Gospel for March 27, 2011 — Eternity

peppermint marshmallow squares
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The Gospel for March 27, 2011 is from John 4:5-42 where Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well.  Jesus talks about how He offers water from which someone will never thirst and He has food the world has never known.  One interpretation of Jesus’ words is that He is talking about His body and blood found in the Eucharist which we pray about in the Fifth Luminous Mystery of the rosary.  The Eucharist provides us spiritual energy so that we have the power to focus on what should be the goal of our lives — to one day live in eternal happiness in Heaven.

Jesus compares physical bread and water to spiritual ones.  He explains that when people consume physical bread and water they will be hungry and thirsty again.  But spiritual bread and water are eternally sustaining.  But Jesus is not just talking about being hungry or thirsty.  Jesus essentially compares all our physical wants and needs against our spiritual ones.  It is too often that we tend to focus on our physical needs and neglect our spiritual side.  For example, many of us spend so much time and energy handling finances, world events, politics, social problems, family issues, and work anxieties.  But how often do we focus on our relationship with God?  Do we only give Him one hour a week at Mass if that?  And yet, how much more important is our spiritual health considering that it will determine whether we will spend all eternity in the happiness of Heaven or suffer the misery of Hell?  And even when we do focus on our spiritual needs, do we have the energy and courage to follow the Holy Spirit and do what is right?

Unfortunately, we often are not even putting our physical needs in front of our spiritual ones.  More often, we put physical wants ahead of everything.  We focus on our jobs and finances, not to provide for ourselves and our dependants, but for our wants.  We work for iPods and iPads, expensive clothes, flat screen TVs, movies, and smart phones.  And while none of these are inherently bad (we all need ways to relax), problems arise when we put those wants in front of our spiritual needs.  Like the women in the Gospel who had five husbands, we often live in pursuit of moments of temporary happiness.  We can probably picture this Samaritan woman choosing husbands for all the wrong reasons and getting involved with people mostly because they provided her with some short-term happiness.  But like many things rooted in worldly happiness, they are shallow and it is not long before we crave something newer, different, and better.

In contrast to what this world can provide, Jesus offers us eternal happiness.  But to obtain that we have to look past the temporary joys of this world even if that means temporary suffering.  Unfortunately, many times we lose site of that long term goal of Heaven and settle for shallow, temporary happiness.  Our challenge is to see past our temporary wants and live for eternal joy.  After all, what’s 80, 90, or 100+ years of life compared to an eternity of love and happiness?

Life is basically a much longer and tougher Marshmallow Test.  Watch the video below and notice how difficult it is for the children to forgo the smaller reward (one marshmallow) and wait for a larger one (two marshmallows).  Yes it is humorous to watch and wonder why it is so difficult for kids to wait for a better reward.  But as adults we really are not any better.  Instead of marshmallows, we often settle for worldly happiness at the expense of eternal joy.  We so easily accept what the world offers even when it goes against our faith.  We do this because it makes our life easier, makes us popular, and avoids confrontation.  It is amazing how we so easily throw away that grace through sin or just not putting a lot of effort into growing our spiritual endurance.

The Eucharist gives us the spiritual energy we need to live for the long term goal of eternal joy in God’s Heavenly kingdom.  That is why we should receive it with a heart and mind focused on doing Jesus’ will.  If we truly have the desire to live in God’s grace then the Holy Spirit will show us the way and the Eucharist will provide us the energy.  When you pray The Fifth Luminous Mystery of the rosary meditate on this Sunday’s Gospel.  Ask yourself, are you living for the temporary happiness of this world at the expense of eternal joy?  This week and throughout Lent may we all pray for the strength to focus on what’s really important — living for God’s Kingdom of Heaven.

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Gospel for March 6, 2011 — Not Leaving it to Chance

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The Gospel for Sunday, March 6, 2011 is from Matthew 7:21-27.  Jesus tells His disciples that those who hear His message but do not act on it will not enter His kingdom of Heaven.  He calls on all of us to think beyond our earthly existence and realize that we have eternal souls that will live forever in either Heaven or in Hell.  Whenever we pray the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary, we recall that Jesus rose to new life and desires all of us to join Him in Heaven.  But we must make the conscious decision to live for Heaven in this life by staying in a state of grace lest we hear these words from the Gospel, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.

