What the Rosary Teaches Us About Spiritual Persistence

As a father of two boys, I can sympathize with those who face the never ending battle of trying to keep a clean house.  No sooner have I vacuumed the floor that one of my boys starts jumping on the sofa and knocks down a leftover bowl of cereal.  Or I just finish cleaning a room and they dump a bin of legos on the floor and start building.  On Catholic Exchange, Sam Guzman relates the experience of keeping a clean house to keeping a clean soul in his article:

At any rate, I’ve noticed that, just as a clean house quickly descends into disorder and must be constantly cleaned, so also our souls need constant care and upkeep. We must always be beginning to put them in order again.

There are days when our children have made such a mess of things that cleaning up seems a hopeless task. My wife and I look at each other and don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Yet, we begin again.

In this life, holiness is found in beginning again and again. It is constant examination and conversion and regeneration of heart. Holiness if found in repentance. And repentance is not merely feeling sorry that you sinned. It is rather a re-turning to God—a thousand times a day if necessary.

My kids’ room 5 minutes after cleaning it

I call this never ending practice of conversion spiritual persistence.  Spiritual persistence is continuing to pray and have faith in God’s plan even when it seems fruitless.  When I pray the rosary and ask God for help building my spiritual persistence I meditate on Jesus carrying the cross in The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  Jesus was literally beaten down carrying the cross with no hope for relief.  Each time he fell down and got back up, he only had more cruelty and torture to look forward to.  And yet, Jesus got back up and began walking again towards his crucifixion.

I think we all have moments when we ask ourselves, “what’s the point?”  Why should I suffer for doing the right thing instead of taking ethical or moral shortcuts?  Why should I fast?  Why should I go to Sunday Mass?  Why should I go to Confession?  What good will these do since I’ll just go about sinning again in the future anyway?

( )
( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes we can see our faith more as a cross than a blessing.  We too often focus on what we give up or the effort required and not the benefits.  Part of the challenge is that the sacrifice we feel immediately while the joy and grace are often delayed or is so subtle we don’t feel it.  As an analogy to keeping a clean house, we so often tend to dread the steps needed to make a house clean that it often overshadows the joy of having a clean house.

This is where meditating on the fourth sorrowful mystery of the rosary becomes important.  It puts all these perceived inconveniences into perspective.  Jesus endured far worse doing his father’s will.  If Jesus saw the importance of his Passion, we should ask God to help us see the importance of trying to live a spiritually healthy lifestyle.  We may not always like housework, but we understand the importance of maintaining a clean house.  And we may not always enjoy the obligations our faith puts on us, but we pray the rosary to understand why it is so important that we follow God’s plan.

As we near the end of Lent, many of us probably feel beaten down and tired.  We may be tired of fasting, abstaining from meat, the increased prayer, etc.  But instead of focusing on pain, let’s ask God to help us see the joy that comes from these Lenten practices.  The joy that comes from letting go of some of our worldly pleasures and replacing them with God’s grace.  The joy in understanding that we will one day find true happiness in Heaven due to our spiritual persistence in this lifetime.

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And Jesus Wept…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Rosary Prayer Teaches us about Fasting

I just finished reading my children a book of Lenten prayers.  Tonight’s prayer topic was on the value of fasting.  Fasting is a huge theme emphasized throughout Lent.  And yet I know many people who do not see the value of it or are confused about why we do it.  To put it simply, one goal of fasting is to forgo an earthly desire such as food to make room for God’s grace.  We have a great example of this in the rosary.

If fasting means exchanging our worldly desires for Heavenly ones, let’s look at Jesus’ crucifixion which we meditate on in the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary.  What can it tell us about the value of fasting?  At Jesus’ crucifixion, there are two criminals crucified with Him.  One rebukes Jesus saying that he should save all three of them if He really is the Messiah.  The other simply asks Jesus to remember him.  Jesus tells that criminal that he will join Him in paradise on that day.

