Obama’s Failed Poker Bluff

It has been a big two weeks for both the pro-life and religious freedom causes.  We saw the Supreme Court rule unanimously that the 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics in Massachusetts violated the pro-life advocates and sidewalk counselors right to free speech.  And this week we saw the Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 “Hobby Lobby” decision, rule that the government cannot force private employers to provide health plans that include coverage for operations, procedures, and medications that run counter to their personal religious beliefs.

U.S. Supreme Court building.
U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I really liked what Creative Minority Report wrote about the unintentional consequences of Obama‘s efforts to limit the role religion plays in the public square.  It’s a short article that reads:

The great irony of Obama’s unrelenting assault on religious freedom may have had the unintended effect of strengthening religious freedom.

When the Obama administration went to the mattresses on arguments such as declaring that religious schools do not have the right to hire and fire for mission they got unanimously smacked down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, the Administration is red-faced again with the high court ruling that it doesn’t have the power to force “closely held companies” to provide contraceptive coverage. That’s a big deal.

It would be ironic if the overall effect of the Obama administration on religious liberty is a strengthening rather than a deleterious one.

Politics is a lot like a giant poker game.  I enjoy playing poker.  Sometimes I win, but more often I lose.  I lose when I try to force every hand into a big win.  Even when I don’t have a good hand I think to myself that I can bluff my way into winning.  I essentially get impatient and just want to take every pot which is not a smart way to play.  When I take that impatient, “go big all the time” strategy I will usually be the first one to bust out.  I win (or at least stay in the game longer) when I play strategically and take small losses when I’m in an unfavorable situation and moderate gains when I  can.

Like a game of poker, the pro-choice and big government crowds have been playing a very strategic game the last few decades.  It wasn’t overnight that a majority of pregnancies in New York City end in abortion rather than birth.  It wasn’t overnight that Planned Parenthood started receiving millions of dollars in federal funding and built massive clinics in every city in the US.  The pro-abortion crowd has built up their “winnings” by taking small wins here and there and never trying to force a win under unfavorable conditions.  It also helped them by staying away from imposing large, sweeping changes all at once.  That would be like broadcasting to the poker table that you have a straight flush by putting in too much money too quickly.

Poker Night
Poker Night (Photo credit: IanMurphy)

But in recent years, the pro-choice crowd flipped and started playing more of the “go big or go home” strategy to their disadvantage.  Maybe they felt emboldened by their earlier victories that they felt like they could make some big plays to really solidify their position in US law.  Maybe they thought that their opposition was so weak that they could continue to push their agenda even further without anyone putting up fight.  Fortunately for the pro-life cause, Obama went “all in” with the HHS contraception mandate and lost.  He looked at his two pair and thought that would be enough to win the hand.  Unfortunately for him, the US Constitution was sitting at the table with a full house and didn’t fold.

But this isn’t the beginning of the end of the debates over abortion, life, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.  Rather, it’s the end of the beginning.  Although the pro-life battle has been going on for decades, the millions of lives lost to abortion have really hinged on a few court cases and laws.  And our basic freedoms of speech and religion have only been tested a few dozen times in the high courts.  And while sometimes the legal precedent generates a unanimous 9-0 decision like in the Massachusetts case, other times it really comes down to a single justice’s interpretation of the law.

Given just how fragile and how quickly the pro-life cause and our freedoms can change, it is doubly important to maintain those prayers.  Much like how the Hobby Lobby decision came down to a single justice (I have no idea why it wasn’t a 9-0 decision), these cases may also come down to a single prayer.  We should never think that our prayers don’t matter or influence our world.  Our mother Mary has repeatedly said that prayer is the greatest tool we have to further God’s kingdom and bring His grace to others.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s your rosary prayer and intentions for our government officials that might tip the scale in the next important policy decision.  It may be our prayers that plant a seed in a judge’s heart to look at a case one more time and possibly have a change of heart.

