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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Striving for Manliness, the Catholic Way

Did I miss a memo from the Vatican? I feel like I keep coming across this theme of becoming a better Catholic man all over the place. First I found it on Catholic Exchange when I wrote 12 Ways to be a Better Catholic in 2016. Then a friend sent me a video about the need for authentic Catholic manliness. Was there some sort of synod or papal document released recently on this issue? Or is it the Holy Spirit gently giving me hints that this is a topic I should write about?

If you don’t feel like reading and just want to veg out for a bit watching a video, here is the one my friend sent me about authentic Catholic manhood:

A few thoughts.  I really like the part in the middle that asks, if you can’t resist all those little temptations how are you going to resist and protect yourself and others from the big ones?  This concept of mastering the small things to prepare for the big ones ties into why I keep pushing on the idea of regular rosary prayer.  I think we all encounter those moments of big crisis, temptation, despair, etc. at some point in our lives.  It’s not a matter of if, but when.  How much harder will overcoming those large challenges be if you haven’t proven to yourself that you have mastered the smaller ones?  How much more difficult will it be to pick up that rosary in your hour of need if you’ve never prayed it?  It’s the regularity of prayer and self-mastery which makes the big challenges in life manageable.  It’s the difference between seeing a large mountain from the base camp vs. already being 90% to the summit.  Start the climb now, whether it means resisting those small sins and temptations, fasting, or praying the rosary so that you won’t be starting from the bottom when life throws a mountain of challenges your way.

Another area I want to explore is why there is a cultural aversion to Catholic (or just spiritual) manliness.  Why is being strong in faith not considered manly?  I think part of it is that faith requires humility.  It requires acceptance that you cannot conquer every challenge on your own but need God’s help.  And like out of every cheesy romantic comedy, REAL MEN DON’T ASK FOR HELP!  Unfortunately, as the movie earlier in this article points out, so much of our image of manhood is shaped by popular culture, not by real interaction with real people.  So we develop this warped view that having a spiritual side somehow makes you weak.

“Put that map down! I know where I’m going.”

Okay, hopefully you’re reading this knowing that popular culture has the concept of manhood all wrong.  But how can the rosary show us what true manliness is?  The answer should be clear as most of the rosary mysteries revolve around Jesus.  What example is he setting before us?  I’m going to focus on the Sorrowful Mysteries given the challenges Jesus faced.  After all, it is in the times of great hardship that our true character shines.

  • First Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus prays for help and for a different fate but also accepts God’s Will.
  • Second Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures suffering.
  • Third Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures humiliation.
  • Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus repeatedly falls but gets back up and moves forward.
  • Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus asks for God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

What picture do the Sorrowful Mysteries paint of manly virtue?  Humility, sacrifice, perseverance, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and conviction.  Those are the attributes everyone, men and women, are called to show.  To steal the quotation from the opening of the movie, “You were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness.”  And greatness comes from embracing your faith and imitating Jesus, not just when it is convenient, but when it is overwhelmingly challenging.

Come on, you all thought of Tim Tebow when you thought of men praying.

We pray for those facing huge life challenges.  But we also pray that we all build up our spiritual strength by praying, faster, receiving the sacraments, and avoid sin.

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Be Like the Angels This Christmas

Christmas illustration
Christmas illustration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the past I wrote about the under appreciated players in the Nativity story — the shepherds.  This year I’m turning my attention to another group of beings that is often overlooked — the angels.  I’m not going to write a lengthy article on the importance of the angels.  I’m going to leave that to Adam Cavalier over at DesiringGod.  He writes about how we can look at the angels as examples on how we are to praise God.  He writes this about their devotion to God:

Their exemplary devotion should cause Christians to prioritize worship and obedience in every aspect of their lives. Angels carry out their tasks with delight. The Psalms urge us likewise, “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:2). The joyful praise of God is a command, not a piece of advice. It’s not a suggestion or a recommendation. We are called to join the angels in this happy devotion.

As we enter the third week of Advent, let us also meditate on how we can serve God, not with a sense of reluctant obligation, but with a sense of joy like the angels.  We should also remember that in happily loving God we open ourselves to his grace which gives us strength to love each other (yes, even Uncle Joe who always brings up politics at Christmas dinner).  Let’s show the world that being Catholic isn’t something we do out of obligation but is something we do because we understand the joy that comes from God’s grace.

Have a contemplative, faith oriented Advent and a merry Christmas!  And if you’re still looking for a last minute Christmas gift or just something to read while Uncle Joe spouts off about how evil ****** is, I’m offerer 20% my book, The Rosary for the Rest of Us.  Use discount code NJGTZ5WG (only applies for purchases through the CreateSpace EStore)

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God the Parent

Labor Day weekend came and went here in the US. For many, it’s an extended weekend full of fun and relaxation. For me, it was also an extra day of family time which was exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my family. But I have a quota of how many times I can tell my boys “no!” and “stop!” and still keep up my cheerful disposition. As any parent knows, it is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining to fight the same battles day after day over eating, sleeping, sharing, and teaching general manners to kids.

