Finding God in the Midst of Trouble

Is it just me or is there a growing feeling of despair weighing on everyone lately?  Whether it’s natural disasters, politics, or peoples’ personal situations, everything just seems so negative.  My Facebook feed is so full of hateful memes from both sides of the isle I’ve basically given up reading it.  I rarely engage in conversations at work because someone will eventually throw out some ridiculous political opinion that I have neither the time or energy to dispute.  Our world seems to have gotten meaner and more adolescent than any grade school playground I’ve ever known.

But the world being a cruel place is hardly a modern invention.  I read this article about the trials and misfortunes of Joseph from the Old Testament.  He was a man sold into slavery by his own brothers and later thrown into prison in Egypt.  God never made Joseph’s problems magically disappear but instead guided him through them.  The article’s author remembers her period of utter despair and what God was teaching her:

I remember years of crying out to God, thinking my faith would get back on track when life got back to normal. But as the pain grew more intense, I realized I needed to find God in the present, and not wait for my circumstances to improve. God wanted me to find him sufficient in the midst of trouble rather than just demanding that he deliver me from it.

And I found God more than sufficient as I met with him daily in Scripture and in prayer. His word became exceedingly precious to me. It brought light to my darkness. It became life to me.

I think we can all appreciate the author’s initial bargaining sentiment.  How often do we tell God, “make my life easier and I will be more faithful?”  Or, “I will start praying more when my life improves.”  Or how often do our prayers, no matter how well intentioned, turn into us specifying our wish list to God?  But as the author and Joseph’s story points out, many times the darkness in our lives is needed so that the faint light of God’s grace can be better seen and understood.

Prayer time is not a contract negotiation with God.

Joseph had an amazing gift — the ability to interpret dreams.  And in a complicated series of events, it was necessary for Joseph to be sold into slavery and thrown into prison for his gift to be used as God planned.  And so we too may have to pray and meditate in the darkness of our lives so that God can better illuminate the gifts he gives us to fulfill His plan.  Without the darkness, God’s Word, either in scripture or in prayer, might be drowned out by the noise of daily life.


 

 

 

Naturally, any Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary shows the darkness in Jesus’ life which was necessary for Him to fulfill God’s Will.  And while we can all smile and nod in agreement about this cornerstone of our faith, imagine how difficult it was for Jesus’ apostles to accept.  Here was Jesus, the rising star of the Jews, who healed, cast out demons, calmed storms, and did many other amazing miracles.  The apostles probably thought that they would ride those miracles to an easy salvation where Jesus would just magically transform everyone’s hearts and minds.  Imagine their confusion and disappointment when their hero was arrested, beaten, and crucified.

Like the apostles, we too can become very confused when life throws unexpected and difficult hurdles our way.  And like the apostles, our instinct may be to run and hide.  Or maybe we become angry because God didn’t do something the way we want.  But like Joseph or Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemene, instead of running from God in the face of difficulty, we should instead call on Him to help us endure.  The world has always been a cruel and unforgiving place and probably always will be.  But God is one powerful ally to have in your corner.

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Don’t Buy Satan’s Lies: How to Persist with the Bible and Rosary Prayer

I read an article on why it is so hard to get into the routine of Bible reading.  I know from personal experience that reading the Bible is a love-hate experience.  Part of me dreads it because I know I won’t understand much of it and probably won’t be any more intellectually enlightened by it.  But at the same time, I do value reading the Bible in a way my intellect cannot explain because it fuels my rosary prayers which in turn fuels my life.

 on the blog, Desiring God, talks about this love-hate relationship with reading the Bible.  At the root of why people dread reading it is Satan; specifically, his lies.

The first [lie] is that our time in God’s word was worthless. Our reading plan gave us half-an-hour’s worth of “So-and-so was an evil king. He fought with these people. He died. And his son became king in his place. . . .” Entertaining, maybe, but if that’s all we’re after in Bible reading, we’ll do better turning on Netflix instead.

I couldn’t help but recall the words of St. Louis de Montfort where he says something similar about Satan’s lies and the rosary in the 43rd Rose of The Secret of the Rosary.

