Easter is the Beginning, Not the End

Easter Sunday has come and gone which means life can get back to normal right? No more Lenten sacrifices so the donuts, chocolate, and beers can come out of the hiding spots. No more meatless Fridays. No more long Gospel readings. No more stations of the cross, rosaries, and being hounded to go to Confession.  Time to shelve that piety until Advent yes?

Don’t start making plans for that vice-filled weekend quite yet.  Lent was a time of preparation. But preparation for what? What happened on Easter Sunday that required 40 days of training? Surely Lent wasn’t about fine tuning your egg finding abilities or expanding your sugar tolerance. In terms of process, the Easter Mass wasn’t any different than other Sunday Masses.  There really wasn’t anything different on Easter Sunday than any other Sunday. What was all the preparation for?

Technically, Easter isn’t a day but a whole season.  It lasts 50 days starting with Easter Sunday and ending at Pentecost.  Did we spend 40 days of Lent preparing for 50 days of Easter?  Do we just have to practice our faith extra hard for three months and then we don’t have to think about it until Christmas?  Of course not.  In fact, there is no end date or time limit to what we profess during Easter.

When we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, we acknowledge the truth of his ministry. Jesus said that he would die and rise again and we celebrate the reality of that claim on Easter. But it’s not just about celebrating that single promise, but all of his promises. Easter is a celebration of the entire Gospel where we rejoice in all the promises and teachings Jesus gave us.  If Jesus was right about the outlandish claim of raising from the dead then he was right about everything else he preached. And we celebrate and give honor to Jesus’ resurrection by promising to go out and live according to his teachings.  Jesus asked us to go out and love our neighbors and our enemies.  He asked us to show compassion to the suffering and less fortunate.  He asked us to forgive those who wronged us.  He asked us to turn away from sin.  He promised eternal joy in Heaven.  He fulfilled that promise on Easter by rising from the dead and opening those gates for all of us.

Jesus Resurrection 1778
Jesus Resurrection 1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s spring so I’m going to use a baseball analogy.  Think of Lent as the pre-season.  We exercise and got into spiritual shape through fasting and prayer.  It was a time where we worked extra hard to shed those bad habits that crept in over the past year.  But if Lent is pre-season, Easter Sunday is opening day.  Yes, it’s a grand event filled with joy, hope, and optimism.  But it’s one day of many. And it is one Easter season of many.  Following Jesus’ teachings doesn’t end on Easter Sunday any more than the baseball season ends after the first game.  Instead, it is a time of hope and renewal as we look towards living out the Gospel in its entirety for the rest of our lives.

Easter Sunday has come and gone.  The candy will disappear over the next few days.  The pastel decorations and colorful eggs will be takn down.  But the celebration continues and requires your active participation.  Continue praying the rosary.  Continue attending Mass.  Continue fasting (maybe after indulging a little on the things you gave up during Lent).  When you meditate on the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary, picture Jesus opening the gates of Heaven in his resurrection.  He showed us that there is so much more to our lives than just what we experience on earth.  We are eternal beings with souls destined for Heaven if we choose.  Our praying, fasting, penance, and charity doesn’t end on Easter.  It ends when the Lord welcomes us into his kingdom that he made available to us through his resurrection.  Keep your rosaries close and God even closer!

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Helping Iraq’s (Forgotten) Christians

I know many readers are probably put off by now about my recent political commentary even if you sit on the same side of the political aisle as I do.  But like I said in previous posts, we live in the real world and rosary prayer and meditation need to play a part in it.  Rosary prayer cannot be something detached and isolated from the other parts of our lives.  It is meant to fuel us and guide us through our our lives, especially the hard parts.

We should turn our prayers toward what is happening in Iraq right now.  Since January, 1.2 million people have been displaced by ISIS and other radical groups.  One group that was already being actively persecuted in the region before January, but are now targeted to a heightened degree is the region’s Christian communities.  Rev. Andrew Write, an Anglican pasture in Baghdad, said “It is as if hell has broken out here and nobody cares.  The situation is so serious and it is very easy to feel forgotten.”

The ultimatum imposed by militants for Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed has passed with the collapse of communities that have existed for millennia

Iraq is just one of many places where Christians have been driven from their homes with nothing but the shirts on their backs.  In some places, they are beheaded or even crucified!  Over the last few years churches that have stood for hundreds of years were shut down, vandalized, or destroyed throughout Syria, Egypt, Libya, and other countries.  By some measures, Christians are now the most persecuted group in the world, but as Rev. Write said, nobody cares.