No matter how many times I have to say “no” or “stop!” or “wait,” I of course will always love my family. Yes, I wish one of my boys would sit at the table for breakfast and eat without me constantly reminding him to take a bite (I also think he would love to actually experience his food warm for a change). I would also love my other son to not cry when my wife has to put him down so I could give her a break now and then. But my love for them overwhelmingly dwarfs the day-to-day challenges they present.

That just about sums up how my youngest son sees me.

My experience as a husband and father teaches me a lot about God’s nature. God must be like a parent who at times is frustrated with our lack of cooperation.  He is constantly repeating himself in trying to raise us well.  He teaches the same lessons of love and compassion through Scripture, Mary, the saints, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.  But because of our human nature, we often just don’t get it and repeatedly commit the same sins.  Spiritually, many of us our like toddlers who just don’t see the big picture as God sees it.  But God is the always patient father who understands that our hearts and minds aren’t mature enough to fully grasp the goodness he has prepared for us.  But he always waits, calmly repeats himself, and gives us many chances to “get it.”

I often tell my older son not to play too rough with his younger brother, not because I want to kill his fun, but because I know that my older son doesn’t yet have the maturity to understand that he can hurt his brother.  Likewise, God tries to set some ground rules through his Church by identifying what is sinful and evil and what is good.  He doesn’t do this to prevent us from having any fun, but instead he knows what will bring true happiness and what will bring ultimate despair.  Like a toddler, without developing our spiritual maturity, we often cannot understand why God does what he does and become frustrated with him.  But it is through regular prayer that we develop that level of understanding and faith.  We may not understand God’s reasons for his laws, but we take it on faith that following them will bring about the greatest good.

The Rosary Connection

Speaking of faith, let’s turn to the Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist.  I think one of the greatest acts of faith Catholics show is accepting that Jesus is present in the Eucharist.  I think this is pretty hard to swallow at times.  After all, the Eucharist looks and tastes like bread and wine.  You wouldn’t be able to identify a consecrated host from a non consecrated host in a blind taste test.  But the Eucharist is the cornerstone of the Catholic faith.  Hence faith, the unquestioning belief in truth, needs to be a fundamental part of our spirituality.  We must accept that God’s laws cannot be fully quantized and explained; that there will always be aspects of his nature that our beyond our understanding.  We also must take it on faith that the Church’s rules and teachings will lead us to everlasting joy.

The other part of faith is humility.  I don’t think you can have true faith without also showing humbleness.  Because you must humble yourself to accept that there are truths beyond your understanding.  We pray the Fifth Luminous Mystery for those who do not show humility and hence cannot fully form their faith.  We also pray for those times when we have shown pride and not humility and closed ourselves off from receiving God’s grace.  But remember, even when we are stubborn, prideful, and close ourselves off to God, he will be the always patient parent waiting for us and sending small hints to help us come around.

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Can You “Unplug” This Lent?

Can you settle down for just one minute?  Seriously, how long can you go without feeling like you need to do some sort of activity?  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I always have to do something.  I feel anxious if I’m “unplugged” and not checking email, Facebook, and news feeds.  I become bored easily without my cell phone, computer, magazines, books, and television.  Fortunately, I have access to all sorts of media almost 24/7.  But is that a good thing?  The Catholic News Agency reported Pope Benedict’s words during a general audience of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square:

“Interior and exterior silence are necessary in order to hear that Word,” and yet, “our age does not, in fact, favor reflection and contemplation,” the Pope said March 7. On the contrary, “it seems that people are afraid to detach themselves, even for an instant, from the spate of words and images which mark and fill our days.”

John Longanecker talking on a phone after eati...

The Pope’s words make so much sense to me particularly during this season of Lent.  We tend to fill our lives consuming so much media and information that we do develop a fear of detachment from our technology.  We feel lost without our gadgets.  And while we don’t truly believe that our gadgets replace God, we sure sometimes act like they do.  We get so worked up over an almost-dead cell phone battery or the internet acting sluggish.  We can all probably think of times when we felt angry over missing a favorite TV show.  And yet many times we don’t feel the slightest bit of anxiety over the sins we commit or not regularly receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We often have no worries about overlooking routine prayer and meditating on our relationship with the Lord.  We spend so much time staying up to date with what our friends are up to and what goes on in the world, but often don’t take the time to check our status with God through reflection and contemplation.

