How the Rosary Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

I don’t watch a lot of television.  However, when I find a few minutes and don’t feel like doing anything serious, I enjoy watching American Ninja Warrior.  It’s a show where athletes run through an obstacle course trying to complete increasingly more rigorous feats.  Most people fail to complete the entire course.  But those that do are ecstatic because they overcame the temptation to quit even when they were fatigued and were entertaining thoughts that they didn’t have the ability to complete the course.

The same conflict between completing a goal or giving up because the obstacles seem too great appears in many of our spiritual lives.  Many of us have a hard time mustering up enough energy to make it through an entire rosary chaplet or Bible reading.  We all want to do God’s will and form a deep relationship with Him through prayer.  And yet, despite all that we desire, we let trivial obstacles like a television show, website, or video game distract or derail us from doing what we know is good.

Saint Peter highlights what happens when we let obstacles overpower us and distract us from God’s will.  In the Gospel, St. Matthew wrote about Jesus walking on the water in a terrible storm.  Peter also tried walking on the water and was initially successful but then was overcome by fear and doubt and sank (Matthew 14:22-36).

Does Saint Peter’s story sound a lot like yours when it comes to prayer and doing God‘s Will?  I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “This time I’m going to stick to a rigid prayer schedule.”  Or I read a book about the importance and benefits of prayer and get all excited initially only to be overcome by distractions.  Like Saint Peter walking on water, instead of staying focused on my relationship with Jesus Christ I get distracted by the world around me.

But when we make an effort to pray and act according to God’s will, we actually act in a way that is doubly pleasing to God.  Rev. P.J. Michel explains in his book, Temptations:

On this principle, when you observe the law of God and do His will in a way that is displeasing to nature, you acquire a double claim to reward: first, you have obeyed, and secondly, you have obeyed with difficulty and against resistance and combat. The sac­rifice you have made of the natural inclination that solicited and impelled you is rewarded here by new graces and hereafter by an increase of eternal glory and happiness.

Temptations

What does the rosary teach us about praying through distractions and temptations?  You can probably pick any of the Sorrowful Mysteries and see Jesus’ example of doing God’s will despite the pain and suffering.  But that’s too easy of an example for regular RosaryMeds readers!  I want to look at the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation.  Here we have Mary being asked to be the Mother of God.  At first, she focuses on all the earthly limitations of such a request.  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asked (Luke 1:34).  But Mary didn’t let all those concerns distract her from accepting the burden and the honor God wanted to bestow on her.

Now jump to the Fifth Glorious Mystery, Mary’s Coronation in Heaven.  Going back to the passage from Temptations, when you do God’s will in the face of difficulty, you increase your eternal glory and happiness.  What better example is there than seeing Mary crowned Queen of Heaven?  She followed God’s will even when that meant seeing her son rejected and crucified.

When you don’t feel like you have the time or energy to pray the rosary, look to Mary’s example of the grace God gives you when you make the effort to pray and do God’s will despite the difficulty.  It may be hard, but the reward dwarfs the inconvenience.

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How the Rosary Helps Us Avoid The Unforgivable Sin

Last Monday’s Gospel reading contains a verse that has always disturbed me:

He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12:22-32).

I never liked this idea of an unforgivable sin. I was always taught that there was nothing you could do that God could not forgive. Jesus‘ entire ministry focused on redeeming those that Jewish society labeled unredeemable — tax collectors, prostitutes, Romans, and criminals. And while Jesus forgave all these people, He taught that there was a sin that He was unwilling or unable to forgive. That didn’t seem right to me.

Jeromebosch1503
Ummm… no thanks!

I did some digging on this verse and came across an article on EWTN titled THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN written by James Akin. It’s a long read but worth it for an in-depth analysis of Jesus’ words. But Mr. Akin summarizes the unforgivable sin like this:

Jesus asserts (v 30) that one must ally with him or be opposed to him and “through this” he tells us (v 31) that the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Blaspheming the Spirit is thus a failure to repent and ally oneself with Jesus. Since this can always be done during one’s life (cf. 20:1-15), blasphemy against the Holy Spirit must be a final refusal to repent, or final impenitence.

