Mary’s Rosary Promise #12

All those who propagate the Holy Rosary shall be aided by me in their necessities.

Remember when I said in my previous post about Mary’s rosary promises seeming like a spiritual infomercial?  Well, I take that back.  This promise proves that the rosary is more like an affiliate marketing campaign.  In affiliate marketing, someone gets a small bonus when they convince someone to sign up for a certain service or buy a specific product.  Mary seems to offer us a sort of spiritual affiliate benefit when we spread the joy of rosary meditation to others.  It’s great to pray the rosary for your own good.  But spreading the rosary has an exponentially greater affect both for you own personal salvation and the Catholic Church as a whole.

Where is your rosary?

Imagine if you were able to convince two other people to start praying the rosary regularly.  Now picture those two people each finding two more to pray the rosary and those people went out and got two more and so on.  It doesn’t take to many levels of propagation before hundreds, maybe thousands, and heck, even millions of people turn to rosary prayer starting from your initial passion for it!  Now can you image a Church fueled by rosary prayer and receiving the graces Mary promises us?  That would be one joyful and sincerely happy world-wide community of believers with the strength to truly change all the ills of this world.  And all because you took one leap of faith to pray the rosary routinely and another leap to share your passion with others.

Your personal rosary prayer will yield much more fruit when you propagate rosary prayer to a wider audience.  But this isn’t because you earn more spiritual points that upgrade you to some higher Catholic membership.  It’s not like Mary sits in Heaven with a clipboard with your personal rosary score.  I don’t think she’s saying, “Well let’s see here.  Brent has convinced 10 people to start praying the rosary, he tries to pray it every weekday, but it looks like he missed some days.  So he’s a silver rosary rewards member which means he gets 3 intercessions a year.”  Not quite.

Like Mary’s other promises, the benefits of this one is more of a logical consequence of praying the rosary devoutly.  When you truly enjoy something or find something valuable, are you more likely to share it with others or keep it hidden?  As Facebook clearly shows, when you are passionate about something you have a tendency to share it with others.  People share their opinions and promote television shows, sports, music, movies, and books all the time (just look at the large number of reviews for any given product on Amazon).  Why would prayer be any different? It is logical that those who are passionate about rosary prayer will also want to share it with others.  If you truly believe in the benefits of rosary prayer and it’s something that gives you great comfort facing life’s challenges, why wouldn’t you want to share it with your friends and family?

If you are sharing the joy of rosary prayer and meditation then chances are you are already praying it regularly and devoutly.  After all, why would you promote something that doesn’t interest you or doesn’t provide you any value?  As I said in previous articles, those who do pray the rosary devoutly will be better tuned into how Mary is trying to aid them.  She is always trying to reach out to us but it is those who are really trying to listen to her through the rosary who will receive more aid in their necessities.  But it’s not from Mary giving more aid to some than others.  Rather, it’s some people making more of an effort to receive Mary’s aid by making time to listen to her through rosary meditation and being receptive to how she wants to help you.

Now here’s the hard part.  It’s easy for me to write this article and have a few dozen (hopefully hundreds of) people read this.  It is easy for you all to forward an email or share this post (please do that).  We can all sit back and think we did our part in propagating the rosary.  And yes, we did.  But I think that’s putting the quantity of rosary propagation over the quality.  Maybe we should instead make an effort to personally invite a friend or family member to pray the rosary with us.  It may not be the easiest way to propagate rosary prayer, but I think there is value in actually getting a single soul praying the rosary rather than telling hundreds of people who can easily ignore you.  Are you ready to take that challenge?

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Mary’s Rosary Promise #7

Those truly devoted to my Rosary shall not die without the sacraments of the Church.

Phew, that was close!  I thought I painted myself into a corner after reading Mary’s 7th rosary promise.  I initially thought that this promise basically rephrased her earlier promise about not dying an unprovided death and I would have nothing to say about this one.  The two promises do share a similar theme revolving around one’s final minutes in this life.  The important difference between these two promises is that the earlier promise focuses solely on receiving God’s mercy for one’s sins.  This promise goes one step further and implies one will receive graces through the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick.  In other words, those devoted to the rosary not only avoid damnation but really “seal the deal” to receive eternal salvation.

