Gospel for Janurary 16, 2011 — God’s Plans

St John the Baptist
Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

The Gospel for January 16, 2011 is from John 1:24-34 and, like the previous week’s Gospel, focuses on Jesus’ baptism.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ baptism takes the role of the Fourth Joyful Mystery — The Presentation in the Temple.  John does not write about Jesus’ birth or childhood but starts with His baptism as an adult.  This Gospel shows John the Baptist as the one who presents Jesus to the world through baptism.  John understands and accepts God’s special role for him and this Gospel and rosary mystery calls us to also reflect on how God calls us to live.

A few verses earlier in John’s Gospel, the pharisees ask John the Baptist if he is the Messiah, Elijah, or another prophet.  Each time John responds, “no.”  When pressed on why he baptizes people, John responds, “the reason why I came baptizing with water was that He might be made known to Israel” (John 1:31).  John’s mission, or vocation, is to prepare people for Jesus’ coming.  God’s plan for John wasn’t an easy one as it called for a life of constant prayer, penance, and fasting.  John’s life eventually ended in his arrest and execution.  I’m sure many people saw John the Baptist as some crazy person who wondered the desert.  After all, how many of us would probably roll our eyes if someone came into town yelling, “repent, repent!”  But John knew that preparing people for Jesus’ coming was so important that he dedicated his life to it.  I sometimes wonder if John, and many of the saints, had other plans for themselves earlier in their lives that they abandoned because it was not what God asked of them.  Maybe John wanted to be a banker, a carpenter, or own a vineyard.  But he knew that his passions wouldn’t amount to anything if they did not line up with God’s plans.

Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery is very similar to John the Baptist.  Simeon spent his entire life in the temple in Jerusalem waiting and praying for the Messiah to appear.  Like John, Simeon was probably ridiculed and dismissed as a fool.  And I’m sure Simeon, as a boy, didn’t think that his entire life would be spent in the temple waiting for God to reveal Himself to him.  He probably imagined a “normal” life of living in a small village and working in the fields.  But that was not God’s plan for him.  And like John the Baptist, upon seeing Jesus, Simeon announced how Jesus was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32).  Both John and Simeon served to announce that God was made man and came into this world to lead us into His kingdom of Heaven.

When you read or hear this Gospel or meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary, ask yourself:

  • Are you living according to God’s plans or your own?
  • Are you looking for how Jesus presents himself to you in your life?  Do you search for Him in routine prayer, fasting, and meditation?
  • Are you patient with God’s plans for you or are you looking for God to give you a “quick fix?”
  • Are you open to God’s plans even if they are difficult or run contrary to how you would like to live?
  • Do you have the strength to live up to God’s plans for you even if they are at odds with accepted societal practices?
  • Are there parts of your life where you live contrary to God’s plan for you?
  • What will you do to align your life more with God’s Will?

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The Story of St. Mary of Egypt

Thursday, April 1 is the feast day of St. Mary of Egypt. I came across her story of forgiveness and redemption on EWTN News and thought I would share it with you since it ties in so nicely with many mysteries of the rosary. Mary of Egypt was born in 344 A.D. and worked as a prostitute for 17 years. She joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem so that she could sell her services to those travelling to venerate the relic of the True Cross. Upon arriving at the church where she intended to lead many into sin, a mysterious force prevented her from entering with the other pilgrims. After trying several times she gave up, went into a small courtyard, and began to cry in remorse. Upon seeing a statue of the Virgin Mary, she prayed for permission to enter the church promising to give up her sinful ways. Mary granted her permission. Changed by the experience and touched by God’s mercy Mary of Egypt lived as a hermit in the desert for 47 years.

desert
Image by Wolfgang Staudt via Flickr

Thursday, April 1 is the feast day of St. Mary of Egypt.  I came across her story of forgiveness and redemption on EWTN News and thought I would share it with you since it ties in so nicely with many mysteries of the rosary.  Mary of Egypt was born in 344 A.D. and worked as a prostitute for 17 years.  She joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem so that she could sell her services to those travelling to venerate the relic of the True Cross.  Upon arriving at the church where she intended to lead many into sin, a mysterious force prevented her from entering with the other pilgrims.  After trying several times she gave up, went into a small courtyard, and began to cry in remorse.  Upon seeing a statue of the Virgin Mary, she prayed for permission to enter the church promising to give up her sinful ways.  Mary granted her permission.  Changed by the experience and touched by God‘s mercy Mary of Egypt lived as a hermit in the desert for 47 years.

I find this story inspiring in this last week of Lent.  As I said in my earlier post about Holy Week, it is not how you start but how you finish that counts.  We see this theme played out in Jesus‘ parable of the workers.  Each worker received the same wage regardless of when they started working.  Similarly, we all receive the same grace no matter what time in our lives we start to follow Jesus.  Or look at the parable of the Prodigal Son.  He left his family and squandered his inheritance.  And yet his father welcomed him back with open arms.  And even a prostitute of 17 years not only found redemption, but was ultimately exalted by becoming a saint.

So you haven’t been as vigilant as you would have liked for Lent.  Maybe you didn’t abstain from meat on Fridays, fast, or keep your Lenten sacrifice.  But if Mary of Egypt’s example is any indication, there is always time to turn around and embrace the way of our Lord.

