Gospel for Janurary 16, 2011 — God’s Plans

St John the Baptist
Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

The Gospel for January 16, 2011 is from John 1:24-34 and, like the previous week’s Gospel, focuses on Jesus’ baptism.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ baptism takes the role of the Fourth Joyful Mystery — The Presentation in the Temple.  John does not write about Jesus’ birth or childhood but starts with His baptism as an adult.  This Gospel shows John the Baptist as the one who presents Jesus to the world through baptism.  John understands and accepts God’s special role for him and this Gospel and rosary mystery calls us to also reflect on how God calls us to live.

A few verses earlier in John’s Gospel, the pharisees ask John the Baptist if he is the Messiah, Elijah, or another prophet.  Each time John responds, “no.”  When pressed on why he baptizes people, John responds, “the reason why I came baptizing with water was that He might be made known to Israel” (John 1:31).  John’s mission, or vocation, is to prepare people for Jesus’ coming.  God’s plan for John wasn’t an easy one as it called for a life of constant prayer, penance, and fasting.  John’s life eventually ended in his arrest and execution.  I’m sure many people saw John the Baptist as some crazy person who wondered the desert.  After all, how many of us would probably roll our eyes if someone came into town yelling, “repent, repent!”  But John knew that preparing people for Jesus’ coming was so important that he dedicated his life to it.  I sometimes wonder if John, and many of the saints, had other plans for themselves earlier in their lives that they abandoned because it was not what God asked of them.  Maybe John wanted to be a banker, a carpenter, or own a vineyard.  But he knew that his passions wouldn’t amount to anything if they did not line up with God’s plans.

Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery is very similar to John the Baptist.  Simeon spent his entire life in the temple in Jerusalem waiting and praying for the Messiah to appear.  Like John, Simeon was probably ridiculed and dismissed as a fool.  And I’m sure Simeon, as a boy, didn’t think that his entire life would be spent in the temple waiting for God to reveal Himself to him.  He probably imagined a “normal” life of living in a small village and working in the fields.  But that was not God’s plan for him.  And like John the Baptist, upon seeing Jesus, Simeon announced how Jesus was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32).  Both John and Simeon served to announce that God was made man and came into this world to lead us into His kingdom of Heaven.

When you read or hear this Gospel or meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary, ask yourself:

  • Are you living according to God’s plans or your own?
  • Are you looking for how Jesus presents himself to you in your life?  Do you search for Him in routine prayer, fasting, and meditation?
  • Are you patient with God’s plans for you or are you looking for God to give you a “quick fix?”
  • Are you open to God’s plans even if they are difficult or run contrary to how you would like to live?
  • Do you have the strength to live up to God’s plans for you even if they are at odds with accepted societal practices?
  • Are there parts of your life where you live contrary to God’s plan for you?
  • What will you do to align your life more with God’s Will?

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Our Lady’s Messages: October 2010

Statue Virgin Mary Medjugorje - Hotel Pansion ...
Image by gnuckx via Flickr

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on October 2, 2010:

Dear children, Today I call you to a humble, my children, humble devotion. Your hearts need to be just. May your crosses be your means in the battle against the sins of the present time. May your weapon be patience and boundless love – a love that knows to wait and which will make you capable of recognizing God’s signs – that your life, by humble love, may show the truth to all those who seek it in the darkness of lies. My children, my apostles, help me to open the paths to my Son. Once again I call you to pray for your shepherds. Alongside them, I will triumph. Thank you.

Mary talks about patience and love in Her message which is a central theme to The Fourth Joyful Mystery of the holy rosary — The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  We recount the story of Simeon who waited and prayed in the temple his entire life before seeing the Anointed One, the baby Jesus.  Patience is a virtue that is often found lacking in today’s culture of instant gratification.  Whether it be new gadgets, a new home, a promotion at work, or a relationship many of us don’t have the patience to wait and build up something we will appreciate.  We often hear stories how people’s impulsiveness ends in misery when hasty marriages turn rough or they get in way over their head trying to live a lavash lifestyle.

