Book Review: Be a Man

Are you a person who:

  1. reads the Bible?  Are you spending time reading Scripture every day?  Are you living with the mindset, “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed?”
  2. surrenders to the Holy Spirit?  Do you make a commitment to say a daily prayer of submission to the Holy Spirit?
  3. takes responsibility for your life and your past and not blame others?

Those are three of thirty tasks that Father Larry Richards asks of his readers in his book, Be a Man: Becoming the Man God Created you to be.  In this book, he explores how one grows strong in faith by imitating the manly example of Jesus Christ.  Through stories of his ministry and personal experiences, Fr. Larry breaks down the popular misconception that being deeply spiritual and close to God is something weak or passive.  His book reflects an attitude of a drill instructor or fitness coach telling people to “man up” and actively embrace their faith.

Despite its title, Be a Man is a great guide book for all Catholics, not just men.  Except for a few stories and maybe a few male-specific words of advice, this book will just as easily appeal to women as well as men.  To me, the title seems more like a marketing gimmick to separate itself from all the other “how to live a Catholic lifestyle” books that are available.

Father Larry Richards’ advice is not an easy one.  He is very up front that living a truly Catholic life is difficult.  But he stresses the importance of “manning up” and tackling those challenges because it will ultimately benefit you and the ones you love.  At its core, he lays down arguments on the importance of dedicating your life to God.  Contrary to popular belief, lay people are called to lead a fully spiritual life of prayer, fasting, chastity, charity, and dedication to following God’s will just like any ordained priest.  God does not let us off easy just because we happen to be on the other side of the alter during Mass.

Personally, my largest takeaway from the book is the need to go to church more than once a week on Sunday.  As Fr. Larry says, the Our Father says “give us our daily bread.”  It does not say “weekly bread.”  Even if you cannot attend daily Mass, it is important to try to go into a church, say a few prayers, and tell God that you are starting your day as his disciple.  While I have not been able to go to church every day, I do try to find times to squeeze it in when I can.  I hope, much like rosary prayer, it provides a sense of peace knowing that God is in control and is guiding me regardless of the chaos of our world.

This book has been out for seven years and has a 5-star rating on Amazon.  It is that good and is something you will want to give away to your friends and family after you read it.  Buy a copy and be the one who starts a new chain of lending of this powerful book.

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What Rosary Prayer Teaches us About Initiative

This Sunday’s Gospel (10/30/16) comes from Luke:

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

What I find most interesting is how St. Luke makes specific mention of Zacchaeus’ short stature and how he climbed a tree to see Jesus.  He could have just as easily started this story with “Jesus encountered a tax collector named Zacchaeus.”  Why the inclusion of the tree climb?

Zacchaeus being called down from the tree. Fro...
Zacchaeus being called down from the tree. From book: The Life of Jesus of Nazareth. Eighty Pictures. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zacchaeus did not let his short height dissuade him from seeing Jesus.  Instead, he did whatever he could because seeing Jesus was important to him.  And because of his conviction and conversion, Jesus gives Zacchaeus the gift of salvation.  Zacchaeus’ introduction shows us that we all have our limitations and hardships in this life.  And yet, we must find a way to “see” Jesus in our lives despite life’s challenges and distractions.  When seen through this lens, Zacchaeus’ story sounds more like this popular teaching from Jesus:

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Might as well add, “Climb and you will be seen.”

I think many times we let our situation dissuade us from truly embracing and practicing out faith.  I know I often fall into the thinking of, “well, I’m not a priest,” to justify times when I have not tried hard enough to further my relationship with Jesus.  It is so easy to blame work, health, family, or financial difficulties for not praying more often, not going to Mass, not receiving the sacraments, and not being charitable.  But as Zacchaeus’ story indicates, those are excuses and not very good ones at that.  We need to make our relationship with Jesus a priority and do whatever it takes to receive His grace.  Sometimes the road will be easy but other times we need to be like Zacchaeus and think outside the box.

