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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Rosary Prayer: Keeping Your Soul Out of Trouble

I have a two and a half year old toddler.  Anyone who has raised kids that age knows that you have to watch them like a hawk.  He will find a new and creative way to either hurt himself or destroy something the instant you turn your attention elsewhere.  I’ve seen water cups poured on tables because he wanted to create a swimming pool for his toys.  Crayons, pens, and markers rarely stay on paper.  Sharp objects on kitchen tables that used to be out of reach are suddenly reachable.  Kids just have the sixth sense of knowing when they aren’t being watched.

Why do I bring this up?  Is it to vent about the challenges of raising kids?  Okay, maybe that’s partially it.  But this isn’t a blog about parenting.  It’s a blog about faith and rosary prayer.  And I see a lot of parallels between practicing the faith and raising a toddler.  Chiefly, if you turn your attention away from your faith, even for a second, trouble will fill the gap.  Like a parent who has to constantly watch a toddler, you have to be constantly aware of your faith and how God’s calls you to live so that you will avoid falling into sinful behavior.  What that means is that you have to routinely pray the rosary so that it will serve as a small check up on the health of your soul.

The more you pray the rosary the more in touch with your faith you will be.  Going back to the child analogy.  Will a child that is checked on every few minutes get into less trouble than the one checked on every few hours? Probably.  Similarly, the soul that is “checked on” more often will less likely fall into sinful behavior.  In one of my original posts on the First Luminous Mystery I said how rosary prayer is a lot like brushing your teeth and going to the dentist.  You need to brush your teeth regularly and see a dentist so that your teeth remain in the best health and problems can be corrected when they are still small.  Similarly, you need good spiritual hygiene of routine prayer — daily prayer if not more often.  That allows you to recognize and correct faults and weaknesses while they are small before they escalate into major problems.

English: A little girl has her first visit to ...
The rosary — it’s your soul’s little dentist visit.

Another aspect to keeping a toddler out of trouble is actively engaging them.  While sometimes I wish my son would entertain himself with his toys and all I need to do is occasionally correct him if he starts doing something wrong, that is not how raising a child works.  Keeping my son out of trouble usually means interacting with him through playing, reading, singing, etc.  Sitting down with my son with a bucket of Lego bricks has proved infinitely better at keeping him out of trouble than millions of passively said “no’s”, “don’t touch that”, “and take that out of your mouth.”

The rosary is also something that works best when you’re actively engaged praying it.  When you break out of thinking of rosary prayer as a mechanical uttering of words you also forge a more meaningful relationship with God.  Rosary prayer isn’t a passive activity, at least it’s not if you want to get something out of it.  Like the toddler that needs your engagement more than he needs to hear your rules, the rosary requires active participation to be truly effective.  It is your opportunity to really interact with God and lay out your petitions, sorrows, and thanksgivings.  It’s not about fulfilling some todo item to make God happy but is your chance to actually learn God’s plan for you.

I understand that making time for rosary prayer is difficult.  It’s probably even more difficult than interacting with a toddler.  Last time I checked, a rosary doesn’t take a box of crackers out of the cupboard and empties it out on the kitchen floor when you don’t pray it.  A rosary can be easily forgotten.  After all, bills need to be paid.  You need to go to work.  You need to sleep.  You need to clean.  You need to keep your children from painting on the walls.  I get it.

I learned in college that you always make time for the activities that are priorities.  There are just some activities you cannot ignore because your health, finances, or relationships depend on you making time for them.  My challenge to you is to elevate your spiritual well being as a priority in your life and make praying the rosary a routine.  It’s Advent now which means it’s a new church year.  Make rosary prayer your resolution.

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Hell is for Real, aka The Fatima Prayer

There is a best selling book titled Heaven is for Real about a young child’s glimpse of Heaven.  You may have heard of it since it was also made into a movie.  But have you heard about the much darker prequel, Hell is for Real?  Okay, it’s not really a prequel and it doesn’t go by that title.  I’m talking about the first secret of Fatima when in 1917 Mary showed three Portuguese children a glimpse of Hell.  Since November is dedicated to praying for souls, I want to focus on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory and how the Fatima Prayer in the rosary is a great tool for praying for souls in need.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Madonna of Car...
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo – The Madonna of Carmel and the Souls of the Purgatory – WGA22270 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, what is the Fatima Prayer?

