a school talent show where I or one of my siblings was on stage for only five minutes.  I guess my mom really wanted to capture the feeling of the event and not just have five minutes of footage in a vacuum with little or no context.

I think we can all understand my mom wanting to capture every detail of an event.  After all, people upload 300 hours of video to YouTube every minute!  Thousands of posts are made to Facebook every second.  And everyone is an instant shutterbug with their phones.  I bet much of this is to not only record the actual physical events in our lives but also try to capture the associated feelings.  And yet many times, these recordings fail to truly capture the true emotion of an event and upon replay they just come out flat.

But what about our faith?  Is it possible to capture our Catholic Faith in a manner that does not lose any of its fidelity when replayed?  In his homily on the Feast of Corpus Cristi, Pope Francis talked about how the Body and Blood of Christ is a remembrance of our faith.  The Catholic News Agency reported:

“This is why the Eucharistic commemoration does us so much good: it is not an abstract, cold and superficial memory, but a living remembrance that comforts us with God’s love.”

Francis explained that when we receive the Eucharist, our hearts have the opportunity to become overwhelmed with the certainty of Christ’s love for us, the Eucharist giving us a memory that is grateful, free, and patient.

We can see the Eucharist as Jesus’ way of capturing the essence of the Catholic Faith to be replayed every time we celebrate it at Mass.  The Eucharist does what no camera and video recording can do, no matter how high the memory and resolution — it captures the entirety of God’s love for us.  When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he wasn’t just telling that to his apostles in the room.  Jesus was saying that all Christians, present and future, must remember that the Eucharist embodies all of his teachings and love.

3rd quarter of 16th century
3rd quarter of 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But much like a forgotten videotape in a cardboard moving box in a warehouse, what good is the Eucharist if we don’t receive it?  You never give yourself the opportunity to replay and feel the essence of Jesus’ teachings or God’s love for you.  Don’t get me wrong, you can learn these things at a cerebral level by reading the Bible and listening to homilies.  But that’s not the type of memory you recall when you receive the Eucharist.  The memories replayed through the Eucharist are often only understood by your soul in a way you can’t easily describe because God’s love is beyond the human capacity to describe it.  But just because you can’t describe it doesn’t mean you don’t receive its benefits.

To fully receive the memories of faith in the Eucharist your soul must be in a worthy state.  That means receiving it with no mortal sins, having prepared by fasting, and appreciating the solemnity of the Eucharistic feast.  Otherwise, you are like a broken video player unable to replay the captured memories.  Or at best, it comes out so distorted and degraded that your soul can’t understand it.

When you pray the Fifth Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, remember how powerful a gift the Eucharist is.  It is not something to be received lightly but it is something we should be receiving regularly.  We need to slow down and remember that our faith is built on the Eucharist.  If we don’t slow down, what good is the Eucharist having on our soul?  As Pope Francis reminded us:

Our lives are such a whirl of people and events that we no longer retain memories. But this leaves us at risk of only living on the surface of things and never going deeper, he said, “without the broader vision that reminds us who we are and where we are going.”

“This is why the Eucharistic commemoration does us so much good: it is not an abstract, cold and superficial memory, but a living remembrance that comforts us with God’s love.”

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

And Jesus Wept…

We are coming down the home stretch of this Lenten season.  Like a movie, the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is hitting its climax as Jesus’ miracles get larger and more public but so does the ire of the Jewish authorities.  It, of course, culminates with Jesus’ crucifixion and then resurrection.  Similar to how the readings are hitting their crescendo, so too should our observance of Lent.  It’s time to pick up the praying, fasting, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and just putting our faith front and center in our lives.

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  I want to focus on one specific verse.  It’s a short, three-word sentence — “And Jesus wept (John 11:35).”  It is easy to overlook the significance of this sentence when you know what Jesus is about to do.  In fact, this sentence does not seem to make a lot of sense.  If Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, why did he weep?  Naturally, the other people wept because they did not know Jesus was going to raise Lazarus.  But why would Jesus, someone who healed and raised others from dead, weep when he knew that Lazarus’ state was only temporary?

English: Picture of the And Jesus Wept statue ...
English: Picture of the And Jesus Wept statue that stands next to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus’ weeping ties him to our shared humanity with him.  It is so easy to see Jesus’ divinity in the accounts of him healing others, performing miracles, and resurrecting from the dead.  On top of that, we have the Catholic Church and it’s billion+ members in all its grandeur.  But after 2000 years we tend to forget that Jesus was also human.  He shared all the same emotions as us except the tendency to sin.  Even when he knew that he was going to raise Lazarus, his weeping told people that he sympathized with them and understood their grief.  He did not distance himself but instead drew us closer to God by making himself more relatable.

