The Importance of Prioritizing Rosary Prayer

In my previous article, I talked about how we need to make every rosary prayer count by staying focused and engaged instead of just racing through it so that it can be checked off a spiritual to-do list. That naturally leads many people to ask this question, “Should I pray the rosary even when I’m not in the mood?” After all, when you’re sick, do you exercise heavily or get some rest? Is it better to skip rosary prayer if you believe you are just going to say the words on auto-pilot?

About a year ago I gave a lecture titled “Would you pray for a million dollars?” I put forth this theoretical situation. Suppose Pope Francis offered anyone who prayed the rosary every day for a month a million dollars. But you receive nothing if you miss just one day. How high would you prioritize rosary prayer amongst your other daily responsibilities? What would be so important that would cause you to skip a day and lose the big payout?

Do I get paid by the bead or by the chaplet?

For most of us, nothing short of the apocalypse would stand in our way of praying the rosary daily for a million dollars (bad example as I’m sure rosary prayer would increase during the Apocalypse).  But the kicker is that Mary’s 15 promises to those who pray the rosary are infinitely more valuable than any cash payout. And yet, we so quickly tend to find reasons to avoid praying the rosary and miss out on its benefits.

Back to the original question of this article — should you pray the rosary when you don’t feel like it? Is no rosary better than an unfocused rosary? I think this is actually asking the wrong question. In most cases, it’s not that you don’t feel up to praying the rosary. After all, I bet you would find the time and energy for a cash reward. It’s that we tend to de-prioritize the rosary because we don’t appreciate its value. If we did internalize the importance and benefits of rosary prayer then nothing short of death would keep us from praying it (another bad example since you will be more likely to pray the rosary at the hour of your death).

I don’t want to sound sanctimonious because I certainly have days when I talk myself out of praying the rosary for very weak reasons. We all probably have our moments of weakness that allow Satan to convince us to put away our rosaries and do something else.

No, watching a movie starring Jim Caviezel is not the same as praying the rosary.

Before canceling your rosary prayer for the day, ask yourself whether you prioritized it correctly.  Did you put it off all day to a time when you historically don’t focus well?  Did you replace rosary prayer with TV or some other leisurely activity?  In short, did you set yourself up for failing to pray by not giving it the proper priority in your day?  Remember that rosary prayer has incredible benefits that far outweigh any material gain.  Don’t casually convince yourself out of praying it regularly for weak reasons and miss out on all God offers you.

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Making Every Rosary Prayer Count

I’m a fan of the Catholic Answers Forums.  For those who have never visited it, CAF is a huge forum of questions, updates, and news regarding Catholicism.  If you read it long enough, you will start to see patterns emerge in the type of posts submitted.  You will see posts of the type “Is this a mortal sin…?”,  “Please pray for…”, “Why does God allow…?”, etc.  I frequently see this one — “Does rosary prayer count if I…?”  It ends with “was watching TV?”, “thinking of something else?”, “was listening to it on the radio?”, etc.

I find this way of approaching rosary prayer interesting since I believe it misses the point of why we pray.  What does it mean for a prayer to “count?”  For me, that conjures up images of our Mother Mary sporting a visor, whistle, and holding a clipboard like a junior high school gym teacher.  And she’s marking down how many “valid” prayers you’ve said as if you were taking a pushup test.  “Bad form Brent!”  “You missed a word!”  “Hands not folded in approved fashion.”  And in the end, “Not bad; in that chaplet you said 33 decent Hail Marys; you pass!”

“Don’t think I can’t see those knees bending Jimmy.”

I believe many people approach their faith in this binary fashion; that the things you do are scored and count towards getting into Heaven or against it.  You’re in Heaven if you rack up a high enough score by the time you die.  And who knows, maybe certain aspects of our faith are a little like that like attending Mass on Sunday — if you miss it for no valid reason then you’ve broken a Commandment.  Definitely points off.