While not part of the original tradition of the Rosary or in the original text of the vulgate, many Roman Catholics choose to add it after the Glory Be to the Father after the Blessed Virgin Mary was said to have requested its use during her apparition at Fátima, a miracle deemed “worthy of belief” by the Church. The following text of the prayer appears first in Latin and then in English.

Domine Iesu, dimitte nobis debita nostra, libera nos ab igne inferiori, perduc in caelum omnes animas, praesertim eas, quae misericordiae tuae maxime indigent. Amen.
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen.

Wikipedia

And now a flashback to my childhood.  In my grade school I remember we had “rosary afternoons” in May where we broke up into small groups to pray the rosary.  The groups were led by an eighth grader who explained how the rosary worked and led a group of seven other students, one from each grade 1st through 7th, through five decades.  When I think back to those childhood rosary days I now recall one prayer being noticeably absent — the Fatima Prayer.

I think my early experience with the rosary was typical for a lot of kids.  Someone thought it was best to shield us from the “scary prayer” that mentions the fires of Hell.  I don’t believe this was done out of a disbelief of the reality of Hell, but more out of a concern of not opening that door of fear or questions from the inquisitive youth.  I’m sure the school didn’t want to receive calls from angry parents about how their kid came home and said everyone is going to Hell or asked if Uncle Barney, who never went to church, was in Hell.

But the avoidance of talking about the afterlife, particularly Purgatory and Hell, didn’t end with the omission of the Fatima Prayer from my grade school’s rosary education.  To this day, it’s a topic that most priests don’t touch with a ten foot pole.  When was the last time you heard a homily about the eternal consequences of sin or the need to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  Over the decades, talking about sin and its consequences was unofficially deemed offensive speech.  A priest cannot teach about sinful behavior without being labeled intolerant, self righteous, and uncompassionate.  That is truly unfortunate because pretending that sin and Hell don’t exist does not make them any less real.  Instead of explaining these scary aspects of reality and providing people with the knowledge, prayers, and the will to confront them, we sweep them under the rug.  Instead of urging people to pray and help those “souls in most need of Thy mercy” we, as a Church in general, let people just dive into the fire because we’re afraid of offending someone.

Praying the rosary is a great way of meditating on the afterlife and praying for souls.  Because talking about sin and Hell may be a taboo topic we have to put extra emphasis on them in our rosary intentions.  After you pray each decade, that Fatima Prayer is that little reminder of Heaven, Hell, and even Purgatory (more on this in a bit).  It encompasses asking for the intercession of the saints in Heaven, praying for at risk souls on earth, and those souls in Purgatory.  Unfortunately, I too often race through the Fatima prayer.  I treat it more like a placeholder while I think about my intentions for the upcoming decade.  But slow down because there’s some heavy stuff in this prayer.

  • O my Jesus” — God sent his only son for our benefit.  He wants us to have a personal relationship with him.  You don’t say, “O Jesus.”  That “my” is in there for a reason.
  • Forgive us our sins” — We all sin and are in need of reconciliation.  There is nothing wrong acknowledging that we aren’t perfect and we screw up at times.  We are asking for Jesus’ mercy for all peoples’ sins, hence the word “our” and not “my.”
  • Save us from the fires of Hell” — Again, we are asking Jesus for his mercy on all souls.  The fact that this phrase comes after “forgive us our sins” highlights that connection between sin and Hell.  We implicitly acknowledge that sin is the cause of going to Hell.
  • Lead all souls to Heaven” — This is where we want to go!  Everything we do in life should be aimed towards one day living in God’s glory in Heaven.
  • Especially those in most need of Thy mercy” — There are many people on that edge of eternal damnation.  But there is still hope for them.  They need our prayers and the intercession of Mary, the saints, and the Holy Spirit.