When we pray the rosary, we should remember Jesus’ humanity in addition to his divinity.  Remember that despite all the miracles he performed, Jesus was one of us.  He showed grief at the death of a loved one.  He showed fear in the Garden of Gesthemene before being arrested and crucified.  He showed anger when he threw the merchants out of the temple or the countless times he chastised Peter.  Even going back to the story of Lazarus, the Gospel says that Jesus was “perturbed” by everyone’s lack of faith.  Yes, it seems like Jesus wasn’t immune from frustration.

Jesus asks a lot of us.  He asks us to live for the Kingdom of Heaven and convert by turning away from our sinful or earthly ways.  Like a defiant teenager rebelling against his parents, we may tell Jesus, “Easy for you to say!  You’re perfect!  You just don’t understand what it’s like to be me!”  But Jesus replies, “I understand perfectly.   Remember, I know what it is like to be human.  I shared the same feelings and emotions.  And I ask these things of you because I know what it is like to be you.  I’m not some distant God who does not know the human condition for I experienced it personally.”

You think you have it tough, try healing a man on the Sabbath!

Fasting, praying, reading the Bible, and confessing sins are all difficult during Lent.  And in general, living a spiritual life can be difficult.  But the Church calls us to this life not because it expects us to fail.  The Church does not call us to a holy life that is completely beyond our ability to grasp.  The Church follows Jesus’ teachings born out of his experience being human and knowing what we are capable of.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

What the Rosary Teaches Us about Spiritual Complacency

Last Sunday’s Gospel was the Transfiguration of Christ which is also the theme of the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary.  This mystery has always been one of the more difficult ones for me to meditate on.  I think I have a hard time relating to it because I have a tendency to reduce it to just another one of Jesus’ miracles.

The impact of the Transfiguration is softened partly because it sits in the shadow of the even more miraculous events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as nearly 2000 years of Church teaching.  In a way, modern day Christians are like people watching a movie they’ve already seen a dozen times and already know the ending.  We read about Jesus in the Bible and his disciples and we know who will betray him, who will deny him, who will convert, who will become saints, etc.  Because we already start from the understanding that Jesus is God made man, all the events of the Bible come across almost normal or at least expected.

“Ugh, another rerun of that ‘Jesus Show.'”

When we meditate on the Transfiguration in the Fourth Luminous Mystery, we have to put ourselves into the role of St. Peter as he witnessed these events for the first time.  It is then that we truly start to appreciate the revolutionary nature of the Transfiguration.  I think we have to assume that the apostles still didn’t fully understand and appreciate Jesus’ truly divine nature as they traveled with Him.  Sure, they said they believed Jesus was the Messiah, but as their actions during Jesus’ death showed, they didn’t truly internalize it.

The Old Testament prophets did many miraculous deeds.  In a way, Jesus’ actions seemed to fall in line with earlier prophets.  In fact, many people believed that Jesus was one of the older prophets reborn.  The Transfiguration showed that Jesus was no mere prophet of human origin but was God’s own son.  Imagine the shock Peter, John, and James must have felt realizing that they had been in God’s presence the entire time they were with Jesus.

It’s not surprising then that Peter wants to erect tents to honor Jesus.  Like a star-struck fan, Peter probably couldn’t think of anything else to say or do.   I would imagine he might even have felt embarrassed knowing all the times he had acted foolishly in front of God’s son.

“Just be cool, don’t think about that dopey pun you made about ’12 Monkeys.'”

Now, Peter and the apostles could plead ignorance for not truly understanding Jesus’ true nature.  But what’s our excuse?  We’ve read and have been told the history of Jesus’ teachings dozens of times.  We have the benefit of thousands of years of theologians and the Magisterium interpreting and explaining Jesus to us in utmost detail.  And yet, we all so often casually ignore Jesus and take His teachings for granted.  Much like the disciples thousands of years ago, we sometimes think of Jesus more as a philosopher with some good advice and not as God.  Lent is our time to change that lackadaisical attitude.

When you meditate on the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary this Lent, try to capture that sense of awe the three apostles must have felt at the Transfiguration.  Try to look at your faith with fresh eyes, ears, and heart to truly take in the majesty and power of God’s grace.  Ask God to renew your conviction in following God’s command to listen to His son.  In other words, try to throw out any complacency you may have developed with your faith.  This will make the miracle and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter grander and more meaningful.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

How Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Complete Faith in God

Hopefully, you can take a break from all the election related news and meditate on this Sunday’s Gospel.  It’s a long one so I’m just pasting the part I want to focus on in this post.