“Extreme Unction”, part of The Seven Sacraments, by Rogier Van der Weyden (1445). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am going back to the auto insurance analogy to explain the difference between this rosary promise and the earlier one.  Promising that you won’t have an unprovided death is a little like having basic collision insurance.  It’s the bare minimum grace that helps you receive God‘s mercy instead of incurring solely His justice.  It’s better than nothing, but not great.  Dying with all the sacraments of the Church is like having full coverage.  You die with your soul in the best possible state to stand before God and quickly enter His kingdom (you still may need to go through Purgatory first).

What’s the difference between not dying an unprovided death and dying with the sacraments of the Church?  After all, won’t you end up in Heaven by either means?  And isn’t making it into Heaven all that really matters?  Ask yourself this.  Why would you only want to barely sneak into Heaven in the first place?  Why wouldn’t you want to be as close to God as possible throughout your entire life, let alone at the moment of your death?  It might say a lot about how you prioritize your relationship with God if you only want to be close enough to Him to not be damned to Hell.  All of us should be striving to not just have the bare minimum of graces to enter Heaven but to live as shining examples of God’s grace always up to the moment of our death.

And there lies the difference between the saints and regular people.  Many of the saints didn’t have any more insight about the Catholic faith than the normal lay person.  And many of them didn’t have any super natural powers that made it easier to act saintly.  What separates the saints from the lay person is that the saints chose to make living in God’s grace a priority in their life.  They made that difficult decision to resist the temptations of a comfortable, wealthy, or powerful life and instead tried their best to live for God’s kingdom of Heaven.  And as impossible as it may seem, we all have the ability to become saints by embracing a life of living prayer and receiving the sacraments.

I infer from this promise that those devoted to the rosary will not only die with the sacraments of the Church, but that they will also want to live with those sacraments as well.  Those who pray the rosary understand how important their relationship with God is and are always striving to live deep in His grace by fully embracing the Catholic Church’s sacraments.  When we think about Mary’s promise, let us remember that the sacraments aren’t graces reserved for the dying, but for all of us.  May we take advantage of those sacraments as much as possible throughout our lives whether it be going to Confession regularly or really embracing the true meaning of the Eucharist.  We should rejoice that we have so many chances to have God touch our souls.  May the rosary kindle our passion for receiving the sacraments.

And to think that I initially couldn’t come up with anything to say about this promise!  Thank you Holy Spirit, Mary, and the saints for the guidance.

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Is Pope Francis Really That Different?

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I want to comment on Pope Francis’ latest interview in American Magazine that raised a stir. It has more progressively minded Catholics giving the pope a big thumbs up while traditional Catholics are squirming in their seats. Some people think that Pope Francis is undoing decades of zealotry and adherence to dogma while others see him simply rephrasing long-held teachings of the faith. In a way, the pope’s comments are a spiritual Rorschach test. Otherwise known as an inkblot test, a subject sees pictures of generic shapes and says the first thing that comes to mind. It helps psychologists determine someone’s state of mind. Like the Rorschach test, Pope Francis’ comments almost reveal more about our perceptions of the Church than what the Church actually teaches.

the ninth blot of the Rorschach inkblot test
What Catholic Church do you see?

Pope Francis’ interview is about 12,000 words long (please read it). The mainstream media and blog outlets mostly fixated on a few statements about how the Church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” And that “the church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” Just look at the headlines:

  • Huffington PostPope Francis: Gays, Abortion Too Much Of Catholic Church’s Obsession
  • New York Times — Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control
  • The Daily BeastThe Pope Confesses Church’s ‘Obsession’ With Gays, Abortion (I was amused by the use of the word “confesses”)

Taken on its own, it sounds like Pope Francis is casting off all those stuffy, cold-hearted rules that previous popes enforced to the letter. But when viewed in the context of the whole interview, you see that he’s saying that our faith and evangelization isn’t primarily about beating people over the head with rules and guidelines. The pope does not want people to blindly obey because people will never embrace the true Catholic Church that way. Instead, he wants people to know that God loves them and the Church dogma and doctrines exist to bring people closer to God’s grace. Essentially, the pope hopes that people will want to follow the Church’s guidelines out of love, not offer blind allegiance. CatholicVote.com has a good article that summarizes the pope’s interview if you want more analysis.