The Gospel tells us that we must not only “talk the talk,” but also “walk the walk.”  Jesus says that it is not enough to hear God’s Word and just proclaim that you love Him.  We must back up our words with actions that put into practice Jesus’ teachings.  What is interesting about this Gospel is that Jesus says He will deny some people entrance into Heaven although they did good works here on earth.  What Jesus means is that those who are cut off from God’s grace by mortal sin will not enter Heaven despite their good deeds.  You cannot erase mortal sin through good deeds alone.  Jesus does not keep a list of ways sins can be forgiven like this:

  • Missing church = Give $100+ to charity
  • adultery = 12x volunteering at a soup kitchen
  • Cursing = Help a senior citizen cross the street

You could donate a million dollars to charity and that still will not absolve you of sin and bring you back into God’s grace.  The only way to come back into God’s grace is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  This sounds harsh, but Jesus wants us to love God first and have good works flow from that grace.  Loving God above all else is what matters, not individual acts of charity.

We must remember that Heaven is our goal.  When we pray the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary we recall that Jesus’ earthly death was not the end but only the beginning of His eternal reign as King of Heaven.  Whether we like it or not, we do have souls that will live forever in either Heaven or Hell.  We cannot opt for a third, neutral option.  And the option between Heaven or Hell is just too important for anyone to leave it up to chance.  I am often scared how relaxed some people are about where they will ultimately end up.  Many believe that if they just live a neutral life, a little good and a little bad (but not too bad), Jesus will cut them a break.  And while Jesus does show mercy, His teachings do not say that people can just live on auto-pilot and just slide into Heaven without a lot of effort.  I’m not saying that we need to constantly stress out about going to Heaven or Hell, but we do need to realize that our actions in this life do determine where we spend all eternity.

Jesus told us that the wise ones will build on solid foundations while the foolish will not.  In other words, the ones who live on solid, moral principles and do good works according to His teachings will see His Heavenly kingdom.  That isn’t difficult to comprehend but can be hard to put into practice.  So when you think about this Gospel or pray the rosary, really question where your focus lies.  Are you focused on living for God’s kingdom by striving to be in a state of grace or for Satan’s kingdom by living in sin?  Or, if you have not set a goal for where to spend all eternity, do you not think it’s time to start?

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Gospel for February 27, 2011 — Choices

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The Gospel for February 27, 2011 is from Matthew 6:24-34.  Jesus tells us not to put the riches of this world in front of the majesty of Heaven.  He says, “No one 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 God and mammon.”  He then asks us to put our faith in Him and not worry so much about acquiring earthly possessions.  The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary echos this same theme when Jesus asks us to put living for God’s Kingdom before our earthly one.

Jesus’ statements in this Gospel lead to a lot of confusion.  Why is He telling us not to worry about what we will eat, drink, wear, or live?  Don’t we have to work and earn a living so that we have a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear?  After all, I don’t think He wants us to be homeless and dieing of starvation.  I don’t think Jesus is calling for a total collapse of society because no one needs to put in a hard day’s work.  Or is Jesus telling us we do not have to work at all and God will just give us everything we want on account of our faith in Him?

Any reader of this blog or the Gospel obviously knows that Jesus isn’t literally telling us not to work.  Jesus understands that we need to work and provide for ourselves and others.  He is not telling us to be slothful and just await for God to “bail us out.”  Jesus’ main point is that our earthly pursuits should not be the focal point of our lives.  We should work, but not solely for the earthly wealth and power.  As in the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary, Jesus asks us to live for His Heavenly kingdom of Heaven first.  He asks us to convert from our native, earthly focus and orient ourselves towards God.  We do this by consciously making a clean start with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, praying more, and really letting the Holy Spirit guide us through life.