“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

This Gospel reading focuses on the importance of having faith by putting your life entirely in God’s hands.  We all too often think that we can manage our lives on own without help from anyone, including God.  When faced with challenges, many of us have a tendency to try to fight it on our own because we would think of ourselves as weak by admitting that we need help.  Or we will think that we somehow cheated by receiving assistance.

Illustration for Cheating Français : Illustrat...
“No fair! You got help from God!”

Jesus tells us not to be foolish.  God offers us not only His assistance but is willing to take the entire burden if only we let Him.  Jesus told his disciples to not prepare a defense for He would provide wisdom.  That promise is not just true for times of persecution, but for all our challenges, big and small, we encounter daily.

So many of us only tentatively accept God’s help and usually only on our terms.  We tend to treat God’s help as a last resort.  We come to Him in prayer when all else seems to have failed.  This creates a manager/employee relationship where we falsely take the role of manager and God exists to take direction from us.  The Gospel tells us that we need to put God 100% in control of our lives.  Any other amount shows arrogance on our part believing that we can manage our lives any better than God can.

When I think about the power of faith, the Fifth Luminous Mystery of the rosary comes to mind.  Jesus asks us to have incredible faith in His presence in the Eucharist.  He asks us to put away that idea that what we see, smell, feel, and taste is not a piece of bread but is entirely Him!  That is a tall order and similar to the amount of faith He asked of His disciples to let Him guide them when faced with challenges and persecution.

English: Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, t...
English: Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, the Body of Christ. The Eucharist is held in a modern monstrance, flanked by candles. We gaze over the shoulders of altar servers who are kneeling in adoration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we should remember that all things good come from God.  A reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us of that fact:

For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?

If God wants nothing but the best for you, do you have enough faith to yield to His Will 100%?  Or are you holding anything back?  Jesus tells us he will take care of us.  Is your faith strong enough that you believe Him?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

How Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Discernment

Here is the Gospel for this Sunday, 9/4/16 from LK 14:25-33

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus,
and he turned and addressed them,
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower
does not first sit down and calculate the cost
to see if there is enough for its completion?
Otherwise, after laying the foundation
and finding himself unable to finish the work
the onlookers should laugh at him and say,
‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’
Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
But if not, while he is still far away,
he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.
In the same way,
anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus’ teachings in this Gospel confuse me.  Why is he telling us to turn against our parents?  After all, Jesus loved Mary, his mother.  He was obedient to his parents as a young boy.  And what does hating your parents have to do with the analogy of laying down the foundation of a tower, preparing for battle, or renouncing all your possessions?  I can just picture the confusion and even doubt the people listening to Jesus speak these words must have had.

I think that when you look at this teaching in the context of all of Jesus’ other teachings it is obvious that he is not telling us to literally hate our parents.  Rather, he instructs us to let go of all worldly attachment especially if they lead us away from God‘s grace.  And in some extreme cases, that may mean letting go of our relationships with certain people, possessions, and habits if they are toxic to our relationship with God.

Each one of us needs to make a conscious decision on what kingdom we are going to live for.  Will it be this worldly kingdom or God’s heavenly one?  Remember, shortly after this teaching in Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells us, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13).

Attachment to a worldly possession didn't work out too well for Smeagol
Attachment to a worldly possession didn’t work out too well for Smeagol (see Lord of the Rings)

The Gospel reading moves in a unique direction with the parable of building the tower and preparing for war.  As my Sunday readings workbook points out, Jesus is telling us that living our faith is something we need to consciously think about and commit ourselves to.  Many of us cradle Catholics (myself included) often take the Church‘s teachings for granted and do not put a lot of serious thought into them.  We may call ourselves Catholics but Jesus challenges us to reflect on what exactly we are committing ourselves to.  Have we taken the time to learn the Church’s teachings?  Are we ready to live and defend them?  Do we pray regularly to build a strong spiritual foundation if/when our faith is challenged?

The Gospel reflects the central theme of the Third Luminous MysteryThe Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion.  Conversion implies that one is making a very conscious and deliberate choice.  It is not something one does passively.  When you reflect on this rosary mystery, ask yourself if you are seriously looking for ways you are not living up to the standard Jesus puts before you.  Where are you out of step with the Church’s teachings on topics such as abortion, chastity, immigration, social welfare, etc?  What are you going to do to convert from your focus on our worldly kingdom to God’s heavenly one?