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Immigration: Theology vs. Politics

I have been racked with anxiety deciding whether or not to write an article about the current comprehensive immigration bill that passed the senate.  The reason why I’ve been so hesitant is that I find myself at odds with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  They enthusiastically support the bill with almost the same fervor as a pro-life bill while I have many reservations about it.  While I see eye to eye with the bishops on many issues such as religious freedom, abortion, euthanasia, and even the death penalty, the current immigration reforms making its way through Congress concern me.  And what is even more concerning is the lack of skepticism and the blind faith many Church leaders seem to have regarding the federal government‘s intentions in this immigration bill.

Stamp of the U.S. Immigration (Old French pass...

Most of my skepticism isn’t aimed at the immigration bill itself but at the nature of big government.  When I hear about large “comprehensive” reforms like the immigration bill, what comes to mind is more laws, programs, earmarks, and regulations.  That also means more loopholes, exemptions, and bureaucracy.  In short, I think of a larger and more intrusive government.  In the hundreds of pages of legalese, what powers does this bill grant government or various agencies?  What politically connected groups will the federal government exempt from the law?  What provisions will they selectively enforce?  Maybe the immigration bill does have some good parts, or at least well-intentioned ones.  After all, immigration policy is actually a federal responsibility so it’s good that they are at least working on something inside their jurisdiction instead of taking over state’s responsibilities.  But at the end of the day it’s still a bill written by lobbyists, caters to special interests, and supported and voted by people who haven’t read it.

The last time we had a huge reform, the Catholic Church in the United States ended up being burned.  I remember when ObamaCare was winding its way through Congress.  Many Church leaders at various levels were in support of ObamaCare because of the hope that it would provide all people in the US health care.  It was advertised as a compassionate fix to our healthcare system and really pulled the heartstrings of many Catholics who wanted to make sure all people would receive the care they need.  But now the Church and christians throughout the country are faced with the reality of ObamaCare.  A lot of time and money is being spent fighting the HHS Contraception Mandate.  Catholic hospitals and adoption agencies are under attack because they cannot follow certain parts of the law in good conscience.  There are abortion and euthanasia issues in law just waiting to erupt.  And who knows what else lies in the thousands of pages of the law just waiting for the right time to make its appearance?  Unfortunately, all this time and money spent fighting various aspects of this “compassionate” and “fair” law could have gone towards charities and hospitals providing actual health care.  But when it was being discussed in Congress, too many people just assumed the bill would magically fix health care and didn’t question our legislators about the details.

What is the USCCB’s Stance on Immigration Reform?

Here is an FAQ about the USCCB’s stance on immigration reform.  In addition, they outline some specific demands of what they want to see in immigration reform.  They even want you to write to your member of Congress showing your support of immigration reform.  While their demands are generic in nature and they don’t specifically mention the current bill, given the current political context, it is pretty much an endorsement of the current senate bill.  After all, it’s not like there are any other serious immigration bills under consideration.

Headquarters of the other Catholics :-)

Will the immigration bill attack Catholic values and religious freedom the same way ObamaCare does?  When I think of the current situation, an ancient saying comes to mind, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  And that is my word of warning to the US Catholic bishops.  Don’t be pawns in the giant political power struggle.  The Church may not come under direct attack from the immigration bill the same way it does from ObamaCare.  But government power isn’t siloed to individual issues.  When we give the government more power to create larger programs in cases like immigration, that increased power and control will trickle to other issues like health care, abortion, etc.  I would hate to see the recent gains made in fighting abortion undone, or at least undermined, because an ever-growing federal government is allowed to increase their control a little more on each bill.

When dealing with specific bills and laws, the Church leadership needs to recognize the difference between theology and politics, generic desires and specific legal text, and between wishful thinking and reality.  Everyone from bishops down to parish priests need to think strategically or else they risk being used as pawns by politicians that really have no shame in getting what they want.

What RosaryMeds Do I need?

