How the Rosary Removes the “Beams” from our Eyes

The Gospel reading from this past Monday, June 26, 2017, was from Matthew 7:1-15 about the well-known analogy about judging others hypocritically.  This lesson could also be about not letting the actions of others blind you to your abilities of living God‘s will.  First, the actual text:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

By now we all know we shouldn’t judge others considering that we all have our own flaws. I think many of us understand Jesus’ teaching and work hard to avoid judging others.  Note, this does not mean we don’t care for others and help them become better people living in God’s grace.  But we must do so caringly knowing that we also must work out many of the same sins on our own souls.

Let’s take a different look at this passage. Perhaps Jesus was also instructing his disciples to understand the greater influence one’s personal actions can have over the actions of others. What if the “beam” is not someone’s faults, but rather the amount of influence we give others for our situation in life? We are, in a way, judging others according to their perceived effect on our lives.  And many times, we place that judgment in a disproportionate way. So many of us tend to look at others as the main source of frustration or disappointment in life, even when they have a minuscule amount of influence, while overlooking the much larger effects of our own actions.

Just look at how much time and energy we place on the influence of politicians, companies, media outlets, etc. Many of us consume news and show more concern over what President Trump tweeted than who needs help, attention, and kindness in our own family or circle of friends. We give politics so much attention even when the day-to-day soap opera of government has actually relatively little effect on our happiness.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t be involved in politics and not hold our government responsible for their actions.  But we need to find a balance and not tip towards government and news being EVERYTHING to us.  That diminishes our own ability to find peace and happiness in our lives.  It becomes our “beam” that prevents us from helping others.

How can you live happily if all you focus on is politics?

I think the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, The Visitation, communicates this idea of not letting others blind you to your ability to control your well being.  Mary had every reason to dwell on how others might perceive her pregnancy outside of marriage.  It could have consumed her to the point of inaction out of fear and embarrassment.  After all, things weren’t really going the way she had planned.  But instead of dwelling on the thoughts and actions of others, she went out and did God’s will which, at the time, was being with her cousin Elizabeth.  Mary was able to remove any “beams” in her eyes which would have prevented her from clearly seeing God’s plan for her and acting accordingly.

When we pray the rosary, let us ask God to clear our minds of the fear, hatred, and overall energy spent on the people and events that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of our lives.  We need to ask God to block out the noise that can distract us from doing His will (turning off the TV is a good place to start).  We should ask Mary through our rosary prayers for the strength to imitate her and remain focused on serving God instead of living in fear of the influence others have on our overall happiness.  When we take out the distractions which act as the “beams” in our eyes we can then see more clearly and help others better see how God is calling them to receive His grace.

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Waiting for the Treasure: How the Rosary Teaches Patience

I really wish I had the time to write a rosary reflection every day based on that day’s Gospel passage.  But given that I’m only one person with a family and full-time job, I guess that will just need to wait another 30 years for my retirement.  But I’ll consider myself successful if I can tie at least one Gospel to the rosary each week.

Let’s look at the Gospel from 7/27/16:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

The theology 101 analysis of this reading is straight forward.  Think of the treasure as God’s grace or Heaven.  Those who understand its value will be willing to give away all their earthly possessions to possess it.  Taking their chances that they will have enough money to buy the field or that the field is still available is comparable to our faith in the joys that await us in Heaven.  We do not have any observable proof of the greatness of Heaven, but our faith tells us that it is something worth forsaking all our worldly comforts to obtain.

The phrase that popped out at me was the person selling all that he has to buy the field containing the treasure.  Why didn’t this person just pocket the treasure and go on his merry way?  That way, he would not have to go through the trouble of selling his possessions and buying the field which would cut into his overall profit from the treasure.  Even when he does go through the effort of buying the field, does it seem dishonest to withhold from the owner that there is something of extreme value on his land?

Going through the exercise of selling what you have and buying the land demonstrates that effort is needed on your part to obtain what is valuable.  Just taking the treasure without working for it implies a sense of entitlement; that God owes us his love.  Or, it leads us to believe we are entitled to the glory of Heaven now, in this life.  But Jesus tells us no, you have to be patient and work on your relationship with God and your reward will be found in Heaven.  That treasure must remain buried in this life because we do not yet have the right or the ability to fully possess it.