Being human, we easily become tired and slipshod, but the devil makes these difficulties worse when we are saying the Rosary. Before we even begin, he makes us feel bored, distracted, or exhausted; and when we have started praying, he oppresses us from all sides, and when after much difficulty and many distractions, we have finished, he whispers to us, “What you have just said is worthless. It is useless for you to say the Rosary. You had better get on with other things. It is only a waste of time to pray without paying attention to what you are saying; half-an-hour’s meditation or some spiritual reading would be much better. Tomorrow, when you are not feeling so sluggish, you’ll pray better; leave the rest of your Rosary till then.” By tricks of this kind the devil gets us to give up the Rosary altogether or to say it less often, and we keep putting it off or change to some other devotion.

As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  If Satan so despises Bible reading and rosary prayer, that should be enough inspiration for all of us to double our efforts on those endeavors.  But how do we go about reading the Bible and praying the rosary in a way where we won’t get overwhelmed and quit?

English: Personal bible study Português: Estud...
English: Personal bible study Português: Estudo pessoal da bíblia Italiano: Lo studio personale della bibbia Deutsch: Persönliches Bibelstudium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s my advice.  Don’t tackle the Bible starting from page one and try to read the whole book like it’s a novel.  You will get confused, frustrated, and succumb to Satan’s lies to give up.  Instead, I encourage you to start with reading only the daily scriptural readings followed up with reading meditations and reflections.

It is the meditation and reflections that will sustain your Bible reading and help you push through the confusion.  The reflections should explain and clarify the readings and help burst through the often confusing prose to uncover a meaning behind the words.  The really good meditations not only explain but also show the relationship between the words and our lives.

My personal favorite Gospel meditation is the Regnum Christi podcast which I listen to every day.  They are short, around 5 minutes, but provide such great insights into the Gospel reading.  If you don’t have any Gospel meditations, this is a great place to start.

This daily, bite-sized consumption of the Bible builds up an intellectual and spiritual foundation for praying and living.  I find that the Bible readings and related meditations add so much more depth to my rosary prayers.  Rosary meditation ideas spring from the themes presented in the Bible so that I always find a new dimension to the rosary mysteries.  Rosary prayer never gets stale because each day is a new Bible reading with new meditations for me to incorporate.

Very few of us will ever be Biblical scholars.  But try reading and meditating on the daily scripture passages to give God an opportunity to work with you.  Like a skilled surgeon, God doesn’t need much of an opening to work miracles.  It’s amazing what he can do with a few scriptural passages if you only give Him that chance.

PS: Sorry for my long absence from updating RosaryMeds.  Seems like Satan is throwing anything he can find my way to keep me busy and away from my website.

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How the Rosary Helps Us Avoid The Unforgivable Sin

Last Monday’s Gospel reading contains a verse that has always disturbed me:

He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12:22-32).

I never liked this idea of an unforgivable sin. I was always taught that there was nothing you could do that God could not forgive. Jesus‘ entire ministry focused on redeeming those that Jewish society labeled unredeemable — tax collectors, prostitutes, Romans, and criminals. And while Jesus forgave all these people, He taught that there was a sin that He was unwilling or unable to forgive. That didn’t seem right to me.

Jeromebosch1503
Ummm… no thanks!

I did some digging on this verse and came across an article on EWTN titled THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN written by James Akin. It’s a long read but worth it for an in-depth analysis of Jesus’ words. But Mr. Akin summarizes the unforgivable sin like this:

Jesus asserts (v 30) that one must ally with him or be opposed to him and “through this” he tells us (v 31) that the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Blaspheming the Spirit is thus a failure to repent and ally oneself with Jesus. Since this can always be done during one’s life (cf. 20:1-15), blasphemy against the Holy Spirit must be a final refusal to repent, or final impenitence.

When one refuses to ask for forgiveness, those sins remain unforgiven. The unforgiveness does not come from Jesus as He is always willing to forgive. It comes from us refusing either to acknowledge our sins or refusing to ask for His forgiveness. The comforting fact in all of this is that there are two ways to escape the trap of the unforgiven sin:

1) Do not commit any sins. Unfortunately, this is impossible for any human outside of Mary and Jesus. Everyone from the most devout popes to every saint fell into sin at various points in their lives.
2) Ask for forgiveness. Penitence is the only realistic way to avoid committing the unforgivable sin of impenitence.

There is one more aspect to this topic that I’m hesitant to mention because of its immense risk. Even if you die with unforgiven sins, that does not mean you’re automatically damned.  After all, many good people do die with unforgiven venial sins and the Church teaches that they can go to Heaven. God does have infinite mercy which He can show to anyone. But, as I heard one theologian put it, don’t gamble you soul on God’s mercy when receiving genuine forgiveness is so simple.

