Gone Fishing

Another Divine Mercy Sunday, another empty church. I am always disheartened to see so many empty pews after the standing room only Easter Mass. Where did everyone go? So much for Easter transforming hearts and minds right?

Seeing all those empty pews reminds me of this reading from John’s Gospel.  One of the first things Peter did after Christ’s death was go fishing. In the Gospel, he says it almost casually — “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). After the drama that he had just encountered, Peter was looking to return to something comfortable and familiar. It’s almost like he was thinking that being one of Jesus’s apostles was great, but that was now something in his past.  Maybe he saw it like we see our teenage or college years — a phase that we grew out of. Peter was picking up his life where he left off before meeting Jesus — as a fisherman.

Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the...
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t we all have a bit of Peter in our hearts? We fasted and sacrificed during Lent and celebrated on Easter Sunday. For 40+ days our hearts were focus on making room for Christ. And then what do we do? Go to work the next day and do the same things we’ve always done as if Easter was just another day on the calendar. Do you even recall what the priest said in his Easter homily? Do you feel fundamentally changed? Probably not. But you seem to be in good company since it seems that many of the apostles initially treated their time with Jesus like it was a passing fad. It had its moments and even some promise, but now it was time to get back to reality.

When I find myself sliding back into routine, I meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple.  I recall how the Holy Spirit promised St. Simeon that he would not die until seeing the chosen one.  Imagine how surprised, joyful, and maybe even a little scared Simeon must have felt upon hearing this news.  Maybe we felt a similar passion and joy towards our faith on Easter Sunday.  Now imagine how many years Simeon must have waited for that promise to be fulfilled.  The Bible doesn’t give an exact count, but all depictions of Simeon show him as an elderly man.  Who would have blamed him if he started to doubt that promise and believed his time would be better spent on something other than his faith?  But did he lose hope or did he let any doubt affect his faith in God’s plan for him?

Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast
Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like St. Simeon, remaining devout to the end of his life, so too must we be devout in our faith long after the immediate joy and glory of Easter fades.  Many times our faith feels challenging like Christ’s last human days on Good Friday and not the celebration of Easter.  But we pray the rosary and focus on imitating those who remained steadfast even in the absence of signs, wonders, and even joy.  We remember St. Mother Teresa who fought a seemingly hopeless battle of helping the poor.  Or we draw inspiration from the martyrs who died without seemingly changing anyone’s heart towards Jesus Christ.  When we pray the rosary, we pray for the faith and hope that Jesus hears our prayers and does answer them even when it seems like we are wasting our time.

Peter may have thought that his time as Jesus’ apostle was in vain.  He may have thought that he would just return to being a fisherman instead of the fisher of men that Jesus promised.  But of course we know that God had a grander plan for St. Peter than just being Jesus’ apostle in Jesus’ earthly life.  And so we pray that we also have the faith, courage, and fortitude to understand that God has a grander plan for all of us even when it seems like our prayers go unheard.

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Lent Post Mortem

 

In software engineering it is common to have a post mortem upon completion of a large project.  A post mortem gives the team a chance to identify what went well and what went badly in the course of the project and investigate the root causes.  The idea is to continue doing what is good and avoid making the same mistakes in future projects.  I like to think of Lent as a large spiritual project that deserves its own post mortem.

When I look back at my Lent, here’s what I did right:

  • Received the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • Listened to the Gospel nearly everyday
  • Prayed the rosary nearly everyday (okay, that’s not too different from my usual routine)
  • Fasted from alcohol, candy, and snacks during the day

What was less than ideal:

  • Did not attend any extra Masses or prayer services
  • Did not receive ashes on Ash Wednesday
  • While I did not snack during the day, I didn’t exactly show a lot of willpower in the evening.  So my fast was more like a delayed gratification on some days.

What did I learn?

  • Listening to the daily Gospel really fills in the story and teachings of Jesus that you don’t get only listening to the Sunday Gospel.  I started to better understand the buildup to Holy Week and how Jesus drew the ire of the Pharisees which led to his crucifixion.  I will try to continue reading/listening to the Gospel daily.
  • I should try to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation more often.
  • Since I abstained from snacks and treats on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, I know I can make it the entire day without them.  I should put in more effort to fast from snacks throughout the year, not just on those two days.

Now it’s your turn.  What did you gain during this Lent?  Where did you fall short and do you plan on correcting any errors made during Lent in this Easter season?