Saint Matthew’s gospel reading reminds me of the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Presentation in the Temple.  I think about Saint Simeon who met the infant Jesus after what I assume was years of waiting.  Although God promised Saint Simeon a great gift of seeing the Savior before dying, it was still something he could not possess immediately and had to show patience.  He knew God was going to fulfill that promise and he could have done anything with his life.  But the fact that Saint Simeon was in the temple on the day of Jesus’ presentation implies that he was probably a regular worshiper and spend a lot of time in prayer.

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now connect the dots between Saint Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary and Matthew’s gospel.  While we have the promise of God’s grace, we have to put ourselves in the right frame of mind and spirit to fully receive it.  I imagine that Saint Simeon wanted to accept God’s gift in the fullest manner possible and worked hard living righteously.  Otherwise, I could envision him having regrets if he was to receive Jesus in an unworthy state.  The same goes for us receiving the treasure that God freely offers us — the ability to spend eternity with him in Heaven.

Are we putting in the effort to fully receive that gift by living a spiritual and righteous life and avoiding sin?  Or do we pass up that treasure in the field because we are still uncertain it’s worth the effort to obtain it?  Or do we feel bitter and resentful because we cannot have it now?  The next time you pray the rosary and meditate on the Gospel, ask God for the patience and perseverance to live for his Kingdom and the understanding that it is not something we can fully grasp in this life.

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Gospel for March 20, 2011 – Hear Him

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The Gospel for March 20, 2011 is from Matthew 17:1-9.  It is about The Transfiguration which is also the Fourth Luminous Mystery.  There is not much more I can add beyond what I already wrote about this mystery of the rosary.  I want to point out that this Gospel not only connects to this mystery, but it also connects to the Gospel for January 9, 1979 on Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.  In both cases, God reminds us through a booming voice in the sky that Jesus is His son and that we should listen to Him.  In this time of Lent, may we focus on listening to Jesus’ message, not because He is a prophet with some good ideas, but because Jesus is God made man.  May we hear Him in prayer and find the strength to always do His will.

Sometimes showing strength to to God’s will is more than avoiding sin.  For many of us, it might take just as much strength and courage to open our wallets to those who are in desperate need of help as it is to not avoid the temptation to do evil.  This Lent, we have much opportunity to be a Good Samaritan to those who are in need and I urge you to help however you can.  I am fond of Catholic Relief Services who are always responding to the major disasters around this world.

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

Dice
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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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Gospel for February 27, 2011 — Choices

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The Gospel for February 27, 2011 is from Matthew 6:24-34.  Jesus tells us not to put the riches of this world in front of the majesty of Heaven.  He says, “No one can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  He then asks us to put our faith in Him and not worry so much about acquiring earthly possessions.  The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary echos this same theme when Jesus asks us to put living for God’s Kingdom before our earthly one.

Jesus’ statements in this Gospel lead to a lot of confusion.  Why is He telling us not to worry about what we will eat, drink, wear, or live?  Don’t we have to work and earn a living so that we have a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear?  After all, I don’t think He wants us to be homeless and dieing of starvation.  I don’t think Jesus is calling for a total collapse of society because no one needs to put in a hard day’s work.  Or is Jesus telling us we do not have to work at all and God will just give us everything we want on account of our faith in Him?

Any reader of this blog or the Gospel obviously knows that Jesus isn’t literally telling us not to work.  Jesus understands that we need to work and provide for ourselves and others.  He is not telling us to be slothful and just await for God to “bail us out.”  Jesus’ main point is that our earthly pursuits should not be the focal point of our lives.  We should work, but not solely for the earthly wealth and power.  As in the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary, Jesus asks us to live for His Heavenly kingdom of Heaven first.  He asks us to convert from our native, earthly focus and orient ourselves towards God.  We do this by consciously making a clean start with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, praying more, and really letting the Holy Spirit guide us through life.

According to the Gospel, God will provide for us.  Note that Jesus does not say that our faith will give us an easy life free of burden and responsibility.  This is not what Jesus meant by providing.  Just look at many of the saints.  Their lives were not easy.  Many of them were persecuted, ignored, hated, and even martyred.  But in the end they were all blessed with eternal happiness because they chose to live for God’s kingdom first.  In the end, God did provide for them with the ultimate gift — Heaven.