To their credit, many of the mainstream media articles do say that Pope Francis didn’t change Church teaching. This is the same message previous popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests have taught (or should have taught) for years. But when I read the comments in these online articles, I do get the sense that people are projecting their desires on what they would like the Church to be and not actually hearing what the pope says the Church actually is. They only see the aspects of the pope or the Catholic Church that fit their worldview and filter out anything that does not fit. For example, did you know that Pope Francis recently excommunicated a priest for promoting gay marriage and women’s ordination? You probably did not because that doesn’t fit the narrative of the compassionate pope the media portrays and is more in line with Pope Benedict‘s image as “God’s pit bull.”

Same Church, different world, different strategies, different media.

A writer for one of my favorite Catholic blogs, Creative Minority Report, demonstrated how easy it is to sway people’s perceptions of the pope depending on how his words are reported and filtered. I urge you to read this article that has quotes by the pope on the importance of women in the Church, how the Church should focus on helping the poor, how She embraces other faiths, and how humble he is. That describes Pope Francis to a tee right? But the M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end is that those quotes all come from Pope Benedict. Yeah, that supposedly detached, rule-oriented pope according to many media outlets. So this is a word of warning that you should perceive the pope or the Catholic faith with caution. Are your views based on your own conscience or on the narrative someone is trying to push?

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

I think we all need a healthy dose of the Fifth Glorious Mystery — Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven. In the interview, Pope Francis said, “Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity.” We should pray for help and guidance from Mary, Queen of Heaven. Remember, media outlets and blogs are in the business of selling products and advertisements and making profits. Mary is in the business of saving souls and making sure that as many people as possible will one day live in the peace of happiness of Heaven. When it comes to matters of faith, perhaps we should put down the New York Times, turn off Fox News, and pick up a rosary if we want to know the true Catholic Church.

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Four Bad Ways to Spread the Catholic Faith

I was going to take a little time off from writing RosaryMeds articles and focus on some other projects. However, after listening to this past Sunday’s readings, an Immaculate Heart radio broadcast, and reflecting on my earlier article, the same theme kept leaping out at me — Catholics are called to be annoying. Actually, that is a bit misleading. We are called to boldly and publicly live our faith and teach the truth of Jesus Christ to those around us. We must do this in our words, thoughts, and actions. However, there are right ways to be an “annoying” Catholic and wrong ways. Below are four wrong ways to act as an annoying Catholic or how to respond to someone annoying you about your faith and Church teachings.

#1 The Bad Timer

The Scenario: You’re watching a football game with a group of family and friends. The chips and beer are out and everyone is enjoying the game. The referees make a horrible call and everyone bursts out yelling at the television. That’s when you decide it’s a great time for a little religious conversation and you make the smooth transition with a comment like, “So, anyone read the latest encyclical from pope about the evils of abortion?”

Probably not the best time to pull at your catechism

Religion and apologetics is a lot of like comedy — it’s all in the timing. And if you pick the wrong time to bring out theology, you not only bring resentment and annoyance about the Church’s teaching at that moment, but you may also burn bridges to discuss religion earnestly in the future. You have to be able to know your audience and the situation. Are the people around you already talking about politics or religion and does your insight add to the conversation? Are people expressing and receiving different opinions in a calm and respectful way? If not, it might be best to tuck away your spiritual, theological, and political insights for another day.

#2 Clueless About Context

The Scenario: You’re eating dinner with a group of family or friends. Your relative, who isn’t always aware of the political and religious leanings of the people around him (or just doesn’t care) starts attacking Catholicism or a teaching of the Catholic Church.

Maybe it’s because I live in a very liberal area of this planet, but it seems like a lot of people I know start topics of conversation assuming everyone else around them sees the world the same way they do. They will just start blasting the Church on some issue whether it be gay marriage, abortion, or the male-only priesthood without even considering that someone listening to them dares to have a different opinion. So what are you as a Catholic supposed to do? Sit silently? Nod in fake agreement? That’s not exactly being an annoying Catholic now is it? Perhaps you can politely remind the person that others may have different opinions on particular issues and maybe not everyone shares his particular opinion. Depending on the context, it may not be the best time to go head to head with that person and dive into a debate. But just letting people know that others might have different and valid opinions on an issue is a good start for possible future encounters. If anything, maybe that person will think twice about his audience before going off on the Church in the future.