It is easy to procrastinate and delay taking a hard look at your life and taking steps to convert.  But just like the builder who didn’t plan or the general that didn’t strategize, Jesus warns us about how foolish such action is because delaying actively living a truly Catholic faith puts you at risk for great catastrophe.  And there is no greater catastrophe than losing God’s kingdom of Heaven especially when he asks relatively so little of us to accept it.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Abstaining from Communion: How the Rosary Teaches Humility

I really wanted to get this out Monday night but at least I’m publishing an article within the same week of the Gospel passage I’m referencing.  This is from Tuesday’s Gospel:

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

I’m going to tie this reading to the concept of humility which is one of the themes of the Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist. I think it is important to realize that when you receive the Eucharist, you are encountering Jesus as if he was present in human form. This is not a gift to be received lightly and yet so many of us (myself included) often receive this gift on auto-pilot without the sincere awe, thought, and gratitude Jesus deserves.

3rd quarter of 16th century
3rd quarter of 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I once heard a priest on EWTN radio remark on how short the lines to Confession are on Saturday and how long they are for Communion on Sunday. We either live in an age of saints or many of us are not showing the humility to abstain from receiving the Eucharist when we are not in a worthy state.  We have to remember that receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is not some sort given when you go to Mass but is something that you should put some thought into on whether to receive Him or not.

For those who need a refresher on the requirements to receive Communion, EWTN summarizes the Catechism nicely:

The prerequisites for the reception of Holy Communion are 1) being in the state of grace, 2) having fasted for one hour (for the sick 15 minutes if possible, no fast if fasting is not possible), and 3) devotion and attention.

I think a lot of people feel obliged to get into the Communion line because they feel like people will judge them and assume they did something horrible to fall out of a state of grace.  But that is only one condition for not receiving Communion.  You could just as easily abstain from Communion for non-grave reasons like not fasting or because you came late to Mass and just do not feel like you are in that spiritual zone.  But here’s the point many people miss when they feel like everyone will assume the worst for not receiving Communion.  NO ONE CARES!  I think the number of people that are observing who is not receiving Communion is so incredibly small.  And are they people who you even care what they think about you?  Is it really worth offending God to please a handful of Communion ombudsmen?

I suggest praying the Fifth Luminous Mystery during the presentation of the gifts and really examine your conscience about receiving Communion.  Really, it is okay to occasionally abstain as long as you also make an effort to correct the underlying reasons why you need to abstain from Communion in a timely manner.  Go to Confession, remember to fast, etc.  In short, be humble enough to know when you are not worthy to receive the Eucharist and motivated enough to do everything in your power to return to a state of grace.

Connecting back to the Gospel reading, what is one trait many young children have?  Children are genuine.  They aren’t self-conscious or fake.  They do not have this need to keep up a certain facade to please others.  I’m always amazed how unfiltered small children can be at times.  And maybe that’s what Jesus asks of us adults; to tear down those walls of pride or vanity and do what is right regardless of how others may perceive it.  Another way to think about it is that God is our Father and we are His children.  He sets the rules and expectations and He does it for very good reasons.  And while we may not always like or agree with them, maybe like a child, we need to swallow our pride, accept God’s teachings, and have faith that what He asks is for our ultimate benefit.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Value of Fasting

I am an avid reader of science and technology articles. I read Wired and Popular Science cover to cover within days of the magazine arriving in my mailbox and I read articles from numerous websites. I get super excited when I notice a link between my two passions — science and technology and prayer and spirituality.

I came across such an article that dived into the science behind fasting. A researcher has a theory that fasting obstructs a hormone responsible for cell growth and makes people more sensitive to insulin. He thinks that periodic fasting could reduce one’s chances of developing diabetes or cancer. The technical details are beyond the scope of this article but it’s an interesting read.

The article mentions that those who fast often feel sharper mentally because of a process called ketosis. It has something to do with a difference in body chemistry when you’re burning fat instead of carbohydrates. But that got me thinking about why the Church recommends fasting in addition to prayer. If fasting sharpens the mind and makes you physically healthier, could it also make you spiritually healthier as well?

The common idea behind fasting is that we give up something physical (such as food) and replace it with something spiritually nourishing. But this isn’t a trade of equal value. The spiritual benefit will always outweigh the physical loss. Think about that for a second. You give up a dessert or your ritual cup of coffee so you can instead better listen to God and form a deeper relationship with Him. Talk about giving up so little to gain so much!  Seems like an easy deal right?

