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?
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.”
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.
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).
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 Mystery — The 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
What’s more important, serving God or serving each other? Patrick Archbold points out in his article on The Remnant that over the last few decades the Church’s focus has shifted from loving God first to primarily loving our fellow brothers and sisters. It’s not that we have to choose one or the other. We are called to do both. But it is a matter of priority and focus. If you accept the premise that Catholic Church has shifted its priorities in the last few generations, ask yourself whether that has strengthened or weakened the Church. Have we veered from what Jesus taught and what has made the Church strong over the centuries? Patrick Archbold thinks so and believes much of the weakness of faith within the Church has to do with this shift. I encourage you to read his article in full. The focus of this article will be on the rosary (naturally). Let’s look at what some of the rosary mysteries teach us about loving God vs. loving our fellow humans.
Look at the order of the first and second Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. In the Annunciation, we see Mary putting God first by accepting his plan for her. We then see in the Visitation Mary going out and helping her cousin Elizabeth. Notice the order? Okay, there is the fact that chronologically, the Annunciation did precede the Visitation. But there is also a spiritual significance in the order as well. When we pray the rosary we meditate first on the love of God as seen in the Annunciation and then the love for our fellow brothers and sisters as represented in the Visitation. In putting our love for God first, we receive his grace and can therefore more fully serve each other just as Mary does in the Joyful Mysteries.
On to the First Sorrowful Mystery. Jesus fears his upcoming arrest and crucifixion. But he prays to God asking God to first find another way he could redeem the world but also submits to God’s Will. Jesus shows his primary love for God by acknowledging God’s authority and humbly submitting to his plan. Later, when he’s arrested, Jesus tells his apostles, who were ready to defend him, to stand down. While Jesus loved his apostles and his apostles loved him, Jesus puts his life not in their hands, but into God’s hands. Again, we see the model Jesus asks us to follow — serve according to God’s Will first.
Finally, take a look at the Third Luminous Mystery. Jesus preaches that we should all convert our ways to God’s ways. We are called to live first for the Kingdom of Heaven. Note that Jesus did not tell us to solely live for the Kingdom of Heaven and forsake our responsibilities and others in this world. But it is a matter of priority — desiring God’s kingdom must come first. And from that desire, not only for ourselves but for others, we better help our fellow brothers and sisters to also come to live in God’s grace.
I will leave you with a quotation from the Council of Trent that Patrick Archbold cites in his article as I think it sums up nicely why the love of God needs to come before our love for our fellow humans.
“Moreover, no honor, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength. The love of our neighbor, on the contrary, has its limits, for the Lord commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To outstep these limits by loving our neighbor as we love God would be an enormous crime.” —Catechism of Trent, Part 3, Chapter 5, Question 5
I almost feel like I need to start a What Pope Francis Means is… section on RosaryMeds. It’s not that I think what Pope Francis says is wrong. In fact, both Pope Benedict and Saint John Paul II also said many things that, without looking through a well formed theological lens, one could interpret as going against Catholic doctrine. But because of Pope Francis’ off the cuff style, he opens more doors than his predecessors for incorrect justifications of uncatholic behavior for those who wish to take it.
“We all know in our communities, in our parishes, in our neighborhoods how much hurt they do the church, and give scandal, those persons that call themselves ‘Very Catholic,'” the pontiff said Sunday.
Francis was speaking Sunday in an off-the-cuff moment during his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square, which focused on one of Jesus’ teachings about the role of the proscribed laws of the faith of his time.
“The literal observance of the precepts is something sterile if it does not change the heart and is not translated into concrete attitudes,” he said, giving examples: “Opening yourself to the encounter with God and God’s word in prayer, searching for justice and peace, giving help to the poor, the weak and the oppressed.”
“The exterior attitudes are the consequence of what we have determined in the heart,” said the pope. “Not the opposite! With outside attitudes, if the heart does not change we are not true Christians.”
What Pope Francis Did NOT Say
Some people could take Pope Francis’ words to mean that it is okay to not embrace all the teachings of the Catholic Church. After all, you don’t want to be that goody-goody who is “very Catholic” or “too Catholic” as I’ve heard some refer to those who try to follow the precepts of the Church. Without proper reflection, the pope’s comments could be taken as an endorsement of “cafeteria Catholicism” where you can pick what part of the doctrine you want to follow. As long as you have a good heart or a just cause it’s alright to skip Mass on Sunday, support pro-choice causes, and not really buy into the “we are sinners in need of forgiveness” idea. After all, the pope says that being very Catholic can be a bad thing right?
Of course Pope Francis is not saying that you can embrace uncatholic behaviors and still be a Catholic in God’s grace. Nor is he telling practicing Catholics to butt out of the lives of those who have fallen away from the Church. Unfortunately, for those looking for excuses for their behavior and shortcomings, you can easily pick and choose the pope’s words to support your actions.
