What the Rosary Teaches Us about Spiritual Complacency

Last Sunday’s Gospel was the Transfiguration of Christ which is also the theme of the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary.  This mystery has always been one of the more difficult ones for me to meditate on.  I think I have a hard time relating to it because I have a tendency to reduce it to just another one of Jesus’ miracles.

The impact of the Transfiguration is softened partly because it sits in the shadow of the even more miraculous events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as nearly 2000 years of Church teaching.  In a way, modern day Christians are like people watching a movie they’ve already seen a dozen times and already know the ending.  We read about Jesus in the Bible and his disciples and we know who will betray him, who will deny him, who will convert, who will become saints, etc.  Because we already start from the understanding that Jesus is God made man, all the events of the Bible come across almost normal or at least expected.

“Ugh, another rerun of that ‘Jesus Show.'”

When we meditate on the Transfiguration in the Fourth Luminous Mystery, we have to put ourselves into the role of St. Peter as he witnessed these events for the first time.  It is then that we truly start to appreciate the revolutionary nature of the Transfiguration.  I think we have to assume that the apostles still didn’t fully understand and appreciate Jesus’ truly divine nature as they traveled with Him.  Sure, they said they believed Jesus was the Messiah, but as their actions during Jesus’ death showed, they didn’t truly internalize it.

The Old Testament prophets did many miraculous deeds.  In a way, Jesus’ actions seemed to fall in line with earlier prophets.  In fact, many people believed that Jesus was one of the older prophets reborn.  The Transfiguration showed that Jesus was no mere prophet of human origin but was God’s own son.  Imagine the shock Peter, John, and James must have felt realizing that they had been in God’s presence the entire time they were with Jesus.

It’s not surprising then that Peter wants to erect tents to honor Jesus.  Like a star-struck fan, Peter probably couldn’t think of anything else to say or do.   I would imagine he might even have felt embarrassed knowing all the times he had acted foolishly in front of God’s son.

“Just be cool, don’t think about that dopey pun you made about ’12 Monkeys.'”

Now, Peter and the apostles could plead ignorance for not truly understanding Jesus’ true nature.  But what’s our excuse?  We’ve read and have been told the history of Jesus’ teachings dozens of times.  We have the benefit of thousands of years of theologians and the Magisterium interpreting and explaining Jesus to us in utmost detail.  And yet, we all so often casually ignore Jesus and take His teachings for granted.  Much like the disciples thousands of years ago, we sometimes think of Jesus more as a philosopher with some good advice and not as God.  Lent is our time to change that lackadaisical attitude.

When you meditate on the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary this Lent, try to capture that sense of awe the three apostles must have felt at the Transfiguration.  Try to look at your faith with fresh eyes, ears, and heart to truly take in the majesty and power of God’s grace.  Ask God to renew your conviction in following God’s command to listen to His son.  In other words, try to throw out any complacency you may have developed with your faith.  This will make the miracle and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter grander and more meaningful.

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The Dulling of Faith

We just remembered the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing on Normandy in WWII.  Operation Overlord, or D-Day, was a massive operation that forever changed the face of our world.  Thousands of men stormed the beaches and for many of them, the flashes of German gunfire from concrete bunkers was the last thing they would ever see and the deafening sounds of mortar shells was the last thing they would ever hear.

But like many historical events, even the big ones like D-Day, time erodes our memories and emotions of these events.  As the people who experienced these events pass away and all we’re left with are pictures and videos, these world changing moments start to feel less real and meaningful to us.  Washington D.C. burning to the ground in 1812, thousands of men dying at Gettysburg, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and one day, 9/11, almost start to have as much impact as a work of fiction as time goes on.

D-DAY IMAGE ...
D-DAY IMAGE … (Photo credit: mrbill78636)

I think we often suffer from time diminishing our faith.  Many of us read the Bible and listen to the Gospels at least once a week during Sunday Mass.  We may pray routinely.  We know what Jesus taught and what He expects of us.  We know the high bar He sets for us to get into His kingdom of Heaven.  And I bet, if Jesus walked into your room and repeated what He said in the Gospels, He would have your complete attention.  You would run out and change anything and everything in your life that didn’t line up with His teaching.

And yet, we often ignore, trivialize, or give lip service to Jesus’ message because He said it nearly 2000 years ago and we didn’t witness it firsthand.  We are like St. Thomas who doubted Jesus’ resurrection when the other disciples told him about it because he didn’t personally see Him.  But Jesus’ teachings are no different today than when He walked this earth.  His teachings are no different through the Gospel than if He came walking through your door right now.  And yet we too allow the trivialities of our present situation to overshadow the greater truths Jesus taught us.

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

I think about my lack of appreciation of Jesus’ truth most when I pray the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary, The Transfiguration.  I think about how awe inspiring it must have been for the apostles to witness Jesus transform into a figure of dazzling light and to hear God say, “LISTEN TO HIM.”  If we truly believe in the authenticity of the Catholic faith, then we know the Transfiguration was a real event.  God didn’t just tell the apostles to listen to Jesus.  He told all of us!  But ask yourself, do you live with an awareness of that reality?  Or do you often ignore or trivialize the truths of the Catholic faith because you didn’t personally witness Jesus saying them?  Why does a difference of time and place have such a dramatic effect on our willingness to follow Jesus’ teachings?

Before you beat yourself up, remember that even the apostles failed to truly believe in Jesus’ teachings when confronted with the realities around them.  Judas betrayed Jesus.  Peter, who witnessed the Transfiguration, denied Him.  And all of them, except for John, went into hiding during Jesus’ crucifixion.  They didn’t even have the excuse of being separated from Jesus by thousands of years like we do.  Their cowardice shows just how powerful our human weaknesses are and how they can dominate over our desire to live for God’s eternal kingdom.

And while we may fail to truly believe in Jesus’ message like the apostles did, God came into our lives in yet another form — as the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gave the apostles that shot of courage and conviction to go out and live and preach the Jesus’ message.  While they may have been lukewarm in their faith while Jesus was alive, they were transformed into true believers on Pentecost.  Even in their fear, the Holy Spirit penetrated their souls and gave the apostles a needed spiritual “kick.”

The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Ant...
The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1618. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us are in need of a spiritual kick.  We may not live in fear of practicing our faith (although more and more Christians are being persecuted and martyred throughout the world).  But many of us do suffer from a sense of passivity in our faith because we haven’t heard Jesus’ teachings directly from His mouth.  But the Holy Spirit, the same one that roused the scared apostles into action, rouses us into action as well.  We only have to provide that small bit of kindling in our souls for the fire of the Holy Spirit to erupt into a bright flame of faith.  That kindling is something as small and as easy as focused prayer, rosary meditation, participating at Mass, and receiving the sacraments.  It doesn’t matter that Jesus walked this earth nearly 2000 years ago.  His message is still the same and the Holy Spirit burns just as bright!

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