If you have a rosary mystery that you think fits well with this topic, please share in the comments.

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Big Wins for Life and Liberty!

We saw some huge wins for life and liberty this past week.  Texas governor, Rick Perry, signed into law a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and also sets tighter restrictions on abortion clinics.  Those restrictions are so tight that currently only 5 of the 42 active abortion clinics in Texas meet the standards.  There are some that ask, “why not ban abortion outright?”  Why 20 weeks instead of 19, 18, or 1?  Why allow any abortion clinic to remain open in the state of Texas?  Remember, you don’t change culture overnight.  The culture of death has been working their way through society for decades one law at a time.  And so it will take many years and many small victories for the culture of life to undo the damage.  In the meantime, rejoice over the new lives that won’t be prematurely killed because of this new law.  Let’s hear it for the culture of life!

Texas Governor 's signature.
Texas Governor ‘s signature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a related note, the court granted retailer Hobby Lobby an injunction against the HHS Contraception Mandate.  Hobby Lobby is fighting the mandate on grounds that providing abortion services as part of their health plans violates their religious beliefs.  It looked like Hobby Lobby was going to face thousands of dollars in fines per day since the courts seemed to side with the Obama administration.  But now the courts are going to look into the matter more carefully and while they do so Hobby Lobby won’t face any fines.  The fight is just beginning, but at least it looks like there are cracks developing in the federal government’s push to trample our freedom of religion.  Let’s hear it for religious liberty!

English: Hobby Lobby store in Stow, Ohio
English: Hobby Lobby store in Stow, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember, there is still a long fight ahead of us.  It will require your prayers and your support.

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Pope Benedict’s Retirement — A Transition, not An End

Like many people, Pope Benedict‘s announcement of his retirement came as quite a shock to me. I once attended Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and saw the pope from about ten feet away as he walked past me in a procession. And although I only caught a glimpse of him, I did feel this sense of God‘s glory radiating from him. It’s hard to explain, but I understood in that instant how carefully God chooses His shepherds to lead His people. And as shocking as this news is to me, I also understand that it’s also God at work when one of his shepherds knows he has run his course. We must keep Pope Benedict in our prayers as well as the Catholic Church because this unprecedented event is going to get a lot of attention, especially from sources that may not like or understand the Catholic faith.

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition

We need to be careful where we receive our information regarding Pope Benedict’s retirement. When it comes to understanding the core principles and foundation of the Catholic faith, the mainstream media has a lot to learn. They deal mostly in the realm of politics and so they will treat the pope’s announcement like they would a politician resigning. And usually, a politician resigns only when he has something to hide or is trying to dodge responsibility for his actions. And so the media will be looking for any shred of circumstantial evidence to fit their narrative whether it be the priest abuse scandal, gay marriage, contraception, or any Catholic document that they can sensationalize and turn into a story to fill their 24/7 news cycle.  We live in a world where people in powerful positions tend to cling to that power to the bitter end (a few people in Washington D.C. come to mind).  The media will never understand why someone in such a powerful position would choose to voluntarily step down.

I believe the truth is much less sensational and extremely humbling. I won’t claim to be an expert on Pope Benedict, but I have read some of his writings and what people have written about him. He does seem to be a very humble servant of the Catholic faith and will do whatever is necessary to promote God’s glory through the Church. And if that means stepping aside to let someone who is more capable of leading the Church in this modern era so be it. It takes a lot of humility for him to conclude that he is not the pope the Church needs right now. I like Pope Benedict and wish he would stay since he is one of the great modern thinkers and defenders of traditional values. But as a Catholic I yield to the pope’s authority even when he decides to relinquish that authority.

I think we need to pray for the conclave of cardinals that will choose the next pope. As we live in a world that becomes more secular, events like the choosing of a new pope become that much more peculiar, misunderstood, and portrayed as being out of step with society. Non Catholics (and misinformed Catholics) will see the election of a new pope like the election of a political leader. They see a new pope as someone who can simply eliminate what they view as mistakes of a previous “administration.” You will hear the usual uninformed questions like, “Will the next pope be softer on contraception and divorce? Will he allow women ordination? Will he allow married priests?” Basically, we will hear the wish list of the secular world as they cover the choosing of the next pope.

emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Fr...

