How to Recover After a Disappointing Lent

We’re now in the middle of the Easter Octave and Lent 2017 is in the history books.  Maybe you didn’t have the most spiritual Lent this year.  Maybe you didn’t give something up or cheated a bit.  Maybe you didn’t receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, didn’t fast, or didn’t commit yourself to prayer.  Some of you may not have acted any differently during Lent than any other time of the year.

In the wake of a disappointing Lenten season, it’s easy to throw your hands into the air and say, “well, better luck next year.  That’s when I’ll really take Lent seriously.”  With that attitude, you basically turn Lent into some sort of spiritual open enrollment period where, if you miss it, you have to wait an entire year before you can make changes to your spiritual behavior.  Granted, I haven’t read the entire Bible (yet) but I don’t think God specified a time window on when you can convert and invest in a deeper relationship with Him.

I also hope there isn’t a three month wait list to receive God’s grace.

What can you do now that Lent is over?  Easter is a celebration that lasts for 50 days.  What better way to celebrate than committing yourself to increased prayer, fasting, and receiving the sacraments.  Like Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast, we want to come dressed to this glorious Easter celebration “dressed” appropriately.  That means with a soul cleansed of sin and a humble spirit of conversion.  Sure, we may not have used all 40 days of Lent to adequately prepare, but getting prepared now and arriving a little late to the party is better than missing the party completely.  Better late than never, right?

On the flip side, maybe you had a great Lent which is turning into a great Easter.  And while we may ease up a bit on the fasting and sacrifice, we shouldn’t do a complete 180 and undo those gains by sinning, not praying, and ignoring our faith.  Hopefully, what you did during Lent will have a lasting impression.  For example, I gave up snacking for Lent.  But just because Lent is over, it doesn’t mean I’m going to become a glutton (although I may have gone overboard on the donuts last Sunday).  While I may not be as steadfast as I was during Lent, I think I will continue to abstain from snacking at least two days a week.

Remember, it will all still be there tomorrow. Stay strong and resist temptation.

After Jesus’ death, many people thought they could back to their “old” lives and basically wrote off Jesus as someone who had some interesting ideas but died tragically.  Saint Peter momentarily went back to fishing.  Jesus’ disciples started leaving Jerusalem to pick up where they left off.  We too may have that feeling that now that Easter Sunday has passed, it’s time we return to our “normal” lives.  But Jesus’ resurrection actually created a new normal and permanently altered human kind‘s relationship with God.  Similarly, each Lent and Easter, we should be creating a new normal for ourselves as well; always pushing ourselves to form a deeper relationship with God.  Let’s not make the same mistake Jesus’ disciples made treating Jesus as a passing fad.  Instead, prolong the spirit of the Resurrection and make your relationship with Him something you work on every day for the rest of your life.

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What the Rosary Teaches Us About Spiritual Persistence

As a father of two boys, I can sympathize with those who face the never ending battle of trying to keep a clean house.  No sooner have I vacuumed the floor that one of my boys starts jumping on the sofa and knocks down a leftover bowl of cereal.  Or I just finish cleaning a room and they dump a bin of legos on the floor and start building.  On Catholic Exchange, Sam Guzman relates the experience of keeping a clean house to keeping a clean soul in his article:

At any rate, I’ve noticed that, just as a clean house quickly descends into disorder and must be constantly cleaned, so also our souls need constant care and upkeep. We must always be beginning to put them in order again.

There are days when our children have made such a mess of things that cleaning up seems a hopeless task. My wife and I look at each other and don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Yet, we begin again.

In this life, holiness is found in beginning again and again. It is constant examination and conversion and regeneration of heart. Holiness if found in repentance. And repentance is not merely feeling sorry that you sinned. It is rather a re-turning to God—a thousand times a day if necessary.

My kids’ room 5 minutes after cleaning it

I call this never ending practice of conversion spiritual persistence.  Spiritual persistence is continuing to pray and have faith in God’s plan even when it seems fruitless.  When I pray the rosary and ask God for help building my spiritual persistence I meditate on Jesus carrying the cross in The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  Jesus was literally beaten down carrying the cross with no hope for relief.  Each time he fell down and got back up, he only had more cruelty and torture to look forward to.  And yet, Jesus got back up and began walking again towards his crucifixion.

