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?
Lately I have contemplatedprayers, intentions, and how God answers our requests for help. On the Catholic Answers forums, I see so many people angry or saddened because they feel so distant from God and they wonder if He isn’t hearing their prayers. I understand how easy it is to feel discouraged when the news headlines are filled with stories of violent crimes, wars, and civil unrest not to mention the unreported hardships we all face about our jobs, family, finances, relationships, etc. You look at all the problems in this world and it is easy to conclude that God just doesn’t care. However, what I think happens more often is that we fixate on a specific solution and completely miss how God actually answers our prayers.
Here’s an example of God answering prayers in unexpected ways taken from my own experiences. Like many people, I pray in a general sense that I may be stronger in the seven virtues of chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. But how do I know God hears me and answers my requests to be a better person? After all, nothing really seems to change in my day-to-day life that indicates that I’m stronger in any of those areas. I don’t wake up and say, “Thanks God! I feel more diligent today!” So how does God answer my prayers?
I remember all the days and nights I spend with my 1.5 year old son. I play with him when I come home from work although I’m tired and just want to relax in front of the television. I try to read his favorite books to him for the hundredth time with the same excitement as the first time. It’s exhausting work at times. But then it hits me. All those times when I pulled out a little more energy to be there for my family, I was demonstrating acts of patience, kindness, and charity. I asked God for strength and He answered by giving me an opportunity to exercise virtue.
Next, let’s look at a story that made the news rounds lately. There is a picture circulating around the internet of a wife carrying her double-amputee husband on her back. Jesse Cottle lost both his legs after stepping on an IED while serving in the Marines in Afghanistan. In rehab, he met his wife, Kelly. In an interview on Good Morning America, Jesse said that he wouldn’t change anything that happened to him because if he hadn’t lost his legs to that IED, he never would have met the love of his life.
I’m not sure whether Jesse is an overtly praying man, but I’m sure he must have had some very low moments after his injury and asked God to somehow improve his situation. But God just didn’t miraculously grow Jesse’s legs back or change the IED blast so he didn’t lose them in the first place. I’m sure many of us in Jesse’s situation would look for those specific answers from God if we were in that situation. And we would probably be saddened when God didn’t physical heal us. But God often answers prayers in unexpected, but better ways. Sure, God could have physically healed Jesse. But then Jesse never would have met Kelly in rehab. While what happened to Jesse was tragic, God brought about a greater good by touching the hearts of two people, instead of healing the legs of one.
What rosary mystery doesn’t involve God working in some unexpected way? The whole New Testament is the account of Jesus saying and doing unexpected things. Sometimes He did the unexpected to great fanfare like performing miracles. And other times Jesus’ unexpected nature upset people, especially the scribes and pharisees when He challenged their practices and authority. When you pray the rosary, meditate that God’s ways aren’t always our ways. When it comes to God, expect the unexpected. For example:
The Annunciation (First Joyful Mystery): God chose an unwed teenager to be the Mother of God. Mary may have been physically poor, but God raised her up to be rich in spirit.
The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven (Third Luminous Mystery): When Jesus proclaimed that He was the Word made flesh, people chased him out of town. How many times do we get upset when God shows Himself in unexpected ways in our lives?
The Crucifixion (Fifth Sorrowful Mystery): Jesus died and redeemed us all. People challenged Him by saying that if He was really the Son of God, He could save himself. But Jesus knew that it was far more important to save our souls than save His body.
Remember, God’s ways are not our ways. But that should be a reason to rejoice, not for disappointment. God sees the big picture. So shouldn’t we rejoice that someone who sees and knows everything is looking out for us? Do you have any stories to tell of how God answered your prayers in unexpected, but ultimately better ways? Leave a comment.
I could not come up with a decent rosary meditation at the end of my earlier article on comprehensive immigration reform and the Catholic Church. That’s been tearing me up a little because it’s the challenging issues like this one that need the most prayer and meditation. It is much easier to pray for the issues where I already agree with the Catholic Church like the intrinsic evilness of abortion. I even find it easy to meditate on the theological and moral foundation of immigration reform of how we should treat our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of their immigration status. But I’m having a hard time swallowing the Church’s enthusiasm over the latest comprehensive immigration bill that recently passed through the senate. But I think I found a mystery of the rosary that helps address my current doubt and worry over the Church’s stance on this bill.
The rosary mystery that comes to mind when I think about the immigration reform bill is the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion. We should meditate on the first part of the title — the proclamation of the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus came into the world to proclaim that there is something greater to live for than what we see around us in our lives. He prepared a place for us in Heaven. Jesus told us what we need to do to live for His Kingdom:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). ” Immediately following, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to point out that everyone is our neighbor.
Jesus didn’t attach conditions to His call to love one another. He didn’t instruct us to love our neighbor, but only if doing so wouldn’t have a negative impact on the economy. He didn’t say love your neighbor, but not if they broke the law. He didn’t instruct his disciples to secure the border before they could start loving and showing compassion to those around them. And so when it comes to the immigration reform issue, I think the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is trying to echo a similar sentiment as Jesus in the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary. They want to show us that it is far more important to live for Jesus’ Kingdom and follow His laws regardless of the social, economic, and political impact in this world.
Loving our neighbor unconditionally is difficult particularly when it might have an adverse affect on our social or economic well-being. Or maybe it is hard to swallow teachings that conflict with our political ideology. We only know this world and this life and we try our best to find as much comfort and happiness in it. But God does not want us to constrain our thinking to the here and now but remember that there is a larger picture involved. He calls us to spend eternity in the happiness of Heaven. So even if our economy and society collapses and we lose our comforts in this world, if that happens because we loved our neighbor, we will gain infinitely more. But seeing our laws through that lens is tremendously difficult.