The first criminal can represent our disposition when we aren’t fasting.  We are concerned about our worldly situation and how to constantly improve it.  We ask Jesus for all sorts of things; many of them well-intentioned and some of them maybe a bit selfish.  The first criminal wanted more of his life on earth.  In a way, he wanted things back the way they were because that’s the only reality he knew.  And let’s be honest, his life couldn’t have been that great if he ended up on a cross.  We too, when our hearts are so full of earthly desires, just want to maintain the status quo.  When we do that, we close ourselves off from something greater — God’s grace and making a place for ourselves in Heaven.

The second criminal represents our state of mind and soul when we fast.  Having been stripped of all that life has to offer, he came to Jesus with a humble heart asking simply for Jesus to remember him.  With nothing attaching him to the world, he realized Jesus’ true nature and how important it was to reconcile himself with Him.  Similarly, when we fast we let go of everything worldly that weighs us down and can more clearly see Jesus for who He really is — our Lord and Savior.

Fasting is more than a Catholic diet plan or some ancient tradition that we just do out of habit.  It is our opportunity to put our lives, our fears, and our desires into perspective.  We’re human and so naturally there are things in this world we enjoy.  But during Lent, let’s reflect on whether we still make room for God’s plan and focus on obtaining our Heavenly goal.  Or have our attachments to this world, even the non-sinful ones, prevent us from embracing the true happiness that comes from God’s grace?

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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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Striving for Manliness, the Catholic Way

Did I miss a memo from the Vatican? I feel like I keep coming across this theme of becoming a better Catholic man all over the place. First I found it on Catholic Exchange when I wrote 12 Ways to be a Better Catholic in 2016. Then a friend sent me a video about the need for authentic Catholic manliness. Was there some sort of synod or papal document released recently on this issue? Or is it the Holy Spirit gently giving me hints that this is a topic I should write about?

If you don’t feel like reading and just want to veg out for a bit watching a video, here is the one my friend sent me about authentic Catholic manhood:

A few thoughts.  I really like the part in the middle that asks, if you can’t resist all those little temptations how are you going to resist and protect yourself and others from the big ones?  This concept of mastering the small things to prepare for the big ones ties into why I keep pushing on the idea of regular rosary prayer.  I think we all encounter those moments of big crisis, temptation, despair, etc. at some point in our lives.  It’s not a matter of if, but when.  How much harder will overcoming those large challenges be if you haven’t proven to yourself that you have mastered the smaller ones?  How much more difficult will it be to pick up that rosary in your hour of need if you’ve never prayed it?  It’s the regularity of prayer and self-mastery which makes the big challenges in life manageable.  It’s the difference between seeing a large mountain from the base camp vs. already being 90% to the summit.  Start the climb now, whether it means resisting those small sins and temptations, fasting, or praying the rosary so that you won’t be starting from the bottom when life throws a mountain of challenges your way.

Another area I want to explore is why there is a cultural aversion to Catholic (or just spiritual) manliness.  Why is being strong in faith not considered manly?  I think part of it is that faith requires humility.  It requires acceptance that you cannot conquer every challenge on your own but need God’s help.  And like out of every cheesy romantic comedy, REAL MEN DON’T ASK FOR HELP!  Unfortunately, as the movie earlier in this article points out, so much of our image of manhood is shaped by popular culture, not by real interaction with real people.  So we develop this warped view that having a spiritual side somehow makes you weak.

“Put that map down! I know where I’m going.”

Okay, hopefully you’re reading this knowing that popular culture has the concept of manhood all wrong.  But how can the rosary show us what true manliness is?  The answer should be clear as most of the rosary mysteries revolve around Jesus.  What example is he setting before us?  I’m going to focus on the Sorrowful Mysteries given the challenges Jesus faced.  After all, it is in the times of great hardship that our true character shines.