But I don’t think the rosary breaks down into a nice little checkbox on whether it counts or not.  It’s not a pass/fail activity.  You have to approach the rosary more like a conversation.  Are you talking and listening to God through prayer?  Are you concentrating and meditating on each mystery and really trying to communicate with God or are you just going through the motions with your heart and mind are somewhere else?  Furthermore, what do your thoughts and actions say about the quality of your prayers?  Does prayer actually motivate you to lead a life of conversion towards Jesus’ teachings or does it not really affect you in any meaningful way?  Are you just tuning out God?

“That’s whatever you’re talking about for ya…”

Maybe we can think of rosary prayer like exercise.  No, I’m not going back to the junior high gym class type of exercise that is highly quantitative and you either pass or fail.  I’m talking about general exercise.  You can go to the gym and idly walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes.  And that is better than nothing.  But did you actually push yourself and stress your heart and muscles to make them stronger?  Do you follow up workouts with healthy meals or do you down that slice of cheesecake?

Rosary prayer is similar to the exercise experience except instead of stressing physical muscles, you’re stressing spiritual ones.  Is the rosary helping you develop a closer relationship with God?  Is it motivating you to desire God’s grace and His Kingdom of Heaven?  Are you trying to follow up rosary prayer with virtuous behavior while avoiding sin?

Overall, the rosary only “counts” as much as you make it count.  It’s not evaluated by some external, quantifiable criteria.  I know many of us take comfort in absolutes and it can be frustrating and even a little scary in the absence of it.  But the rosary requires faith to accept that there won’t necessarily be a straight and immediate answer to your prayers.  But don’t worry, it’s a prayer worth learning and becoming comfortable with even if it doesn’t produce the absolute answers you’re looking for.  Because the answers it does provide go far beyond what is observable and quantifiable.  Our faith and God’s grace cannot be limited to rules, regulations, and items on a checklist.

Want the rosary to count?  That’s entirely up to you.  Look at your relationship with God and your faith in His plan.  Has praying the rosary given you more faith and a closer relationship with God?  If not, maybe it’s time to look at how you can get more out of the rosary by investing more time and concentration to it.

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It’s May! Time to Get Out Those Rosaries

For Mary’s month of May, Pope Francis has recommended the “simple and effective” prayer of the rosary.

At his weekly General Audience this morning, May 3, 2017, Francis gave pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square this advice: “At the beginning of May, let us invoke the heavenly intercession of Mary, Mother of Jesus.”

During his greetings to Polish pilgrims, the Pope invited the crowd to applaud the Virgin Mary “Queen of Poland” on the day of the national holiday.

While to young people, Francis urged, “learn to pray with the simple and effective prayer of the rosary,” to sick people, he encouraged, “may the Blessed Virgin be your support in the trial of suffering.”

May is Mary’s month and I can think of no better way to honor our Heavenly Mother than with earnest rosary prayer.  The word rosary comes from the Latin word rosa meaning rose.  So while you are busy buying physical flowers for Mother’s Day don’t forget to send Mary spiritual flowers through rosary prayer.

As an aside, I can picture some of you saying, “Wait, you’re saying May is the perfect time to pray the rosary.  Didn’t you just say that we should celebrate Easter by praying the rosary?  And before that, didn’t you say we should observe Lent by praying the rosary?  And before that didn’t you say we should celebrate a new year with rosary prayer?  And before that, didn’t you say to celebrate Christmas, Advent, October, etc. with rosary prayer?”

Naturally, my answer to all of those questions is yes!  The rosary is the perfect prayer for all occasions.  There is never a bad time to pray the rosary or start learning how to pray the rosary.  Need help?  Please browse RosaryMeds for videos, links, and other resources to help you pray the rosary.