This will be a difficult time for Catholics. The world is a lot more hostile towards organized religion, particularly Catholicism (and we haven’t done ourselves any favours recently with all the priest abuse cover ups). It has even changed drastically in the last eight years since Pope Benedict was chosen as pope since the world has become that much more connected but also more polarized.   We should pray and meditate on the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the rosary — The Coronation of Mary. We ask the Queen of Heaven for guidance, resolve, and the wisdom to see the glory of God’s Church through the distractions and obfuscations of the modern world.  God raised Mary up as a queen because she listened to God and obeyed His will.  We pray for the acceptance of Pope Benedict’s decision and the hope that it will bring about a greater good.  God gave us Pope Benedict and it’s not like He’s taking him away from us.  God is merely leading him to a new role where he will do the most good by giving him more time to think, write, and most importantly, pray.  And so we also pray that we show that same openness to God’s will and the humility to follow the road God puts before us as our mother Mary and Pope Benedict did.

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An Open Letter in Defence of Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby is an arts and crafts retail chain and is currently under attack by the Obama administration because they (along with many other companies) refuse to follow the Health and Human Services (HHS) contraception mandate requiring employers to provide contraceptive and abortive services in their health care plans.  I’ve written about this issue in the past but I’m still amazed how little attention it receives and how few people care about (although I shouldn’t really be surprised given society’s religious direction).

English: Detail of Preamble to Constitution of...

The HHS contraception mandate is more than just a “Catholic thing” or a “pro-life thing.”  It’s an assault on a fundamental constitutional freedom.  Even if you aren’t religious or don’t have any strong opinions about the HHS mandate, you should still be concerned.  Today it’s an assault on the freedom of religion.  Tomorrow it could be the freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, freedom of speech, etc.  Letting one fundamental right slide opens the door to all our freedoms becoming subject to the whims of whatever government is in power.  Please read this open letter, pray and meditate about it, and please share it with your family and friends.

President Obama,

Hobby Lobby employs thousands of people directly, not to mention thousands more indirectly through the services they consume to stay in business (web hosting, building management, advertising, etc.).  They also enable many people to make an income by selling goods created from supplies purchased at Hobby Lobby stores.  As you know, the economy is very fragile right now and this country cannot afford businesses shutting their doors and laying off thousands of people.  Hobby Lobby started over 40 years ago with 300 square feet of retail space and has grown to be one of the largest arts and crafts chains in the United States.  This is the type of entrepreneurial spirit we should encourage in this country and look towards for making our economy stronger.  And yet, your administration intends to fine them over one million dollars a day because they refuse to follow a law that violates their religious beliefs.

On January 21, you will be sworn into your second term as president.  You will once again take an oath to follow and enforce the Constitution of the United States.  One of the cornerstones of the Constitution is the first amendment guaranteeing the freedom of religion.  Regardless of what your personal beliefs are or the beliefs of your political party, you are bound by your office to respect and defend the religious rights of all citizens.  The reason why we have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights is so that the personal beliefs of any one person, party, or elected governing body cannot arbitrarily alter this great country’s core principles.  Our country has a strong foundation because previous leaders honoured their oath to respect our founding documents and did not try to remake the United States according to their personal beliefs.

President Obama, I urge you to reconsider the damage you are inflicting on hard working Americans by forcing them to choose between their values and their livelihood.  The Green family (founders of Hobby Lobby) are not enemies of the United States and yet you choose to punish them because they will not follow your agenda.  As an American, I do not appreciate or support these attacks on my fellow citizens any more than you or your family would like being forced to violate your own values by a future administration.  As a Christian, you surely understand the golden rule — treat others in the way you would like to be treated.  In this case, respect peoples’ religious beliefs as you would like them to respect your personal beliefs.


