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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
In this Gospel passage, John the Baptist makes a distinction between piety and good works. The Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves good people because they followed the Mosaic law to the letter. But John implies in his comparison to a tree not bearing good fruit that just following rules or having a certain status does not lead to salvation. One must follow up with good works, charity, and compassion.
Good works, charity, and compassion were the cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry. He came into this world, not as someone of status and authority, but as a servant who ministered to those people society had excluded. Jesus repeatedly taught that what matters most to God is what someone does, not what their title is. Whether it was teaching the golden rule or telling the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had to charity, Jesus’ ministry centered around instilling the value of good works and sacrifice. Inversely, those who only followed rules and sought status and honor He routinely called hypocrites.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Notice how Jesus is saying that just accepting Him as the Savior is not enough. You have to follow up with action what you proclaim in your words. To put it in more modern terms (but now maybe ridiculously outdated), you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
When you hear and read this Gospel, meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary, The Visitation. Think about Mary in this mystery, someone who recently learned that she was to be the mother to the Massiah. What does she do? Does she flaunt the fact that an angel visited her? Does she go about looking for an elevated stature in the community? No. Instead, she travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth and helps her through her pregnancy although she herself was pregnant. Mary’s initial action after the Annunciation was one of charity.
Also, consider the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary when you reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel. Mary was assumed into Heaven and now acts as our intermediary to her son, Jesus Christ. Even when bestowed the title Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery), she has never stopped actively guiding us through the minefield of life. She protects us from evil, helps those who ask for her assistance, and has continually appeared to many delivering a message similar to John the Baptist in the Gospel — Jesus loves you and wants you close to him, but you must make the effort to love Him through good works, charity, and compassion.
I read this great article about the role of women in the Catholic Church and how women not being ordained priests should not be equated with having a lesser status or role within the Church. From the Catholic News Agency, Ana Cristina Villa, a consecrated laywoman with the Marian Community of Reconciliation, writes:
“I think that is a big distortion for the vocation of women, because women are obviously not the clergy,” she said, explaining that “when you get into this discussion about women in the Church you have to understand that there is a wider context.”
In her view, Catholic faithful need to grow in their understanding that, “according to their own vocation,” all “baptized are the Church and all baptized are called to feel the Church as their own and to contribute to the Church.”
When I read the CNA article, my mind immediately recalled this upcoming Sunday’s Gospel. We will be celebrating Jesus as King and yet the Gospel for Sunday focuses on His crucifixion. This highlights how people’s expectations of Christ the King did not match up with the reality — one of the suffering servant. They expected an earthly king with all the power that they envisioned. What they got, but many did not see, was someone infinitely more powerful; not bounded by worldly power but possessing salvational power.
The reason why the CNA article relates to this Sunday’s Gospel is that God created a special role for all of us in His Church. Just because women aren’t intended for the priesthood does not make them any less important. Jesus was not the worldly king people envisioned but that did not make Him any less powerful. When it comes to how we envision women’s role in the Church, we should not limit our thinking to titles and responsibilities. Otherwise, we fall into the same narrow-minded thinking as those who crucified Jesus for not meeting their pre-conceived notion of a king.
What I want to call your attention to is the importance of reading the Gospel daily and the Sunday Gospel a few days in advance. If I had not read this Sunday’s Gospel, I would have missed some of the deeper meaning in the article. By reading scripture and praying the rosary, I can put all the news and events in my life into a perspective that I otherwise might miss. If you don’t already pray the rosary and read scripture regularly, give it a try. Advent is right around the corner and it would be a good time to start.
This Sunday we celebrate The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The Gospel is from St. Luke:
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The rosary connection is fairly obvious as St. Luke writes about Jesus’ crucifixion which is the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery. Here we see Jesus’ divine power amidst His human weakness. Battered and broken, Jesus is minutes away from shedding His humanity by dying on the cross. But almost like a scale, what Jesus loses through his physical body is counter-balanced by His authority and power in the spiritual realm. He shows us He is king, not by any earthly standard, but by redeeming us all through suffering and death.
What is amazing is that Jesus’ kingly authority is so transparent to one criminal and opaque to the other. One challenges Jesus to save them while the other humbly asks Jesus to simply remember him. And doesn’t the difference in the two criminals interaction with Jesus remind us of how we often treat Jesus? One day we humbly ask Him for guidance and protection and other days we are challenging Him to prove Himself by answering our every wish and desire. Sometimes we treat Jesus as King of Heaven and humbly submit to His will. And other times we come close to threatening Him if He does not give us what we want.
When you reflect on this Gospel and pray the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, ask yourself, how much of your life is spent treating Jesus as your king and how much as your servant? Do you have the strength to look past your immediate circumstances and see that Jesus is willing to offer you something so much better — eternal joy in His Heavenly Kingdom? Instead of telling Jesus what you want Him to do, do you have the faith to just ask Him to remember you knowing that He will take care of you?
The Church is celebrating the year of mercy. Consider this. Both criminals crucified next to Jesus were sinners. But Jesus showed mercy telling one that he would be with Jesus in paradise that day. Jesus’ power and mercy are so great, there is no amount or type of sin that it cannot overpower. All you have to do is humbly ask the Lord to remember you.
Hopefully, you can take a break from all the election related news and meditate on this Sunday’s Gospel. It’s a long one so I’m just pasting the part I want to focus on in this post.
“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
This Gospel reading focuses on the importance of having faith by putting your life entirely in God’s hands. We all too often think that we can manage our lives on own without help from anyone, including God. When faced with challenges, many of us have a tendency to try to fight it on our own because we would think of ourselves as weak by admitting that we need help. Or we will think that we somehow cheated by receiving assistance.
Jesus tells us not to be foolish. God offers us not only His assistance but is willing to take the entire burden if only we let Him. Jesus told his disciples to not prepare a defense for He would provide wisdom. That promise is not just true for times of persecution, but for all our challenges, big and small, we encounter daily.
So many of us only tentatively accept God’s help and usually only on our terms. We tend to treat God’s help as a last resort. We come to Him in prayer when all else seems to have failed. This creates a manager/employee relationship where we falsely take the role of manager and God exists to take direction from us. The Gospel tells us that we need to put God 100% in control of our lives. Any other amount shows arrogance on our part believing that we can manage our lives any better than God can.
When I think about the power of faith, the Fifth Luminous Mystery of the rosary comes to mind. Jesus asks us to have incredible faith in His presence in the Eucharist. He asks us to put away that idea that what we see, smell, feel, and taste is not a piece of bread but is entirely Him! That is a tall order and similar to the amount of faith He asked of His disciples to let Him guide them when faced with challenges and persecution.
When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we should remember that all things good come from God. A reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us of that fact:
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
If God wants nothing but the best for you, do you have enough faith to yield to His Will 100%? Or are you holding anything back? Jesus tells us he will take care of us. Is your faith strong enough that you believe Him?