According to the Gospel, God will provide for us.  Note that Jesus does not say that our faith will give us an easy life free of burden and responsibility.  This is not what Jesus meant by providing.  Just look at many of the saints.  Their lives were not easy.  Many of them were persecuted, ignored, hated, and even martyred.  But in the end they were all blessed with eternal happiness because they chose to live for God’s kingdom first.  In the end, God did provide for them with the ultimate gift — Heaven.

We have a choice.  Where are we going to put our priorities?  Are we going to choose living for all the good things of this world or all the great things in Heaven?  We only have so much energy and time in the day so we do have to make a choice.  We cannot live for God’s kingdom by accident.  If we do not explicitly choose to live for God, we naturally tend to drift towards living only for this world.  That means we need to make many small decisions every day to choose God’s love over earthly pursuits.  Do we choose to set aside time for prayer?  Do we go to Sunday Mass and treat it seriously and with respect?  Do we receive the sacraments (particularly Reconciliation)?  Do we go out of our way to avoid sin even if it makes our life harder?  Do we help our brothers and sisters, particularly our enemies or those in need?  Those are just a few  of the choices we need to make that will either bring us closer to God or away from Him.  This week is a good time to pray the rosary, focus on the Third Luminous Mystery, and ask yourself, “Who will you serve?”

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Perfect Prayer

I came across this article on Catholic Exchange. It discusses the idea of “perfect prayer” and how the Holy Spirit guides us in our spiritual life. It also dives into the idea of how reciting prayers, like the “Hail Mary” repetitively in the Catholic rosary, is different from the mindless incantations that Jesus warns us against in the Gospel. Many of the ideas put forth by the article’s author, Mark Shea, run along similar lines as many of my articles so I thought this was worth further commentary.

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I came across this article on Catholic Exchange.  It discusses the idea of “perfect prayer” and how the Holy Spirit guides us in our spiritual life.  It also dives into the idea of how reciting prayers, like the “Hail Mary” repeatedly in the Catholic rosary, is different from the mindless incantations that Jesus warns us against in the Gospel.  Many of the ideas put forth by the article’s author, Mark Shea, run along similar lines as many of my articles so I thought this was worth further commentary.

The article starts by explaining to us the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer:

Because we don’t know what we are doing when we pray, God sends us help. The principal help he gives is the Spirit who, if you will, prays through us and in union with us.

Naturally, this calls to mind the Third Glorious Mystery, the Coming of the Holy Spirit.  This same gift given to the apostles is also available to us to help guide us through life.  Remember, the purpose of prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is not to erase all of life’s problems.  The world will always be an imperfect place where there is sadness, sickness, cruelty, war, and suffering.  The world moves like raging, white water rapids where it is so easy to lose control and smash upon the rocks.  But the Holy Spirit helps us navigate those rapids so that we make it through intact.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t make the rapids go away but gives us the strength and knowledge to survive and even thrive among the chaos of this world.

The article moves on to discuss repetitive prayer and cites Jesus in Matthew 6:7:

And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

I always found this warning against “empty phrases” interesting because people always ask this about praying the rosary.  Many people feel like repeating the Hail Mary ten times for each decade is just the recitation of empty phrases.  And surely, it can become that if we say them without any focus or conviction.  But Mark Shea makes a good point that we do not recite the Hail Mary or the Our Father as if it is some sort of magic spell and hence reduce God to a genie who grants us wishes.  Instead, reciting these prayers repeatedly moves us into a more meditative and receptive state to hear God’s will.  And this brings us back to the earlier part about letting the Holy Spirit guide us.  By praying and meditating we prepare ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  In a way, its not the words of the prayer that are important.  Rather, it’s the frame of mind that prayer puts us in since it shows an effort to really have a closer relationship with God.

Reciting the Hail Mary as a form of rosary meditation is our spiritual exercise.  In a past article, I liken rosary prayer to doing push ups.  You don’t get in shape physically by doing a single push up periodically.  Similarly, you don’t get spiritually healthy by praying a single Hail Mary once in a while.  So what some see as mindless incantations in praying the rosary, I see as a healthy spiritual workout regiment.  Very few of us can get “in the zone” with a few seconds of praying.  It takes time to organize our thoughts and present them to the Lord.  And that is why God designed the rosary the way it is.  It allows us to take our time, warm up a little, and really focus on trying to build our relationship with the Lord.