I think we all have moments when we ask ourselves, “what’s the point?”  Why should I suffer for doing the right thing instead of taking ethical or moral shortcuts?  Why should I fast?  Why should I go to Sunday Mass?  Why should I go to Confession?  What good will these do since I’ll just go about sinning again in the future anyway?

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( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes we can see our faith more as a cross than a blessing.  We too often focus on what we give up or the effort required and not the benefits.  Part of the challenge is that the sacrifice we feel immediately while the joy and grace are often delayed or is so subtle we don’t feel it.  As an analogy to keeping a clean house, we so often tend to dread the steps needed to make a house clean that it often overshadows the joy of having a clean house.

This is where meditating on the fourth sorrowful mystery of the rosary becomes important.  It puts all these perceived inconveniences into perspective.  Jesus endured far worse doing his father’s will.  If Jesus saw the importance of his Passion, we should ask God to help us see the importance of trying to live a spiritually healthy lifestyle.  We may not always like housework, but we understand the importance of maintaining a clean house.  And we may not always enjoy the obligations our faith puts on us, but we pray the rosary to understand why it is so important that we follow God’s plan.

As we near the end of Lent, many of us probably feel beaten down and tired.  We may be tired of fasting, abstaining from meat, the increased prayer, etc.  But instead of focusing on pain, let’s ask God to help us see the joy that comes from these Lenten practices.  The joy that comes from letting go of some of our worldly pleasures and replacing them with God’s grace.  The joy in understanding that we will one day find true happiness in Heaven due to our spiritual persistence in this lifetime.

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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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What Rosary Prayer Teaches us about Fasting

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?

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Finding God in the Midst of Trouble

Is it just me or is there a growing feeling of despair weighing on everyone lately?  Whether it’s natural disasters, politics, or peoples’ personal situations, everything just seems so negative.  My Facebook feed is so full of hateful memes from both sides of the isle I’ve basically given up reading it.  I rarely engage in conversations at work because someone will eventually throw out some ridiculous political opinion that I have neither the time or energy to dispute.  Our world seems to have gotten meaner and more adolescent than any grade school playground I’ve ever known.

But the world being a cruel place is hardly a modern invention.  I read this article about the trials and misfortunes of Joseph from the Old Testament.  He was a man sold into slavery by his own brothers and later thrown into prison in Egypt.  God never made Joseph’s problems magically disappear but instead guided him through them.  The article’s author remembers her period of utter despair and what God was teaching her:

I remember years of crying out to God, thinking my faith would get back on track when life got back to normal. But as the pain grew more intense, I realized I needed to find God in the present, and not wait for my circumstances to improve. God wanted me to find him sufficient in the midst of trouble rather than just demanding that he deliver me from it.

And I found God more than sufficient as I met with him daily in Scripture and in prayer. His word became exceedingly precious to me. It brought light to my darkness. It became life to me.

I think we can all appreciate the author’s initial bargaining sentiment.  How often do we tell God, “make my life easier and I will be more faithful?”  Or, “I will start praying more when my life improves.”  Or how often do our prayers, no matter how well intentioned, turn into us specifying our wish list to God?  But as the author and Joseph’s story points out, many times the darkness in our lives is needed so that the faint light of God’s grace can be better seen and understood.

Prayer time is not a contract negotiation with God.

Joseph had an amazing gift — the ability to interpret dreams.  And in a complicated series of events, it was necessary for Joseph to be sold into slavery and thrown into prison for his gift to be used as God planned.  And so we too may have to pray and meditate in the darkness of our lives so that God can better illuminate the gifts he gives us to fulfill His plan.  Without the darkness, God’s Word, either in scripture or in prayer, might be drowned out by the noise of daily life.


 

 

 

Naturally, any Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary shows the darkness in Jesus’ life which was necessary for Him to fulfill God’s Will.  And while we can all smile and nod in agreement about this cornerstone of our faith, imagine how difficult it was for Jesus’ apostles to accept.  Here was Jesus, the rising star of the Jews, who healed, cast out demons, calmed storms, and did many other amazing miracles.  The apostles probably thought that they would ride those miracles to an easy salvation where Jesus would just magically transform everyone’s hearts and minds.  Imagine their confusion and disappointment when their hero was arrested, beaten, and crucified.