The pope’s words remind me of the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary — The Assumption of Mary.  Mary was assumed into Heaven and now acts as our guide on our journey to God’s heavenly kingdom.  In asking for silence and meditation, the Pope echos Mary’s call to fasting and prayer.  Fasting from food is a physical reminder that true happiness does not come from just satisfying our earthly needs.  When we fast, we show ourselves that it’s not what the world offers that will ultimately make us happy.  We push aside, even for just a little while, satisfying our physical desires so that we can concentrate on satisfying our spiritual needs.  But we can fast from things other than food.  We can fast from whatever prevents us from meditating and focusing on our relationship with God.  As you probably guessed already, perhaps we need to fast from our computers, cell phones, and televisions.  Lent may be half over, but we can all still find a little time to “unplug” as the Pope suggests.

pope and me
pope and me (Photo credit: BoFax)

In this time of Lent, really challenge yourself to ask what separates you from fully receiving God’s grace.  Conduct an examination of conscience and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  But avoiding sin and receiving absolution only gets you half way there.  Think about an athlete in training.  An athlete needs to do more than just avoid a bad diet.  He needs to focus on physical conditioning and perfecting his technique.  Likewise, we need to be more than “not bad people.”  We should take some time this Lent to focus and concentrate on how to best live as one of Jesus’ disciples and show the power and glory of God in this world.  Lets take up the Pope’s challenge to unplug and focus on how we can best serve the Lord.  Because now, more than ever, the world needs to see God’s love and glory by us living our faith.  We need to prioritize and show the world that our faith is more important than TV and the internet.

And yes, I understand the irony of me posting an article on the internet discussing how we need to unplug ourselves from the internet.

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Rosary Meditation — The Second Glorious Mystery

This rosary meditation focuses on The Second Glorious Mystery — The Ascension. After rising from the dead in the First Glorious Mystery, Jesus physically ascended into Heaven. We profess this every time we recite the Apostle’s Creed — “On the third day He rose again; He ascended into Heaven, He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” We must remember that ultimately we will have to account for our thoughts, words, and actions in front of Jesus who reigns in Heaven. However, the Church gives us tools that allow us to remain close to God and correct our faults before facing our final judgment.

Ascension of Christ
Image via Wikipedia

This rosary meditation focuses on The Second Glorious Mystery — The Ascension.  After rising from the dead in the First Glorious Mystery, Jesus physically ascended into Heaven.  We profess this every time we recite the Apostle’s Creed — “On the third day He rose again;  He ascended into Heaven,  He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”  We must remember that ultimately we will have to account for our thoughts, words, and actions in front of Jesus who reigns in Heaven.  However, the Church gives us tools that allow us to remain close to God and correct our faults before facing our final judgment.

“He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”  Like many people, I find the idea of judgment scary.  The word “judgment” conveys a trial, assessing guilt, and handing out punishment; none of which are very pleasant.  In life, judging has a very negative connotation.  We hear how we shouldn’t be so judgmental.  Even when we are guilty (either legally or morally) many of us try to avoid admitting our faults and accepting the consequences.  Instead we hide, we lie, or play the “blame game.”  Deep down we want to be innocent, sinless, and virtuous but we often miss that mark.  But in professing our inevitable judgment in the Apostle’s Creed we remind ourselves that we need to work at becoming more Christ-like.  Understanding that our actions have consequences motivates us to avoid sin.  And we avoid sin, not just to avoid punishment, but also realizing that sin separates us from Jesus Christ whom we love.

The purpose of knowing of our coming judgment is not to scare or depress us.  In fact, God does not want to punish any of us.  He desires all of us to one day enter into His kingdom.  And He provides tools to help us avoid a harsh judgment.  The most obvious tool He gives us is the Sacrament of Confession.  This is our opportunity to set things straight with the Lord and remain in His grace.  It’s our way of doing small course corrections so that we can remain on the path that ultimately leads us into His kingdom of Heaven.  To put it another way, by routinely confessing our sins we confront our shortcomings while they are still small and manageable.  Without acknowledging our sins those small shortcomings can turn into major problems and separate us from God’s grace not to mention make our lives miserable.

Another tool at our disposal to live in God’s graces is prayer.  When we center our lives around God through prayer, that means we are not centering it around sin.  In other words, earnest prayer can never be sinful so when we live a life of prayer we live without sin (unfortunately, no one has been able to obtain this lofty goal 100% of the time).  The fact that we pray means that we acknowledge that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father and hears our prayers.  After all, what would be the point of praying if we did not believe that Jesus hears us and guides us?  When we pray we focus, even if only for a short time, on the Lord and ask for His help, thank Him, and listen to how He calls us to live.  In short, we ask for the strength to live for His kingdom and earn our place that He has prepared for us when he ascended into Heaven.

When we meditate on this mystery, may we remember that our ultimate destination is Heaven.  May we show our love for the Lord by not delaying our arrival in Heaven with a detour in Purgatory.  And may we avoid mortal sin and risk loosing His kingdom entirely.  Remembering our final judgment is not a terrible thing.  Like remembering the consequences of breaking civil laws, we must always be mindful of the natural law that God imprints on our hearts and minds.  Doing so will not only have its benefits in the afterlife, but will also manifest itself as an inner happiness in this life.  Let us also remember to pray for those who are far from God’s graces.  Let us pray for those who do not want to confront their eventual judgment but instead choose to hide, lie, and redirect blame.  Because, as the old saying goes, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

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