Zacchaeus’ story ties nicely with the Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Nativity.  The shepherds in the fields dropped what they were doing to go praise the newborn savior.  I previously wrote about how risky it was for shepherds to leave their flock.  But they understood the importance of seeing Jesus much like Zacchaeus.  They did not allow doubt or concern over their jobs dissuade them from encountering Christ.

English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Me...
English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. Español: Portal de Belén en la Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires Français : Crèche de Noël dans la Cathédrale métropolitaine de Buenos-Aires (Argentine) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we pray and meditate on the Third Joyful rosary mystery, let us ask God for strength and maybe even a little knowledge to break out of our routines and doubts so that we can truly encounter Jesus.  He’s there; always waiting for us and will welcome us into communion with Him.  But maybe we just need to get over our worries and maybe put a little more effort to go to Him.

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The Importance of Reading the Sunday Gospel on Monday

It is honesty time!  When is the first time you typically read or hear the Sunday Gospel reading?  Do you:

  • read it a few days before Sunday?
  • glance over it in the missal before Mass?
  • hear it for the first time as it is being read during Sunday Mass?
  • usually run late and miss the Gospel entirely?

I’m guessing that many of you said that the first time you hear the Sunday Gospel is during Mass.  And that is not bad by any means.  But I think someone can get so much more out of the Sunday Gospel by putting in more time and effort reading it midweek.  This is why I try to prepare an article connecting the Gospel to the rosary so that you have time to meditate on it before Sunday Mass.

I’m going to share with you an analogy on preparation from my experience in software engineering.  Talk to any software programmer and they will tell you how they wish they could go back in time and start their project from scratch in order to correct mistakes based on what they discovered while developing their code.  No matter how experienced we are, our initial drafts of code just never have the same level of polish as later drafts.  There is nothing more valuable than just working out a problem over the course of several days often making new discoveries and having novel insights that do not come in shorter time frames.

I think the same principle applies to the Sunday Gospel reading.  The more times you read it and meditate on it, the more you discover and learn.  It makes intuitive sense that someone who has read and meditated on the Gospel five times will have a deeper understanding of it than someone who hears it once at Mass.  The homily does not become the only reflection on the Gospel, but more of the cherry on top of a week-long exercise of prayer and meditation.

I’ve found that layering the Sunday Gospel, daily readings, and the rosary into my daily prayer routine helps form a much richer spiritual life.  I start to see connections between the rosary mysteries and the Gospel readings that were not immediately apparent in initial readings.  Those repeated readings motivate me to approach God in different ways — asking for forgiveness, thanking Him for His many blessings, asking for His guidance, etc.  I start to see current events through the lens of the Gospel and rosary of Jesus’ teachings.

What are you waiting for?  The daily and Sunday Gospels are readily available for you to read anytime.  I like to view them on the web page of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) but you can choose whatever location that suits you best.  Even better, pick up a lector’s workbook and keep it somewhere visible like on your nightstand.

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Speak Up! — What Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Stating Intentions

Do you remember one of the early scenes in Million Dollar Baby where Client Eastwood’s character kneels in prayer next to his bed? He says something to the extent, “Lord, you know what I want, there’s no use in me repeating myself.” Boy, how often can I relate to that sentiment! I sometimes think to myself that God knows everything and definitely knows my intentions and my needs better than myself so why go through the exercise of formulating them in prayer? The Gospel reading from 10/6/16 addresses this dilemma.

Last Thursday’s Gospel reading included this popular verse from Luke:

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The Regnum Christi website’s meditation on this Gospel reading talks about how we fall into the sin of pride when we don’t explicitly ask God for help through prayer.  From their website:

When I Don’t Ask for What I Need, I Treat God as My Servant: When we expect God to give us all we need without asking, are we not placing the whole burden of our salvation on him and nothing on ourselves? Are we not in a sense being lazy? “You know what I need, Lord. Just give it to me, take care of it, while I focus on my own interests.” Not only is this laziness, it is pride, treating God like a servant whose role is to provide whatever I need. We forget he is God. Certainly God is generous and loving, willing to give us everything that is good for us; but he is still God, and he deserves our respect, adoration, and especially our gratitude.