Repentance and reconciliation are themes found throughout the rosary. The Fifth Joyful Mystery shows just how far many of us can move away from Jesus and not even realize it.  It is only when we come back looking for Him with a sorrowful (aka, remorseful) heart that we find Him again.  Jesus echoes our battle with sin, a cycle of falling and finding the courage to get back up, in the carrying of the cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  Finally, let’s remember that Mary, assumed into Heaven in the Fourth Glorious Mystery, has constantly taught in her apparitions to approach her Son with a repentant heart.

The unforgiven sin is a serious and scary prospect.  However, avoiding it is completely within our power.  It’s called the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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Two Different Responses to God’s Unbelievable Plan

The Bible is full of parallels.  It may be parallel themes between Old and New Testament readings or accounts of different people having similar encounters with God.  We see one such parallel between the story of Mary in the Annunciation and that of Zechariah, husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth.  We pray and meditate on these readings, which make up the first two Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, all this week leading up to Christmas.

Cappella tornabuoni frescoes in Florence. Annu...
Cappella tornabuoni frescoes in Florence. Annuncio dell’angelo a San Zaccaria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In both accounts, the angel Gabriel comes with news of a pregnancy.  Mary is told she will give birth to a son through the Holy Spirit and Zechariah is told that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist.  Furthermore, the announcement is initially met by disbelief.  Mary’s amazement comes because she is not married and Zechariah’s stems from Elizabeth’s old age.

The difference in these two accounts comes next.  In Mary’s case, she praises God and humbles herself saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  But in Zechariah’s case, the angel Gabriel takes away his ability to speak because of his disbelief.

What confused me about these two accounts was that according to the text, it appears as if Mary and Zechariah both show a very similar reaction, one of amazement and disbelief.  Why was Zechariah punished and not Mary?  I think the key is understanding Gabriel’s ability to see into someone’s heart and not just hear their words.

Angel Gabriel's Annunciation to Mary, by Muril...
Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, by Murillo, c. 1655 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Mary was confused initially, in her heart she truly believed and accepted God’s Will for her.  But I think that Gabriel must have sensed that Zechariah did not fully believe the news he had just heard.  To put it another way, Mary’s initial reaction may have been out of shock and quickly passed while Zechariah harbored a real sense of disbelief.  Maybe, while he was in the holy sanctuary, Zechariah was going through the motions of prayer but not fully open to God’s grace.  It is fitting that he was punished with speechlessness as a sign that maybe he was giving more lip service to his faith rather than truly internalizing it.

As we prepare in these final days of Advent, let us remember to have an open heart like Mary and not a closed one like Zechariah.  Pray that you don’t go through the motions of spirituality by treating Christmas Mass like a mere formality before the real celebration can begin.  Mass is the real celebration!  I know many of you have large dinners to attend, guests to entertain, and presents to open.  And while you may say you believe and celebrate Jesus’ birth, how much of your heart is centered around Him?  God knows what is in our hearts and you can’t fool him.

This Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  The best birthday present you can give Him is an honestly open heart.  Don’t go through the motions of prayer and practicing your faith but earnestly make room in your heart for God’s grace manifested in His son, Jesus Christ.  Merry Christmas!

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What This Sunday’s Gospel Teaches Us About Vocations

I read this great article about the role of women in the Catholic Church and how women not being ordained priests should not be equated with having a lesser status or role within the Church.  From the Catholic News Agency, Ana Cristina Villa, a consecrated laywoman with the Marian Community of Reconciliation, writes:

“I think that is a big distortion for the vocation of women, because women are obviously not the clergy,” she said, explaining that “when you get into this discussion about women in the Church you have to understand that there is a wider context.”

In her view, Catholic faithful need to grow in their understanding that, “according to their own vocation,” all “baptized are the Church and all baptized are called to feel the Church as their own and to contribute to the Church.”

When I read the CNA article, my mind immediately recalled this upcoming Sunday’s Gospel. We will be celebrating Jesus as King and yet the Gospel for Sunday focuses on His crucifixion. This highlights how people’s expectations of Christ the King did not match up with the reality — one of the suffering servant. They expected an earthly king with all the power that they envisioned. What they got, but many did not see, was someone infinitely more powerful; not bounded by worldly power but possessing salvational power.