Like the apostles, we too can become very confused when life throws unexpected and difficult hurdles our way.  And like the apostles, our instinct may be to run and hide.  Or maybe we become angry because God didn’t do something the way we want.  But like Joseph or Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemene, instead of running from God in the face of difficulty, we should instead call on Him to help us endure.  The world has always been a cruel and unforgiving place and probably always will be.  But God is one powerful ally to have in your corner.

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Don’t Buy Satan’s Lies: How to Persist with the Bible and Rosary Prayer

I read an article on why it is so hard to get into the routine of Bible reading.  I know from personal experience that reading the Bible is a love-hate experience.  Part of me dreads it because I know I won’t understand much of it and probably won’t be any more intellectually enlightened by it.  But at the same time, I do value reading the Bible in a way my intellect cannot explain because it fuels my rosary prayers which in turn fuels my life.

 on the blog, Desiring God, talks about this love-hate relationship with reading the Bible.  At the root of why people dread reading it is Satan; specifically, his lies.

The first [lie] is that our time in God’s word was worthless. Our reading plan gave us half-an-hour’s worth of “So-and-so was an evil king. He fought with these people. He died. And his son became king in his place. . . .” Entertaining, maybe, but if that’s all we’re after in Bible reading, we’ll do better turning on Netflix instead.

I couldn’t help but recall the words of St. Louis de Montfort where he says something similar about Satan’s lies and the rosary in the 43rd Rose of The Secret of the Rosary.

Being human, we easily become tired and slipshod, but the devil makes these difficulties worse when we are saying the Rosary. Before we even begin, he makes us feel bored, distracted, or exhausted; and when we have started praying, he oppresses us from all sides, and when after much difficulty and many distractions, we have finished, he whispers to us, “What you have just said is worthless. It is useless for you to say the Rosary. You had better get on with other things. It is only a waste of time to pray without paying attention to what you are saying; half-an-hour’s meditation or some spiritual reading would be much better. Tomorrow, when you are not feeling so sluggish, you’ll pray better; leave the rest of your Rosary till then.” By tricks of this kind the devil gets us to give up the Rosary altogether or to say it less often, and we keep putting it off or change to some other devotion.

As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  If Satan so despises Bible reading and rosary prayer, that should be enough inspiration for all of us to double our efforts on those endeavors.  But how do we go about reading the Bible and praying the rosary in a way where we won’t get overwhelmed and quit?

English: Personal bible study Português: Estud...
English: Personal bible study Português: Estudo pessoal da bíblia Italiano: Lo studio personale della bibbia Deutsch: Persönliches Bibelstudium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s my advice.  Don’t tackle the Bible starting from page one and try to read the whole book like it’s a novel.  You will get confused, frustrated, and succumb to Satan’s lies to give up.  Instead, I encourage you to start with reading only the daily scriptural readings followed up with reading meditations and reflections.

It is the meditation and reflections that will sustain your Bible reading and help you push through the confusion.  The reflections should explain and clarify the readings and help burst through the often confusing prose to uncover a meaning behind the words.  The really good meditations not only explain but also show the relationship between the words and our lives.

My personal favorite Gospel meditation is the Regnum Christi podcast which I listen to every day.  They are short, around 5 minutes, but provide such great insights into the Gospel reading.  If you don’t have any Gospel meditations, this is a great place to start.

This daily, bite-sized consumption of the Bible builds up an intellectual and spiritual foundation for praying and living.  I find that the Bible readings and related meditations add so much more depth to my rosary prayers.  Rosary meditation ideas spring from the themes presented in the Bible so that I always find a new dimension to the rosary mysteries.  Rosary prayer never gets stale because each day is a new Bible reading with new meditations for me to incorporate.

Very few of us will ever be Biblical scholars.  But try reading and meditating on the daily scripture passages to give God an opportunity to work with you.  Like a skilled surgeon, God doesn’t need much of an opening to work miracles.  It’s amazing what he can do with a few scriptural passages if you only give Him that chance.

PS: Sorry for my long absence from updating RosaryMeds.  Seems like Satan is throwing anything he can find my way to keep me busy and away from my website.

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How the Rosary Helps Us Avoid The Unforgivable Sin

Last Monday’s Gospel reading contains a verse that has always disturbed me:

He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12:22-32).