Those who value the freedom of religion

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Obama Contraception Mandate LinkFest

The articles regarding President Obama’s contraception mandate keep piling up.  Everyone is weighing in, whether it be Catholic bishops or secular sources evaluating the Constitutional consequences of this mandate.  President Obama stirred up a hornets’ nest with this decision as it has now brought to the forefront questions of religious freedom, healthcare, and conscience in America.  Unfortunately, this issue also has brought out the deeply seated prejudice against the Catholic Church that many still harbor in this country.

We really do stand at a juncture in the USA.  This is not like previous political fights like raising the debt ceiling or passing a budget.  In those fights, the various sides can make compromises and deals since the issue at hand is usually morally neutral.  But various religions cannot compromise their morality.  Unlike the typical politician that usually bends in whatever direction that will result in reelection, religions just can’t redefine intrinsic evils to make their situation politically convenient.  And it doesn’t matter if Obama gives Catholics one year, ten years, or ten centuries to comply with this mandate.  The Church’s position will be the same because morality is not a democracy.

I encourage you to read these articles and share them.  Sign petitions, make donations, and spread the word as we face this very real assault on our religious liberty.  I wish I had the time to comment on each one of these articles, but there are just too many outlets now covering this story.  Read the articles, read the comments, and pray for the conversion of hearts in our politicians and those who have so much hatred towards the Church.

Remember the Fourth Joyful Mystery and how Simeon’s patience and endurance eventually paid off when he finally saw the baby Jesus.  He waited in the temple his whole life when others probably told him his mission was pointless and silly.  Pray that we too will show that same level of steadfastness as Simeon in this assault against our cherished values.  Right now we are like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in the First Sorrowful Mystery.  I fear that we will have trials ahead.  But like Jesus, we will find strength through God and the Holy Spirit to endure any challenge this world throws at us.


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Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street?

Young protester at the Occupy Wall Street prot...
Image by Caroline Schiff Photography via Flickr

The “Occupy Wall Street” protests occupy a lot of news headlines.  Society appears to be split on the morality of the movement.  Is it a protest to give a voice to the little guy or is it a leftist, socialist power grab?  Is it a fight against corporate greed or a fight for larger government control?  One question that keeps popping up is, “What would Jesus think of Occupy Wall Street?”  There are several articles that ponder that question.  Personally, I think many people are just playing the “Jesus card” to drum up support from religious groups by showing their cause has God’s “seal of approval.”  But let’s suppose that this question was asked in all seriousness.  What would Jesus say about the Wall Street protests?

Trying to play the “Jesus card” to support political views is as old as Jesus Himself.  The first people to ask, “What would Jesus do?” were the pharisees and they had the privilege of asking Jesus directly.  But much like our modern day politicians and special interest groups, the pharisees were not looking to learn from what Jesus had to say but merely wanted something they could twist around to suit their already-established views.  They played the original “gotcha politics.”  In the Gospel of Matthew, the pharisees tried to trap Jesus on the topic of taxes (some things never change).  They asked:

Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”  Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”  Then they handed him the Roman coin.  He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  They replied, “Caesar’s.”  At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away.  (Matthew 22:17-22)

In exchanges like this throughout the Bible, Jesus made it quite clear He did not come into this world to settle age-old political and social questions.  As much as the Jews wanted their Messiah to be a political and social leader, Jesus’ teachings and goals transcended people’s squabbles about government and finances.  His goal was to show people the true path to eternal happiness, not to reform Jewish law or fight the Romans.  That path resides in individuals following Jesus’ teachings and making an effort to live in God’s grace.  The laws will always be imperfect and cannot cover the complete moral spectrum because they are made by humans who are inherently imperfect.  We will never achieve perfection through the law alone.  Jesus knew that and that is why He focused on showing how we, as individuals, can find true happiness with Him in Heaven.  In other words, Jesus taught that salvation is not gained by trying to perfect our laws, rather it is gained in trying to perfect our souls.