It takes discipline to pray the rosary and stay focused and receptive to the Holy Spirit.  Anyone who has meditated deeply will tell you it is anything but the recitation of easy, mindless phrases.

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Medjugorje Messages for July 2010

Mary’s July Medjugorje messages focus on the idea of “surrendering” to God. There are many rosary mysteries that center around putting our faith in the Lord and His divine plan for each of us.

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Mary’s July Medjugorje messages focus on the idea of “surrendering” to God.  There are many rosary mysteries that center around putting our faith in the Lord and His divine plan for each of us.

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on July 2, 2010:

Dear children, my motherly call, which I direct to you today, is a call of truth and life. My Son, who is Life, loves you and knows you in truth. To come to know and to love yourself, you must come to know my Son; to come to know and to love others, you must see my Son in them. Therefore, my children, pray, pray, that you may comprehend and surrender with a spirit that is free, be completely transformed and, in this way, may have the Kingdom of Heaven in your heart on earth. Thank you!

Mary says that we must have the Kingdom of Heaven in our hearts here on earth.  Her statement reminds me of the Third Luminous Mystery where Jesus proclaims His Kingdom and calls us all to conversion.  Mary, in Her message, and Jesus, in that rosary mystery, both say that we need to convert or “transform” our lives by orienting them towards God.  How do we do that?  Mary says that we must pray and surrender ourselves to God’s will.  When we pray and make our hearts open to God we mimic the Apostles in the Third Glorious Mystery when the Holy Spirit came to them.  The Holy Spirit guides us and empowers us to do God’s will.  However, in order for us to be truly transformed, we have to silence all those earthly distractions so we can hear and see God in our lives.  Those distractions include earthly pursuits of money, power, lust, greed, and anything else that orients us to live solely for this world.  Mary challenges us to give up our earthly desires since they blind us from the truth of Jesus Christ.

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on July 25, 2010:

Dear children! Anew I call you to follow me with joy. I desire to lead all of you to my Son, your Savior. You are not aware that without Him you do not have joy and peace, nor a future or eternal life. Therefore, little children, make good use of this time of joyful prayer and surrender. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Again, Mary uses the word “surrender” like She did in the July 2nd message.  She does not ask us to surrender in the traditional sense of the word as in surrendering because we are beaten down and defeated.  Instead she asks us to surrender to God by saying to him through our actions, “thy will be done.”  Much like Mary in the Annunciation, surrendering to God means opening ourselves to lead the life He plans for each one of us.  Instead of fighting God’s plan by falsely believing that we know better, we acknowledge that true happiness is only found though God.  Mary and the saints know this and all they desire is that we come to know this simple fact as well.  This type of surrender isn’t meant to beat us down and make us slaves.  On the contrary, this surrender actually lifts us up into a state of grace because we forge a closer relationship with the Lord.  All we need to do is put our faith and trust in God to follow the path He lays before us knowing that it will ultimately lead us to eternal life in Heaven.

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Medjugorje Messages for June 2010

I discuss Mary’s two messages at Medjugorje for June, 2010.

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I discuss Mary‘s two messages at Medjugorje for June, 2010.

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on June 2, 2010:

Dear Children, Today I call you with prayer and fasting to clear the path in which my Son will enter into your hearts. Accept me as a mother and a messenger of God‘s love and His desire for your salvation. Free yourself of everything from the past which burdens you, that gives you a sense of guilt, that which previously led you astray in error and darkness. Accept the light. Be born anew in the righteousness of my Son. Thank you.

Mary explains Her role as Queen of Heaven when she asks us to accept Her as a “mother and a messenger of God’s love.”  We must remember that Mary and all the saints want to guide us into God’s kingdom.  The saints are eternally in God’s love and their greatest desire is for all of us to one day feel that indescribable closeness with Him.  We can ask Mary and the saints to help us through our struggles in this life and stay in a state of grace.