  • First Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus prays for help and for a different fate but also accepts God’s Will.
  • Second Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures suffering.
  • Third Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures humiliation.
  • Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus repeatedly falls but gets back up and moves forward.
  • Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus asks for God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

What picture do the Sorrowful Mysteries paint of manly virtue?  Humility, sacrifice, perseverance, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and conviction.  Those are the attributes everyone, men and women, are called to show.  To steal the quotation from the opening of the movie, “You were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness.”  And greatness comes from embracing your faith and imitating Jesus, not just when it is convenient, but when it is overwhelmingly challenging.

Come on, you all thought of Tim Tebow when you thought of men praying.

We pray for those facing huge life challenges.  But we also pray that we all build up our spiritual strength by praying, faster, receiving the sacraments, and avoid sin.

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5 Ways the Rosary Helps us be Thankful Every Day

English:
English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the United States, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It is a time to give thanks for all that God has given us. And yet for many, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of be thankful about. Family, financial, spiritual, work, and global worries are in abundant supply. But for one day out of the year, we manage to push those aside and focus on our good graces. But that’s one day. What about the other 364? Here’s five ways the rosary can help you be thankful every day.

The Third Joyful Mystery

For thousands of years and hundreds of generations, people’s notion of God was one of a supreme being that was very distant and often very angry. The God as the Israelites knew him was a god of rules, laws, and punishments. But we have the grace to have what millions of people never had — God made man through the being of Jesus Christ. When we pray this mystery, give thanks that we have the opportunity to know God as someone who walked with us, laughed with us, cried with us, and died for us. Unlike millions of people who lived before Jesus’ birth, we have a face to put on God. And while we may be removed from Jesus by nearly 2000 years, we should rejoice that we have the benefit of coming 2000 years after Jesus’ birth, not before.

The Fourth Luminous Mystery

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

Following a similar theme from the birth of Jesus Christ, how lucky are we that God humbled himself and took on a human form so that we can come to know him more intimately?  As we see with Jesus’ clothes turning dazzling white and God’s voice telling the apostles to listen to his son, we get an idea of the majesty in Christ.  Jesus could have come into this world floating down from Heaven in dazzling glory as witnessed in the Transfiguration.  But he didn’t.  And we should be ever thankful about that.  Jesus, the human, wasn’t “God Lite” who wasn’t any less approachable or mysterious as God himself.  No, he was a human like all of us who we could relate with and listen to his teachings in plain, not intimidating speech.  Of all the ways God chose to manifest himself, we should give thanks that he chose the person of Jesus Christ.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery

I always associate the Finding of Jesus in the Temple with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Mary and Joseph’s searching for Jesus and then finding him in his father’s house is a nice analogy to how we rediscover God’s grace, which we lose through sin, through Confession.  But where does thanksgiving come into this mystery?  I don’t know about you, but I’m thankful that every day is a day to live in God’s grace but also another opportunity to rediscover that grace through Confession if I’ve lost it (either in part through venial sin or whole through mortal sin).  Once you die, you no longer have that ability to seek forgiveness.  Be thankful that no matter how deep in sin or despair you are, as long as you can draw breath you have an opportunity to rediscover God’s grace and achieve the same glory in Heaven as the saints.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery

How can we not be eternally thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake?  Through his crucifixion, Jesus redeemed all of mankind for the disobedience of Adam and Eve — the original sin.  We are thankful that through his sacrifice, Jesus made Heaven a possibility for all humanity, something that wasn’t open to us before.  Humans failed God through Adam and Eve and we continue to fail through sin.  And we would live in despair if there was no way to set things right.  And that is exactly what Jesus’ crucifixion was — setting things right that were once broken.

The Fourth Glorious Mystery

How fortunate we are that God set aside Mary to serve a special role, not just in her earthly life, but in her heavenly one too.  She was assumed into Heaven and acts as our mediatrix to her son, Jesus.  But what do we mean by mediatrix?  That’s just a special way of saying that Mary is our spiritual lawyer (but with a heart).  Like how a legal lawyer helps us navigate the often confusing laws and regulations, Mary helps us navigate the often difficult spiritual waters.  She helps us understand what is not understandable — God.  We should be thankful that God, knowing that we need some help understanding his truth, set aside Mary to act as our guide.