the Gospel of Matthew
Image by humberpike via Flickr

There are many people in this world who think we can legislate our way into a perfect world.  If we can just enforce the right set of rules then everyone will have just the right amount of happiness.  Would Jesus be in favor of this type of legislative chemistry?  Again, look at the Bible and all the Jewish laws Jesus and His disciples broke.  He healed people (aka worked) on the Sabbath, did not fast, and did not wash His hands before eating.  Jesus did this to point out the incompleteness of the law.  He wanted to show people that it was far more important to act out of a love for God than just blindly following rules.  Jesus came to teach us to understand what is good and what is wrong and choose to do good on our own free will instead of coerced by the fear of breaking laws we don’t understand.

I think Jesus would be saddened by today’s world that tries to legislate morality blindly instead of teaching and instilling a sense of morality in people’s hearts.  To put it another way, why do we need rallies and protests demanding legislation to prevent people from lying, stealing, and cheating?  Why don’t people understand that lying and stealing are wrong and naturally try their best to avoid such behaviors?  Unfortunately, we live in a world where something is wrong because there is a law against it, instead of a world where we have laws because we know some behaviors are inherently wrong.

So imagine if Jesus was here in this world in human form today.  Like the pharisees in the Bible, people would ask Him about his views on Occupy Wall Street, Obama Care, illegal immigration, and any number of social issues.  Do you think His answers would be any different from the ones He gave nearly 2000 years ago?  My guess is that many people would walk away disappointed because Jesus probably wouldn’t weigh in on these questions or provide answers that would make great sound bites on the evening news.  Jesus would probably say that in the grand scheme of things, we don’t go to Heaven because we pass good laws.  We go to Heaven because we strive to love Jesus by being good people and avoiding evil.

That brings us to the rosary, particularly The Nativity in the Third Joyful Mystery.  Jesus came into this world in the humblest way possible.  He was not born in a royal court nor did He grow up to be a worldly leader as many thought He would.  From His birth, Jesus showed that His ways were not the world’s ways.  When we pray the Third Joyful Mystery we must remember to accept Jesus and His message for what it is and not what we want it to be.  We must remember to not act like the pharisees and try to twist Jesus’ teachings to suit our wants and desires.  We pray for Jesus’ guidance to live according to His will.  We pray that we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in making just and moral laws but we don’t look to the law alone to find true happiness.

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Crisis of Faith

You have to love our German Shepherd, Pope Benedict XVI.  Last week he traveled to Germany and delivered some great speeches and homilies.  What I like about the Pope is that he tells things as it is and teaches the Catholic faith even if it runs contrary to the norms of modern society.  And unlike many politicians, he doesn’t take on the victim mentality but instead challenges the faithful to really live as Jesus calls them regardless of the obstacles imposed by the outside world.  Like the manager of a sports team, he discusses our weaknesses so that we are aware of them and can aim to be better Catholics and better people.  In this day and age, that level of honesty mixed with compassion and motivation are rare.

Last Saturday, Pope Benedict met with Central Committee of German Catholics and discussed challenges the Church faces in developed, Western countries.  According to the Catholic News Agency, the Pope told them:

“We must honestly admit that we have more than enough by way of structure but not enough by way of Spirit.  I would add: the real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith.”  This is observed, said the Pope, “in the inconstancy and fragmentation of many people’s lives and in an exaggerated individualism,” such that many people “no longer seem capable of any form of self-denial or of making a sacrifice for others.”

Pope in Fatima
Image by Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Flickr

I understand what the Pope means in terms of the Western Church having structure but lacking faith.  I receive a Church bulletin every Sunday and there is no shortage of club meetings, events, and services.  There is also no shortage of people in the pews at Sunday Mass.  And yet, I do feel that something is missing in terms of spirituality.  Many people treat Sunday Mass as putting in one hour of work before they can socialize and enjoy donuts and coffee.  And yet, where are the large crowds to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, pray the rosary, and attend Adoration?  How many people attend Mass on Sunday almost like they are clocking in and out of work because it is an obligation?  And worse, how many children learn that “in and out” attitude regarding Mass from the adults’ example?

