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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I listen to Michael Savage on the radio on my drive home from work. This past week he called attention to a federal court case where the government sentenced a group of Amish people to prison terms ranging from 2 to 15 years for forcibly cutting the hair and beards of others in the community. And while sometimes Savage has a “the sky is falling!” attitude (hey, it gets him high ratings), he warned that Catholics in the United States shouldn’t ignore the implications of this case. If the federal government can sentence the Amish to 15 years for hair cutting, what’s to stop them from sentencing Catholics for praying in front of abortion clinics or speaking out in defense of traditional marriage?
In a nutshell, the government convicted the defendants of a federal hate crime when a group of people, lead by Amish bishop Samuel Mullet Sr., organized a series of attacks on religious enemies and non-conforming family members by cutting men’s beards and women’s hair. The hate statute came into effect because the prosecution argued that because hair has a spiritual significance to the Amish, forcibly cutting it off constituted attacks targeting people based on their religious ideology. And the reason it was a federal case and not a local one is because the attackers used scissors brought from out-of-state thus invoking the ever so broad Commerce Clause.
I’m not defending that what Mullet and his followers did was right. In fact, the local municipality should have convicted them and delivered whatever punishment anyone else would have received for those actions. I’m not a lawyer, but it sounds like some sort of misdemeanor assault charge to me. Their crime should have been the equivalent of someone forcibly cut someone’s hair as part of a college hazing ritual. That’s certainly not a federal case and definitely not worthy of a 15 year punishment!
Why should this case concern Catholics and other religious groups? If the federal government can involve itself in what should be a local case and start handing out 15 year prison sentences, then who is safe from the long arm of Washington D.C.? In a way, we can view this Amish case as a test for how the federal government can deal with groups that may oppose a particular agenda or piece of legislation. For example, if Catholics continue making more inroads in exposing the abortion industry and pushing for more pro-life legislation, maybe the federal government can round-up some people praying in front of abortion clinics and sentence them to federal prison time. Or what happens if someone who is very vocal about traditional marriage whips out a rosary in public? Maybe a little time in Club Fed will silence that person for a while and send a message to those who would say or do something similar. Do you see the dangerous territory we are heading in to when people in government (or influential lobbying groups) can turn anything into a federal hate crime case?
I think we need a good dose of meditation of the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, Jesus‘ Crucifixion. Remember, the Sanhedrin used the strong arm of the Roman empire to prosecute and crucify Jesus. And why? What heinous crime did Jesus commit? They put Jesus to death in order to silence a very outspoken critic who wasn’t following the pharisees’ agenda. Of course, their attempts failed when Jesus rose from the dead as we celebrate that event during this Easter season and when we pray the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary. Flash forward to early Christians who the Romans thought they could silence by feeding them to lions. That attempt also failed and Christianity not only survived, but flourished. Similarly, many who do not like the pro-life, pro-family views of today’s Catholics wish to “crucify” them in the media, social networks, and possibly using the strong arm of the federal government.
This Amish case and the Health and Human Services contraception mandate are the opening shots in a war to drive out religion from public consciousness. But Christians have a nearly 2000 year history of overcoming persecution. So even when it seems that we are beaten and at our weakest, like Jesus on the cross, we have more power in us than our persecutors. For their power is earthly. Our power is heavenly. And so we pray the rosary, meditate on mysteries like the Sorrowful Mysteries, and find that strength to not only endure what this world throws at us, but flourish.
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 Mysteriesfor 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!
Along with the rewards and benefits that come with membership in the Catholic Church comes duties, obligations, and even sacrifices. This article on the Catholic News Agency discusses how the secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, says that modern society has lost the ideas of duty and sacrifice. I see the theme of duty represented in the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery and the importance of sacrifice shown in the Third Luminous Mystery. We should meditate on these mysteries for the strength and courage to do all that God asks of us.
Along with the rewards and benefits that come with membership in the Catholic Church come duties, obligations, and even sacrifices. This article on the Catholic News Agency discusses how the secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, says that modern society has lost the ideas of duty and sacrifice. I see the theme of duty represented in the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery and the importance of sacrifice shown in the Third Luminous Mystery. We should meditate on these mysteries for the strength and courage to do all that God asks of us.
Through His death, Jesus showed us that we all have a duty to live and defend our faith. As I said in my Crucifixion meditation, I feel that Jesus’ crucifixion is the ultimate example that we are all called to follow God’s plan even in the face of great difficulty. It is our duty, as Catholics, to remain faithful no matter the earthly consequences our faith might bring. I see so many instances where peoples’ duty to the Catholic faith stops as soon as it comes in conflict with their personal views, beliefs, or lifestyle. However, the Church always reminds us that we have an obligation to put God first in our lives. And while that can cause great hardship in this life, God rewards our dedication with everlasting life in His kingdom.
The Third Luminous Mystery, The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion, outlines the need for sacrifice. I typically see sacrifice in terms of fasting. However, I often wonder what difference it makes whether I fast or not. After all, am I a better person because I skip a dessert or give up drinking soda? Do my prayers carry any more weight because I didn’t eat meat on a Friday? When put into the context of the Third Luminous Mystery, sacrifice and fasting make more sense. In his book, “Fasting,” Fr. Slavko Barbaric explains the sacrifice of fasting as “a call for conversion directed to our body… by which we become free from and independent of all material things.” Notice how he echos the idea of sacrifice being a tool for conversion. When we fast and sacrifice, we detach ourselves from the fleeting pleasures of this world and open ourselves to the much greater gift of God’s grace. In other words, God is no more receptive to us because we fast (after all, He is already infinitely receptive to everyone) but we become more receptive to God.
Our duty as Catholics to live a life of sacrifice will not be easy. However, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues is very direct when he says, “God’s plan cannot be fulfilled except through sacrifice.” In other words, sacrifice is not something optional for Catholics nor is it something we should only think about during holy seasons like Lent. Yes, our faith can present challenges. But what challenge can be so great that it is not worth the promise of God’s Heavenly kingdom?
Here’s a little snippet from the movie, “Rocky Balboa” where Rocky explains to his son that winning means being able to make sacrifices and endure life’s challenges. Think about this philosophy in terms of your faith. Are you a fighter or are you letting life’s hardships keep you down? Do you have the conviction to really live for God’s kingdom by always striving to do God’s will even in the face of great difficulty?
PS: “Fasting” is out of print, but it is worth picking up a used copy. It is only 47 pages (large type), but it is a great introduction on the importance of fasting.