The rosary connection to this Gospel reading is the Fifth Glorious MysteryMary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven.  Traditionally, the mother of a king held tremendous prestige because while a king may have multiple wives, he only has one mother.  The king’s mother was referred to as the gebira.  It makes sense then that Christ, being King of Heaven, would coronate his mother Mary as Queen of Heaven.

The chief responsibility of the gebira was to act as a mediator and speak on behalf of the king.  When we pray the rosary, we acknowledge Mary as our mediator of our needs and intentions to her son, Jesus Christ.  But she can better mediate on our behalf when we consciously and humbly come to her and ask for her help in prayer.

Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671
Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Think of Mary like a doctor and you are the patient.  Mary is here to help you and she will do whatever she can to cure the illness of sin and bring you into God’s grace.  However, she will be better able to help you if you are forthright and honest with her by humbly stating your needs in prayer.  The better the patient you are, the more effective Mary can be in her role as your Queen of Heaven.  When you can formulate your intentions in prayer then you will be able to understand how God responds to your request.

If you know what ails you spiritually, speak up!  Because if can’t form the request in your head, how will you recognize the heavenly response?

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Committing Ourselves to Victory: October and the Feast of the Rosary

It’s October. For many of us, that means complaining about pumpkin flavored food and drinks being offered everywhere, acting surprised how early the Christmas season starts every year, gloomy weather, and Halloween.  What I often forget is that October is the month of the holy rosary.  That’s extremely embarrassing since I run a rosary website!  May and October should be my rosary playoff season where I give 100% effort praying the rosary as well as writing about it.

I think it is important to understand why October is a month dedicated to the rosary because it highlights the power and importance of the rosary.  You need to go back to October 7, 1571, to the Battle of Lepanto.  This was a huge naval battle between the Christian European nations under the banner of the Holy League and Ottoman Turks that were advancing through the Middle East and across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

The Christian fleet was vastly outnumbered.  Pope Pius V called on the faithful to pray the rosary publicly asking for the intercession of the Blessed Mother to halt the Turkish armies.  Despite all odds, the European fleet defeated the Turkish one and the victory was attributed to Mary’s intercession through rosary prayer.  Pope Pius established an annual commemoration to honor Our Lady of Victory, and his successor, Gregory XIII, decreed that the first Sunday in October would be the feast of the Holy Rosary.  The Church then extended the celebration of the rosary throughout the entire month of October.

lepanto_f3
Polish procession – detail of Battle of Lepanto by Tomasz Dolabella

Rosary prayer and asking for Mary’s intercession helped the European navy to overcome overwhelming odds at the Battle of Lepanto.  But the answer to those prayers didn’t come in the form of legions of angels visibility descending from Heaven or God sending a huge title wave swallowing the Turkish fleet.  The rosary did the seemingly impossible by transforming the hearts of minds of those involved in the battle.

Remember, the Turkish ships were mostly powered on the backs of captured Christian slaves.  Many accounts speak of these slaves sacrificing their own lives by intentionally moving and orienting the Turkish vessels in ways that gave the European fleet clear shots and other advantages.  I believe it was rosary prayer and dedication to Mary that gave these slaves and soldiers the courage to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

God’s answers to our prayers are not always what we expect.  In fact, the answer may not be something that is even easy or pleasant.  The victory at Lepanto was achieved through the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers and slaves.  Our redemption was achieved through the sacrifice of God’s only son Jesus Christ.  If you find yourself doubting the effectiveness of prayer, commit yourself to praying the rosary this month asking God for both faith and peace in his divine plan for you.  If rosary prayer changed the course of history at the Battle of Lepanto, surely it can achieve the even more difficult goal of increasing our faith and turning our hearts towards God.