Similarly, we are often impatient with God’s plan for us.  We want God to answer all our prayers instantly to get us out of difficult situations.  When we don’t get that instant response we believe God is not listening or does not care.  But perhaps God does answer our prayers and we just do not see it.  Perhaps we become so fixated on a single solution that we do not see the alternative and better path God provides.  And that is why Mary asks us to be patient so that we will notice the signs God lays before us on how to live in His grace and one day enter His heavenly kingdom.  Remember, Simeon was graced with seeing the Anointed One before his death.  Simeon had faith that God would reveal Himself at the appropriate time.  Mary asks us to show that similar faith and patient love.

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on October 25, 2010:

Dear children! May this time be a time of prayer for you. My call, little children, desires to be for you a call to decide to follow the way of conversion; therefore, pray and seek the intercession of all the saints. May they be for you an example, an incentive and a joy towards eternal life. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Mary asks us to follow the way of conversion which is the message of The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion.  Notice how She uses the word “decide.”  Ultimately, it is our choice whether we want to convert our ways to God’s ways and build a meaningful relationship with Him.  Living in God’s grace requires effort and is not something that happens by accident.  No one ever became a saint by accident.  All the saints made a conscious decision to follow God.  Similar to Mary’s first message, deciding to follow God also means showing faith and patience to follow the path He lays before us.  It may not be an easy road or one that we would have chosen ourselves.  But it is the road that ultimately leads to His kingdom.  But no one can walk that road for you.  You have to decide whether you will follow that road wherever it takes you.  Ask yourself, “did you decide to follow God today?”

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Ask and it Shall be Given

I discuss how the Gospel of Luke relates to the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary and how persistance makes us spiritually stronger.

Azulejos of Presentation of Jesus in temple, i...
Image via Wikipedia

I discuss how the Gospel of Luke relates to the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary and how persistance makes us spiritually stronger.

Today’s Gospel contained many homilies-worth of themes.  You have Jesus teaching His apostles how to pray in which He gives them the “Our Father.”  Jesus also discusses the idea of persistance when trying to obtain graces from God through a parable of a man trying to get bread from his neighbor.  I find one passage particularly interesting:

I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it to him for friendship’s sake, persistence will make him get up and give his friend all he wants (Luke 11:8).

I tried to think about what rosary mystery applies to this week’s Gospel.  What mystery deals with the idea of persistance and also asking God for direction, strength, and grace?

I can’t think of a better example of persistance than Simeon waiting for the Son of God and finally seeing Jesus at The Presentation in the Temple.  Simeon came to the temple every day hoping to see the Messiah.  And every day he came back unfulfilled until the day he died after seeing the baby Jesus.  Simeon never gave up or lost faith.  Chances are people ridiculed him and labeled him as the crazy man who is waiting to see the Son of God.  But despite never seeing the Lord until his dying day, Simeon lived according to God’s plan for him which ultimately led him to Heaven.

How easy is it for us to lose faith when we think God does not answer our prayers, sacrifices, and good works?  Would anyone have blamed Simeon if he gave up after a few years of disappointment at the temple?  Our human nature wants God to immediately reward us for good actions and punish those who are bad.  We often ask ourselves, “why me?” when confronted with hardship.  However, while we may not know it, God is doing us a favor by not immediately answering our prayers or answering them in unexpected ways.  It is that perceived silence which builds a longing for grace.  That longing leads to persistance and that persistance builds spiritual strength.

If God immediately gave us everything we wanted we would never build up spiritual muscle for life’s obstacles.  We would become so weak spiritually that the slightest difficulty would knock us down and keep us down.  But our perseverance builds strength.  Constantly working to live in a state of grace builds our resistance to evil and sin.  To use a gardening analogy, getting everything we want is like over watering a plant.  The plant does not develop a strong root structure and cannot survive under stressful conditions.  A little stress and some challenges really help us develop strong spiritual roots.