Where does Purgatory factor into the Fatima Prayer?  There is a bit of a mistranslation of this prayer from Portuguese into English according to Br. Alexis Bugnolo:

I would point out that this English translation is not exactly correct; because the Portuguese does not say “souls”, but “little souls”, a term of endearment among Portuguese Catholics for the souls in Purgatory, equivalent to our phrase “poor souls”. The the context of the phrase refers to the deliverance of all souls from purgatory into heaven; and thus never signified universal salvation.

Remember, souls in Purgatory rely on your prayers to get into Heaven.  Imagine knowing that you are saved and you’re so close to entering God’s kingdom but there is nothing you can do unless people on earth pray for you.  That frustration alone must be part of the purification process in Purgatory for your sins.  But now you have a reason to remember those souls in Purgatory every time you pray the Fatima Prayer.  Time to pray it forward because hopefully someday we all may be in a position where we will need those prayers.

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Mary’s Rosary Promise #3

The Rosary will be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin and dispel heresy.

I find it interesting that Mary uses military terminology in many of her promises.  Her promise illuminates the very dark and evil reality of Satan and Hell that we cannot ignore or wish away.  Whether we like it or not, from the instant of our conception God enlisted us to fight in an epic war of good vs. evil.  As I said in my explanation of Mary’s first rosary promise, there is a war going on every day for the souls of humanity.  And Satan isn’t messing around but is playing for keeps.  If you die in a state of mortal sin, that’s it, fin, the end!  Satan will have won another battle in this great spiritual war.

St Michael the archangel, dressed somewhat lik...

With the stakes so high, we need all the protection and armor we can get.  Mary promises that armor through the rosary.  She promises us protection.  She is Queen of Angels which makes her something of a general in this great war of souls and the angels of Heaven are her soldiers.  Our guardian angels exist to protect us and make sure that our souls end up where they are supposed to be — in Heaven praising God forever.  Praying the rosary is like calling for reinforcements.  When Satan steps up his attacks through sin and temptation, you can call on the host of heavenly angels to help you fight back.   As Padre Pio once said, the rosary is a powerful weapon against Satan.  Because you don’t have to fight evil alone.  Through the rosary you are reinforced with the strength of Heaven.

When we rid ourselves of vice and sin we strengthen our spiritual armor.  The worse part about sin is that often we aren’t aware of how weak and vulnerable it makes us.  We may have insufficient armor against the forces of Hell and not even know it.  It would be nice if the health of your soul was something you could see like the fuel gauge in a car.  Or wouldn’t it be nice if you showed symptoms like a physical illness so you could take some medicine or see a doctor.

That spiritual “fuel gauge” or subtle symptom is exactly what the rosary offers you.  Those who pray the rosary have strong armor against Hell, sin, and vice because those who pray the rosary are also checking the health of their soul routinely.  The two go hand in hand.  When you are constantly monitoring and maintaining something, it stays healthy and strong.  When you ignore and neglect something, it becomes weak.

The last part of the promise interests me the most.  Mary promises that praying the rosary will dispel heresy.  I think this is such an important gift Mary offers us through rosary prayer.  Heresy has taken a much more subtle tone in the last few decades which makes it all the more dangerous because it is easier to fall victim to it.  The Catholic Church isn’t as quick to identify heretical teachings as they used to be nor do local priests tend to speak out about heresy in homilies.  So that makes protecting yourself from heresy a personal responsibility.

Nancy Pelosi
It’s a trap!

We have to be careful because heresy is everywhere.  We need to be on “high alert” and make sure we understand Catholic teachings and not fall victim to people who claim to speak for the Church when they are really speaking for themselves, an organization, a special interest, or political party.  The latter is the most dangerous because many politicians will say and do anything to get your support even if that means twisting certain Christian teachings so people find it easier to disobey their conscience and their religion.  Having good spiritual armor is important but so is being able to identify the enemy and not be fooled by their clever speeches.

Praying the rosary will help you spot the fakes and not fall for their lies.  People who routinely pray the rosary probably also get a good helping of Mass, the sacraments, the bible, and grace.  The rosary never acts alone.  Think about it.  Have you ever met someone who just prays the rosary regularly but doesn’t participate in Mass or the sacraments?  That is why Mary’s promise that rosary prayer acts as armor against Hell is so effective because it acts in union with the sacraments and God’s grace.  The rosary isn’t an end in itself, but one of many links in the chain of your spiritual armor.