Why not just pray directly to God?  If He hears our prayers then why pray to a saint who was a human just like you or me?  Why pray to people who had sins, struggles, and all those human imperfections when you can just pray directly to the one who can grant you eternal grace and happiness?  The fact is, we still do pray to God when we pray through the saints.  Think of the saints as our interface to God.  Because God’s nature is so indescribable, the saints offer us a model of the different aspects of God in a way we can comprehend.  They are simpler examples of God’s love, charity, mercy, knowledge, power, strength.  They show us the path to Heaven in a way we understand.  This is why God was made man through Jesus Christ.  And this is why Jesus established the Church which provides us with the collective wisdom of Mary and the saints.  All of this was done so that we may come to know God.

Mary’s message on June 25, 2010:

Dear children! With joy, I call you all to live my messages with joy; only in this way, little children, will you be able to be closer to my Son. I desire to lead you all only to Him, and in Him you will find true peace and the joy of your heart. I bless you all and love you with immeasurable love. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Again, Mary asks us to accept Her guidance to Jesus so that we may find true peace and joy.  Mary, the saints, your guardian angel, the souls in purgatory, and the Holy Spirit constantly try to guide us into Heaven.  Each one of us has an entire divine team that wants to put us on the right track to eternal happiness.  But are we listening?  Have we silenced our hearts of earthly desires to hear these messages?  I’m going to assume that no one who made it into Heaven was ever disappointed in what they found.  So why are we so often reluctant to follow the guidance of those who just want us to feel what they feel for all eternity?  We should pray that we make room in our hearts and minds for those offering us their help.

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Medjugorje Messages — May, 2010

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on May 2, 2010: “Dear children; Today, through me, the good Father calls you to, with your soul filled with love, set out on a spiritual visitation. Dear children, be filled with grace, sincerely repent for your sins and yearn for the good. Yearn also in the name of those who have not come to know the perfection of the good. You will be more pleasing to God. Thank you.

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Sorry for the long absence, but May was a crazy month for me.  I didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and write posts and my computer was not readily available.  I’m bundling both of Mary‘s messages for May into one posting.

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on May 2, 2010:

“Dear children; Today, through me, the good Father calls you to, with your soul filled with love, set out on a spiritual visitation. Dear children, be filled with grace, sincerely repent for your sins and yearn for the good. Yearn also in the name of those who have not come to know the perfection of the good. You will be more pleasing to God. Thank you.

The phrase, “spiritual visition,” recalls the Second Joyful Mystery of Mary visiting Her cousin, Elizabeth, and sharing the good news.  Like the message in the Visitation, Mary asks us to not only live a good and holy life, but to share that holiness with others.  She asks us to bring Jesus’ love to those who need it most — “those who have not come to know the perfection of the good.”  As I said before, we must remember the “lost souls” in our lives and pray hard that they will come to know the goodness of Jesus Christ and His Church.

Mary’s message at Medjugorje on May 25, 2010:

Dear children! God gave you the grace to live and to defend all the good that is in you and around you, and to inspire others to be better and holier; but Satan, too, does not sleep and through modernism diverts you and leads you to his way. Therefore, little children, in the love for my Immaculate Heart, love God above everything and live His commandments. In this way, your life will have meaning and peace will rule on earth. Thank you for having responded to my call.

This seems very similar to Her May 2nd message.  Again, this message not only focuses on each one of us personally living a holy life, but inspiring others to also become better people by embracing Jesus’ message.  Why must we do this?  Mary says that Satan is also on the prowl trying to bring people down with him into misery and despair.  We live in a time where people, even many in the Chuch, don’t like to think about Satan and the idea of absolute evil.  But Mary reminds us that we must act and bring people into God’s grace because, if we do not, Satan is always there to fill the void.  I will leave you with this thought from Edmund Burke who I think summarizes this idea nicely:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

I find it very interesting that Mary points to “modernism” as one of Satan’s tool.  What exactly does She mean?  When I think of modernism, I think of it mainly in terms of rejecting thoughts, teachings, and institutions that are viewed as old and outdated.  You will easily find plenty of examples of modernist ideas in the media trying to show that the Catholic Church is an old, outdated institution with rules and practices that have no use in today’s world.  But the Church and Her teachings are one of the primary ways Satan is kept in check.  God’s grace, though the Church, strengthens people against the powers of the devil.  So it makes sense that Satan would embrace any idea that diminishes the power of the Church so that his power and influence will increase.  Mary asks us not to forget about the Church and Her teachings, but to love God and keep His commandments.  Despite what current modernists would have you believe, we are in more need of the Church today more than ever to combat the increasing influence of Satan and his minions.