And yet, while we all know the tremendous benefit of fasting, it is probably one of the hardest disciplines to practice. I think many of us have no problem saying some extra prayers, reading the bible, or praying the rosary when we put our minds to it. But you might as well suggest amputating a limb at the idea of not having that slice of cheesecake, substituting that mouth watering bacon burger for soup, or cutting out that cup of afternoon coffee. But that’s the point isn’t it? The harder the sacrifice, the more you benefit. When you say, “Okay God, I’m giving this up for you!” the better you will be able to hear God respond with a “thank you” and His grace.

And on Saturday he ate 1 piece of chocolate cake, 1 ice cream cone, 1 pickle…

Fasting amplifies our prayers and our reception of God’s Word.  Compare fasting/prayer to diet/exercise.  Exercise is not as effective without a matching, healthy diet.  All that you gain working out for an hour can be undone with a single cheesecake slice.  Or your health can be further benefited by supplementing exercise with nutritious food.  The same can be said for prayer.  All the benefits of prayer can be undone by a moment of sin or it can be elevated when combined with fasting.  Obviously, if we pray and then turn around and sin we really haven’t let God’s grace into our hearts.  But when we pray and fast, we allow God more room in our hearts to truly transform us.  St. Augustine once said, “Those who sing pray twice.”  If that’s true then I say that those who fast must be praying five-fold.

Jesus in Pray
Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How does fasting connect to the rosary?  Think about one of the themes of the Third Luminous Mystery.  Jesus calls us to focus on living for His Kingdom of Heaven.  That focus manifests itself by active conversion of our ways.  We change our earthly focus to a Heavenly one.  And that is exactly what fasting is all about.  We give up something worldly in exchange for something spiritual.  We intentionally choose the Kingdom of Heaven over delights in this earthly kingdom.  No one accidentally fasts.  Nor do we accidentally live for Heaven.  In the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus puts a choice before us.  Will you live for His kingdom and convert your ways or will you remain chained to the pleasures of this life?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

How Catholics Should Give and Receive Criticism

Time for a touchy subject — criticism.  Have you noticed how intolerant everyone appears to get at the slightest hint of criticism?  I understand that no one enjoys criticism, even constructive criticism.  But in the last few years, how society views criticism has changed.  Instead of it as something you either accept or ignore, criticising anyone has become tantamount to hate speech that warrants severe repercussions.  Just look at some of these headlines about how people react when their views are challenged or someone says something that makes them feel uncomfortable:

What I think is going on is that many people infer that any type of criticism comes from a position of self righteousness or malice.  Criticism is interpreted as a passive aggressive way of saying, “I’m better than you.”  In today’s world, the greatest act of love and concern appears to be silence and the cardinal sin of secular society is saying or doing anything that might upset someone.

In short, the world of Fahrenheit 451, where books are burned because people may find the ideas in them offensive, has come true.  Granted, we do not have firemen raiding homes looking for contraband books.  But we do have a culture where people are shouted down and threatened at the slightest implication that someone disagrees with their views or lifestyle.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has this take on criticism and how it is born out of a genuine love for each other.  While I  encourage you to listen to the two minute audio meditation yourself, the tl;dl version (too long; didn’t listen) is that fraternal correction is a great act of love and mercy.  Others often see aspects of us we don’t see ourselves and hence the cycle of continuous and mutual improvement completes us and our relationships with others.  He emphasizes that correction must come from a humble heart desiring only what is best for one another, not from thinking of yourself as better than others.

Pope Benedictus XVI
Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think Benedict’s statement, that true loving correction does not come from a place of self righteousness, is lost in today’s world.  Any attempt to help someone is often immediately dismissed because the person offering the criticism has his own faults and is therefore seen as a hypocrite.  It’s the whole, “Oh yeah!  Well you’re a …” response.  But by that logic, no one can offer advice or help each other because no one is perfect.

I wonder how much unhappiness in the world is born out of people being too afraid to help each other discover the good because doing so may present temporary anxiety or discomfort.  If you are on the receiving end of loving criticism,  Benedict asks us to consider that not all criticism is malicious but is instead maybe the Holy Spirit working through someone to bring out the best in us.