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5 Ways You Can Keep Religion Relevant

I came across this article the other day on the Drudge Report about how Americans are becoming less religious.  It read:

“The share of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, while still high compared with other advanced industrial countries, slipped to 89 percent in 2014 from 92 percent in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study.  The percentage of Americans who pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion important in their lives are down by small, but statistically significant measures, the survey found.”

Other headlines also found on Drudge:

  • Fatal rush-hour shooting near Penn Station
  • ZombiCon shooting leaves one dead
  • COPS: Thief stole operating room table from hospital!
  • CITY OF HATE: Breast-feeding mom mugged in Manhattan park…
  • COPS: Man killed for grabbing last piece of chicken at dinner

Anyone else making a connection here?  I’m not saying that correlation equals causation and that a loss of religion directly contributes to a raise in tragedies.  After all, the world has never really been a pleasant place.  However, I don’t know about you but I feel like the world is really falling apart at an accelerated pace.  I’m not just talking about large world powers colliding in global conflicts either.  I’m thinking more on a micro scale to individuals.  People seem to be much angrier and unhappy.  Everyone seems to fly into a blind rage at the slightest offense or inconvenience.  Or people are retreating into their own little worlds where they just don’t give much thought about their actions and who they may affect.  And this isn’t just me observing this.  Studies are showing a rise in death rates among middle aged, white Americans due to suicide and substance abuse.

 

While the decline in religion may not have a direct causation to the world’s problems, I bet that a return to religion would help alleviate some of them.  In these dark times we need to pray for those who do not practice their faith whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.  Or we need to pray for those who have twisted their faith into something that it is not.  We do live in dark times globally, but for many, individually as well.  And so we can look at Jesus’ example in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary for how we can approach these dark hours.

First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in...

When the world or our individual lives feel like it’s in a downward spiral, we need to follow Jesus’ example and turn to God in earnest prayer like he did in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We ask God for the strength to endure whatever is ahead.  Keep in mind that Jesus was still arrested and crucified despite his prayers.  Those prayers didn’t result in God removing hardship but helped Jesus find strength.  Maybe he found comfort and courage talking to God in prayer, like a child holding a parent’s hand when they are scared or upset.  And so we can also find comfort talking to God in prayer in a world hostile to hearing and living the truth.

Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

When I think of all the anger and misery in the world, I wonder how much of it is self inflicted because people have turned away from their faith.  How many people find themselves unhappy for reasons they can’t explain because they stopping listening to the source of truth for true happiness, Jesus Christ?  We pray for those who suffer because they have turned away from their faith.  May they find that practicing their faith can provide the answer to their unhappiness and suffering.

Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning of Thorns

The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus because they did not understand him or his teachings.  And so we find ourselves in a world that mocks Jesus and his truth because they do not know him.  Fewer people are taking the time to know Jesus through living their faith and turn to practices that dishonor him such as premarital sex, pornography, substance abuse, lying, cheating, stealing, cursing, and greed (to name a very small few).  We pray for a realization of the effects our actions have on others and a conversion of heart to Jesus’ truth.

Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross

How hard must it have been for Jesus to carry his cross among a crowd of people, many who supported him and many who had turned against him.  As we journey through this world, let’s not be discouraged by those who are mean to us, attack our values, or wish us harm.  Rather, may we find strength in those who want us to keep fighting the good fight, get up when we fall, and continue living our faith.  While it may seem like the Church is beaten down and her critics are winning, so did it seem like the Romans and pharisees had their victory the many times Jesus fell under his cross.  But we all know that in the end, Jesus found strength in his weakness and those who tried to hurt him ultimately failed.

Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion

Christ on the Cross cropped. Crop of old Mass ...

So many people stood before Jesus at the cross mocking him.  Today, so many people stand in front of his Church and mock her by living contrary to the truth.  But when the centurion, a Roman, at the cross witnessed Jesus’ death, he exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!”  Jesus, at his death and supposed victory of the pharisees over him, showed a glimmer of the victory that was yet to come by converting the heart of an unbeliever.  And so we hope that through our tireless example of living for Jesus we too can turn even the most hardened skeptics into believers.

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Oklahoma City’s Black Mass — 42 vs 1600

 

In a previous post I wrote about how a group of satanists were going to hold a “black mass” in Oklahoma City.  The day came and went and the black mass drew a crowd of 1,600 people!  Oh wait, that was the number of potesters and people coming to pray and bear witness to the Christian faith.  Only 42 people (0f the 88 tickets sold) actually attended the black mass.  To put that in perspective, 42 people probably fills the first two or three rows of a large church.  Not too many at all.

From NewsOK:

About 1,600 Roman Catholics gathered Sunday afternoon to bear witness to their Christian faith in the face of “dark forces targeting Oklahoma City, the site of a satanic “black mass” to be held Sunday night.

About 1,200 people crowded into the sanctuary, gym and a cafeteria area at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church for a holy hour prayer service called by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley.

Another estimated 400 people gathered outside the church at 1901 NW 18 to listen to the service blaring through speakers set up outdoors. In his homily, Coakley thanked the faithful for joining together on the eve of the satanic event.

“Your presence here today is a powerful witness of your faith in the midst of a challenging time for our community,” Coakley said.

Coakley, spiritual leader for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, then shared the reason for the afternoon gathering — a war being waged against the devil.

“Our city has been targeted by dark forces,” he told the crowd.

Coakley said as Christians “we know that Christ conquered Satan.  The war has been won, Christ has conquered though skirmishes will continue until Christ comes to reign forever.”

I would like to think that many of the people who bought a ticket to the black mass but didn’t attend had their hearts swayed by the Holy Spirit invoked by those praying for these misguided souls.  Perhaps some of the no-shows realized that they were playing with fire if they attended, even if they were only curious.  Attending a black mass because you’re curious is like shooting yourself in the chest because you’re curious what a gunshot wound feels like.  There are just some things you don’t need to personally experience to know that they aren’t good for you.  I really feel like the Holy Spirit was able to reach a few souls and awakened them to the harm participating in a black mass would do to them.

I think this event is an interesting example of why God allows bad things to happen in our world.  One of the popular answers to this vexing question is that God knows that it will bring about the greater good.  Look at this case.  1,600 people assembled and prayed together on a Sunday afternoon because of this great evil taking place.  These people (along with who knows how many more in spirit) took time out of their day to witness their faith when they otherwise might have been going about their lives running errands or watching football.  That’s 38x as many people strengthening their faith as those putting their soul at risk.  A definite win for the greater good!

“That’s it, we’re firing our agent!”

Now while 42 people attending the black mass is small, it’s still 42 souls at risk.  Jesus and Mary are saddened by every soul that deliberately turns away from God.  We need to pray for those souls that they open their hearts to the Holy Spirit and our Mother Mary to the healing embrace of God’s grace.  I remember the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, Jesus’ Crucifixion, where he prayed to God to forgive the people who crucified him saying, “they know not what they do.”  I think knowing not what they do pretty accurately describes all those who attended the black mass.  These are the people in most need of our prayers.  When you take out your rosary today, pray not only these 42 wayward souls but for everyone who doesn’t really know the seriousness and eternal consequences of their actions.

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What is a Black Mass?

