Gone Fishing

Another Divine Mercy Sunday, another empty church. I am always disheartened to see so many empty pews after the standing room only Easter Mass. Where did everyone go? So much for Easter transforming hearts and minds right?

Seeing all those empty pews reminds me of this reading from John’s Gospel.  One of the first things Peter did after Christ’s death was go fishing. In the Gospel, he says it almost casually — “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). After the drama that he had just encountered, Peter was looking to return to something comfortable and familiar. It’s almost like he was thinking that being one of Jesus’s apostles was great, but that was now something in his past.  Maybe he saw it like we see our teenage or college years — a phase that we grew out of. Peter was picking up his life where he left off before meeting Jesus — as a fisherman.

Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the...
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t we all have a bit of Peter in our hearts? We fasted and sacrificed during Lent and celebrated on Easter Sunday. For 40+ days our hearts were focus on making room for Christ. And then what do we do? Go to work the next day and do the same things we’ve always done as if Easter was just another day on the calendar. Do you even recall what the priest said in his Easter homily? Do you feel fundamentally changed? Probably not. But you seem to be in good company since it seems that many of the apostles initially treated their time with Jesus like it was a passing fad. It had its moments and even some promise, but now it was time to get back to reality.

When I find myself sliding back into routine, I meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple.  I recall how the Holy Spirit promised St. Simeon that he would not die until seeing the chosen one.  Imagine how surprised, joyful, and maybe even a little scared Simeon must have felt upon hearing this news.  Maybe we felt a similar passion and joy towards our faith on Easter Sunday.  Now imagine how many years Simeon must have waited for that promise to be fulfilled.  The Bible doesn’t give an exact count, but all depictions of Simeon show him as an elderly man.  Who would have blamed him if he started to doubt that promise and believed his time would be better spent on something other than his faith?  But did he lose hope or did he let any doubt affect his faith in God’s plan for him?

Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast
Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like St. Simeon, remaining devout to the end of his life, so too must we be devout in our faith long after the immediate joy and glory of Easter fades.  Many times our faith feels challenging like Christ’s last human days on Good Friday and not the celebration of Easter.  But we pray the rosary and focus on imitating those who remained steadfast even in the absence of signs, wonders, and even joy.  We remember St. Mother Teresa who fought a seemingly hopeless battle of helping the poor.  Or we draw inspiration from the martyrs who died without seemingly changing anyone’s heart towards Jesus Christ.  When we pray the rosary, we pray for the faith and hope that Jesus hears our prayers and does answer them even when it seems like we are wasting our time.

Peter may have thought that his time as Jesus’ apostle was in vain.  He may have thought that he would just return to being a fisherman instead of the fisher of men that Jesus promised.  But of course we know that God had a grander plan for St. Peter than just being Jesus’ apostle in Jesus’ earthly life.  And so we pray that we also have the faith, courage, and fortitude to understand that God has a grander plan for all of us even when it seems like our prayers go unheard.

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Our Lady’s Messages: October 2010

Statue Virgin Mary Medjugorje - Hotel Pansion ...
Image by gnuckx via Flickr

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

Dear children, Today I call you to a humble, my children, humble devotion. Your hearts need to be just. May your crosses be your means in the battle against the sins of the present time. May your weapon be patience and boundless love – a love that knows to wait and which will make you capable of recognizing God’s signs – that your life, by humble love, may show the truth to all those who seek it in the darkness of lies. My children, my apostles, help me to open the paths to my Son. Once again I call you to pray for your shepherds. Alongside them, I will triumph. Thank you.

Mary talks about patience and love in Her message which is a central theme to The Fourth Joyful Mystery of the holy rosary — The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  We recount the story of Simeon who waited and prayed in the temple his entire life before seeing the Anointed One, the baby Jesus.  Patience is a virtue that is often found lacking in today’s culture of instant gratification.  Whether it be new gadgets, a new home, a promotion at work, or a relationship many of us don’t have the patience to wait and build up something we will appreciate.  We often hear stories how people’s impulsiveness ends in misery when hasty marriages turn rough or they get in way over their head trying to live a lavash lifestyle.

Similarly, we are often impatient with God’s plan for us.  We want God to answer all our prayers instantly to get us out of difficult situations.  When we don’t get that instant response we believe God is not listening or does not care.  But perhaps God does answer our prayers and we just do not see it.  Perhaps we become so fixated on a single solution that we do not see the alternative and better path God provides.  And that is why Mary asks us to be patient so that we will notice the signs God lays before us on how to live in His grace and one day enter His heavenly kingdom.  Remember, Simeon was graced with seeing the Anointed One before his death.  Simeon had faith that God would reveal Himself at the appropriate time.  Mary asks us to show that similar faith and patient love.