Contrast the modern day American parish with that of a small village in some unknown part of the world.  I’ve seen other parts of the globe where someone’s life and faith are basically one.  They pray regularly for long periods of time, dedicate and offer fasting and abstinence for intentions, attend Mass multiple times a week, and receive the Sacraments.  But there is more to their faith than just these outward acts.  It’s hard to explain, but you just get the sense that their faith is just part of who they are and means so much to them.  When you compare these two groups you realize that Pope Benedict is right when he noted that the Western Church has plenty of structure and not enough of the Holy Spirit.

When praying the rosary, meditate on this crisis of faith on the Fourth Glorious Mystery — The Assumption of Mary.  Remember, God assumed Mary, body and soul, into Heaven.  And she is now our guide in all things spiritual.  We pray for her guidance that we live our faith fully every day, in every word, every action, and every thought.  We pray especially that we can muster the strength to imitate Mary and not take the great gift of faith for granted or reduce the Church to a weekend social club.  Mary begs us to follow her advice because she knows the great joy that awaits us in Heaven and she does not wish for that joy to be delayed (Purgatory) or lost (Hell).

We must remember that we are Catholics, not just for an hour at Mass on Sunday, but 24/7.  And nearly all of us fall short of living our faith in its entirety.  And that is why we pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit, Mary, the saints, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

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Do You See God’s Gifts?

Previously I said how articles on RosaryMeds would tie together news and current events with the rosary.  I talked about the Pope meeting with young seminarians, a recent announcement from English bishops reminding people to abstain from eating meat on Fridays, and some tips for people going to college.  However, not all news is neutral and light hearted.  It is the difficult cases that teach us the most about our faith and the power of the rosary.

Take this story for example.  A jury awarded a Florida couple 4.5 million dollars because their child was born without arms and one leg.  And while that is unfortunate, the real tragedy was their reason for suing the doctor.  According to the Palm Beach Post (bold by me):

During a roughly two-week-long trial that ended Wednesday, Mejia and Santana claimed they would have never have brought Bryan into the world had they known about his horrific disabilities. Had Morel and technicians at OB/GYN Specialists of the Palm Beaches and Perinatal Specialists of the Palm Beaches properly administered two ultrasounds and seen he was missing three limbs, the West Palm Beach couple said they would have terminated the pregnancy.

I’m going to skip the social, political, moral, and ethical commentary since, as a pro-life Catholic, I think what’s wrong with their argument is very clear (plenty of other articles dive into those discussions).  Instead, I want to focus on what we can learn from this story.  What does the rosary teach us about difficult cases like this one?  If we look at the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation, we see Mary sharing the joy of her pregnancy with her cousin Elizabeth.  Luke’s Gospel talks about how John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in Elizabeth’s womb upon hearing Mary’s greeting and how Mary felt blessed.  Mary goes on to say how her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and how God did great things to her.  We learn from this encounter that all life, in whatever form, is a gift from God.  All human life, while not perfect, is valuable because God infused us with souls meant to live with Him in Heaven forever.

Image by andy castro via Flickr

Compare Mary’s story with the Santana’s.  Mary also faced hardships first by being pregnant and unmarried (which would have been quite the scandal) and later seeing Jesus suffer in the Crucifixion.  But through all those challenges she saw God’s ultimate glory and her role in bringing joy and happiness to the world.  Both Mary and the Santana’s stories show that life is not without its hardships.  Some people face larger obstacles in life than others.  But God does not give us any challenge we cannot ultimately handle.  Unfortunately, all the Santanas saw was the hardship and not God’s gift to them.  Instead of finding strength through God as Mary did, they wanted a “do over” because they saw their son as a gift with “strings attached.”  And while many of us may not face such large challenges as the Santana family, we often want God to pave over all the challenges or hardships we might encounter through life.  We tend to blame God for any inconvenience or think He does not hear our prayers just because we do not receive the answers we want.