#3 The Debater

The Scenario: You’re enjoying a conversation with some family or friends. Someone in the group just finished reading an article about the evils of the Catholic Church on their favorite internet site. With that article fresh in their mind, they look for the nearest Catholic to start a debate. You are now placed in that uncomfortable position of having to speak for the magisterium of the Catholic Church and anything short of Jesus Himself walking into the room to pronounce a winner discredits the Church’s position on an issue.

“Provide scientific proof that the Transfiguration really took place in 30 seconds or less”

We’ve all been there. You may know the general principles of the Catholic faith, but not an expert on every detail. And you’re certainly not the pope when it comes to theology. In these cases, I think you can state what you know and then politely tell the person you would need to look up more details if he wants to continue the conversation. Or remind your would-be debater that the issue is quite complicated and you would need more time to fully explain the Church’s position. Remind him that you’re a Catholic, but not a theologian, so you would prefer to continue the conversation after you look up a few facts. But this is why it is also a good idea to always learn as much as you can about Catholic teachings and dogma so you always have a few facts in your back pocket for such encounters.

#4 The Hedger

The Scenario: You’re enjoying some time with your family and friends. Some contentious religious issue comes up. Wanting to keep the peace you start hedging your thoughts on Catholic dogma. You might say something like, “I know I’m supposed to go to Mass every Sunday, but it would be nice if the Church lightened up on that rule a little.” Or, “I think Confession is a good thing, but I think it should be optional if you don’t feel comfortable with it.”

When you start to make excuses for the Church what you are really doing is watering down and misrepresenting Church teachings. But you are also sending a message to those around you that you don’t truly believe in the power and glory of the Catholic faith. The people around you may think twice about a religion where its own members have a pretty low opinion about its core teachings. And if you’re looking to lead by example, who would ever want to follow someone who is wishy-washy in their beliefs? People respect confidence and someone truly embracing their faith even if they personally don’t espouse those same values. All it takes is a strong display of faith for the Holy Spirit to transform the hearts and minds of others.

Do you have any advice on how to be a good “annoying” Catholic or know strategies to avoid? Leave a comment.

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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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The Physical Benefits of Rosary Meditation

The power of the rosary never ceases to amaze me.  In my daily travels around the internet, I came across this post about the cardiovascular benefits of rosary meditation.  Any long time follower of RosaryMeds knows that I’ve touted the spiritual benefits of rosary prayer.  Increasing one’s physical health should be a nice little extra to motivate you to whip out your rosary beads and get started on those Hail Marys.

rosary

Here is a summary of the findings from Our Lady’s Promise Apostolate Blog (here’s a link to the full study for your science and medical geeks out there):

Luciano Bernardi, associate professor of internal medicine at Pavia University, recorded breathing rates in 23 healthy adults during normal talking, recitation of the rosary, yoga mantras, and six minutes of controlled breathing.

Breathing was markedly more regular during the rosary and the mantra and was slowed to about six breaths a minute. The results mean yoga enhances ‘aspects’ of heart and lung function and might be viewed as a health practice as well as a religious practice, he said.

The benefits of breathing exercises in yoga have long been reported, and mantras may have evolved as a simple device to slow respiration, improve concentration, and induce calm, Professor Bernardi says in this week’s British Medical Journal.

I’ve long said that praying the rosary is spiritual exercise.  But rosary prayer is also physical exercise.  And like any exercise, it’s important to show good form to maximize benefits.  This is what I said in my rosary prayer guide, The Rosary for the Rest of Us, about the connection between prayer and exercise:

It is important that you pray the rosary earnestly. If this is your first time praying the rosary regularly then please set aside some time so you can really concentrate. Going back to the exercise analogy, you cannot expect to get into great shape physically by working out half heartedly. You cannot do one poorly-formed pushup once a week and eat junk food and expect to be in super shape. Similarly, you need to develop good form for praying the rosary, especially in the beginning. Starting anything new and different can be a challenge initially. Think of praying the rosary as spiritual boot camp where you need to put in a lot of effort up front to give your spiritual life a jolt. But once you find your rhythm, the benefits of prayer really start to multiply. Once you are comfortable praying the rosary then it becomes much easier to integrate it throughout the day if you like.