Mary of Egypt’s story fits into many mysteries of the rosary.  Here are some meditation ideas the next time you pray the rosary:

  • The First Joyful Mystery — Like the Virgin Mary,  think about how God is calling you in your life.  And like Mary of Egypt, God often calls those who seem the most unlikely and unworthy.  Maybe sometimes you feel like someone undeserving of God’s grace.  But He calls you all the same.  You just have to have the courage to say yes to God’s plan for you.
  • The Fifth Joyful Mystery — I talk about how it is never too late to look for God in your life.  Mary and Joseph could not find Jesus for three days.  Mary of Egypt “lost” Jesus for 17 years as a prostitute.  And yet she found her way back, received forgiveness, and lived in God’s grace.
  • The First Luminous Mystery — John the Baptist called all of us to repent and make way for the Lord.  That is exactly what Mary of Egypt did.  It is no coincidence that after being allowed into the Church, Mary of Egypt travelled to Jordan and received communion at  a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist.  Her healing and coming back to God started by renouncing sin, receiving forgiveness, and making room in her life for God.
  • The Second Luminous Mystery — At the wedding at Cana, Mary instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus asked of them.  Mary of Egypt also did whatever Jesus asked of her which meant living out her life alone in prayer.  That could not have been an easy life.  But it shows that when we put our faith in God, miracles do happen.  What miracle did the Lord give Mary of Egypt?  The gift of grace and the solitude for her to fully embrace it.

Mary of Egypt’s story relates to many more lessons in the mysteries of the rosary such as doing God’s will, receiving forgiveness, and never giving up on God who never gives up on us.  Remember, it’s not how you start, but how you end that counts!  And I hope you all have a wonderful and blessed Easter.

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Rosary Meditation — The First Luminous Mystery

This rosary meditation focuses on The First Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan. In this mystery we see Jesus transforming Baptism from being a purely symbolic act of renewal to an actual gift of the Holy Spirit that cleanses our soul of original sin. For this mystery I’m going to focus on the central message of John the Baptist — a call to repentance. While John is usually associated with Baptism (hence his title), his ministry really focuses on the Sacrament of Confession. He preached that we prepare ourselves to fully receive God when we approach Him with a repentant heart. These two sacraments really go hand-in-hand in that they both center around the Holy Spirit cleansing our soul of the effects of sin.

Farmer at the dentist, Johann Liss, c. 1616-17.
Image via Wikipedia

This rosary meditation focuses on The First Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.  In this mystery we see Jesus transforming Baptism from being a purely symbolic act of renewal to an actual gift of the Holy Spirit that cleanses our soul of original sin.  For this mystery I’m going to focus on the central message of John the Baptist — a call to repentance.  While John is usually associated with Baptism (hence his title), his ministry really focuses on the Sacrament of Confession.  He preached that we prepare ourselves to fully receive God when we approach Him with a repentant heart.  These two sacraments really go hand-in-hand in that they both center around the Holy Spirit cleansing our soul of the effects of sin.

Think about how you take care of your teeth.  You brush and floss daily to keep them clean.  However, every six months you also need to go to a dentist to have your mouth thoroughly inspected and cleaned by a professional.  Seeing your dentist is not a sign of bad oral health.  It’s not like the only people who need to see a dentist are those who do not brush regularly.  Rather, everyone needs regular brushing and checkups or else our teeth will not be their strongest.  Skipping the daily brushing routine or the checkups might lead to premature dentures.

What does this have to do with repentance besides the fact that most people would probably consider a trip to the dentist as some sort of penance?  Like brushing your teeth, prayer must be part of your daily routine to keep your soul healthy.  Regular prayer is your time to reflect on all those ways you have lived God’s will and offer Him thanksgiving.  You also ask for strength and guidance to continue living a spiritually healthy life.  Prayer serves as a little check to prevent sin from entering and decaying your soul.  However, every so often you also need to see a professional to give your soul a thorough scrubbing away of sin.  And that scrubbing is the Sacrament of Confession.

Just like how brushing alone isn’t enough to keep your teeth healthy, individual prayer alone is not enough to keep your soul healthy.  You can’t completely fix the effects of sin with only individual prayer.  There are instances where your soul requires the help of a professional in order to fix the spiritual decay that may be attacking and spreading within you.  You may think that my analogy leads to the priest hearing your confession to be that professional who “fixes” your soul.  However, the priest is merely the assistant.  The real professional, the one who actually cleanses your soul of sin, is God.  God works through the priest to clean your soul and restore it back to a clean and healthy state.

This mystery should remind us of John the Baptist’s message that we should “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mt 3:3).  Let us remember to be thoroughly repentant not just through our private prayers but also by receiving the sacrament of Confession.  That way we clear out souls of everything that blocks us from fully receiving God’s graces.  Instead of seeing confession as some sort of punishment, let us see it for what it really is — a gift.  It is our chance to set things right, fix what is broken in our life, and build a stronger relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ.  May we remember that it is through confession that we return to that pure innocence that we had at our Baptism.  We return to that state of grace that God desires for all of us.  So let us make the effort to go to Confession regularly (the Church says at least once a year) and live as true disciples of Jesus Christ.  And you might want to pop in to see your dentist as well!

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