The reason why the CNA article relates to this Sunday’s Gospel is that God created a special role for all of us in His Church. Just because women aren’t intended for the priesthood does not make them any less important. Jesus was not the worldly king people envisioned but that did not make Him any less powerful. When it comes to how we envision women’s role in the Church, we should not limit our thinking to titles and responsibilities.  Otherwise, we fall into the same narrow-minded thinking as those who crucified Jesus for not meeting their pre-conceived notion of a king.

What I want to call your attention to is the importance of reading the Gospel daily and the Sunday Gospel a few days in advance.  If I had not read this Sunday’s Gospel, I would have missed some of the deeper meaning in the article.  By reading scripture and praying the rosary, I can put all the news and events in my life into a perspective that I otherwise might miss.  If you don’t already pray the rosary and read scripture regularly, give it a try.  Advent is right around the corner and it would be a good time to start.

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How the Rosary Teaches Us About Jesus’ Mercy

This Sunday we celebrate The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  The Gospel is from St. Luke:

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The rosary connection is fairly obvious as St. Luke writes about Jesus’ crucifixion which is the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery.  Here we see Jesus’ divine power amidst His human weakness.  Battered and broken, Jesus is minutes away from shedding His humanity by dying on the cross.  But almost like a scale, what Jesus loses through his physical body is counter-balanced by His authority and power in the spiritual realm.  He shows us He is king, not by any earthly standard, but by redeeming us all through suffering and death.

Jesus, on the cross, is mocked in Calvary as t...
Jesus, on the cross, is mocked in Calvary as the King of the Jews, Luke 23:36-37 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is amazing is that Jesus’ kingly authority is so transparent to one criminal and opaque to the other.  One challenges Jesus to save them while the other humbly asks Jesus to simply remember him.  And doesn’t the difference in the two criminals interaction with Jesus remind us of how we often treat Jesus?  One day we humbly ask Him for guidance and protection and other days we are challenging Him to prove Himself by answering our every wish and desire.  Sometimes we treat Jesus as King of Heaven and humbly submit to His will.  And other times we come close to threatening Him if He does not give us what we want.

When you reflect on this Gospel and pray the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, ask yourself, how much of your life is spent treating Jesus as your king and how much as your servant?  Do you have the strength to look past your immediate circumstances and see that Jesus is willing to offer you something so much better — eternal joy in His Heavenly Kingdom?  Instead of telling Jesus what you want Him to do, do you have the faith to just ask Him to remember you knowing that He will take care of you?

The Church is celebrating the year of mercy.  Consider this.  Both criminals crucified next to Jesus were sinners.  But Jesus showed mercy telling one that he would be with Jesus in paradise that day.  Jesus’ power and mercy are so great, there is no amount or type of sin that it cannot overpower.  All you have to do is humbly ask the Lord to remember you.

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How Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Complete Faith in God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Rosary Prayer Teaches us about the Redemptive Power of Charity

Sunday’s Gospel is a long one from Luke 16:1-13:

Jesus said to his disciples,
“A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that,
when I am removed from the stewardship,
they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one.
To the first he said,
‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’
The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note;
write one for eighty.’
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
“For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,
who will trust you with true wealth?
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is yours?
No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

I always found this parable of the disgraced steward confusing.  I could not wrap my brain around how lowering the amount each debtor owed the steward’s master would bring praise and not further disdain.  I always thought the master would be more upset that his steward was essentially letting debtors off the hook for no good reason and hence, cutting into his master’s wealth.

Maybe the debtors all read this book?
Maybe the debtors all read this book?

I then read commentary that made this parable all make sense.  What if the steward had been overcharging the debtors and pocketing the difference for himself?  For example, suppose the debtor who supposedly owed 100 measures of olive oil really only owed 50.  When the steward reduced the debt he actually cut out the inflated portion he was keeping for himself.  By cutting out his underserved share of the debt he was no longer serving his selfish wants, but the true business of his master.  And now Jesus’ warning at the end of the Gospel makes a lot more sense.  At first, the steward served only mammon (money).  But he then gives that up to serve the will of his master who represents God in the parable.