What is Pope Francis Saying?
In my view, Pope Francis’ comments come down to a single word: PRIDE. It’s not that trying to be a very good Catholic is a bad thing, but you start getting into sinful territory when you start to believe that you’ve achieved some state of heavenly perfection in this lifetime because you follow all the rules. You give scandal when you try to lord that false perception of perfection over others. The very act of believing you are a better person than others because you follow the rules prevents you from being a fully realized Catholic because you fail to acknowledge your sinful act of pride.
There is an old saying that I’m going to paraphrase — being wise means understanding that there is a lot you do not know. I think that’s important to meditate on when thinking about how good of a Catholic you are. Someone who is truly very Catholic understands that they have a lot of sins and shortcomings that they need to work on. No one can achieve perfect Catholicism in this world (Mary and Jesus excluded of course). That is a state reserved for the souls in Heaven. Even the saints acknowledged that they were poor sinners who had to battle various imperfections throughout their lives. Even those who were the most holy among us like Saint Pope John Paul II went to confession weekly because he had the humility to know he could still be a better Catholic.
The Rosary Connection
The rosary relates to Pope Francis’ comments in two ways. First, we pray it so that we can more humbly approach our faith. When I meditate on the various mysteries and think about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, I understand the long road I have before me in areas of my life where I need to improve. I don’t think anyone who earnestly prays the rosary can believe they are very Catholic when compared to the lives of Mary and Jesus or even the martyrs, apostles, and saints. If I ever do start to feel prideful and that there isn’t any more I can do to be a great Catholic, meditating on the rosary brings me back to reality.
The rosary also helps me become very Catholic, but very Catholic in the right way. As Pope Francis said, we should focus on changing our hearts, not just our exterior attitudes. Think about the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary. Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven and calls us to a life of conversion. This conversion is a conversion of heart, not actions. Because when we do have a true conversion of heart and orient ourselves towards God, the actions will naturally follow.
Think of it like this, you aren’t very Catholic because you go to Mass on Sunday. You are very Catholic because you love God with all your heart and want to embrace Him by listening to His Word and celebrating the Eucharist at Mass. True conversion and becoming very Catholic starts from within with regular prayer and reflecting on what areas of your life need improvement. The rosary is a great tool that leads you to true Catholicism, not a false, prideful one.
Need more help getting the most out of the rosary? Download my free ebook chock full of rosary intentions to meditate on.
One of my favorite self improvement blogs is LifeHacker. For those who don’t know, LifeHacker has interesting tips and tricks in all areas of life whether it be career, digital, health, finances, play, or family. They posted a link to a podcast featuring General Stanley McChrystal and his philosophy for success. He said that you have to continuously raise your standards every day. The LifeHacker article states:
You can almost always find something you’re able to improve about your life or your work. The important thing is that concept of eschewing comfort. Success doesn’t consist in finding the right routine to stick with for your whole life. Success comes from changing that routine constantly until your life is better.
This piece of military wisdom applies to so many areas of life. Let’s focus on using it to achieve success with rosary prayer and meditation. In my rosary SEAL post I wrote about how we grow spiritually when we accept the discomforts of rosary prayer and push ourselves to block out easier, but less effective, alternatives. From my experiences with software development I learned that routines lead to optimization. In other words, the more we do the same action over and over again, the faster and more efficient we become at it. That’s great when you want to blast through mundane tasks at work but not so great when it comes to rosary meditation. Becoming comfortable with the rosary is what leads to meditation autopilot, distractions, and less effective prayer.
Rosary meditation is not about speed. It’s about fostering your friendship with Jesus Christ. Are your best experiences with your friends the times when you are distracted and race through interactions with them? Probably not. My most cherished memories in my friendships involved long and deep conversations where I was actively engaged. The same goes for the time we spend in prayer with our friend, Jesus Christ. Our friendship with Jesus isn’t something static, but one that we should always be improving. That means treating each rosary prayer as something new and distinct from the previous rosaries. Yes, the actual prayers may be the same, but the dialogue with Jesus should be something unique because the circumstances you’re prayer under will be unique.
Here is an excerpt from John’s Gospel that should sound familiar since we read it a few weeks ago on May 10th:
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
Always remember that Jesus considers us his friend. It’s important that friendship is never a one way street. Jesus has reached out to us but we need to reach out to him. And that means never taking the power of prayer for granted.
The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary focuses on conversion and communicates a similar idea about never getting comfortable with a routine. What is conversion other than changing our routines until our life is better? Unfortunately, in our broken human state we never achieve a lasting success of living in God’s grace. It’s a process of falling to sin, receiving forgiveness, and striving to be better. No one on earth has ever obtained a lasting perfection in our human form and isn’t in need of some conversion (our Mother Mary excluded of course). When we meditate on this rosary mystery, let’s remember that there is always something more we can do to improve our friendship with Jesus whether it be praying longer, being more aware of the factors that lead us to sin, attending Adoration, receiving the sacraments more often, being more charitable, or just consciously centering more of our lives around Christ.