We have a choice.  Where are we going to put our priorities?  Are we going to choose living for all the good things of this world or all the great things in Heaven?  We only have so much energy and time in the day so we do have to make a choice.  We cannot live for God’s kingdom by accident.  If we do not explicitly choose to live for God, we naturally tend to drift towards living only for this world.  That means we need to make many small decisions every day to choose God’s love over earthly pursuits.  Do we choose to set aside time for prayer?  Do we go to Sunday Mass and treat it seriously and with respect?  Do we receive the sacraments (particularly Reconciliation)?  Do we go out of our way to avoid sin even if it makes our life harder?  Do we help our brothers and sisters, particularly our enemies or those in need?  Those are just a few  of the choices we need to make that will either bring us closer to God or away from Him.  This week is a good time to pray the rosary, focus on the Third Luminous Mystery, and ask yourself, “Who will you serve?”

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Gospel for February 20, 2011 — Perfection

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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 Mysteries for 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!

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Gospel for February 13, 2011 — Raising the Bar

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The Gospel for Sunday, February 13, 2011 is from Matthew 5:17-37.  In this reading Jesus extends the Mosaic law on topics such as murder, adultery, divorce, and swearing oaths.  He challenges people to work even harder to have a loving relationship with God.  For example, while the Mosaic law said “thou shalt not kill,” Jesus “raises the bar” saying that you should not even have grudges and be hateful towards others.  Jesus desires that we build up a strong faith that can endure through any of life’s challenges.  He encapsulates this attitude in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, The Carrying of the Cross, as He kept moving towards His crucifixion and eventual resurrection despite the pain and suffering.

Jesus extends the Mosaic law partly because the Jews had grown too complacent following the rules.  They were following each law just for the sake of following them and not so much out of a love of God or to improve themselves.  Like someone who had grown too accustomed to a particular exercise routine, the old laws no longer sufficed for building a strong relationship with God.  As Jesus said later in Matthew 19:8, the laws that Moses gave to the Israelites were necessary because they were not ready to accept the full law as God intended.  In technical terms, the original Mosaic law can be thought of as the “beta” version of the law.  It contained many of the essential features but was not completely finished.  And so Jesus’ extensions completed the law as God always intended.

Whenever we feel like God has put a huge burden on our shoulders, let us remember the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery where Jesus took up His cross.  He suffered greatly and fell repeatedly under the crushing weight of the cross.  And yet, God gave Him the strength to get up and keep moving forward.  And although Jesus prayed that God would spare Him such an ordeal, God did not remove that challenge but instead gave Jesus the strength to endure it.  This rosary mystery should show us that we too can endure and ultimately triumph even when it seems like the challenge is too much.  Moses and Jesus did not give us these moral laws with the intent that we will ultimately fail to follow them.  Quite the opposite.  God gave us these laws because He knew we could handle them and that they would ultimately make us stronger in our faith.

Is living according to God’s laws challenging at times?  You bet!  But progress is never made when the road is easy.  Our relationship with God and each other are strengthened when we take up the challenge to live according to His laws.  Only when we take up our crosses and really make the conscious decision to live for Jesus can we truly say that we have a strong relationship with Him.  This idea of challenging ourselves reminds me of JFK’s famous speech about going to the moon.  We didn’t do it because it was easy, but because it was hard.  The same can be said about forging a relationship with Jesus Christ.  View this short video and replace “go to the moon” with “build a relationship with God” to see what I mean

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Gospel for January 23, 2011 — What is Holding you Back?

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The Gospel for January 23, 2011 is from Matthew 4:12-23 and focuses on Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, and James to be His apostles.  This Gospel has parallels with the First Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Annunciation.  In that mystery, Mary accepts God’s plans for Her in being the mother of Jesus.  She accepted God’s Will and a drastically altered life much like how the fishermen in the Gospel dropped everything to follow Jesus.

In Matthew’s account of Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, and James the three men drop everything and follow Jesus without question.  They did not ask Jesus if He could come back at a better time.  They did not tell Jesus that they were not up to the task of being “fishers of men.”  They did not ask what the job would entail or what sacrifices they would need to make.  They simply left their old lives behind and followed Jesus.  Now we come to Mary.  She was living a typical village life.  She had a fiance and was maybe was looking forward to being married.  And then, out of the blue, an angel tells Her that She is not only pregnant, but pregnant with the Son of God!  Mary was probably a little shocked or scared.  And although she knew this duty was change Her life forever, She fully accepted God’s Will.