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What Rosary Prayer Teaches us about the Redemptive Power of Charity

Sunday’s Gospel is a long one from Luke 16:1-13:

Jesus said to his disciples,
“A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that,
when I am removed from the stewardship,
they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one.
To the first he said,
‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’
The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note;
write one for eighty.’
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
“For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,
who will trust you with true wealth?
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is yours?
No servant 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 both God and mammon.”

I always found this parable of the disgraced steward confusing.  I could not wrap my brain around how lowering the amount each debtor owed the steward’s master would bring praise and not further disdain.  I always thought the master would be more upset that his steward was essentially letting debtors off the hook for no good reason and hence, cutting into his master’s wealth.

Maybe the debtors all read this book?
Maybe the debtors all read this book?

I then read commentary that made this parable all make sense.  What if the steward had been overcharging the debtors and pocketing the difference for himself?  For example, suppose the debtor who supposedly owed 100 measures of olive oil really only owed 50.  When the steward reduced the debt he actually cut out the inflated portion he was keeping for himself.  By cutting out his underserved share of the debt he was no longer serving his selfish wants, but the true business of his master.  And now Jesus’ warning at the end of the Gospel makes a lot more sense.  At first, the steward served only mammon (money).  But he then gives that up to serve the will of his master who represents God in the parable.

When I think about this Gospel passage, my mind keeps coming back to the Fifth Joyful MysteryThe Finding of Jesus in the Temple.  I think about how Mary and Joseph had to search for Jesus for three long days in sorrow before eventually finding him.  I liken that to the redemptive suffering many must undertake to reform their wayward and sinful ways and align with God’s Will.  The steward in the Gospel was also faced with a painful situation — being dismissed from his position with few options to earn a living.  He also had to undergo a form of redemptive suffering by letting go of the money he was keeping for himself.  But in doing so, he redeemed himself in the eyes of his master.

“Do you have any idea what you put us through?!!!”

When we pray the Fifth Joyful Mystery, maybe we should be mindful of our attachment to our earthly possessions.  Do we need to undergo a form of redemptive suffering by parting with our money and giving it to the less fortunate?  Do we have faith that in giving more to the poor we actually receive something much greater — God grace?  The steward didn’t know that his master would look favorably upon his actions.  Mary and Joseph did not know if they would find Jesus.  But we have an advantage in this aspect because we know how God will look at us when we give to the poor instead of holding it for ourselves.  Jesus tells us repeatedly in the Gospel how we will be rewarded in Heaven.  The question for you is, do you have the faith to believe in that promise?

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How Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Discernment

Here is the Gospel for this Sunday, 9/4/16 from LK 14:25-33

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus,
and he turned and addressed them,
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower
does not first sit down and calculate the cost
to see if there is enough for its completion?
Otherwise, after laying the foundation
and finding himself unable to finish the work
the onlookers should laugh at him and say,
‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’
Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
But if not, while he is still far away,
he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.
In the same way,
anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus’ teachings in this Gospel confuse me.  Why is he telling us to turn against our parents?  After all, Jesus loved Mary, his mother.  He was obedient to his parents as a young boy.  And what does hating your parents have to do with the analogy of laying down the foundation of a tower, preparing for battle, or renouncing all your possessions?  I can just picture the confusion and even doubt the people listening to Jesus speak these words must have had.

I think that when you look at this teaching in the context of all of Jesus’ other teachings it is obvious that he is not telling us to literally hate our parents.  Rather, he instructs us to let go of all worldly attachment especially if they lead us away from God‘s grace.  And in some extreme cases, that may mean letting go of our relationships with certain people, possessions, and habits if they are toxic to our relationship with God.

Each one of us needs to make a conscious decision on what kingdom we are going to live for.  Will it be this worldly kingdom or God’s heavenly one?  Remember, shortly after this teaching in Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells us, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13).