Turning to the rosary, meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion.  Consider this passage taken from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.  He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.  Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land.  It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary forces us to consider that Jesus Christ, and by extension His Church, calls us to see those aspects of our lives that are not moving us toward Heaven and to convert.  Jesus’ ministry was marked with Him challenging people’s beliefs and wanting them to do better.  In the Gospel, Jesus is criticizing the people for thinking that they, and only they, are called to God’s grace.  At the idea that there are others in the world deserving of God’s love, the Jews were ready to throw Jesus over a cliff!  Of course we shouldn’t forget that Jesus’ teachings so upset the status quo that He was eventually crucified because His truth made many feel uncomfortable or upset.

Ask yourself, how quickly do you make excuses to dismiss God’s plan for you?  Or how often do you attack the messenger, who may be acting as an instrument of God’s loving guidance, because you do not like being told that you are doing something wrong or not in accordance with God’s plan?  Look, I’m not saying that you should be all smiles and laughter when someone tries to correct your less than perfect ways.  And not everyone acts out of love.  But we all should ask God in prayer for patience and discernment and not immediately dismiss or attack someone who only wants the best for us.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Rome Sweet Home

There is a saying that to truly understand a city you have to have lived in it for twenty years or two weeks. The two weeks part of that saying means that someone with a fresh set of eyes sees aspects of a city that locals have overlooked or just grown used to. I think the same idea applies to Catholicism. To truly understand the Catholic faith you have to have faithfully studied and practiced it for decades or be a recent convert. Recent converts usually see the beauty and understand the theological framework of the Church that cradle Catholics may overlook or take for granted.  For this article, I am going to write about a book I just finished which focuses on Catholicism through the eyes of recent converts.

51ag-eecuol-_sx326_bo1204203200_
Want the book? Click on the image for purchasing options.

I just finished reading Rome Sweet Home which is the story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn.  Many of you may recognize those names because Scott often speaks on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) about he and his wife’s conversion to Catholicism.  The book is a good read that takes you through their lives at devout and well educated Presbyterians to Scott’s conversion (to Kimberly’s anguish), and then Kimberly’s conversion.  It’s a fascinating read where each chapter first tells Scott’s story and ends with Kimberly’s take on the same events.  It almost reads like a mystery where Scott’s story often ends with some sort of cliffhanger which is later filled in by Kimberly’s story.

There are two aspects of the book that I’m going to touch on briefly.  First, I was amazed by the intellectual honesty Scott and Kimberly showed in their conversion process.  When confronted with information about the Catholic Church’s teaching on various subjects, Scott couldn’t escape how well reasoned they were and how much he agreed with them.  It would have been very easy for Scott to turn a blind eye to the Church’s teachings and return to the comfort of his protestant lifestyle.  But instead he kept digging; wanting to find the truth regardless of where it led him.  The more he read and discussed Catholicism to find that large logic gap to disprove it, the more he fell in love with it.

You have to admire that dedication to the finding truth.  Scott and Kimberly’s story should serve as an inspiration to us all in this season of Lent as we fast, pray, and meditate on finding truth in our lives.  Are you dedicated to finding and then living the truth?  Or will you turn a blind eye to the Church’s teaching when it throws up challenges or conflicts with societal norms?  When you pray the rosary, meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries and think about the giant price Jesus paid by not bending to the expectations of others.  Ask yourself whether you have truly dedicated yourself to the truth and the way Jesus is asking you to live.  That’s okay if you do not meet that high bar.  It is why we pray in the first place — to ask God for the strength to seek out and live according to His Will, not ours.

The second aspect of the book which touched me was how deeply the Hahn’s longed for Eucharist after their conversation.  They appreciate the power of this great gift from God.  They were dismayed about how casually many Catholics receive Communion.  They reasoned that many people truly do not understand who they are receiving in the Eucharist.  Otherwise they would approach it with far more reverence and also a profound joy.  I guess it takes a lifetime as a protestant with the host being just a wafer to truly stand in awe of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.

Girl receiving first Holy Communion, Sicily
Girl receiving first Holy Communion, Sicily (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we continue our Lenten prayers and fasting, meditate on the Fifth Luminous Mystery, The Institution of the Eucharist.  Ask God for the faith to see the Eucharist like someone receiving Him for the first time.  Imagine being a recent convert where you have gone your entire life denying your soul of that spiritual banquet of the Eucharist and now you are finally able to celebrate.  So deep should our joy of the Eucharist be whether we have received it a few times or thousands of times.  We pray for those going through RCIA as we lead up to their full membership in the Catholic Church this Easter.  And finally, pray for those who receive communion without truly understanding what it is, especially if they receive it with mortal sins on their souls.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,