But the Third Luminous Mystery doesn’t end with the proclamation of the kingdom of Heaven. It ends with Jesus calling us to a life of conversion. Jesus understands that almost everyone will have a hard time letting go of the comforts of this world and embrace living for His heavenly kingdom. He knows that all of us need to undergo conversion in one form or another. And so this mystery doesn’t end with Jesus giving us an ultimatum that we must immediately accept leaving no room for error. Instead, Jesus acknowledges that we may not be 100% on board with His teaching, but that’s alright. He wants us to make an effort to align our ways with His ways. He knows that it will be challenging to follow Him and we will stumble, but He gives us all the tools through the magisterium of the Catholic Church that we need to stay on that path.
We pray and meditate on the rosary, particularly the Third Luminous Mystery, that we orient our lives toward God’s heavenly kingdom and make whatever course corrections we need to get there. I’m certainly not there yet on issues like the comprehensive immigration reform bill. And I think there are other ways we can love our neighbor and reform our immigration policies without implementing yet more massive government programs. But at least I understand where our US bishops and Church leaders are coming from. They are trying to offer a glimpse of how God views these issues which is very different from how many of us might see them. Much like how we have faith that there is a heavenly kingdom that awaits us after this life, maybe we also should show a little faith in our Church leaders. It’s easy to have faith in people when you completely agree with them. But real faith is believing even when you have doubts. But with the help of Mary, the saints, and the Holy Spirit, maybe we’ll be able to conquer that doubt and not fear what we have to lose in this life but rejoice in all that we will gain in the next.
I took a lot of acting classes and performed in many plays throughout high school and college. Looking back on my teenage and early adult years, acting was one of the greatest experiences of my life. One skill that was difficult to learn initially was leaving the familiar and comfortable to take chances discovering the character. In order to be successful on stage I had to embrace my character and all his quirks, mannerisms, and eccentricities and push aside any sense of self-consciousness or embarrassment. My best performances resulted from breaking out of my comfort zone and doing things I would never regularly do but my character would.
Much like how I had to leave my comfort zone in acting, Pope Francis challenges all Catholics to leave their comfort zone in their spiritual life. The Catholic News Agency reported that in a homily, Pope Francis said:
“We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church,” he said at the chapel of the Saint Martha residence, where he lives.
The Pope preached on today’s first reading from Acts 22 and contrasted “backseat Christians” with those who have apostolic zeal.
“There are those who are well-mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and apostolic zeal,” he stated.
The pontiff said apostolic zeal “implies an element of madness,” which he labeled as “healthy” and “spiritual.”
He added that it “can only be understood in an atmosphere of love” and that it is not an “enthusiasm for power and possession.”
The pope’s reference to “well-mannered” and “backseat” Christians echoed my thoughts about how we too often do the bare minimum our faith requires. And looking at the dramatic drop off in Mass attendance between Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, many people aren’t even meeting the minimal requirements. I noted how great of a statement Catholics could make to the world if people driving by a church on Sunday saw it filled to the brim with faithful Christians. What if the billion+ Catholics in the world expressed a loving enthusiasm for our faith every day in everything we do?
And yet, many of us (myself included) fall back into our pattern of living as “well-mannered” Catholics. Sure, we may go to Mass on Sunday and pray regularly but it’s in a very detached way from our regular lives. We don’t want to stir up controversy by proclaiming our faith in public. Raise your hand if you read a really interesting online article expressing a Catholic viewpoint but didn’t post it on your Facebook profile out of fear of causing trouble. Do you remain silent in a conversation when someone starts spouting off falsehoods or exaggerations of Church doctrine because you want to avoid conflict? Come on, be honest. I know I do that all the time, even with my own RosaryMeds articles. I sometimes refrain from sharing my own RosaryMeds articles on my personal timeline because I don’t want the headaches of defending my faith.
We all need role models and examples who we can teach us how to break the mold of the “comfortable Catholic.” Who in my life is an example of “apostolic zeal?” My mother-in-law comes to mind. She does not have two lives — a public one and a spiritual one. They are the same for her. For example, when something bad or good happens in her life, her immediate instinct is to say a prayer. And she doesn’t wait to be alone and pray silently, but will ask others to pray with her when the situation calls for it. That’s the sort of apostolic zeal the pope wants in all of us — to have that immediate gut instinct to publicly live as people of faith. It doesn’t need to be loud or bossy. It just needs to be ever-present in everything you do.
When I meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery of the holy rosary — Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion, I often ponder my own personal conversion. I think about ways I can live as a better Catholic and more faithfully follow Jesus’ teachings. But Pope Francis’ homily on living with “apostolic zeal” provides another way to view this mystery. In addition to your personal conversion, how about focusing on converting others? How can you help bring others closer to God’s loving grace? For those “backseat” Christians, maybe you can give them that little “push” whether it be inviting them to Mass (and not letting them hide in the back of the church), saying grace with them before meals, and just working in a little Catholic catechesis in conversations. It might be something as simple as, “I read this interesting article on RosaryMeds today that said…”
As for dealing with those openly hostile to the Catholic Faith, I understand that we all can’t be like St. Paul and stir up riots proclaiming God’s Word. But as I said before, pray for those who hate the Church. You will probably not be able to convert someone’s heart and mind through idle conversation regardless of how many facts or well-reasoned arguments you present. But the Holy Spirit can work miracles and touch people in ways words cannot. But you need to condition yourself to pray for people like this because praying for those who hate you doesn’t come naturally to many of us.
I will leave you with this to ponder. If you think the Catholic Church and this world is perfect as-is, then there is no need for us behave differently. But if you think this would could use a little improvement then it needs to start with each one of us making little changes in our lives. Are you ready to break out of your spiritual comfort zone to make those changes a reality?