Attachment to a worldly possession didn't work out too well for Smeagol
Attachment to a worldly possession didn’t work out too well for Smeagol (see Lord of the Rings)

The Gospel reading moves in a unique direction with the parable of building the tower and preparing for war.  As my Sunday readings workbook points out, Jesus is telling us that living our faith is something we need to consciously think about and commit ourselves to.  Many of us cradle Catholics (myself included) often take the Church‘s teachings for granted and do not put a lot of serious thought into them.  We may call ourselves Catholics but Jesus challenges us to reflect on what exactly we are committing ourselves to.  Have we taken the time to learn the Church’s teachings?  Are we ready to live and defend them?  Do we pray regularly to build a strong spiritual foundation if/when our faith is challenged?

The Gospel reflects the central theme of the Third Luminous MysteryThe Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion.  Conversion implies that one is making a very conscious and deliberate choice.  It is not something one does passively.  When you reflect on this rosary mystery, ask yourself if you are seriously looking for ways you are not living up to the standard Jesus puts before you.  Where are you out of step with the Church’s teachings on topics such as abortion, chastity, immigration, social welfare, etc?  What are you going to do to convert from your focus on our worldly kingdom to God’s heavenly one?

It is easy to procrastinate and delay taking a hard look at your life and taking steps to convert.  But just like the builder who didn’t plan or the general that didn’t strategize, Jesus warns us about how foolish such action is because delaying actively living a truly Catholic faith puts you at risk for great catastrophe.  And there is no greater catastrophe than losing God’s kingdom of Heaven especially when he asks relatively so little of us to accept it.

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How Rosary Prayer Teaches the Glory of Humility

I’m a lector at my parish.  One of the perks of serving as a lector is that my parish provides me with a workbook for the readings that contain explanations and commentary.  Reading this book during the week helps me obtain a deeper understanding of the readings at Sunday Mass.  I want to start providing you insight into the Sunday Gospels and how they relate to the rosary.  This way, when you pray the rosary, you can integrate the Sunday readings into your meditation as well.  Think of this as doing your Sunday Mass homework.

The Gospel for Sunday, August 28, 2016, is:

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

When I initially read this Gospel passage, I felt like I was reading the biblical equivalent of an Amy Vanderbilt etiquette book on how to politely find your place at a banquet table.  The reading confused me because it seemed like Jesus was giving his disciples a social hack for getting to a place of honor in a disingenuous way.  Is it not false humility to sit at a lowly spot of the table expecting the host to come and fetch you and put you where you think you deserve to be?  I can almost picture that fake humble person sitting next to the stereotypical “chatty lady,” not even listening to her but scanning the room making sure the host sees him so he can “rescue” him from the dregs.

How long do I have to listen to you?
How long do I have to listen to you?

The confusion lifted when I realized that Jesus asks us to behave as the guest and the host!  Jesus talks about the host not looking for reciprocity or acknowledgment for his efforts.  But that is also the same requirement for the guest who takes the lowest spot at the table.  He should not be looking for the host to save him from his situation but rather, accept and enjoy his situation regardless of the outcome.  After all, the guest should be thankful and grateful that he was invited to the feast at all.  We too should be grateful for all the blessings God bestows on us even when it seems like others have it better.

The people who are truly humble and accepting of their situation are ultimately the happiest.  They are not always looking for something better but find contentment with what they have.  That is because they do not come with any preconceived notions of their importance but they just do what needs to be done.  They do not worry about who notices them or if they will receive a certain level of reward.  In a sense, the humble person is free from the burden of self-imposed expectations or entitlement.  When you do not feel entitled to that place of honor, being elevated to it makes it that much more glorious.