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Rosary Meditation: The Fifth Glorious Mystery

Today’s rosary meditation is the Fifth Glorious Mystery — The Coronation of Mary. In this decade we see Mary awarded the honor of Queen of Heaven for having wholeheartedly accept God’s call. This is Her rightful place for having faith is God’s plan in The Annunciation, spreading the joy of God in The Visitation, giving birth to Jesus, and ultimately accepting the sorrow of His crucifixion and death. Mary is now in Heaven and amplifies and purifies our prayers and presents them to Her son, Jesus Christ. Mary’s coronation gives Her many titles — Queen of Peace, Queen of Angels, Queen of Saints, and Queen of the Rosary.

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Today’s rosary meditation is the Fifth Glorious Mystery — The Coronation of Mary.  In this decade we see Mary awarded the honor of Queen of Heaven for having wholeheartedly accepted God‘s call.  This is Her rightful place for having faith in God’s plan in The Annunciation, spreading God’s joy in The Visitation, giving birth to Jesus, King of the World, and ultimately accepting the sorrow of His crucifixion and death.  Mary is now in Heaven and amplifies and purifies our prayers and presents our needs to Her son, Jesus Christ.  Mary’s coronation gives Her many titles such as the Queen of Peace, Queen of Angels, Queen of Saints, and Queen of the Rosary.

Mary is the Queen of Peace.  Like many people, when I think of peace I think of a world without war and conflict.  And while that is a lofty goal and something worth praying for, Mary and the saints want us to dig deeper.  We cannot have peace in this world with each other unless we have an inner peace with God.  She wants us to work towards this internal peace by reconciling our ways with God’s ways.  She calls us to align ourselves with the teachings of Jesus Christ as handed to us through the Church.  This means putting aside worldly desires of money, power, fame, popularity, and anything else that might distract us from doing God’s will.  Mary knows that we cannot have real peace as long as there is conflict in our hearts between our love for Jesus and our love for earthly desires.

Mary is the Queen of Angels.  We must remember the angels in our prayers, particularly our guardian angels who protect us.  While we may not be aware of it, angels fight against the forces of evil every day to protect our souls from Satan and his minions.  Mary understands the precious gift of being in God’s grace and desires all of us to be in communion with Jesus Christ.  She directs the angels to fight for us because She does not want anyone to lose the gift of grace, especially for the momentary and trivial pleasures of this world.

Mary is certainly the Queen of the Rosary.  The rosary is our way of communicating with God.  We pray it remembering all the sorrows, joys, and glories of Jesus Christ.  When we pray the Joyful Mysteries we pray for the strength to accept God’s plans for us as Mary did.  When we pray the Sorrowful Mysteries we pray for the strength to remain faithful in the face of great suffering.  In the Luminous Mysteries we pray for the strength to live according to Jesus’ teachings.  And in the Glorious Mysteries we pray for the strength to live for our eventual resurrection and judgment.  Mary gives us a great gift in the rosary because we can use it to reflect on all dimensions of our faith.  It reminds us to thank God for all He gives us, ask for forgiveness of our sins and shortcomings, and ask Him for strength to live according to His Truth.

Let us pray that we take full advantage of the rosary to reflect and meditate on our faith.  May we look to Mary to guide us and help bring us closer to Her son, Jesus Christ.

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Medjugorje Message — April 25, 2010

Dear children! At this time, when in a special way you are praying and seeking my intercession, I call you, little children, to pray so that through your prayers I can help you to have all the more hearts be opened to my messages. Pray for my intentions. I am with you and I intercede before my Son for each of you. Thank you for having responded to my call.