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The Pews are Empty Again

A little over a week ago, my family went to Easter Sunday Mass.  Because we have a small baby in tow, we usually don’t get to the church until right when Mass is about to begin.  On most Sundays, that works just fine since we can usually find plenty of parking and seats in the pews.  But on Easter we knew we had mistimed our arrival when we saw a full parish parking lot and the closest parking spot we found was many blocks away from the church.  We still made it on time, but it was standing room only.  There were so many people that many families stood out in the vestibule and outside the church during Mass.

English: Pews of the First Methodist Church in...
Was this your church on Divine Mercy Sunday?

Flash forward a week.  We arrived at Mass at the same time we did on Easter Sunday.  But this time we did not have to park several blocks away and we had our choice of entire rows of pews upon entering the church.  The church was actually abnormally sparse for a Sunday as if everyone suffered a post-Easter hangover.  And while I liked parking close to the church and easily finding a seat, I do find the Divine Mercy Sunday attendance drop off both sad and concerning.

I try not to make too many assumptions about the drop in Mass attendance.  Perhaps many people who attended morning Mass on Easter usually attend afternoon Mass on Sundays.  But since there wasn’t any afternoon Masses, the morning ones had to accommodate more people than usual.  Or maybe many people  from other parishes attended our Mass with their extended families.  But I’m pretty confident that many people were C&E Catholics (Christmas and Easter) and won’t step foot into a church for another eight months.

As much as I hated parking blocks away from the church and standing during Easter Mass, I really wish the church was as full every Sunday as it was on Easter.  Imagine the beacon of God‘s glory the Catholic Church could be if the world saw overflowing churches every Sunday.  Imagine how much love and happiness there would be in our world if more people got more regular doses of prayer, grace, instruction, and forgiveness through the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.  Imagine the peace that would spread if more people heard the Word of God and homilies teaching the Truths of the Catholic faith on a weekly basis.  I would gladly give up my close parking space and my seat (or just strive to arrive earlier) for that Catholic Church.

What RosaryMeds do I Need?

English: Photo of the living room of a compuls...
Are you hoarding sin?

Many Catholics have an acute case of sin hoarding.  This is a particularly dangerous disease because most people aren’t even aware that they have it.  They can go their entire lives thinking they are fine.  And by all earthly accounts, they are fine.  But they do not see the potentially unhealthy state of their soul that may be clogged up by unconfessed sins.  And even if they don’t have any serious, mortal sins on their soul, they do not understand how much better they would feel if they did a little spiritual housecleaning.   The C&E Catholics’ souls are like the homes you see on the television show, Hoarders.  They just don’t recognize the disorderly state of their souls where they have left no room for God’s Word and love.

We need to reach out to these spiritual hoarders by praying the Third Luminous Mystery, The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion.  Meditate on this rosary mystery and think about how Jesus came into this world and taught God’s Word.  He taught the truth which many people ignored or criticised because they refused to make room in their hearts to take a deep look at themselves and align their ways with Christ’s.  Similarly, many Catholics today may not like hearing that Jesus asks them to go to Mass every week, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and develop a humble heart open to the Word of God even when it may conflict with popular, cultural sentiment.  Like physical hoarders, many times sin hoarders become very defensive, if not downright abusive, when you try to help them clean up their lives.

And I think that’s where the meditation on the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary comes in.  Think of friends or family members who fall into the Christmas and Easter crowd.  Or maybe they do attend Mass on Sunday, but only grudgingly and mostly just sit in silence and zone out for an hour.  How can you help them convert and better live for God’s Heavenly Kingdom?  Maybe you can buy them a book on Catholic teaching.  Maybe you can invite them to attend Mass with you.  Maybe you just need to let them know that it’s okay to say small prayers throughout the day.  Pray the rosary for the right tactics to bring back those who have fallen away.  The Holy Spirit will let you know how much spiritual force to use.  Some people need a little push while others need to really be hit over the head (figuratively) regarding their spiritual situation.