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What the Rosary Teaches Us About Spiritual Persistence

As a father of two boys, I can sympathize with those who face the never ending battle of trying to keep a clean house.  No sooner have I vacuumed the floor that one of my boys starts jumping on the sofa and knocks down a leftover bowl of cereal.  Or I just finish cleaning a room and they dump a bin of legos on the floor and start building.  On Catholic Exchange, Sam Guzman relates the experience of keeping a clean house to keeping a clean soul in his article:

At any rate, I’ve noticed that, just as a clean house quickly descends into disorder and must be constantly cleaned, so also our souls need constant care and upkeep. We must always be beginning to put them in order again.

There are days when our children have made such a mess of things that cleaning up seems a hopeless task. My wife and I look at each other and don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Yet, we begin again.

In this life, holiness is found in beginning again and again. It is constant examination and conversion and regeneration of heart. Holiness if found in repentance. And repentance is not merely feeling sorry that you sinned. It is rather a re-turning to God—a thousand times a day if necessary.

My kids’ room 5 minutes after cleaning it

I call this never ending practice of conversion spiritual persistence.  Spiritual persistence is continuing to pray and have faith in God’s plan even when it seems fruitless.  When I pray the rosary and ask God for help building my spiritual persistence I meditate on Jesus carrying the cross in The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  Jesus was literally beaten down carrying the cross with no hope for relief.  Each time he fell down and got back up, he only had more cruelty and torture to look forward to.  And yet, Jesus got back up and began walking again towards his crucifixion.

I think we all have moments when we ask ourselves, “what’s the point?”  Why should I suffer for doing the right thing instead of taking ethical or moral shortcuts?  Why should I fast?  Why should I go to Sunday Mass?  Why should I go to Confession?  What good will these do since I’ll just go about sinning again in the future anyway?

( )
( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes we can see our faith more as a cross than a blessing.  We too often focus on what we give up or the effort required and not the benefits.  Part of the challenge is that the sacrifice we feel immediately while the joy and grace are often delayed or is so subtle we don’t feel it.  As an analogy to keeping a clean house, we so often tend to dread the steps needed to make a house clean that it often overshadows the joy of having a clean house.

This is where meditating on the fourth sorrowful mystery of the rosary becomes important.  It puts all these perceived inconveniences into perspective.  Jesus endured far worse doing his father’s will.  If Jesus saw the importance of his Passion, we should ask God to help us see the importance of trying to live a spiritually healthy lifestyle.  We may not always like housework, but we understand the importance of maintaining a clean house.  And we may not always enjoy the obligations our faith puts on us, but we pray the rosary to understand why it is so important that we follow God’s plan.

As we near the end of Lent, many of us probably feel beaten down and tired.  We may be tired of fasting, abstaining from meat, the increased prayer, etc.  But instead of focusing on pain, let’s ask God to help us see the joy that comes from these Lenten practices.  The joy that comes from letting go of some of our worldly pleasures and replacing them with God’s grace.  The joy in understanding that we will one day find true happiness in Heaven due to our spiritual persistence in this lifetime.

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And Jesus Wept…

We are coming down the home stretch of this Lenten season.  Like a movie, the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is hitting its climax as Jesus’ miracles get larger and more public but so does the ire of the Jewish authorities.  It, of course, culminates with Jesus’ crucifixion and then resurrection.  Similar to how the readings are hitting their crescendo, so too should our observance of Lent.  It’s time to pick up the praying, fasting, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and just putting our faith front and center in our lives.

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  I want to focus on one specific verse.  It’s a short, three-word sentence — “And Jesus wept (John 11:35).”  It is easy to overlook the significance of this sentence when you know what Jesus is about to do.  In fact, this sentence does not seem to make a lot of sense.  If Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, why did he weep?  Naturally, the other people wept because they did not know Jesus was going to raise Lazarus.  But why would Jesus, someone who healed and raised others from dead, weep when he knew that Lazarus’ state was only temporary?