When I think about this Gospel passage, my mind keeps coming back to the Fifth Joyful MysteryThe Finding of Jesus in the Temple.  I think about how Mary and Joseph had to search for Jesus for three long days in sorrow before eventually finding him.  I liken that to the redemptive suffering many must undertake to reform their wayward and sinful ways and align with God’s Will.  The steward in the Gospel was also faced with a painful situation — being dismissed from his position with few options to earn a living.  He also had to undergo a form of redemptive suffering by letting go of the money he was keeping for himself.  But in doing so, he redeemed himself in the eyes of his master.

“Do you have any idea what you put us through?!!!”

When we pray the Fifth Joyful Mystery, maybe we should be mindful of our attachment to our earthly possessions.  Do we need to undergo a form of redemptive suffering by parting with our money and giving it to the less fortunate?  Do we have faith that in giving more to the poor we actually receive something much greater — God grace?  The steward didn’t know that his master would look favorably upon his actions.  Mary and Joseph did not know if they would find Jesus.  But we have an advantage in this aspect because we know how God will look at us when we give to the poor instead of holding it for ourselves.  Jesus tells us repeatedly in the Gospel how we will be rewarded in Heaven.  The question for you is, do you have the faith to believe in that promise?

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How Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Discernment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Rosary Prayer Teaches the Glory of Humility

I’m a lector at my parish.  One of the perks of serving as a lector is that my parish provides me with a workbook for the readings that contain explanations and commentary.  Reading this book during the week helps me obtain a deeper understanding of the readings at Sunday Mass.  I want to start providing you insight into the Sunday Gospels and how they relate to the rosary.  This way, when you pray the rosary, you can integrate the Sunday readings into your meditation as well.  Think of this as doing your Sunday Mass homework.

The Gospel for Sunday, August 28, 2016, is:

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

When I initially read this Gospel passage, I felt like I was reading the biblical equivalent of an Amy Vanderbilt etiquette book on how to politely find your place at a banquet table.  The reading confused me because it seemed like Jesus was giving his disciples a social hack for getting to a place of honor in a disingenuous way.  Is it not false humility to sit at a lowly spot of the table expecting the host to come and fetch you and put you where you think you deserve to be?  I can almost picture that fake humble person sitting next to the stereotypical “chatty lady,” not even listening to her but scanning the room making sure the host sees him so he can “rescue” him from the dregs.

How long do I have to listen to you?
How long do I have to listen to you?

The confusion lifted when I realized that Jesus asks us to behave as the guest and the host!  Jesus talks about the host not looking for reciprocity or acknowledgment for his efforts.  But that is also the same requirement for the guest who takes the lowest spot at the table.  He should not be looking for the host to save him from his situation but rather, accept and enjoy his situation regardless of the outcome.  After all, the guest should be thankful and grateful that he was invited to the feast at all.  We too should be grateful for all the blessings God bestows on us even when it seems like others have it better.

The people who are truly humble and accepting of their situation are ultimately the happiest.  They are not always looking for something better but find contentment with what they have.  That is because they do not come with any preconceived notions of their importance but they just do what needs to be done.  They do not worry about who notices them or if they will receive a certain level of reward.  In a sense, the humble person is free from the burden of self-imposed expectations or entitlement.  When you do not feel entitled to that place of honor, being elevated to it makes it that much more glorious.

Just about every mystery of the rosary teaches some aspect of humility and the glory that comes out of it.  The rosary itself is bookended by these two traits by the First Joyful Mystery and the Fifth Glorious Mystery.  In the Annunciation, Mary humbly accepts God‘s plan for her.  She does not turn God down or try to reshape His request into something she would prefer.  God is essentially upending Mary’s life but her humble reply is,  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Thy Will be done.
Thy Will be done

When we walk and talk with Jesus through the rosary, we finish with Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven.  Like the person sitting at the lowest spot of the banquet table only to be seated at the place of honor so was Mary glorified after her lifetime of humbly accepting God’s plan for her and the pain and sorrow that it entailed.  She is our model for our ultimate elevation to a place of honor in Heaven when we live in earnest, humble service of God’s plan for us.

When you pray the First Joyful and Fifth Glorious mysteries of the rosary, pray and ask yourself:

  • Am I living a sincerely humble life or showing a fake sense of humility as a means to more selfish ends?
  • Am I content and satisfied with all God has given me or am I expecting something better?
  • Am I looking to Mary as an example of humility?
  • Am I showing humility by putting my trust in God’s plan or am I trying to avoid or amend it?

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