Easter Sunday was just the beginning.  The Easter season lasts 50 days and it’s a time to celebrate and rejoice.  And like any good party, the more the merrier.  Who do you know that may have left the party early and what will you do to bring them back?

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Imitating the Saints

Upon being elevated to the cardinalate on Feb 18 in Rome, Cardinal Dolan of New York said he has a long way to go spiritually.  He said to reporters:

As grateful as I am for being a Cardinal, I really want to be a saint.  I mean that, and I’ve got a long way to go but it is all about holiness, it is all about friendship with Jesus and it is all about being a saint. And that’s what I want to be.

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 18:  Newly ap...

We could learn a lot from Cardinal Dolan’s remarks.  Here is someone who has ascended to one of the highest ranks in the Catholic hierarchy and yet is humble enough to know that he still has a long way to go.  He understands that it’s not his rank that brings him into God’s grace, but his actions.  Cardinal Dolan shows us that we are all called to live as saints whether you are the pope, a priest, a nun, or the average lay person.  If we truly believe in our faith and that living in God’s grace leads to internal happiness in Heaven, then striving to imitate saint-like behavior should be our top priority.

The good news is that anyone can become a saint.  Just look at history.  Saints came from all walks of life whether it be a mother, father, peasant, king, priest, soldier, slave, or repentant sinner.  St. Peter denied he even knew Jesus before becoming the cornerstone of the Catholic Church as our first pope.  St. Paul actively persecuted Christians before reforming his ways, preaching the message of Jesus Christ, and writing letters that became the bulk of the New Testament.  If people like that became saints then realistically there is nothing preventing any one of us from becoming a saint.  The question is, do we have the will and desire to at least try to imitate the saints’ behavior?

Unfortunately, society does not make imitating the saints an easy task.  Many became saints through martyrdom.  Many more had to abandon their lives of material comfort.  But in addition to the physical sacrifices needed to be a saint, there is also a sociological barrier one must overcome.  Society conditions people to believe that saint-like behavior is old-fashioned, goes against normal human behavior, and in some cases, is deeply wrong and immoral.

Various sins have become so commonplace that you are lead to believe it is OK to commit them.  Don’t go to Mass on Sunday?  Don’t worry, you’re in the majority of Catholics.  Don’t regularly receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  Who cares, most people don’t receive it anymore.  Why not “live a little” and go on that drunken bender at a strip club with your buddies?  It’s not like you’re a priest or something.  Trying to defend the life of the unborn?  You monster!  And there is the current infantile excuse du jour — artificial contraception is fine since 98% of Catholics use it.  Sometimes I think the early saints got off easy being arrested and fed to lions.  When faced with a monumental challenge like possible martyrdom, people often find the spiritual resolve to endure.  But in today’s world we must navigate a moral minefield as we are constantly bombarded with all these sins disguised as normal human behavior.  The threats are so subtle that we often let down our defenses and fall into sinful patterns of behavior.

Português: Jesus é auxiliado por Simão Cireneu...

In order to keep up our defense against sin, we must turn to the rosary.  When we think about imitating the saints we should remember the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus Carrying His Cross.  Jesus endured great hardship after being arrested, tried, scourged, and mocked.  Despite the torture of carrying the cross and falling down repeatedly, Jesus got up because He knew it was important to do God‘s will above all else.  And that is what many of the saints did as well — carried out God’s will even when society thought their actions were silly, unreasonable, and even dangerous.  And that is what God asks of us — to take up our crosses and follow Him even when society mocks us and encourages us to do the opposite.

We should also remember the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and a Call for Conversion.  In this season of Lent, really examine your life.  Now look at the lives of the saints (Need help?  Try this book from Amazon).  What is your game plan to bridge that gap between where you are now and where you hopefully want to be?  What small conversions can you make this Lent to become more saintly?  I’m not saying that we will all be saints come Easter, but there is no better time to at least start the conversion process.  Every journey starts with an initial, small step.  What will yours be?