So the benefits of rosary prayer is not just the seemingly random ramblings of this blog, but are backed up by the Church and the medical community.  If you are thinking of buying some new workout gear this year or starting a new fitness plan, perhaps you should add a rosary and my book to your shopping list.  Your mind, body, and soul will thank you.

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Teacher Fired from Confirmation Class for being “Too Passionate” About Her Faith

I have to share a sad story about a friend of mine who the parish pastor removed from teaching a Sacrament of Confirmation class for “being too passionate about her faith” around “impressionable” students. This is an unfortunate event but hopefully some good can come out of it if it awakens the conscience and awareness of others about the threats to the Catholic Church. Here is a letter my friend wrote explaining what happened (I removed the names at my friend’s request):

Last night I was “let go” from teaching Confirmation to High School students at [name of school] because I am accused of “being too passionate about my faith” and the students are “too impressionable”.

I am a very good faithful Catholic Catechist that teaches only the Truth from Scripture and the CCC.

I believe in helping the students to develop “well formed consciences”, so I speak about the “intrinsic evils” in our current dark culture. Abortion, euthanasia, cloning, destruction of stem cells for embryonic research, the eroding and re-definition of traditional marriage and the assault on our religious freedom. But most of all the disappearance of “God” in our world. The DRE says that I’m only to teach Confirmation (LOL).

Last Wednesday the day after the election I spoke to the students about voting as Catholics when first and shared the above with them. A question came from a student asking “does this mean if you voted for Obama that you are not Catholic?” I said that voting for a platform that supports intrinsic evil like that means you are not a “faithful Catholic”.

I had a meeting with the pastor this morning, he is supports the DREs viewpoint. He voted for Obama and doesn’t believe that in doing so you are not a “faithful Catholic”. I told him he was wrong and that the majority of U.S. Bishops and our Pope thinks so too. He said he didn’t care what the Bishops say–which means this Priest is outside the magisterium of the Church–which is not new news to any of us. The majority of current leadership of our Church have succumb too.

It’s terrible enough that those who are not Catholic would attack us–but to be attacked from within is very depressing. I believe that God is allowing all of this to happen to me and to the world for a greater good and I trust in Him. I will fight this and all those like this within the Church and in the public square.

First, we should look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches about the Sacrament of Confirmation. The introduction in the CCC says (italics mine):

For by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is a calling to spread and defend the faith. Defend it from what? What are the threats to the Catholic faith? I think my friend nailed it in her letter when she identified these threats as “the ‘intrinsic evils’ in our current dark culture. Abortion, euthanasia, cloning, destruction of stem cells for embryonic research, the eroding and re-definition of traditional marriage and the assault on our religious freedom. But most of all the disappearance of God in our world.” In order to defend against evil, you must be able to identify it. All my friend did was introduce these evils through the lens of the Church. We cannot act so naïve as to think that these young adults will never encounter these challenges to the faith. So shouldn’t we prepare them using the best tools available to us like the CCC?

The paster’s actions also seem to fly in the face of this year’s theme for the Catholic Church, the year of faith, and the call for the New Evangelization. This is a call from the highest levels of the Catholic Church for the faithful to become better catechized and make an effort to grow deeper in their faith. And yet, at the local level, when someone tries to do just, she gets kicked out of her role.  The world will catechize these impressionable teenagers one way or another. Would you prefer the future generation of the Catholic Church to be catechized by popular culture, the media, and our politicians or by those who truly love their faith and want to see the Church thrive in the grace and love that Jesus intended?

By avoiding teaching these difficult issues, local parishes present a watered down version of Catholicism. Teenagers are impressionable, but they can also be very astute. They detect when someone isn’t giving them straight answers or presents Church teachings using clichés and platitudes. Church teachings no longer become the product of centuries of thought by some of the most brilliant theologians the world has ever known, but instead are reduced to the equivalent of flowery song lyrics. And like a song in a large playlist, teenagers will just file away their perception of Church doctrine as just one idea of many and head towards what they feel is more exciting, interesting, and important. When local parishes keep this status quo, I’m not surprised that regular Mass attendance is down to 23% among US Catholics. Teenagers crave substance and yet many parishes are afraid to give it to them.

What Does the Rosary Teach Us?