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Can you believe it?  I’m actually posting Mary‘s Medjugorje‘s message on that day She sent it!  Sorry for the long delays between posts but I’ve been very busy lately.  Here’s Mary’s message of April 25, 2010:

Dear children! At this time, when in a special way you are praying and seeking my intercession, I call you, little children, to pray so that through your prayers I can help you to have all the more hearts be opened to my messages. Pray for my intentions. I am with you and I intercede before my Son for each of you. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Her message is simple — ask for Her help (and the aid of the saints) and She will give it to you.  Mary is queen of Heaven and She desires nothing more than seeing you in Jesus‘ graces.  We just have to remember to ask for the right things.  Do you know what they are?  I’ll give you a clue.  It’s not money, wealth, fame, or power.  You see, no one ever got into heaven because they were wealthy.  St. Peter doesn’t ask how large your house was or what position you held in your company before opening the Pearly Gates for you.  None of that matters in the eyes of Jesus.  In fact, many times in the Gospel Jesus tells people how devotion to material wealth hampers you from receiving His graces (think of the story of the rich man).  So let us remember to pray and ask Mary for the right things and the only truly important thing — to be close to Her son, Jesus Christ.

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Eating Your Spiritual Vegetables

I came across an article on EWTN discussing the results of a study on why people choose to leave the Catholic Church. This article highlights the importance of attending Mass regularly as a child. I want to expand on the article and discuss why parents have such an awesome responsibility to correctly shape their child’s spiritual habits.

I came across an article on EWTN discussing the results of a study on why people choose to leave the Catholic Church.  This article highlights the importance of attending Mass regularly as a child.  I want to expand on the article and discuss why parents have such an awesome responsibility to correctly shape their child’s spiritual habits.

From the article:

The study, “Faith in Flux: Changes in the Religious Affiliation in the U.S.,” was made public Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

“The report highlights the importance of Mass attendance among children and teenagers,” the archbishop said. “Adolescence is a critical time in religious development and, as the poll shows, what happens in the teen years has a long-lasting affect. We have to help young people and their parents appreciate the importance of going to weekly Mass so teenagers know Jesus is there for them now and always.“

It should not come as any surprise that people who attend Mass regularly during their childhood will more likely continue to attend Mass as adults.  I’m reminded of two old sayings — “practice makes perfect” and “use it or lose it.”  In a previous post, I talked about spiritual fitness.  I touched on how becoming spiritually fit is a lifelong process and cannot happen overnight after a single prayer.  Similar to development in other areas of one’s life, starting good spiritual habits early provides a sturdy base on which one builds a strong faith.  I also discussed how people who attend Mass regularly are more in tune with their faith because they make their faith a priority in their lives.  Inversely, those who do not make faith a priority will often reject it either formally (by renouncing their affiliation with the Church) or informally by becoming a Catholic in name only.  However, for parents this decision to leave the Church has much larger implications because of the dire effects it might have on children.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine who said that he would never force his children to go to Mass.  I asked him if he thought regular Mass attendance was important to him.  He answered that it was for him but he did not want to “force” his beliefs on his kids.  I’m often surprised to hear Catholics who do not encourage or expect their children to attend Mass regularly.  These parents say that they want to let their kids develop their own religious identity.  On the surface that seems like a very politically correct and noble course of action.  After all, one of the pillars of Western society is the freedom of religion.  Shouldn’t people be free to choose whatever religion they want instead of having their parents’ religious dogma forced-fed to them?  What’s wrong with that?

Not shaping a child’s religious development is similar to not shaping their nutritional diet and exercise habits.  Good parents do not let their kids eat whatever they want whenever they want.  They know that a child, when given complete freedom to choose their diet, would most likely live entirely off cookies, chocolate, cotton candy, doughnuts, and hot dogs.  Heck, even I as an adult would rather reach for an Oreo instead of a carrot at times.  But I know better and understand the dangers of consuming large amounts of junk food.  However, children do not have the maturity to understand the long-term consequences of a junk food diet.  Hence, it is the parents’ responsibility to introduce healthy foods to their children such as fruits and vegetables and educate them on good eating habits.  Loving parents do not want to see their kids develop health problems (obesity, diabetes, eating disorders, etc.) before they start taking nutrition seriously.