Now we come to you.  Would you be able to radically change you life if Jesus asked you to?  Luckily, the chances of us being called like Mary and the Apostles is very small.  We typically don’t need to make a snap decision to drop everything and follow Jesus.  Even those who accept the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience don’t make that decision quickly but only after years of study and meditation.  Chances are Jesus isn’t asking you to sell your home, car, and possessions and leave everything you know behind and become a missionary.   But this Gospel and rosary mystery raises the question, “Are there things in your life that prevent you from committing to God’s plans for you?”  Meditate on this question this week and take a deep look at what holds you back.  Money?  Your job?  Your social life? Drugs?  Lust?  The things that hold us back from Jesus may not be outright sinful but might be a distraction.  For example, there is nothing wrong with working hard and making a good living.  But you must be careful to strike the right balance and not have your job consume you and become more important than your relationship with God.  Pray and meditate for the knowledge to find those things in life that prevent you from fully following Jesus and for the strength to not let them have so much control over you.

I will leave you with a quotation from a little green friend of mine.  In “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” young Anakin tells Yoda that he is having dreams about the death of someone close to him. Yoda responds saying that the fear of loss leads to the Dark Side.  When Anakin asks what he is to do, Yoda advises, “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”  While George Lucas probably didn’t have Matthew’s Gospel in mind when he wrote that, I think Yoda’s words relate well to this Gospel and rosary mystery.

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Rosary Meditation — The Third Sorrowful Mystery

This rosary meditation focuses on the Third Sorrowful Mystery — The Crowning of Thorns. The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus by dressing Him in royal purple and crowning Him with thorns (Mk. 15:17). They then mocked Him and pretended to pay Him homage (Mk. 15:19). Would the soldiers have acted so cavalier and arrogant if they truly understood who it was they were mocking? While we are not as brazen as those soldiers, we often mock Jesus by giving lip service to our faith. Instead of faithfully following Jesus, we too often dishonor Him by putting the fleeting treasures of this life in front of the treasures waiting for us in Heaven. Particularly in this time of Lent we must make a sincere effort to put Jesus first in our lives and honor Him the way He deserves.

This rosary meditation focuses on the Third Sorrowful Mystery — The Crowning of Thorns.  The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus by dressing Him in royal purple and crowning Him with thorns (Mk. 15:17).  They then mocked Him and pretended to pay Him homage (Mk. 15:19).  Would the soldiers have acted so cavalier and arrogant if they truly understood who it was they were mocking?  While we are not as brazen as those soldiers, we often mock Jesus by giving lip service to our faith.  Instead of faithfully following Jesus, we too often dishonor Him by putting the fleeting treasures of this life in front of the treasures waiting for us in Heaven.  Particularly in this time of Lent we must make a sincere effort to put Jesus first in our lives and honor Him the way He deserves.

We are often very much like the Roman soldiers who pretended to pay Jesus homage.  Sure, we may say that we are good Christians.  We might recite prayers every night and go to Mass every Sunday.  But do we truly believe that Jesus Christ is our king and savior?  Will we follow Him even when times are difficult and our faith runs contrary to society’s norms?  Or is our faith something done in isolation and detached from our “normal” lives?  For example, how many of your beliefs conflict with the Church’s teachings?  Or, when faced with a difficult situation, how often do you tell a “little white lie” or commit some other easy sin to serve your own ends?  Do you go to Confession without intending to truly turn away from your sins and live with a converted heart?  There are so many ways where we pretend to follow Jesus but our actions tell a different story.  And while our transgressions may seem small and inconsequential, they are like the little thorns on the crown we offer to Jesus.  When meditating upon this mystery think about how sincerely you praise and honor Jesus.  Do you practice and live the faith you profess or are you like the Roman soldiers who only pretended to honor Jesus?

For whose kingdom are you living?  We too often live for this worldly kingdom and not for Jesus’ kingdom of Heaven.  There are so many things that compete for our attention — money, power, possessions, and lust just to name a few.  But we must remember this verse from the Gospel of Matthew (6:24):

No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.

But how we try. However, as the verse says, by trying to serve two masters we often end up serving only one.  Since money and possessions are physical, quantifiable things it is often easier to live for them than it is to live for our treasures in Heaven.  After all, we only have it on faith that the riches of Heaven will far outweigh anything made in this world.  But since our eternal reward isn’t something advertised during the Super Bowl by a fancy advertising agency, we too often kick it aside for the things that we can see, hear, and touch.

Ask yourself in this time of Lent, what master are you serving?  What type of crown do you offer Jesus Christ?

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