What are your comfort points with rosary prayer? What can you do to break through them?
Believe it or not, I do have other interests besides rosary prayer. I enjoy watching movies, reading Wired and Popular Science, and learning about the stock market and personal finance. And while every aspect of life does have some implicit connection to prayer, it brightens my day when I see someone write about the power of prayer and meditation in a non-religious blog. In this case, I follow a personal finance blog called The Simple Dollar. Trent Hamm wrote an interesting piece about the power of prayer and meditation when it comes to making financial decisions. He writes:
Meditation and focused prayer provides us with an opportunity to mentally focus on what we need to change in our lives. Regardless of whether we’re focused on financial success or any other aspect of our life, both prayer and meditation give us a chance to mentally focus on those things.
Well said Mr. Hamm. This is the idea I’ve always tried to get across in my RosaryMeds articles. The rosary gives us an opportunity to meditate and inspect how we live and treat others and focus on how we can do better. By meditating on the lives of Mary and Jesus in the rosary mysteries we see examples of perfection that we can strive to imitate. The more we pray the rosary, the more we focus on those images of perfection and the more they will influence us.
When I think about mental focus and change, the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary comes to mind. The full title of this mystery is The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion. I read so many rosary websites and guides that leave out the second part of the title about conversion. That is unfortunate because I like that direct call to action. God asks us to convert all our earthly ways into heavenly ways. He wants us to look at all the ways we separate ourselves from his grace and to make an effort to remove those barriers. But how can we lead a life of conversion if we don’t know what we need to convert? As The Simple Dollar article points out, meditation helps us mentally focus on what we need to change in our lives. Mary gave us the rosary for just that purpose — to focus on moving closer to her son, Jesus Christ.
The article ends with a nice prayer about finances and faith that I will leave you with:
I ask that you remove my worries, anxieties, and fears about money, and replace them with faith.
I ask you to help me understand my purpose in life and to act on that purpose with courage and strength. I know that prosperity will come, in part, by doing work I love. Please help me use my skills and knowledge to be of service in the world.
I ask you for the strength I need to make difficult financial choices, to change my daily money decisions, and to get rid of my debts and build for my future.
I ask you to help me release all negative thoughts about money, and know that prosperity is my true state.
I know and trust that my debts will be paid and money will flow into my life. I have only to look to nature to see proof of the abundance you provide.
I commit to being grateful for all that I now have in my life.
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.
In business there is a saying — work the job you want, not the job you have. In other words, if you want to receive a promotion or have greater responsibilities at work, then take the initiative to display your skills now in your current role. Otherwise, you’ll always stay where you are because no one will see that you have the abilities or desire for anything greater.
I think Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer is the spiritual equivalent of that business philosophy. Act like you’re already one of the saints at peace in God’s Kingdom. After all, Heaven is our ultimate goal (or at least it should be) where we will realize how inconsequential and petty many of our problems really are. Why focus so much time and energy on the problems of this life? This life is temporary and fleeting and is not where God calls us. God calls us to look past our earthly selves and look towards raising to new life with Him in Heaven. If you want your soul to live in Heaven, then act heavenly while on earth.
This prayer’s message is echoed in the First Glorious Mystery, Jesus’ Resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead He showed us that our earthly death is not the end, but only a transition. In His resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of Heaven and provided a place for us. Our souls are not temporary and bound only to this life but will live on for eternity. But how do we want to live that eternity? In the grace and joy of Heaven or in the despair and anguish of Hell? When we pray this rosary mystery, we should meditate and examine how much we are truly living for the place in Heaven Jesus prepared for us in His resurrection.
Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer also recalls themes from the Third Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion. She talks about how our journey into God’s grace is achieved “each minute.” In other words, grace is achieved in small steps, not in one fell swoop. It’s not like we fall asleep one night wallowing in sin and wake up the next day a saint. Conversion is a process made up of a lifetime of small steps into God’s grace. We should take that to heart when we pray this mystery because it can be so easy to become discouraged when it seems like no matter how hard we try we don’t find that peace we so desperately crave. Remember, Jesus didn’t find peace here on earth either. True peace is found only in Heaven. And you find Heaven only when you convert your earthly ways into heavenly ones.
If you want peace and you want Heaven, work towards it now. Pray, confess, fast, receive the sacraments, and learn and follow Jesus’ teachings. You don’t have to be officially recognized a saint to act like one.
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.
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.
Followed through with my Lenten sacrifice (once I made it)
I said a short prayer whenever I was tempted to break my sacrifice
Contributed to a charitable cause
Attended a bible study class in my parish
Received the Sacrament of Confession
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?