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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Catechism Thoughts: Living for Heaven

As I read the Catechism as part of my new year’s resolution I’m going to share little insights and passages that I find relevant to rosary prayer. I came across this prayer in section 260 which I think highlights the power and peace that comes from prayer.  It’s part of the prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity:

O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.

In business there is a saying — work the job you want, not the job you have. In other words, if you want to receive a promotion or have greater responsibilities at work, then take the initiative to display your skills now in your current role. Otherwise, you’ll always stay where you are because no one will see that you have the abilities or desire for anything greater.

A businessman's silhouette.
A businessman’s silhouette. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer is the spiritual equivalent of that business philosophy. Act like you’re already one of the saints at peace in God’s Kingdom. After all, Heaven is our ultimate goal (or at least it should be) where we will realize how inconsequential and petty many of our problems really are. Why focus so much time and energy on the problems of this life?  This life is temporary and fleeting and is not where God calls us.  God calls us to look past our earthly selves and look towards raising to new life with Him in Heaven.  If you want your soul to live in Heaven, then act heavenly while on earth.

This prayer’s message is echoed in the First Glorious Mystery, Jesus’ Resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead He showed us that our earthly death is not the end, but only a transition.  In His resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of Heaven and provided a place for us. Our souls are not temporary and bound only to this life but will live on for eternity. But how do we want to live that eternity? In the grace and joy of Heaven or in the despair and anguish of Hell? When we pray this rosary mystery, we should meditate and examine how much we are truly living for the place in Heaven Jesus prepared for us in His resurrection.

English: Resurrection of Christ
English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer also recalls themes from the Third Luminous MysteryJesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion.  She talks about how our journey into God’s grace is achieved “each minute.”  In other words, grace is achieved in small steps, not in one fell swoop.  It’s not like we fall asleep one night wallowing in sin and wake up the next day a saint.  Conversion is a process made up of a lifetime of small steps into God’s grace.  We should take that to heart when we pray this mystery because it can be so easy to become discouraged when it seems like no matter how hard we try we don’t find that peace we so desperately crave.  Remember, Jesus didn’t find peace here on earth either.  True peace is found only in Heaven.  And you find Heaven only when you convert your earthly ways into heavenly ones.

If you want peace and you want Heaven, work towards it now.  Pray, confess, fast, receive the sacraments, and learn and follow Jesus’ teachings.  You don’t have to be officially recognized a saint to act like one.

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Easter Sunday — Joy

Jesus resurrected and Mary Magdalene
Image via Wikipedia

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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Gospel for April 10, 2011 — Eternity

Raising of Lazarus by Jesus
Image via Wikipedia

The Gospel for April 10, 2011 is John 11:1-45. In this Gospel, Jesus performs the miracle of raising His friend, Lazarus, from the dead.  This Gospel foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection which we pray in the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  Both this rosary mystery and the Gospel remind us that there is more to our existence than this earthly life.  God’s divine plan for all of us does not end with the death of our physical bodies.  His plan also includes our souls living for all eternity in His heavenly kingdom.

News flash, we all have a terminal illness.  I do not want to be a downer, but we all had this illness from the we were conceived.  Our terminal condition is our earthly existence.  No one will physically live forever.  But we should not despair as Jesus said this in the Gospel:

This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

While Jesus was referring to Lazarus, He might as well have spoken about the human condition and our mortality.  None of our lives will end in death if we define death to be a transition to nothingness.  Instead our souls will live for all eternity.  We should recognize that reality and adjust our lives by avoiding sin and doing good works.

In addition to our final, physical death we also encounter little deaths throughout our lives.  I refer to the death of our relationship with God when we commit mortal sin.  When we sever ourselves from God’s grace our soul experiences a type of spiritual death.  However, like how Jesus physically raised Lazarus from the dead, the Holy Spirit raises our soul from its death through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Our return to God’s grace is just as miraculous, and I would say vastly more important, as if Jesus raised us physically from the dead as He did with Lazarus.  Especially in this period of Lent, it is so critically important to do a little spiritual spring cleaning of our souls and go to confession.  We all should experience the miracle of God rising our souls from their spiritual sleep.  And we must pray for all those in this world who are spiritually dead through sin that they have the courage and humility to return to God’s grace.