English: Picture of the And Jesus Wept statue ...
English: Picture of the And Jesus Wept statue that stands next to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus’ weeping ties him to our shared humanity with him.  It is so easy to see Jesus’ divinity in the accounts of him healing others, performing miracles, and resurrecting from the dead.  On top of that, we have the Catholic Church and it’s billion+ members in all its grandeur.  But after 2000 years we tend to forget that Jesus was also human.  He shared all the same emotions as us except the tendency to sin.  Even when he knew that he was going to raise Lazarus, his weeping told people that he sympathized with them and understood their grief.  He did not distance himself but instead drew us closer to God by making himself more relatable.

When we pray the rosary, we should remember Jesus’ humanity in addition to his divinity.  Remember that despite all the miracles he performed, Jesus was one of us.  He showed grief at the death of a loved one.  He showed fear in the Garden of Gesthemene before being arrested and crucified.  He showed anger when he threw the merchants out of the temple or the countless times he chastised Peter.  Even going back to the story of Lazarus, the Gospel says that Jesus was “perturbed” by everyone’s lack of faith.  Yes, it seems like Jesus wasn’t immune from frustration.

Jesus asks a lot of us.  He asks us to live for the Kingdom of Heaven and convert by turning away from our sinful or earthly ways.  Like a defiant teenager rebelling against his parents, we may tell Jesus, “Easy for you to say!  You’re perfect!  You just don’t understand what it’s like to be me!”  But Jesus replies, “I understand perfectly.   Remember, I know what it is like to be human.  I shared the same feelings and emotions.  And I ask these things of you because I know what it is like to be you.  I’m not some distant God who does not know the human condition for I experienced it personally.”

You think you have it tough, try healing a man on the Sabbath!

Fasting, praying, reading the Bible, and confessing sins are all difficult during Lent.  And in general, living a spiritual life can be difficult.  But the Church calls us to this life not because it expects us to fail.  The Church does not call us to a holy life that is completely beyond our ability to grasp.  The Church follows Jesus’ teachings born out of his experience being human and knowing what we are capable of.

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What Rosary Prayer Teaches us about Fasting

I just finished reading my children a book of Lenten prayers.  Tonight’s prayer topic was on the value of fasting.  Fasting is a huge theme emphasized throughout Lent.  And yet I know many people who do not see the value of it or are confused about why we do it.  To put it simply, one goal of fasting is to forgo an earthly desire such as food to make room for God’s grace.  We have a great example of this in the rosary.

If fasting means exchanging our worldly desires for Heavenly ones, let’s look at Jesus’ crucifixion which we meditate on in the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary.  What can it tell us about the value of fasting?  At Jesus’ crucifixion, there are two criminals crucified with Him.  One rebukes Jesus saying that he should save all three of them if He really is the Messiah.  The other simply asks Jesus to remember him.  Jesus tells that criminal that he will join Him in paradise on that day.

The first criminal can represent our disposition when we aren’t fasting.  We are concerned about our worldly situation and how to constantly improve it.  We ask Jesus for all sorts of things; many of them well-intentioned and some of them maybe a bit selfish.  The first criminal wanted more of his life on earth.  In a way, he wanted things back the way they were because that’s the only reality he knew.  And let’s be honest, his life couldn’t have been that great if he ended up on a cross.  We too, when our hearts are so full of earthly desires, just want to maintain the status quo.  When we do that, we close ourselves off from something greater — God’s grace and making a place for ourselves in Heaven.

The second criminal represents our state of mind and soul when we fast.  Having been stripped of all that life has to offer, he came to Jesus with a humble heart asking simply for Jesus to remember him.  With nothing attaching him to the world, he realized Jesus’ true nature and how important it was to reconcile himself with Him.  Similarly, when we fast we let go of everything worldly that weighs us down and can more clearly see Jesus for who He really is — our Lord and Savior.