Unfortunately, the media has been reporting so much bad news lately that many Catholics may have missed this one among the headlines about Ferguson or ISIS.  A group of satanists were going to hold a black mass using a stolen Eucharist in Oklahoma City.  The bishop successfully sued them for theft and the satanists returned the blessed host.  They will still hold their black mass as is their Constitutional right but without the Eucharist.  For those who don’t know, a black mass is one that follows the same routine as a Catholic Mass, but in honor of Satan.  In other words, they make a mockery of Catholic Church to please the devil.

Believe it or not, this was the only depiction of a black mass that didn’t involve nudity.

When I heard about the black mass using a stolen host I wasn’t too shocked or appalled.  After all, the holy Eucharist often falls into the hands of people undeserving to receive it.  At Mass every Sunday, I see nearly everyone in the church receiving communion.  But how many of them are really deserving to receive it by having no mortal sins on their souls and having fasted appropriately beforehand?  I’m not making judgements on anyone, but the numbers just don’t add up.  I once heard a priest remark, “Isn’t it interesting how short the lines to confession are on Saturday and how long the lines for communion are on Sunday?  Either we live among a huge number of saints or some people are receiving the Eucharist who should not.”  So in that light, if so many people within the Catholic Church aren’t showing the Eucharist the respect it deserves, why should I be upset about a group of satanists getting their hands on it?  

But then what did appal me was the fact that I wasn’t too appalled by the satanists’ theft and intention to use it in their black mass.  My lack of shock and sadness reminded me of just how weak my faith is at times.  After all, the Eucharist is the true presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  A consecrated host is no different than Jesus being present in bodily form.  It is one of the cornerstones of the Catholic faith and is one of the main differences between Catholics and protestants.  And yet my apathy towards this instance in Oklahoma City does reveal the gaps in my faith.

The good news is that we can work towards bridging that faith gap.  I start where I always start — the rosary.  Particularly, in this case, I focus on the Fifth Luminous Mystery, The Instantiation of the Eucharist.  I meditate on how faith isn’t something that just happens instantaneously, but something that requires work and an open heart.  Think about the apostles at the Last Supper.  They witnessed the first Eucharist from Jesus himself and yet their faith was shaken in the proceeding days of Jesus’ crucifixion.  They betrayed him, abandoned him, and denied that they knew him.  Bridging that faith gap was something they all needed to work on just like we do today.  And all of the apostles, with the exception of Judas, earned their way into sainthood.  That should give all of us hope that no matter how weak or shaken our faith may be, all of us have an opportunity to improve it through prayer, the sacraments, fasting, good works, and God’s grace.

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

Another rosary mystery that comes to mind when I think about the black mass and the stolen Eucharist is the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, Jesus’ Crucifixion.  The Romans put Jesus to death in the most horrific way possible and yet that couldn’t break Jesus’ resolve.  Nor could they suppress his message that was spread throughout the world by his followers fueled by the Holy Spirit.  Like the Eucharist, the cross became a cornerstone of the Christian faith and there is nothing the world can do that will stop God’s truth from being heard.  There is nothing that will break the spirit of God’s Church.  And so I see these satanists in a similar light as the Romans.  There is nothing they can do in a black mass, even if they had the stolen Eucharist, that will have any effect on God and His Church.  The world has tried numerous times to crush Christianity going all the way back to Jesus’ crucifixion.  Satanists and their black masses just continue that fruitless tradition.  Should we feel saddened by their actions and pray for their conversion?  You bet.  Should we feel scared that their actions weaken God or His Church?  Not in the least.

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Expecting the Unexpected — How God Answers Our Prayers

Lately I have contemplated prayers, 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.

I would say that one can only dream babies acted liked angels, but that assumes a parent could ever get some sleep.

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.

God always answers our prayers but not always in ways we expect.

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 RosaryMeds Do I Need?

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 Nativity (Third Joyful Mystery): The King of Kings was born in a stable.  Like His ministry, Jesus’ birth was marked not by earthly power, but by humility.
  • 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.
The Annunciation, by Francesco Albani.
The Annunciation, by Francesco Albani. “How can this be, for I know not man?”, Luke 1:34 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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