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Easter is the Beginning, Not the End

Easter Sunday has come and gone which means life can get back to normal right? No more Lenten sacrifices so the donuts, chocolate, and beers can come out of the hiding spots. No more meatless Fridays. No more long Gospel readings. No more stations of the cross, rosaries, and being hounded to go to Confession.  Time to shelve that piety until Advent yes?

Don’t start making plans for that vice-filled weekend quite yet.  Lent was a time of preparation. But preparation for what? What happened on Easter Sunday that required 40 days of training? Surely Lent wasn’t about fine tuning your egg finding abilities or expanding your sugar tolerance. In terms of process, the Easter Mass wasn’t any different than other Sunday Masses.  There really wasn’t anything different on Easter Sunday than any other Sunday. What was all the preparation for?

Technically, Easter isn’t a day but a whole season.  It lasts 50 days starting with Easter Sunday and ending at Pentecost.  Did we spend 40 days of Lent preparing for 50 days of Easter?  Do we just have to practice our faith extra hard for three months and then we don’t have to think about it until Christmas?  Of course not.  In fact, there is no end date or time limit to what we profess during Easter.

When we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, we acknowledge the truth of his ministry. Jesus said that he would die and rise again and we celebrate the reality of that claim on Easter. But it’s not just about celebrating that single promise, but all of his promises. Easter is a celebration of the entire Gospel where we rejoice in all the promises and teachings Jesus gave us.  If Jesus was right about the outlandish claim of raising from the dead then he was right about everything else he preached. And we celebrate and give honor to Jesus’ resurrection by promising to go out and live according to his teachings.  Jesus asked us to go out and love our neighbors and our enemies.  He asked us to show compassion to the suffering and less fortunate.  He asked us to forgive those who wronged us.  He asked us to turn away from sin.  He promised eternal joy in Heaven.  He fulfilled that promise on Easter by rising from the dead and opening those gates for all of us.

Jesus Resurrection 1778
Jesus Resurrection 1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s spring so I’m going to use a baseball analogy.  Think of Lent as the pre-season.  We exercise and got into spiritual shape through fasting and prayer.  It was a time where we worked extra hard to shed those bad habits that crept in over the past year.  But if Lent is pre-season, Easter Sunday is opening day.  Yes, it’s a grand event filled with joy, hope, and optimism.  But it’s one day of many. And it is one Easter season of many.  Following Jesus’ teachings doesn’t end on Easter Sunday any more than the baseball season ends after the first game.  Instead, it is a time of hope and renewal as we look towards living out the Gospel in its entirety for the rest of our lives.

Easter Sunday has come and gone.  The candy will disappear over the next few days.  The pastel decorations and colorful eggs will be takn down.  But the celebration continues and requires your active participation.  Continue praying the rosary.  Continue attending Mass.  Continue fasting (maybe after indulging a little on the things you gave up during Lent).  When you meditate on the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary, picture Jesus opening the gates of Heaven in his resurrection.  He showed us that there is so much more to our lives than just what we experience on earth.  We are eternal beings with souls destined for Heaven if we choose.  Our praying, fasting, penance, and charity doesn’t end on Easter.  It ends when the Lord welcomes us into his kingdom that he made available to us through his resurrection.  Keep your rosaries close and God even closer!

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Get Up and Make the Most of Lent

My wife turned to me the other day and said, “I really don’t feel like it’s Lent right now.” I replied that I felt the same way. As parents, every day of our lives feels a bit “Lentish.” We continuously sacrifice our time, money, sleep, and freedom to raise our boys the best we can. For 365 days a year parents have to sacrifice those little luxuries that others just put off for 40 days.

But before I give myself a Purple Heart for the sacrifices I’ve made in the parenting line of duty, I have to recall the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus Carrying the Cross. I don’t think anyone would disagree that Jesus endured and sacrificed a lot during His ministry and particularly during His Passion. No one would have been too critical of Jesus if He never got up from one of His falls under the weight of the cross. After all, He was in a human body that could only take so much punishment. And yet, He dug down deep, got up, and kept moving knowing that His earthly life was only going to get worse.  Why?  Because His love of God and doing His Father’s will outweighed all the pain and suffering.