Fasting is more than a Catholic diet plan or some ancient tradition that we just do out of habit.  It is our opportunity to put our lives, our fears, and our desires into perspective.  We’re human and so naturally there are things in this world we enjoy.  But during Lent, let’s reflect on whether we still make room for God’s plan and focus on obtaining our Heavenly goal.  Or have our attachments to this world, even the non-sinful ones, prevent us from embracing the true happiness that comes from God’s grace?

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Finding God in the Midst of Trouble

Is it just me or is there a growing feeling of despair weighing on everyone lately?  Whether it’s natural disasters, politics, or peoples’ personal situations, everything just seems so negative.  My Facebook feed is so full of hateful memes from both sides of the isle I’ve basically given up reading it.  I rarely engage in conversations at work because someone will eventually throw out some ridiculous political opinion that I have neither the time or energy to dispute.  Our world seems to have gotten meaner and more adolescent than any grade school playground I’ve ever known.

But the world being a cruel place is hardly a modern invention.  I read this article about the trials and misfortunes of Joseph from the Old Testament.  He was a man sold into slavery by his own brothers and later thrown into prison in Egypt.  God never made Joseph’s problems magically disappear but instead guided him through them.  The article’s author remembers her period of utter despair and what God was teaching her:

I remember years of crying out to God, thinking my faith would get back on track when life got back to normal. But as the pain grew more intense, I realized I needed to find God in the present, and not wait for my circumstances to improve. God wanted me to find him sufficient in the midst of trouble rather than just demanding that he deliver me from it.

And I found God more than sufficient as I met with him daily in Scripture and in prayer. His word became exceedingly precious to me. It brought light to my darkness. It became life to me.

I think we can all appreciate the author’s initial bargaining sentiment.  How often do we tell God, “make my life easier and I will be more faithful?”  Or, “I will start praying more when my life improves.”  Or how often do our prayers, no matter how well intentioned, turn into us specifying our wish list to God?  But as the author and Joseph’s story points out, many times the darkness in our lives is needed so that the faint light of God’s grace can be better seen and understood.

Prayer time is not a contract negotiation with God.

Joseph had an amazing gift — the ability to interpret dreams.  And in a complicated series of events, it was necessary for Joseph to be sold into slavery and thrown into prison for his gift to be used as God planned.  And so we too may have to pray and meditate in the darkness of our lives so that God can better illuminate the gifts he gives us to fulfill His plan.  Without the darkness, God’s Word, either in scripture or in prayer, might be drowned out by the noise of daily life.


 

 

 

Naturally, any Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary shows the darkness in Jesus’ life which was necessary for Him to fulfill God’s Will.  And while we can all smile and nod in agreement about this cornerstone of our faith, imagine how difficult it was for Jesus’ apostles to accept.  Here was Jesus, the rising star of the Jews, who healed, cast out demons, calmed storms, and did many other amazing miracles.  The apostles probably thought that they would ride those miracles to an easy salvation where Jesus would just magically transform everyone’s hearts and minds.  Imagine their confusion and disappointment when their hero was arrested, beaten, and crucified.

Like the apostles, we too can become very confused when life throws unexpected and difficult hurdles our way.  And like the apostles, our instinct may be to run and hide.  Or maybe we become angry because God didn’t do something the way we want.  But like Joseph or Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemene, instead of running from God in the face of difficulty, we should instead call on Him to help us endure.  The world has always been a cruel and unforgiving place and probably always will be.  But God is one powerful ally to have in your corner.

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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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How to Find Motivation to Pray the Rosary

No matter how regularly and fervently we pray, most of us hit prayer blocks.  Prayer block is similar to writer’s block — you just have a hard time finding the inspiration and motivation to pray.  You know prayer is important but you just can’t get into it like you want to.  It is those times where we need to look to others to give us a pep talk and remind us why we pray.

When it comes to prayer pep talks, the Church is bursting at the seams.  There is no shortage of accounts of saints and papal documents highlighting the importance of prayer and all the miracles that have come from it, especially from rosary prayer.  Catholic Exchange ran an article, The Rosary: The Spiritual Sword of Mary, where Fr. Donald Calloway, author of Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon, briefly explains the impactful nature of the rosary.