I never liked this idea of an unforgivable sin. I was always taught that there was nothing you could do that God could not forgive. Jesus‘ entire ministry focused on redeeming those that Jewish society labeled unredeemable — tax collectors, prostitutes, Romans, and criminals. And while Jesus forgave all these people, He taught that there was a sin that He was unwilling or unable to forgive. That didn’t seem right to me.

Jeromebosch1503
Ummm… no thanks!

I did some digging on this verse and came across an article on EWTN titled THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN written by James Akin. It’s a long read but worth it for an in-depth analysis of Jesus’ words. But Mr. Akin summarizes the unforgivable sin like this:

Jesus asserts (v 30) that one must ally with him or be opposed to him and “through this” he tells us (v 31) that the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Blaspheming the Spirit is thus a failure to repent and ally oneself with Jesus. Since this can always be done during one’s life (cf. 20:1-15), blasphemy against the Holy Spirit must be a final refusal to repent, or final impenitence.

When one refuses to ask for forgiveness, those sins remain unforgiven. The unforgiveness does not come from Jesus as He is always willing to forgive. It comes from us refusing either to acknowledge our sins or refusing to ask for His forgiveness. The comforting fact in all of this is that there are two ways to escape the trap of the unforgiven sin:

1) Do not commit any sins. Unfortunately, this is impossible for any human outside of Mary and Jesus. Everyone from the most devout popes to every saint fell into sin at various points in their lives.
2) Ask for forgiveness. Penitence is the only realistic way to avoid committing the unforgivable sin of impenitence.

There is one more aspect to this topic that I’m hesitant to mention because of its immense risk. Even if you die with unforgiven sins, that does not mean you’re automatically damned.  After all, many good people do die with unforgiven venial sins and the Church teaches that they can go to Heaven. God does have infinite mercy which He can show to anyone. But, as I heard one theologian put it, don’t gamble you soul on God’s mercy when receiving genuine forgiveness is so simple.

Repentance and reconciliation are themes found throughout the rosary. The Fifth Joyful Mystery shows just how far many of us can move away from Jesus and not even realize it.  It is only when we come back looking for Him with a sorrowful (aka, remorseful) heart that we find Him again.  Jesus echoes our battle with sin, a cycle of falling and finding the courage to get back up, in the carrying of the cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  Finally, let’s remember that Mary, assumed into Heaven in the Fourth Glorious Mystery, has constantly taught in her apparitions to approach her Son with a repentant heart.

The unforgiven sin is a serious and scary prospect.  However, avoiding it is completely within our power.  It’s called the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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How to Find Motivation to Pray the Rosary

No matter how regularly and fervently we pray, most of us hit prayer blocks.  Prayer block is similar to writer’s block — you just have a hard time finding the inspiration and motivation to pray.  You know prayer is important but you just can’t get into it like you want to.  It is those times where we need to look to others to give us a pep talk and remind us why we pray.

When it comes to prayer pep talks, the Church is bursting at the seams.  There is no shortage of accounts of saints and papal documents highlighting the importance of prayer and all the miracles that have come from it, especially from rosary prayer.  Catholic Exchange ran an article, The Rosary: The Spiritual Sword of Mary, where Fr. Donald Calloway, author of Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon, briefly explains the impactful nature of the rosary.

English: Prayer in the Dawn Gate (Aušros Varta...
English: Prayer in the Dawn Gate (Aušros Vartai) chapel Lietuvių: Vilniaus Aušros Vartų Švč. Mergelės Marijos Polski: Modlitwa w kaplicy Ostrobramskiej Italiano: Preghiera nella capella di Ostra Brama (Porta dell’Aurora) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have not yet read Champions of the Rosary, but it’s definitely on my reading list.  It looks like just the book to have handy when I’m not feeling it when it comes to rosary prayer.  Fr. Calloway reminds us that the rosary is the saint maker:

The Servant of God Frank Duff — founder of the Legion of Mary — once wondered if there has been a single saint since the 13th century who has not prayed the rosary. Without a doubt, the rosary has been the most frequently mentioned form of Marian devotion by the saints since the 13th century. It would be impossible to list all of these saints.

I’m looking forward to reading this book for sure.  If you have a good book that motivates you to pray, contact me using the form below on this page or on Facebook.  I’m sure many of my readers would love to have a few good books on prayer, especially the rosary, loaded up on their tablets ready to go for when their rosary prayer enthusiasm wanes.