I’m really not qualified to give a detailed analysis of international politics and why there isn’t a more vocal outrage over the world’s besieged Christians.  But here are some of my thoughts.  In the developed world, when we think of Christians we have the image of nicely dressed people attending a suburban church and then going to a nearby coffee house for pancakes and omelets.  Or we think of the majesty of St. Peter’s Square.  Some stereotypical images of the Spanish inquisition, European witch hunts, or the Crusades might come to mind.  Throw all these perceptions together and it forms a picture of a group of people who don’t need any help at best, or are getting what they deserve at worst.

But in much of the world, the Christian communities are no different from the non-Christian communities around them.  It’s not like Christians in Iraq are some wealthy, powerful group that are being toppled by a desperate underclass.  They are farmers, shopkeepers, employees in some business, mothers, fathers, and children just like everyone else.  Their day to day lives are no different from those around them except maybe they have different diets and worship habits.  They don’t have a direct connection to the politics or history of Christianity.  And yet, in their moment of need, many in the international community are silent because of their perception of who Christians are.

This Iraqi Christian should consider himself lucky.  He was only driven from his home and wasn’t beheaded.

Jesus challenges us to help one another personally.  One of my readers commented about my previous article on how Jesus offered a place for those who were left out of the normal hierarchy.  Jesus didn’t espouse politics nor catered to a specific group of people.  Yes, he taught mostly amongst the Jews, but His message was for everyone regardless of religion, ethnicity, time, or place.  We look at the Third Glorious Mystery, Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the courage to go out and teach Jesus’ message to all the world.  And while they preached the Word to religious and political leaders (since they would have the most influence) they also taught to the masses and spread the Word as individuals to individuals.

St. Paul teaching the masses about Jesus Christ

Individuals helping individuals is the core of Jesus’ ministry.  Yes, we still must lean on our governments and religious leaders to help.  After all, it’s religious and government institutions that have the best infrastructure to deliver aid effectively.  And yes, we must pray for those who are feeling so alone and abandoned as forces of evil drive them from their homes and kill them.  But prayer is not the end of our role in helping those in need, it’s the beginning.  Jesus didn’t want people to pray and then wait for governments and religious leaders to officially adopt His Word before living the Gospel.

Now it’s not like we can jump on the nearest plane to Iraq and drive from the airport to the area where Christians have fled.  But we can still help on a personal level.  Please consider donating to the Catholic Relief Services as they do have the means of reaching out to those undergoing hardships that we will (hopefully) never know.

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The Dulling of Faith

We just remembered the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing on Normandy in WWII.  Operation Overlord, or D-Day, was a massive operation that forever changed the face of our world.  Thousands of men stormed the beaches and for many of them, the flashes of German gunfire from concrete bunkers was the last thing they would ever see and the deafening sounds of mortar shells was the last thing they would ever hear.

But like many historical events, even the big ones like D-Day, time erodes our memories and emotions of these events.  As the people who experienced these events pass away and all we’re left with are pictures and videos, these world changing moments start to feel less real and meaningful to us.  Washington D.C. burning to the ground in 1812, thousands of men dying at Gettysburg, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and one day, 9/11, almost start to have as much impact as a work of fiction as time goes on.

D-DAY IMAGE ...
D-DAY IMAGE … (Photo credit: mrbill78636)

I think we often suffer from time diminishing our faith.  Many of us read the Bible and listen to the Gospels at least once a week during Sunday Mass.  We may pray routinely.  We know what Jesus taught and what He expects of us.  We know the high bar He sets for us to get into His kingdom of Heaven.  And I bet, if Jesus walked into your room and repeated what He said in the Gospels, He would have your complete attention.  You would run out and change anything and everything in your life that didn’t line up with His teaching.

And yet, we often ignore, trivialize, or give lip service to Jesus’ message because He said it nearly 2000 years ago and we didn’t witness it firsthand.  We are like St. Thomas who doubted Jesus’ resurrection when the other disciples told him about it because he didn’t personally see Him.  But Jesus’ teachings are no different today than when He walked this earth.  His teachings are no different through the Gospel than if He came walking through your door right now.  And yet we too allow the trivialities of our present situation to overshadow the greater truths Jesus taught us.

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

I think about my lack of appreciation of Jesus’ truth most when I pray the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary, The Transfiguration.  I think about how awe inspiring it must have been for the apostles to witness Jesus transform into a figure of dazzling light and to hear God say, “LISTEN TO HIM.”  If we truly believe in the authenticity of the Catholic faith, then we know the Transfiguration was a real event.  God didn’t just tell the apostles to listen to Jesus.  He told all of us!  But ask yourself, do you live with an awareness of that reality?  Or do you often ignore or trivialize the truths of the Catholic faith because you didn’t personally witness Jesus saying them?  Why does a difference of time and place have such a dramatic effect on our willingness to follow Jesus’ teachings?