When we pray the Fourth Joyful Mystery may we remember to show the same level of persistance as Simeon.  Remember, God does hear our prayers and answers them accordingly.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says that when we ask, God will answer.  It may not be in the way we would like or it may lead us down a difficult road, but God answers our prayers in the way that will ultimately lead us to Heaven.  And at the end of the day, that is all that really matters.

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Rosary Meditation — The Fourth Joyful Mystery

This rosary meditation focuses on The Fourth Joyful Mystery — The Presentation of our Lord. In this mystery we see Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple as was the Jewish tradition. They encountered a man named Simeon whom the Holy Spirit said would not experience death until he had seen the Anointed One. Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon said “Now Master, You can dismiss Your servant in peace; You have fulfilled Your word” (Luke 2:29). Simeon is an example on how our faith requires patience, endurance, and moral fortitude. While there are times when we may not feel God’s presence in our lives our faith tells us that He is always near and always hears our prayers.

La Présentation de Jésus au Temple
Image via Wikipedia

This rosary meditation focuses on The Fourth Joyful Mystery — The Presentation of our Lord.  In this mystery we see Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple as was the Jewish tradition.  They encountered a man named Simeon whom the Holy Spirit said would not experience death until he had seen the Anointed One.  Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon said “Now Master, You can dismiss Your servant in peace; You have fulfilled Your word” (Luke 2:29).  Simeon is an example on how our faith requires patience, endurance, and moral fortitude.  While there are times when we may not feel God’s presence in our lives our faith tells us that He is always near and always hears our prayers.

I sometimes come across postings on the Catholic Answers web forums from people who feel discouraged since they do not feel close to Jesus.  They talk about how they pray, go to Mass, fast, and read the Bible and yet they do not feel the Lord’s grace.  I think we can all look to Simeon as an example that even the most just and pious need to be patient and have faith that the Lord will present Himself in the way that will ultimately lead us to Him.  However, while God desires all of us to be in His heavenly kingdom, the road is a long one fraught with temptation and sin.  But if we can hold on and remain faithful, even when it seems like God does not hear our prayers or notices our good deeds, we will be rewarded with the eternal happiness of Heaven.

Why must our faith be difficult to live at times?  Why don’t we get direct answers to our prayers from a thundering voice in the clouds?  Why must we endure such hardship and struggle?  I think Mother Teresa can help us find an answer.  In her private letters to Rev. Michael Van Der Peet she once said (as reported in this Time article):

Jesus has a very special love for you,” she assured Van der Peet. “[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand.

Here was a woman who embodied everything great about the Catholic faith and yet at times she felt distant from God’s love.  She, like Simeon, was just and pious and yet she endured periods of time when she felt a great emptiness in her heart. Kolodiejchuk, a senior Missionaries of Charity member, explains that perhaps that emptiness is what drove her to do such great work.  She never felt like her job was done or that God was prematurely rewarding her when there was still so much for her to do.  Perhaps this was God’s way of making sure that pride did not hinder her important work.  Mother Teresa still continued to do the Lord’s work and even put up a good face to others (the statements about her spiritual difficulties were not known until after her death).  And, like Simeon, her patience paid off as she is now closer to Jesus than any of us ever can be in this world.

When we meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery let us remember Simeon and how his faith and patience was ultimately rewarded.  We must pray for those who have fallen on the long and difficult road of faith that they get back up and have the strength to live as Jesus calls them.  Remember, God has a plan for each of us and that plan will ultimately lead us to His heavenly kingdom.  We just need to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, especially in those times when it feels like God is the most distant from us.  It is those times of great hardship when Jesus presents Himself to us although it may not be in the way we expect or we may not be listening.  Remember in your prayers to not only speak to the Lord, but also allow Him to respond for He will show you the way to Him.

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