Icon of Jesus being led to Golgotha, 16th cent...
Icon of Jesus being led to Golgotha, 16th century, Theophanes the Cretan (Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We should follow Jesus’ example in His Passion and dig down deep and find that extra spiritual energy during Lent. It’s not like we have a sacrificial quota and those who make sacrifices all year are exempt or can take it easy during Lent. It’s actually just the opposite. God calls the spiritually fit and conditioned to push themselves even further.  Jesus was the most spiritually fit person to walk the earth and He pushed Himself through the Passion and ultimately Crucifixion.  God asked that of His son so surely we can do whatever small things God asks of us this Lent.

Even if you pray, fast, and live a Catholic life all year around, Lent is the time to go that extra mile.  Like Jesus getting up after a fall and carrying His cross, we can all do a little more to better connect with a God who loves us and we should love in return. It doesn’t matter whether practicing your faith begins and ends one hour every Sunday or if you are Pope Francis, there is always a little something more you can do during Lent that you don’t do other times of the year.

To help, I found this article on Catholic Exchange about making the most of Lent. It’s still early in the Lenten season so if you’re off to a slow start (I’ve accidentally forgot that I gave up snacking twice already), give this a read and hopefully it will jumpstart your Lent.

For the impatient, here’s the article’s outline:

  1. Prayer
  2. Reconciliation and Peace
  3. Penance
  4. The Bible,The Word of God
  5. Almsgiving
  6. The Three T’s
  7. Joy
  8. Daily Mass and Communion
  9. Conquer Your Own Devil
  10. Mary and Lent

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Lenten Postmortem

I’m a software engineer.  Part of my job is participating in what are commonly called technical postmortems.  In postmortems, my team recalls what went right and what went wrong with a recently completed project.  The idea is that by learning what we did right and wrong we can correct our bad practices while continuing our good ones in future projects.  An important part of engineering is always refining our processes and behaviors.

thinking-272677_1280

I figure, why not do a postmortem on Lent the same way I do with an engineering project?  This way, I can reflect on what I did right this year and what I need to improve upon for next year.  Like other aspects of our life, we need to sometimes assess our spiritual behavior.  If we don’t, then how will we know what to improve?  What goals can we set for the next day, week, month, year, etc.?  In the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus calls us to a life of conversion.  But to convert our ways, we first have to analyze them.

Of course, in this case we really can’t call it a postmortem since Jesus is alive and well (that is the main idea behind Easter after all).  So, I’m going to coin a new term and call this a post-risen or post-lenten.

What went wrong

  1. Didn’t go to Ash Wednesday Mass
  2. Initial Lenten sacrifice was too easy
  3. Took a few “cheat” days on Lenten sacrifice
  4. Only went to one bible study class out of an entire series of classes
  5. Didn’t go to any extra Lenten events (Stations of the Cross, weekday Mass, etc.)
  6. Didn’t acknowledge Good Friday noon-3pm hours with prayers, silent reflection, etc.

What went right

  1. Went to a Good Friday Mass service in the evening
  2. Followed through with my Lenten sacrifice (once I made it)
  3. I said a short prayer whenever I was tempted to break my sacrifice
  4. Contributed to a charitable cause
  5. Attended a bible study class in my parish
  6. Received the Sacrament of Confession

Lent Logo 2008

What I need to do next year is plan my Lenten sacrifice much better.  This year I started out with a “no dessert after lunch” sacrifice which turned out to be too easy since not having desserts was something I was already doing for the most part.  About half way through I changed it to giving up all sweets during the day.  Now that was much more challenging but something I was able to do.  And whenever I felt tempted to have a piece of candy or a cookie, I said a small prayer instead.  So my sacrifice led to more prayer throughout the day.  That was what I learned.  How about you?  Can you think of ways you can improve your spiritual habits from this past Lent?

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Preparing for the Preparation

It’s that time of year again. Flowers start to grow, the grass turns green, trees get their leaves back, and we get ashes on our forehead. Yep, that’s right, on March 5th we kick off Lent with Ash Wednesday.

English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Ch...
English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian on Ash Wednesday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read a great article in the Catholic San Francisco about how to prepare for Easter this Lent. Sister Margie Lavonis says it best when she wrote in her article, Lent: An opportunity to grow, that we shouldn’t “let this be just another 40 days of the year.”  She talked about many of the same themes I routinely mention on RosaryMeds (has she been reading my work?).  She touches on how our relationship with God needs a commitment from us, through prayer, to grow:

No relationship can deepen and grow unless we are willing to listen and share ourselves with the other person. God is no exception. During Lent, if you don’t already, set aside at least fifteen minutes of your time each day to be with God. Go to a quiet place, if you can find one, slow down and let God love you. Read and reflect upon some scripture each day and get to know the one who loves you unconditionally and who has given you all you have. I suggest using the Mass readings for each day and reflect on what God is saying to you. In fact, it would be good to try to go to Mass more than just on Sunday if you can.