Before you beat yourself up, remember that even the apostles failed to truly believe in Jesus’ teachings when confronted with the realities around them.  Judas betrayed Jesus.  Peter, who witnessed the Transfiguration, denied Him.  And all of them, except for John, went into hiding during Jesus’ crucifixion.  They didn’t even have the excuse of being separated from Jesus by thousands of years like we do.  Their cowardice shows just how powerful our human weaknesses are and how they can dominate over our desire to live for God’s eternal kingdom.

And while we may fail to truly believe in Jesus’ message like the apostles did, God came into our lives in yet another form — as the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gave the apostles that shot of courage and conviction to go out and live and preach the Jesus’ message.  While they may have been lukewarm in their faith while Jesus was alive, they were transformed into true believers on Pentecost.  Even in their fear, the Holy Spirit penetrated their souls and gave the apostles a needed spiritual “kick.”

The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Ant...
The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1618. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us are in need of a spiritual kick.  We may not live in fear of practicing our faith (although more and more Christians are being persecuted and martyred throughout the world).  But many of us do suffer from a sense of passivity in our faith because we haven’t heard Jesus’ teachings directly from His mouth.  But the Holy Spirit, the same one that roused the scared apostles into action, rouses us into action as well.  We only have to provide that small bit of kindling in our souls for the fire of the Holy Spirit to erupt into a bright flame of faith.  That kindling is something as small and as easy as focused prayer, rosary meditation, participating at Mass, and receiving the sacraments.  It doesn’t matter that Jesus walked this earth nearly 2000 years ago.  His message is still the same and the Holy Spirit burns just as bright!

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Our Lady’s Messages: January 2011

Toruń, church of St. James, Descent of the Hol...
Image via Wikipedia

January 2, 2011 Message to Mirjana Soldo

Dear children; Today I call you to unity (communion) in Jesus, my Son. My motherly heart prays that you may comprehend that you are God’s family. Through the spiritual freedom of will, which the Heavenly Father has given you, you are called to become cognizant (to come to the knowledge) of the truth, the good or the evil. May prayer and fasting open your hearts and help you to discover the Heavenly Father through my Son. In discovering the Father, your life will be directed to carrying out of God’s will and the realization of God’s family, in the way that my Son desires (wishes). I will not leave you alone on this path. Thank you.

Mary brings up the very important concept of family.  She wants us to understand that none of us exists solely as individuals, but that we are all connected through God.  We are all each other’s brothers and sisters and Jesus calls us to take care of each other.  But much like siblings in a family, we often find it difficult to get along with each other.  One only has to watch the evening news to catch a glimpse of how we treat our brothers and sisters.  But we don’t mistreat each other only through outright crimes.  I’m sure all of us can think of times when we have treated others badly or unfairly.  If we are all part of God’s family then we must look like a very dysfunctional one to say the least.

However, God assumed Mary into Heaven so that She could be our Heavenly mother.  And one thing moms do is keep peace and order amongst quarreling siblings.  As She says in Her message, She will not leave us alone on our journey through life.  She is a very patient mother in that no matter how far we may stray She will always help us get back on the right path towards family unity.  But just because She guides us doesn’t mean She will do all the work for us.  We have a choice.  We can either follow the path God lays before us or not.  Mary asks that we pray, fast, and try to discover God in our lives.  Praying and fasting for guidance are important.  I find it amazing how much more time someone spends deciding and evaluating what clothes, cars, homes, and other possessions to buy.  And yet, it seems like we so quickly dismiss our relationship with God without ever really meditating and contemplating what that relationship means.  All Mary wants us to do is stop and think seriously about it through praying, fasting, reading the Bible, and attending Mass.

January 25, 2011 Message

Dear children! Also today I am with you and I am looking at you and blessing you, and I am not losing hope that this world will change for the good and that peace will reign in the hearts of men. Joy will begin to reign in the world because you have opened yourselves to my call and to God’s love. The Holy Spirit is changing a multitude of those who have said ‘yes’. Therefore I desire to say to you: thank you for having responded to my call.

Mary says that She still has hope that all of us will turn towards what is good.  Again, She shows great patience with us since it seems like the world is anything but good and peaceful.  And while it is easy to feel defeated when you look around and see so much pain, suffering, and evil, Mary asks us just to simply say yes to God.  All it takes is that little spark of motivation to live for God’s kingdom and Mary, the Holy Spirit, and the saints in Heaven will multiply that spark one hundred times.  The apostles were only twelve men and yet when the Holy Spirit came to them in the Pentecost they went out and spread Jesus’ message and built the Catholic Church.  Indeed, the Holy Spirit can do wondrous things when we let it lead us.  All we have to do is make the conscious choice to say “yes” to God.

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