When we meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery we should remember that all life is precious no matter what form it comes in.  Even the “lost souls” in this world, whether they be criminals, addicts of all kinds, or just plain “evil” persons, are special and precious in God’s eyes.  All those living in mortal sin have an opportunity for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and can return to the same level of grace as the greatest saints.  In short, we all have an intrinsic value despite the terrible acts we may commit or our physical/mental limitations.  We pray that we have the strength to see past the hardships and challenges in life and see God’s imprint on everyone as Mary does.

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Blessed are the Students…

Grinnell College Gates Tower
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For many of us, September means the start of a new school year.  And perhaps one of the largest transitions students face is going off to college.  I know this is “so last month” for those on the semester system, but I was a quarter system guy when I was in school.  Regardless of whether you are just moving in for orientation or are a few short months away from graduation, I want to share this article I came across in the Catholic San Francisco and how it relates to the First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary.

The article is the Beatitudes for College Students and it outlines eight smart tips for thriving in college.  Some of them like staying away from drugs and going to class are just part of being a good student and a responsible adult.  But other ones like making sure you attend Mass, pray regularly, and keep in touch with family are often swept aside in pursuit of higher education.  While many people may do well on the academic, social, and career fronts, some often stumble spiritually during their college years.  For those who do fall away, hopefully it is just a temporary bump in the road.  But unfortunately, many become spiritually derailed in college.  We should pray for all of those in college as many schools (even Catholic ones) have become extremely hostile environments for practicing religion and spirituality.

One of the college student beatitudes is “Blessed are students who pray about and think through important decisions.”  People make very important decisions during their college years.  They must decide what to study, how to support themselves after graduation, where to live, how to manage finances, who will be their friends (or possibly spouse), and just how manage life as a responsible adult.  Furthermore, college is often a time to decide how much of a priority you will make living according to your faith and values.  For example, as many students find themselves living away from home for the first time, the question arises on whether to continue praying or attending Mass.  Often, we come to these decisions after consulting with friends, professors, family, and counselors.  We read articles, attend lectures, and try to research these life-altering decisions as best we can.  And yet we often forget to ask God for guidance by praying.  This not only applies to college students, but all of us.  Do you pray earnestly and listen to God before making large decisions?

We should remember the First Sorrowful Mystery where Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus prayed so hard to God on the eve of His death that He started sweating blood.  He begged God to find another way to redeem us other than crucifixion.  Ultimately, crucifixion was God’s will and Jesus followed it faithfully.  But Jesus’ prayers were answered in that God gave Him strength to endure crucifixion and peace knowing that through His death and resurrection He would ultimately open the gates of Heaven and give us the opportunity for eternal joy and happiness.

And so college students can learn a lot from Jesus’ example of praying earnestly when facing big decisions.  God does have a plan for each one of us but we have to listen carefully through prayer.  We must be particularly vigilant in those times when it seems like God does not answer our prayers.  Perhaps He did but in a different way than what we were expecting.  Sometimes, instead of removing obstacles in our lives, God gives us the strength to overcome them.

College saddles students with many questions and decisions.  For those starting college, take time to reflect on what people are of good quality and what activities will ultimately make you a better person (hint: it’s not drinking and partying).  For those in the middle of their college years, ask God for guidance before declaring a major.  And for those in the final years of school, consider praying for insight on how you will spend the rest of you life after you get that diploma.  And important decisions don’t end after graduation.  Your will need to make decisions your entire life whether it be about work, family, finances, and politics.  You will have challenges but don’t think you’re alone in facing them.  God is always one prayer away and will always lead you in making the right decision if you listen to Him.

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