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Gospel for April 3, 2011 — Judgement

Gavel | Andrew F. Scott: P6033602
Image by afsart via Flickr

The Gospel for April 3, 2011 is John 9:1-41 (yep, it is a long one).  Jesus angers the pharisees by healing a blind man on the Sabbath.  The high priests are outraged because they see Jesus as someone who undermines their authority and performs miracles without their approval.  But Jesus says that He came to open the eyes of the spiritually blind while also blinding those who see through a lens of self-righteousness like the pharisees.  We remember in The Second Glorious Mystery of the rosary, The Ascension, that Jesus will one day judge us and so we must not be blind to His teachings.

The pharisees question nearly all of Jesus’ miracles throughout the Gospel and the healing of the blind man is no different.  They throw out the usual accusations — Jesus must derive His power from Satan or that He is not sent from God since He disobeys the Mosaic laws.  Each time the pharisees question Jesus they end up embarrassing themselves as Jesus points out the flaws to their blind adherence to the Mosaic Law. You would think they would have learned their lesson the first couple of times Jesus set them straight.  By interrogating the blind man, his family, and Jesus we get a sense of the pharisees’ growing frustration with Jesus since He threatens their authority.  Like modern-day politicians, the pharisees’ goal is not to show God’s truth but keep as much earthly power as possible.

Jesus’ response to the pharisees’ criticism is found in verses 39-41:

Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”  Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin;  but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

We see like the pharisees in that we know the truth of Jesus’ divine nature.  We know Jesus’ will through the teachings and traditions of the Church, the Bible, in prayer, and the natural law written on each of our hearts.  God gave us the law through Moses and completed that law through Jesus Christ.  And yet, despite making His will known to us we often disobey Him through sin.  As Jesus implies in the Gospel, our sin remains because we can see the difference between right and wrong but we choose to sin anyway.  We look at the silliness of the great lengths the pharisees went to to discredit Jesus.  And yet we too go through great lengths to sidestep living according to Jesus’ teachings.  If you think about all that Jesus, the saints, and prophets have revealed to us about God’s will we also look very silly when we choose to sin in the face of all that knowledge.

We often take a self-righteous view of ourselves and believe that God approves of all that we do in life.  Like the pharisees, we holler and yell when the Church tells us that our world view conflicts the truth of Jesus Christ.  We shout, “How dare you say abortion is evil!”  Or, “The Church’s teachings are so out of touch regarding premarital sex!”  To many, the idea that we must humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation seems draconian.  No one likes being told they are wrong or punished for bad behavior.  But instead of avoiding bad behavior we seem to go out of our way to redefine what is bad and what is good.   We try very hard to make God conform to our worldview instead of changing our worldview to fit God’s plan.   Do we see that we are like the pharisees in the Gospel when we argue and rebel against God’s teachings instead of embracing them?

Jesus said in the Gospel that He came into this world for judgement.  We remember Jesus’ coming judgement when we pray the Second Glorious Mystery.  He ascended into Heaven to judge the living and the dead.  Jesus will judge us based on His divine law.  That judgement may be harsh since we have knowledge of His laws and yet chose not to follow Him.  Remember, because we can see God’s truth, our sins remain.  God will not care whether something was legal in some worldly court.  He does not care about popular opinion.  And so, an important goal in life should be following God’s laws because in the end, that is how He will judge us.  When you pray the Second Glorious Mystery of the rosary acknowledge that we are all subject to God’s judgement one day.  And may that knowledge translate into the courage to live according to God’s will by avoiding sin.  Pray that we can humble ourselves and admit when we do stray from God’s path and embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially in this period of Lent.

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

Dice
Image by doug88888 via Flickr

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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Our Lady’s Messages — September 2010

Mary’s September messages at Medjugorje. She asks us to find the strength to ask for forgiveness and forgive others. She also asks that we approach Jesus with a humble heart in prayer so that we can hear how He wants us to live.

Message of September 2, 2010 to Mirjana

Dear children. I am beside you because I desire to help you to overcome trials, which this time of purification puts before you. My children, one of those is not to forgive, and not to ask for forgiveness. Every sin offends Love and distances you from it – and Love is my Son. Therefore, my children, if you desire to walk with me towards the peace of God‘s love, you must learn to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Thank you.