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Getting Mary’s Help in this New Year

Happy New Year!  Usually, my first post of the year is about how we should not make “praying more” a new year’s resolution because making something a new year’s resolution almost guarantees failure.  However, this year I’m going to take a different tone based on the homily I heard last Sunday on the feast of the Solemnity of Mary.

At my parish, Father Tony talked about the importance of asking Mary for help with all the challenges and concerns in our lives.  He iterated the Church’s teaching that Mary will clarify and amplify your intentions before her son, Jesus Christ, and act as your mediator.  You may only have a vague notion of what you want or need but Mary will help you better understand those needs and help you present them to Jesus.

That homily got me thinking about new year’s resolutions.  What if they don’t fail because they are often rather vague promises made on a somewhat arbitrary day on a calendar?  Instead, maybe new year’s resolutions do not stick because people try to accomplish them on their own without any help.  Maybe we should ask Mary for her assistance in trying to accomplish our resolution.  After all, she desperately wants to help all of us achieve true happiness by eventually living in God’s Kingdom of Heaven.

But how will Mary help me lose weight?  How will Mary help me earn $10k in the stock market?  Does she really care about helping you achieve any non-spiritual goals?  Probably not.  And maybe she wants us to take a hint.  If certain goals are not a priority to Mary, maybe they shouldn’t be a priority for us either.  Like I said earlier, part of Mary’s intercession is to clarify what we truly need.  Finding a meaningful resolution is just as important as following through on one.

Yes, but will it buy you true happiness?

In the spirit of including Mary in helping me throughout my life in all important matters, not just a single new years resolution, I’m going to try to remember to add the Memorare prayer to my daily routine.  I invite you to do the same.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but, in your mercy, hear and answer me.
Amen.

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Two Different Responses to God’s Unbelievable Plan

The Bible is full of parallels.  It may be parallel themes between Old and New Testament readings or accounts of different people having similar encounters with God.  We see one such parallel between the story of Mary in the Annunciation and that of Zechariah, husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth.  We pray and meditate on these readings, which make up the first two Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, all this week leading up to Christmas.

Cappella tornabuoni frescoes in Florence. Annu...
Cappella tornabuoni frescoes in Florence. Annuncio dell’angelo a San Zaccaria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In both accounts, the angel Gabriel comes with news of a pregnancy.  Mary is told she will give birth to a son through the Holy Spirit and Zechariah is told that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist.  Furthermore, the announcement is initially met by disbelief.  Mary’s amazement comes because she is not married and Zechariah’s stems from Elizabeth’s old age.

The difference in these two accounts comes next.  In Mary’s case, she praises God and humbles herself saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  But in Zechariah’s case, the angel Gabriel takes away his ability to speak because of his disbelief.

What confused me about these two accounts was that according to the text, it appears as if Mary and Zechariah both show a very similar reaction, one of amazement and disbelief.  Why was Zechariah punished and not Mary?  I think the key is understanding Gabriel’s ability to see into someone’s heart and not just hear their words.

Angel Gabriel's Annunciation to Mary, by Muril...
Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, by Murillo, c. 1655 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Mary was confused initially, in her heart she truly believed and accepted God’s Will for her.  But I think that Gabriel must have sensed that Zechariah did not fully believe the news he had just heard.  To put it another way, Mary’s initial reaction may have been out of shock and quickly passed while Zechariah harbored a real sense of disbelief.  Maybe, while he was in the holy sanctuary, Zechariah was going through the motions of prayer but not fully open to God’s grace.  It is fitting that he was punished with speechlessness as a sign that maybe he was giving more lip service to his faith rather than truly internalizing it.

As we prepare in these final days of Advent, let us remember to have an open heart like Mary and not a closed one like Zechariah.  Pray that you don’t go through the motions of spirituality by treating Christmas Mass like a mere formality before the real celebration can begin.  Mass is the real celebration!  I know many of you have large dinners to attend, guests to entertain, and presents to open.  And while you may say you believe and celebrate Jesus’ birth, how much of your heart is centered around Him?  God knows what is in our hearts and you can’t fool him.

This Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  The best birthday present you can give Him is an honestly open heart.  Don’t go through the motions of prayer and practicing your faith but earnestly make room in your heart for God’s grace manifested in His son, Jesus Christ.  Merry Christmas!

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