When one refuses to ask for forgiveness, those sins remain unforgiven. The unforgiveness does not come from Jesus as He is always willing to forgive. It comes from us refusing either to acknowledge our sins or refusing to ask for His forgiveness. The comforting fact in all of this is that there are two ways to escape the trap of the unforgiven sin:

1) Do not commit any sins. Unfortunately, this is impossible for any human outside of Mary and Jesus. Everyone from the most devout popes to every saint fell into sin at various points in their lives.
2) Ask for forgiveness. Penitence is the only realistic way to avoid committing the unforgivable sin of impenitence.

There is one more aspect to this topic that I’m hesitant to mention because of its immense risk. Even if you die with unforgiven sins, that does not mean you’re automatically damned.  After all, many good people do die with unforgiven venial sins and the Church teaches that they can go to Heaven. God does have infinite mercy which He can show to anyone. But, as I heard one theologian put it, don’t gamble you soul on God’s mercy when receiving genuine forgiveness is so simple.

Repentance and reconciliation are themes found throughout the rosary. The Fifth Joyful Mystery shows just how far many of us can move away from Jesus and not even realize it.  It is only when we come back looking for Him with a sorrowful (aka, remorseful) heart that we find Him again.  Jesus echoes our battle with sin, a cycle of falling and finding the courage to get back up, in the carrying of the cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  Finally, let’s remember that Mary, assumed into Heaven in the Fourth Glorious Mystery, has constantly taught in her apparitions to approach her Son with a repentant heart.

The unforgiven sin is a serious and scary prospect.  However, avoiding it is completely within our power.  It’s called the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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Morality Clauses and the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary

In my last post I talked about how Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco was battling opponents over his additions to the high school teachers’ hand book about leading a Catholic example while on the job.  He wrote a fantastic clarification about why he added the new clauses and what he hopes to accomplish.  You can read the full letter at Catholic Minority Report.  I know that for many of you who don’t live in the archdiocese of San Francisco, or even the USA, the details of this battle may not hold much interest.  But like many things in life, this controversy does tie back to the rosary (and hence the RosaryMeds website) and provides some thoughts for meditation.  Let’s take a look at the Joyful Mysteries.

First Joyful Mystery

I said in my previous post that teaching at a Catholic school is as much of a vocation as it is a career.  I do think God calls people to use their talents specifically at a Catholic school instead of a secular or public school.  The First Joyful Mystery is all about vocations and reflecting on how God calls us to follow the path He sets before us.  We may have our doubts about God’s plan, similar to Mary questioning the angel Gabriel about how she could become the mother of God since she was an unwed virgin.  But like Mary, when we put our faith in God’s plan for us, no matter how outrageous it may seem, He will bestow upon us the graces to triumph.  We pray that we all reflect on our vocation and do what God asks of us even if we have our doubts.

Second Joyful Mystery

To me, the Visitation is primarily about ministry.  I’ve said in many past articles how Mary had every right to feel like she was a queen to be pampered and honored because she was to become the Mother of God.  But instead she headed off to the countryside proclaiming how she is the handmaiden of the Lord.  Her initial instinct was to go out proclaiming the glory of God when bestowed with God’s grace.  Similarly, Catholic schools are a ministry as well.  They are a place where young minds come to learn, not just reading, science, and mathematics, but also about what it means to be Catholic.  We pray that we remember to show what the Catholic faith professes through our words and actions in a direct, unambiguous way.