She also covers some ideas for fasting and alms giving. Remember, it’s not all about giving up desserts and writing checks. I know it may sound cliche, but I’m really going to try to remember that it’s Lent every one of these 40 days leading up to Easter whether that means praying more, offering small sacrifices to God, or giving a little more of my time and patience to those who need it.  How about you?  Are you prepared to get prepared?

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The Pews are Empty Again

A little over a week ago, my family went to Easter Sunday Mass.  Because we have a small baby in tow, we usually don’t get to the church until right when Mass is about to begin.  On most Sundays, that works just fine since we can usually find plenty of parking and seats in the pews.  But on Easter we knew we had mistimed our arrival when we saw a full parish parking lot and the closest parking spot we found was many blocks away from the church.  We still made it on time, but it was standing room only.  There were so many people that many families stood out in the vestibule and outside the church during Mass.

English: Pews of the First Methodist Church in...
Was this your church on Divine Mercy Sunday?

Flash forward a week.  We arrived at Mass at the same time we did on Easter Sunday.  But this time we did not have to park several blocks away and we had our choice of entire rows of pews upon entering the church.  The church was actually abnormally sparse for a Sunday as if everyone suffered a post-Easter hangover.  And while I liked parking close to the church and easily finding a seat, I do find the Divine Mercy Sunday attendance drop off both sad and concerning.

I try not to make too many assumptions about the drop in Mass attendance.  Perhaps many people who attended morning Mass on Easter usually attend afternoon Mass on Sundays.  But since there wasn’t any afternoon Masses, the morning ones had to accommodate more people than usual.  Or maybe many people  from other parishes attended our Mass with their extended families.  But I’m pretty confident that many people were C&E Catholics (Christmas and Easter) and won’t step foot into a church for another eight months.

As much as I hated parking blocks away from the church and standing during Easter Mass, I really wish the church was as full every Sunday as it was on Easter.  Imagine the beacon of God‘s glory the Catholic Church could be if the world saw overflowing churches every Sunday.  Imagine how much love and happiness there would be in our world if more people got more regular doses of prayer, grace, instruction, and forgiveness through the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.  Imagine the peace that would spread if more people heard the Word of God and homilies teaching the Truths of the Catholic faith on a weekly basis.  I would gladly give up my close parking space and my seat (or just strive to arrive earlier) for that Catholic Church.

What RosaryMeds do I Need?

English: Photo of the living room of a compuls...
Are you hoarding sin?

Many Catholics have an acute case of sin hoarding.  This is a particularly dangerous disease because most people aren’t even aware that they have it.  They can go their entire lives thinking they are fine.  And by all earthly accounts, they are fine.  But they do not see the potentially unhealthy state of their soul that may be clogged up by unconfessed sins.  And even if they don’t have any serious, mortal sins on their soul, they do not understand how much better they would feel if they did a little spiritual housecleaning.   The C&E Catholics’ souls are like the homes you see on the television show, Hoarders.  They just don’t recognize the disorderly state of their souls where they have left no room for God’s Word and love.

We need to reach out to these spiritual hoarders by praying the Third Luminous Mystery, The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion.  Meditate on this rosary mystery and think about how Jesus came into this world and taught God’s Word.  He taught the truth which many people ignored or criticised because they refused to make room in their hearts to take a deep look at themselves and align their ways with Christ’s.  Similarly, many Catholics today may not like hearing that Jesus asks them to go to Mass every week, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and develop a humble heart open to the Word of God even when it may conflict with popular, cultural sentiment.  Like physical hoarders, many times sin hoarders become very defensive, if not downright abusive, when you try to help them clean up their lives.