English: Prayer in the Dawn Gate (Aušros Varta...
English: Prayer in the Dawn Gate (Aušros Vartai) chapel Lietuvių: Vilniaus Aušros Vartų Švč. Mergelės Marijos Polski: Modlitwa w kaplicy Ostrobramskiej Italiano: Preghiera nella capella di Ostra Brama (Porta dell’Aurora) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have not yet read Champions of the Rosary, but it’s definitely on my reading list.  It looks like just the book to have handy when I’m not feeling it when it comes to rosary prayer.  Fr. Calloway reminds us that the rosary is the saint maker:

The Servant of God Frank Duff — founder of the Legion of Mary — once wondered if there has been a single saint since the 13th century who has not prayed the rosary. Without a doubt, the rosary has been the most frequently mentioned form of Marian devotion by the saints since the 13th century. It would be impossible to list all of these saints.

I’m looking forward to reading this book for sure.  If you have a good book that motivates you to pray, contact me using the form below on this page or on Facebook.  I’m sure many of my readers would love to have a few good books on prayer, especially the rosary, loaded up on their tablets ready to go for when their rosary prayer enthusiasm wanes.

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Two Different Responses to God’s Unbelievable Plan

The Bible is full of parallels.  It may be parallel themes between Old and New Testament readings or accounts of different people having similar encounters with God.  We see one such parallel between the story of Mary in the Annunciation and that of Zechariah, husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth.  We pray and meditate on these readings, which make up the first two Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, all this week leading up to Christmas.

Cappella tornabuoni frescoes in Florence. Annu...
Cappella tornabuoni frescoes in Florence. Annuncio dell’angelo a San Zaccaria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In both accounts, the angel Gabriel comes with news of a pregnancy.  Mary is told she will give birth to a son through the Holy Spirit and Zechariah is told that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist.  Furthermore, the announcement is initially met by disbelief.  Mary’s amazement comes because she is not married and Zechariah’s stems from Elizabeth’s old age.

The difference in these two accounts comes next.  In Mary’s case, she praises God and humbles herself saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  But in Zechariah’s case, the angel Gabriel takes away his ability to speak because of his disbelief.

What confused me about these two accounts was that according to the text, it appears as if Mary and Zechariah both show a very similar reaction, one of amazement and disbelief.  Why was Zechariah punished and not Mary?  I think the key is understanding Gabriel’s ability to see into someone’s heart and not just hear their words.

Angel Gabriel's Annunciation to Mary, by Muril...
Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, by Murillo, c. 1655 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Mary was confused initially, in her heart she truly believed and accepted God’s Will for her.  But I think that Gabriel must have sensed that Zechariah did not fully believe the news he had just heard.  To put it another way, Mary’s initial reaction may have been out of shock and quickly passed while Zechariah harbored a real sense of disbelief.  Maybe, while he was in the holy sanctuary, Zechariah was going through the motions of prayer but not fully open to God’s grace.  It is fitting that he was punished with speechlessness as a sign that maybe he was giving more lip service to his faith rather than truly internalizing it.

As we prepare in these final days of Advent, let us remember to have an open heart like Mary and not a closed one like Zechariah.  Pray that you don’t go through the motions of spirituality by treating Christmas Mass like a mere formality before the real celebration can begin.  Mass is the real celebration!  I know many of you have large dinners to attend, guests to entertain, and presents to open.  And while you may say you believe and celebrate Jesus’ birth, how much of your heart is centered around Him?  God knows what is in our hearts and you can’t fool him.

This Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  The best birthday present you can give Him is an honestly open heart.  Don’t go through the motions of prayer and practicing your faith but earnestly make room in your heart for God’s grace manifested in His son, Jesus Christ.  Merry Christmas!

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