The spiritual diet is formed in a very similar way as the nutritional one.  Parents have a responsibility to make sure their children develop spiritually healthy habits.  That includes routine prayer, following the Commandments and laws of the Church, and attending Mass regularly (for starters).  Parents must set an example for their child’s spiritual development, not leave it in the hands of a child that would often rather watch television and play video games instead of praying and attending Mass.  At times, that means forcing the child to put down the game controller, get dressed, and go to Mass.  It’s the spiritual equivalent of not letting a child leave the dinner table until all vegetables are eaten.  The child may not like it, but you know that ultimately it will benefit him/her.  Children, teenagers, and even young adults often need some guidance and motivation in their spiritual lives since they do not always have the maturity to make such important decisions on their own.  And when it comes to faith, making poor decisions can be devastating.  Moving away from a healthy, spiritual lifestyle can lead to drug abuse, sexual addiction, and a whole host of other damaging behaviors.  With those possible dangers, some of them with permanent consequences, would any parent want a child to learn the importance of faith and spirituality the hard way?

I find it interesting how teaching and encouraging good nutrition, exercise habits, thinking skills, work ethic, and common decency are viewed as good parenting while passing along a good spiritual lifestyle is viewed as brainwashing.  Nutrition, exercise, work, and studying can be difficult at times but we do them because we know they help make life more fulfilling.  And yet, when the Church (or any organized religion) challenges Her members to lead faithful and moral lives that is seen as being unreasonable, unrealistic, and outdated.  We often want to tell the Church to “lighten up” instead of stepping up to the challenge and really pushing ourselves and others to answer God’s call.  For parents, stepping up to that challenge is doubly-important because it sets an example for children.

The “Faith in Flux” study states:

When people were asked to choose why they left from a list of possible reasons, the number jumped from 21% for Catholics who became Protestant, and 27% for former Catholics who are now unaffiliated with any church. Other reasons for leaving the Church, such as disagreement on doctrinal matters, figured much higher.

These results reinforce the importance of teaching children strong spiritual habits.  I’m wondering from that study how many of the 27% who are no longer affiliated with any church did not attend Mass regularly during childhood and incorporate God’s Word in their lives?  I bet many of them grew up in a household where their parents did not place a high priority on Mass attendance, learning their faith, receiving the Sacraments, and prayer.  In fact, taking a relaxed approach to faith can be even more damaging to a child than not practicing any faith at all.  Children grow up with misconceptions when parents live in a way that contradicts the Church’s teachings.  These misconceptions develop into frustration, confusion, and ultimately abandonment of the faith entirely.

Of course, I’m not a parent so what do I know about shaping a child’s spiritual development?  To be honest, I imagine that trying to pass on my Catholic faith to my kids will be one of the scariest aspect of parenthood.  I want my children to be spiritually healthy and lead good and happy lives free from a lot of the evils that take root in so many people today.  I want my children to feel the joy and fulfillment that comes from a life that recognizes and admires God, Jesus Christ, the Saints, and the Catholic Church.  But until I face that trial I can only look at my parents’ example and hope to imitate them as much as possible.  They taught me the importance of:

  • Praying before meals and before going to bed.
  • Reading from the Bible (illustrated children’s Bible when I was young).
  • Attending Mass weekly and on Holy Days of Obligation.
  • Following the Golden Rule of treating others how we want to be treated.
  • Calling attention to the importance of faith in various life situations (births, deaths, hardships, and triumphs).
  • Doing the right thing because it is right, not because I’ll get some reward or recognition.  Inversely, I shouldn’t do bad things even if I don’t get caught.
  • Leading by example.  Children are smart and will notice when parents do not practice what they preach.  Fortunately for me, my parents never gave me the opportunity to find any contradictory behavior.

Thanks Mom and Dad!

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