Just about every mystery of the rosary teaches some aspect of humility and the glory that comes out of it.  The rosary itself is bookended by these two traits by the First Joyful Mystery and the Fifth Glorious Mystery.  In the Annunciation, Mary humbly accepts God‘s plan for her.  She does not turn God down or try to reshape His request into something she would prefer.  God is essentially upending Mary’s life but her humble reply is,  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Thy Will be done.
Thy Will be done

When we walk and talk with Jesus through the rosary, we finish with Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven.  Like the person sitting at the lowest spot of the banquet table only to be seated at the place of honor so was Mary glorified after her lifetime of humbly accepting God’s plan for her and the pain and sorrow that it entailed.  She is our model for our ultimate elevation to a place of honor in Heaven when we live in earnest, humble service of God’s plan for us.

When you pray the First Joyful and Fifth Glorious mysteries of the rosary, pray and ask yourself:

  • Am I living a sincerely humble life or showing a fake sense of humility as a means to more selfish ends?
  • Am I content and satisfied with all God has given me or am I expecting something better?
  • Am I looking to Mary as an example of humility?
  • Am I showing humility by putting my trust in God’s plan or am I trying to avoid or amend it?

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Abstaining from Communion: How the Rosary Teaches Humility

I really wanted to get this out Monday night but at least I’m publishing an article within the same week of the Gospel passage I’m referencing.  This is from Tuesday’s Gospel:

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

I’m going to tie this reading to the concept of humility which is one of the themes of the Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist. I think it is important to realize that when you receive the Eucharist, you are encountering Jesus as if he was present in human form. This is not a gift to be received lightly and yet so many of us (myself included) often receive this gift on auto-pilot without the sincere awe, thought, and gratitude Jesus deserves.

3rd quarter of 16th century
3rd quarter of 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I once heard a priest on EWTN radio remark on how short the lines to Confession are on Saturday and how long they are for Communion on Sunday. We either live in an age of saints or many of us are not showing the humility to abstain from receiving the Eucharist when we are not in a worthy state.  We have to remember that receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is not some sort given when you go to Mass but is something that you should put some thought into on whether to receive Him or not.

For those who need a refresher on the requirements to receive Communion, EWTN summarizes the Catechism nicely:

The prerequisites for the reception of Holy Communion are 1) being in the state of grace, 2) having fasted for one hour (for the sick 15 minutes if possible, no fast if fasting is not possible), and 3) devotion and attention.

I think a lot of people feel obliged to get into the Communion line because they feel like people will judge them and assume they did something horrible to fall out of a state of grace.  But that is only one condition for not receiving Communion.  You could just as easily abstain from Communion for non-grave reasons like not fasting or because you came late to Mass and just do not feel like you are in that spiritual zone.  But here’s the point many people miss when they feel like everyone will assume the worst for not receiving Communion.  NO ONE CARES!  I think the number of people that are observing who is not receiving Communion is so incredibly small.  And are they people who you even care what they think about you?  Is it really worth offending God to please a handful of Communion ombudsmen?

I suggest praying the Fifth Luminous Mystery during the presentation of the gifts and really examine your conscience about receiving Communion.  Really, it is okay to occasionally abstain as long as you also make an effort to correct the underlying reasons why you need to abstain from Communion in a timely manner.  Go to Confession, remember to fast, etc.  In short, be humble enough to know when you are not worthy to receive the Eucharist and motivated enough to do everything in your power to return to a state of grace.

Connecting back to the Gospel reading, what is one trait many young children have?  Children are genuine.  They aren’t self-conscious or fake.  They do not have this need to keep up a certain facade to please others.  I’m always amazed how unfiltered small children can be at times.  And maybe that’s what Jesus asks of us adults; to tear down those walls of pride or vanity and do what is right regardless of how others may perceive it.  Another way to think about it is that God is our Father and we are His children.  He sets the rules and expectations and He does it for very good reasons.  And while we may not always like or agree with them, maybe like a child, we need to swallow our pride, accept God’s teachings, and have faith that what He asks is for our ultimate benefit.

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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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