In this Gospel reading Lazarus’ rise from the dead foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection.  We remember Jesus’ resurrection in the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  One of the central themes of this mystery is that our physical death is not the end of us.  Rather, it is just the beginning of a new life either in Heaven or in Hell.  I believe that our spiritual life is actually our real life as it is eternal.  Our life here on earth, even if we live one hundred or more years, is nothing compared to eternity.  So which existence is really the one where we live as our true self?  Our current, temporary, and imperfect life or the eternal existence in the afterlife?  When we pray the rosary, think about this Gospel, and meditate on Jesus’ resurrection may we remember to make the most of this short time we have in this life by being a testament to the glory of God.  God desires all of us to be with Him in Heaven.  Through Jesus’ resurrection, He showed us that there is so much more to our existence than what we experience in this world.  Let us not become so obsessed and consumed by all the material wants of this life as they will all one day disappear.  Instead, we  should pray that we can endure and reject the temptations of this world and live for the greater goal of an eternity of joy and happiness in Heaven.

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Gospel for March 6, 2011 — Not Leaving it to Chance

Dice
Image by doug88888 via Flickr

The Gospel for Sunday, March 6, 2011 is from Matthew 7:21-27.  Jesus tells His disciples that those who hear His message but do not act on it will not enter His kingdom of Heaven.  He calls on all of us to think beyond our earthly existence and realize that we have eternal souls that will live forever in either Heaven or in Hell.  Whenever we pray the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary, we recall that Jesus rose to new life and desires all of us to join Him in Heaven.  But we must make the conscious decision to live for Heaven in this life by staying in a state of grace lest we hear these words from the Gospel, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.

The Gospel tells us that we must not only “talk the talk,” but also “walk the walk.”  Jesus says that it is not enough to hear God’s Word and just proclaim that you love Him.  We must back up our words with actions that put into practice Jesus’ teachings.  What is interesting about this Gospel is that Jesus says He will deny some people entrance into Heaven although they did good works here on earth.  What Jesus means is that those who are cut off from God’s grace by mortal sin will not enter Heaven despite their good deeds.  You cannot erase mortal sin through good deeds alone.  Jesus does not keep a list of ways sins can be forgiven like this:

  • Missing church = Give $100+ to charity
  • adultery = 12x volunteering at a soup kitchen
  • Cursing = Help a senior citizen cross the street

You could donate a million dollars to charity and that still will not absolve you of sin and bring you back into God’s grace.  The only way to come back into God’s grace is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  This sounds harsh, but Jesus wants us to love God first and have good works flow from that grace.  Loving God above all else is what matters, not individual acts of charity.

We must remember that Heaven is our goal.  When we pray the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary we recall that Jesus’ earthly death was not the end but only the beginning of His eternal reign as King of Heaven.  Whether we like it or not, we do have souls that will live forever in either Heaven or Hell.  We cannot opt for a third, neutral option.  And the option between Heaven or Hell is just too important for anyone to leave it up to chance.  I am often scared how relaxed some people are about where they will ultimately end up.  Many believe that if they just live a neutral life, a little good and a little bad (but not too bad), Jesus will cut them a break.  And while Jesus does show mercy, His teachings do not say that people can just live on auto-pilot and just slide into Heaven without a lot of effort.  I’m not saying that we need to constantly stress out about going to Heaven or Hell, but we do need to realize that our actions in this life do determine where we spend all eternity.

Jesus told us that the wise ones will build on solid foundations while the foolish will not.  In other words, the ones who live on solid, moral principles and do good works according to His teachings will see His Heavenly kingdom.  That isn’t difficult to comprehend but can be hard to put into practice.  So when you think about this Gospel or pray the rosary, really question where your focus lies.  Are you focused on living for God’s kingdom by striving to be in a state of grace or for Satan’s kingdom by living in sin?  Or, if you have not set a goal for where to spend all eternity, do you not think it’s time to start?

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