Third Joyful Mystery

The birth of Jesus revolves around the theme of humility.  God humbled himself by not only taking shape in the imperfect human form, but also as a lowly peasant.  And yet, through this unexpected person came God’s perfect revelation as taught by Jesus.  I think the archbishop is asking teachers and also the entire Catholic community in the archdiocese to show a lot of humility for the Church’s teachings as revealed by Jesus Christ and handed down over the years by the Magisterium.  It is difficult to accept and promote teachings that you may personally disagree with or are contrary to societal norms.  I’m not just talking about high school teachers either.  We all probably have a hard time accepting some of the Church’s teachings.  When we pray this mystery of the rosary, we should ask God for the humility to accept His perfect teachings although we may have an imperfect understanding of them.

Fourth Joyful Mystery

Jesus’ presentation in the temple focuses on adherence and obedience to the law.  Mary and Joseph waited the prescribed forty days before taking Jesus to the temple.  They also offered a sacrifice of turtledoves as was the custom.  Later, Jesus insists that John baptizes him although Jesus needed no purification.  When I think about many of the objections over the additions to the faculty handbook, I see an absence of the respect of an ancient institution.  The Church hasn’t been secretive about her teachings over the last few millennia nor has it dramatically changed them.  And yet so many people complain about the archbishop’s request to honor the sacred traditions of the Catholic Church in a Catholic school.

When we pray this mystery, we should remember that the Church is an institution that teaches what it teaches for a reason.  Church Scholars have pondered and written brilliant defenses for the Church’s teachings and its rituals over the years.  These “rules” and doctrine of the Church are not arbitrary but are insights into the natural law imprinted on our hearts.  By following those rituals and taking them seriously we follow in Jesus’ footsteps when he, who is the Law, also respected the Law.

Fifth Joyful Mystery

When I think about Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the temple I recall Jesus’ words about needing to be in his father’s house.  What is amazing to me was Mary’s reaction of not understanding what Jesus meant.  What!??  An angel came to Mary and told her she would be the Virgin Mother of God!  Angels proclaimed his birth.  Wise men followed a star and paid homage to him.  What part of Jesus being special does Mary not yet understand?

This painting is on display at the Kunsthistor...
This painting is on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) in Vienna, Austria (site). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I think about those protesting the archbishop’s words I also wonder what part of teaching Catholicism at a Catholic school are they not understanding?  Through all the prayers, Masses, retreats, and religion classes, how are the archbishop’s words, which are essentially the Apostles’ Creed, something new and shocking?

Like the other mysteries, I pray this one for an understanding and acceptance of the Church’s teachings.  I also pray that I see those teachings even in the most unlikely of places.  The scholars were amazed by the knowledge of Jesus Christ as a young boy.  It goes to show that God tries to teach us in many different ways.  We should look for God’s Truth not just in the readings on Sunday, but everywhere around us.  Even a letter of clarification from the archbishop may hold wisdom and offer new insights.

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“Let’s go to Bethlehem” — The Shepherds’ Tale

I wanted to write one more post before Christmas.  I really thought I would be able to get something out last week but two small boys really just suck up all available time and energy.  I don’t have a lot of time and I’m sure many of you are already in party mode.  But I would appreciate it if you could just entertain one more rosary insight before diving into the egg nog.

Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherd...
Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherds, still influenced by St. Bridget (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rosary mystery that relates to Christmas is an obvious one — The Third Joyful Mystery, The Nativity.  I want to focus on a group of people in this mystery that I don’t think get a lot of mention in Christmas homilies — the shepherds.  To recap from Luke’s Gospel:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.

Remember, being a shepherd nearly 2000 years ago wasn’t an easy job.  A shepherd spent day and night taking care of sheep in all sorts of environments.  You couldn’t just run off and leave the sheep unattended or else some wolves would have a very grand feast.  While they worked in groups, I’m sure a few shepherds leaving created a huge burden on the others.  So you have to picture the sense of awe they felt when they saw that great company of the heavenly host in the sky and how deeply the spirit moved them to go and seek out the baby Jesus.  They risked their livelihood to catch a glimpse of Jesus, the newborn king.  After all, I’m sure the “angel excuse” wasn’t going to hold up very well with their employers if the sheep were eaten by wolves.  But they were filled with a sense that seeing Jesus was something unique and important.  Their jobs, while important as well, could wait for a bit.

Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the shepherds...
Georges de La Tour: Adoration of the shepherds (1644) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s learn from the Gospel’s shepherds this Christmas.  For just a few moments, whether it is a week, day, or just a few hours, cast aside your fears and worries in your life to just bask in Jesus’ presence.  Just trust in the Lord that the world won’t come crashing down because you stopped and took a few minutes to pray.  Like the shepherds, you don’t need to come bearing great gifts.  You just need to give your time and attention and most importantly, show a little faith.  Christmas is chaotic, I get that.  It’s not always easy to escape our responsibilities of work and family.  But I hope we can all just take a few moments to just be with Jesus in prayer and allow Him to remind us what’s truly important — God’s love and a sense of hope for a peace, both inner peace in our souls and an exterior peace with each other.

Merry Christmas!

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Our Lady’s Messages: November 2010

A Statue of the Virgin Mary in the Mouintain P...
Image via Wikipedia

November 02 2010 Message to Mirjana at Medjugorje:

Dear children; With motherly perseverance and love I am bringing you the light of life to destroy the darkness of death in you. Do not reject me, my children. Stop and look within yourselves and see how sinful you are. Be aware of your sins and pray for forgiveness. My children, you do not desire to accept that you are weak and little, but you can be strong and great by doing God’s will. Give me your cleansed hearts that I may illuminate them with the light of life, my Son. Thank you.

Here’s a little news flash for all of us — we are not perfect.  We make mistakes.  We fall in and out of sin and hence we fall in and out of God’s grace.  Many of us would rather ignore this simple reality and believe that everything we do is just fine.  Or we think that because we do not suffer any consequences for certain actions in this world that we can continue to do them with impunity.  We make excuses like, “it’s legal so it’s moral.”  Or, “that’s an old rule that no one follows anymore.”  Mary points out that the longer we fool ourselves into thinking we are perfect the weaker we become.  And that becomes a vicious cycle because when we are spiritually weak we are more susceptible to Satan’s lies and  temptations which only puts us further away from God’s grace.

The Third Luminous Mystery calls us to acknowledge God’s kingdom of Heaven and convert.  This rosary mystery echos Mary’s message asking us to take a critical look at our lives and improve in areas where we are spiritually weak.  Jesus calls us to constantly examine our thoughts, words, and actions and ask ourself, “Am I living for God’s glory or my own?”  We all have a choice.  We can choose to live in ignorance of God’s laws and hope that we will never have to answer for our sins.  That is an incredibly risky and foolish gamble because the consequence of being wrong is eternal damnation.  Or, we can acknowledge our sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  In doing so we “accept that we are weak and little” as Mary says but at the same time striving to be “strong and great by doing God’s will.”

November 25, 2010 Message at Medjugorje:

Dear children! I look at you and I see in your heart death without hope, restlessness and hunger. There is no prayer or trust in God, that is why the Most High permits me to bring you hope and joy. Open yourselves. Open your hearts to God’s mercy and He will give you everything you need and will fill your hearts with peace, because He is peace and your hope. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Like many of Her earlier messages, Mary asks us to just slow down and take some time to pray.  I find Mary’s observation that our hearts are full of “death without hope, restlessness, and hunger” interesting.  I echoed something similar in my post about Jesus’s teachings on the End Times and our final judgment.  I observed that without God in our lives we are destined to just stumble pointlessly through life, die, and turn into nothingness.  But Mary says that there is so much more to us than what we can experience in this world if we only open ourselves up to God.  She promises us peace, joy, and hope.

Let’s look at our options.  On one hand we can choose a life of pointlessness, misery, and despair.  On the other hand we can choose peace, hope, and joy.  We make that choice by deciding that we will consciously acknowledge God’s kingdom of Heaven, pray to Him, and put our trust in Him.  What do you choose?

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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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