My friend’s situation reminds me of the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of the Heaven and the Call to Conversion. Remember the response Jesus received when He announced that He was the fulfilment of scripture. Did the people rejoice and listen intently to Jesus’ teachings? Nope. They chased Him out-of-town and later crucified Him. Similarly, St. Paul caused riots and was almost assassinated trying to spreads Jesus’ teachings in the Acts of the Apostles (you should definitely listen to it). And so we find ourselves in a similar situation today. There are many people out there who truly love Jesus and His Church and want to proclaim authentic Catholic teachings. But they are chased out, like Jesus, because those teachings upset the status quo and force people to evaluate their priorities and values in life. Conversion is difficult and takes effort especially when it forces us to leave the comfort of the status quo or admit that we are on a wrong path. But in the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus asks us all to a life of continuous conversion and to always try to move ever closer to Him.

When we pray this mystery we should keep in our intentions those people who cling to their beliefs even when they run counter to the Church’s teachings. May the Holy Spirit open their hearts to the true conversion to which Jesus calls them. And we should pray for all of those who want to teach the Catholic faith but are persecuted and chased out. Like St. Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery, may they stay steadfast in their convictions even when it seems pointless.

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Gospel for February 20, 2011 — Perfection

Christ on the Cross cropped. Crop of old Mass ...
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The Gospel for February 20, 2011 is Matthew 5:38-48 which follows on the heals of the previous Sunday’s Gospel.  Jesus continues expanding the Mosaic law by challenging people to live to a higher standard.  He says we need to “turn the other cheek” when people hurt us and love our enemies.  Jesus exemplifies this high standard in The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, His Crucifixion, when he asks God to forgive the people who put Him to death.

Jesus’ extensions to the law were tall orders considering the fact that He preached to people who were under Roman occupation and had strict barriers between social groups (Jew, Gentile, Samaritan, etc.).  It was very easy for people at that time to see “the others” as their enemy and seek any retribution when they were harmed.  Jesus asking people to love their enemies must have been a very radical idea and probably was not very well received.  Even today that idea is often preached, but rarely lived.  But Jesus points out that God loves everyone, whether they are Jew or Gentile, and He calls us to do the same.  And if loving your enemy is not difficult enough, Jesus raises the bar even further.  In what almost seems comical, Jesus tells us to “just be perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Piece of cake right?

There is no better example of Jesus loving those who hated Him and acting perfectly then when He calls on God to forgive the people who crucified Him for “they know not what they do.”  But the problem many of us have when we read this passage is that we know that Jesus is already perfect.  Many of us may hear Jesus’ teaching of love and forgiveness and probably think, “it’s easy for Him to act perfectly, He’s God!”  So how can we relate to the infinite love and forgivness Jesus showed at His crucifixion?  How do we even begin to live perfectly?

Perfection starts with prayer.  We are aided in our quest for perfection with tools like the Bible, the rosary, priests, nuns, and the entire magistrate of the Catholic Church.  Prayer helps us see Jesus as the example of living perfectly that we try to imitate.  The word imitate is important since we can never be perfect as Jesus is perfect.  We will fall into sin from time to time.  We will not always love our enemies.  We will have grudges and hatred towards one another at times.  But just because we do fall does not give us an excuse never to try at all.  We pray the rosary for guidance, we meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries for strength, and we absorb the readings in the Bible all in trying to understand that perfection that God asks of us.  When we fail to live as Jesus desires, we can wipe the slate clean through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and try again.  And when we think we’ve done just about all we can do, thinking of Jesus nailed on the cross and forgiving the people should motivate us that we can try just a little harder.  And even when we do meet some of our moral limitations as human beings, we are at least closer to that perfection than if we had never tried at all.  But the key to living perfectly is that we have to actively try to live perfectly.  We cannot do it by accident.

Spirituality is a lot like athletics.  Coaches ask for perfection from their players.  Baseball coaches want every player to get a hit and never strike out.  In football, no coach wants to see a dropped pass or his quarterback sacked.  But athletes almost never play a perfect game.  But they give a 100% effort trying the best they can.  Just because they know they won’t play perfectly does not mean they do not try at all.  And so, Jesus calls us to be spiritual athletes.  Like a coach, He wants to see us giving a 100% effort in living according to His Will and building a loving relationship with Him.  It’s time to pick up that rosary or that Bible and give it your all.  It’s game time!

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