And I think that’s where the meditation on the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary comes in.  Think of friends or family members who fall into the Christmas and Easter crowd.  Or maybe they do attend Mass on Sunday, but only grudgingly and mostly just sit in silence and zone out for an hour.  How can you help them convert and better live for God’s Heavenly Kingdom?  Maybe you can buy them a book on Catholic teaching.  Maybe you can invite them to attend Mass with you.  Maybe you just need to let them know that it’s okay to say small prayers throughout the day.  Pray the rosary for the right tactics to bring back those who have fallen away.  The Holy Spirit will let you know how much spiritual force to use.  Some people need a little push while others need to really be hit over the head (figuratively) regarding their spiritual situation.

Easter Sunday was just the beginning.  The Easter season lasts 50 days and it’s a time to celebrate and rejoice.  And like any good party, the more the merrier.  Who do you know that may have left the party early and what will you do to bring them back?

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Easter Sunday — Joy

Jesus resurrected and Mary Magdalene
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The Easter Gospel is either from John 20:1-9 or Matthew 28:1-10.  Both talk about how Mary Magdalene came to Jesus’ tomb only to find it empty for He had risen.  Naturally this Gospel relates to the First Glorious Mystery — Jesus’ Resurrection.  Realizing the sorrow of Jesus’s passion and death only makes His resurrection that much more joyful.  For while Jesus’ earthly life ended in great suffering and sorrow He rose to His eternal, heavenly life in glory.  We too should remember that in our greatest sorrows and suffering we are called to one day rise to new life in the eternal joy of God’s heavenly kingdom.

Everyone have a happy and blessed Easter!

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Palm Sunday — Sorrow

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane),...
Image via Wikipedia

The Palm Sunday Gospel for April 17, 2011 covers the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, and Jesus’ Passion and death (Matthew 26:14-27).  This Gospel covers all the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.  There is just so much in this Gospel it is almost a shame that we read it all at once instead of breaking it up over several Masses.  But just because you read the Gospel straight through during Mass does not mean you cannot meditate more on it yourself.  Take your time in this last week leading up to Easter to really absorb the central themes behind the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.  Meditate on Christ’s Passion and death and thank Him for all he does for us.

I know that many times we walk into the church on Palm Sunday and it hits us that this is that LONG Mass and we develop a bitterness because the Mass might run longer than an hour.  Try not to think about how long the Mass is or how it seems to upset your plans for the day.  That extra time should be seen as a gift, not a burden.  Use that time to focus on all Jesus does for us and what He asks us to live.  Jesus sacrificed His life for us so the least we can do is spend a few extra minutes with Him in prayer.

I encourage you to read my postings on the Sorrowful Mysteries throughout this week.  Think about the quantity and quality of your prayers when you read the First Sorrowful Mystery — The Agony in the Garden.  Pray for all those who suffer, especially those who suffer because they strayed from God’s path, when meditating on Jesus’ Scourging in the Second Sorrowful Mystery.  Ask yourself how much respect you give to Jesus and His Church in the Third Sorrowful Mystery — The Crowning of Thorns.  Look around at the crosses other bare and see if you can help them any way you can when you think of Jesus taking up His cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  And finally, follow Jesus’ example in His crucifixion and ask God for the strength to do His Will no matter where that takes you.

Make the most of Holy Week.  Do not treat it like every other week of the year but really make an effort to turn it into a time of more intense prayer and meditation.  God Bless!

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An Easter Day Prayer

What do you pray for during Easter? Peace? Understanding? Forgiveness? Thanksgiving? There seem to be so many things to ask of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ on Easter. I often have a hard time collecting all my thoughts and putting them into the words of a prayer. But I think my third grade nephew sums it up beautifully in a prayer he wrote in school.

Hanácké kraslice, a traditional way of decorat...
Image via Wikipedia

What do you pray for during Easter?  Peace?  Understanding?  Forgiveness?  Thanksgiving?  There seem to be so many things to ask of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ on Easter.  I often have a hard time collecting all my thoughts and putting them into the words of a prayer.  But I think my third grade nephew sums it up beautifully in a prayer he wrote in school:

God, l love everything you have given me but I would like one more thing. I would like an amazing Easter. Everyone should go to Mass and pray before eating.  I would like people to remember that Easter is the day Jesus died on the cross and not just a day when the Easter Bunny comes to your house to hide eggs so you can find them and open them in the morning. We should spend more time praying than usual because it is Easter. We should share more, pray more, show more respect, help one another, and do something when we are asked the first time. God, can you please help us have a fantastic Easter?   Amen.

I don’t think it can be said any better.  Imagine how great the world would be if we all lived this prayer, not just today but every day.  Happy Easter!

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