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

Dear children! May this time be a time of prayer for you. My call, little children, desires to be for you a call to decide to follow the way of conversion; therefore, pray and seek the intercession of all the saints. May they be for you an example, an incentive and a joy towards eternal life. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Mary asks us to follow the way of conversion which is the message of The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion.  Notice how She uses the word “decide.”  Ultimately, it is our choice whether we want to convert our ways to God’s ways and build a meaningful relationship with Him.  Living in God’s grace requires effort and is not something that happens by accident.  No one ever became a saint by accident.  All the saints made a conscious decision to follow God.  Similar to Mary’s first message, deciding to follow God also means showing faith and patience to follow the path He lays before us.  It may not be an easy road or one that we would have chosen ourselves.  But it is the road that ultimately leads to His kingdom.  But no one can walk that road for you.  You have to decide whether you will follow that road wherever it takes you.  Ask yourself, “did you decide to follow God today?”

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Rosary Meditation — The Fourth Joyful Mystery

This rosary meditation focuses on The Fourth Joyful Mystery — The Presentation of our Lord. In this mystery we see Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple as was the Jewish tradition. They encountered a man named Simeon whom the Holy Spirit said would not experience death until he had seen the Anointed One. Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon said “Now Master, You can dismiss Your servant in peace; You have fulfilled Your word” (Luke 2:29). Simeon is an example on how our faith requires patience, endurance, and moral fortitude. While there are times when we may not feel God’s presence in our lives our faith tells us that He is always near and always hears our prayers.

La Présentation de Jésus au Temple
Image via Wikipedia

This rosary meditation focuses on The Fourth Joyful Mystery — The Presentation of our Lord.  In this mystery we see Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple as was the Jewish tradition.  They encountered a man named Simeon whom the Holy Spirit said would not experience death until he had seen the Anointed One.  Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon said “Now Master, You can dismiss Your servant in peace; You have fulfilled Your word” (Luke 2:29).  Simeon is an example on how our faith requires patience, endurance, and moral fortitude.  While there are times when we may not feel God’s presence in our lives our faith tells us that He is always near and always hears our prayers.

I sometimes come across postings on the Catholic Answers web forums from people who feel discouraged since they do not feel close to Jesus.  They talk about how they pray, go to Mass, fast, and read the Bible and yet they do not feel the Lord’s grace.  I think we can all look to Simeon as an example that even the most just and pious need to be patient and have faith that the Lord will present Himself in the way that will ultimately lead us to Him.  However, while God desires all of us to be in His heavenly kingdom, the road is a long one fraught with temptation and sin.  But if we can hold on and remain faithful, even when it seems like God does not hear our prayers or notices our good deeds, we will be rewarded with the eternal happiness of Heaven.

Why must our faith be difficult to live at times?  Why don’t we get direct answers to our prayers from a thundering voice in the clouds?  Why must we endure such hardship and struggle?  I think Mother Teresa can help us find an answer.  In her private letters to Rev. Michael Van Der Peet she once said (as reported in this Time article):

Jesus has a very special love for you,” she assured Van der Peet. “[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand.

Here was a woman who embodied everything great about the Catholic faith and yet at times she felt distant from God’s love.  She, like Simeon, was just and pious and yet she endured periods of time when she felt a great emptiness in her heart. Kolodiejchuk, a senior Missionaries of Charity member, explains that perhaps that emptiness is what drove her to do such great work.  She never felt like her job was done or that God was prematurely rewarding her when there was still so much for her to do.  Perhaps this was God’s way of making sure that pride did not hinder her important work.  Mother Teresa still continued to do the Lord’s work and even put up a good face to others (the statements about her spiritual difficulties were not known until after her death).  And, like Simeon, her patience paid off as she is now closer to Jesus than any of us ever can be in this world.

When we meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery let us remember Simeon and how his faith and patience was ultimately rewarded.  We must pray for those who have fallen on the long and difficult road of faith that they get back up and have the strength to live as Jesus calls them.  Remember, God has a plan for each of us and that plan will ultimately lead us to His heavenly kingdom.  We just need to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, especially in those times when it feels like God is the most distant from us.  It is those times of great hardship when Jesus presents Himself to us although it may not be in the way we expect or we may not be listening.  Remember in your prayers to not only speak to the Lord, but also allow Him to respond for He will show you the way to Him.

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