Mary’s central theme in this message is forgiveness.  She phrases it in a very interesting way– as a trial we must overcome.  I like the word “trial” when describing the act of forgiveness, both asking and giving it.  Indeed, asking for forgiveness or forgiving those who have hurt us is challenging and something many of us would like to avoid.  In general, our reluctance to admit our mistakes comes from our prideful human nature.  No one ever wants to think of their behavior as being wrong.  Mary understands that coming before Jesus with a humble heart is not an easy task and that is why She offers Her help.  Mary, in the Fourth Glorious Mystery, was assumed into Heaven and now serves as our guide to find the path of Jesus Christ.  Asking for forgiveness is difficult, but it becomes much easier with the support of the Holy Spirit, Mary, the saints, and the angels.  It is our choice whether we want to face these trials alone.  Personally, I think we should take Mary up on Her offer and ask for Her help to overcome this challenge.

Message, 25. September 2010

Dear children! Today I am with you and bless you all with my motherly blessing of peace, and I urge you to live your life of faith even more, because you are still weak and are not humble. I urge you, little children, to speak less and to work more on your personal conversion so that your witness may be fruitful. And may your life be unceasing prayer. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Perhaps it is because football season started a few week ago but Mary’s message very much feels like a coach talking to the athletes.  Mary, like a coach, sees a bunch of players that are fumbling on the field and just aren’t playing with any strategy.  She sees us losing by not sticking to the “game plan” of following God’s laws, avoiding sin, and just simply putting God first in our hearts, minds, and actions.  The Church lays down a winning strategy as seen in the Bible, Church doctrine, our priests and other Church leaders, and messages from Mary and the saints.  The plan for eternal happiness is out there, but we first must make room in our lives to hear it and then find the energy to live it.

Fumble Retrieval
Image by The PAW Project via Flickr

This message reminds me of the September 26, 2010 Gospel of Luke where Jesus recites the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk, 16:19-31).  At the end of the story, the rich man goes to Hell because of his uncaring ways towards poor Lazarus.  In Hell, the rich man asks God if he could return to earth and warn his brothers to reform their ways and avoid a similar outcome.  But God responded that they can hear His Word through Moses and the prophets.  We too, have the Church’s teachings freely available to us and yet we so often ignore it.  We know what is good and what is evil and yet too often we unrepentantly choose evil and ignore the good.  Mary’s frustration in Her message is understandable since She sees so many of us walking on a path towards eternal suffering and unhappiness.  She repeatedly tells us how to walk on the road to God’s grace and yet we ignore Her, the Holy Spirit, the saints, and the Church’s teachings.

Let us not be like the rich man and ignore God’s Word which can be found all around us.  May we try to listen more in our prayers in order to receive guidance so that we may transform our lives and imitate Christ.  We should particularly meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery where Jesus asks us all to have a converted heart.

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Medjugorje Message — October 2, 2009

This is Mary’s message from Medjugorje on October 2, 2009. Unlike the messages on the 25th, these messages focus on those who are have drifted far from God’s love. The tone is a little harsher, almost like a mother scolding a misbehaving child. However, even if you do try to live a life free of sin, you should listen to these messages since we all have moments of sin which separate us from God’s grace.

Virgin taken from a mural in the Iglesia de Je...
Image via Wikipedia

This is Mary’s message from Medjugorje on October 2, 2009.  Unlike the messages on the 25th, these messages focus on those who have drifted far from God’s love.  The tone is a little harsher, almost like one of a mother scolding a misbehaving child.  However, even if you do try to live a life free of sin, you should listen to these messages since we all have moments of sin which separate us from God’s grace.  Furthermore, even if your soul is as clean as one fresh out of the sacrament of Confession, you probably know someone who is separated from God’s love.  You need to read them to understand the danger people are in when they sin and pray extra hard for their conversion towards our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I also want to reiterate that even if you do not believe in the events at Medjugorje this is still an important message.  Mary offers nothing different or contrary to what the Catholic Church already teaches so this message could easily have come from a priest’s Sunday homily, the commentary from a Bible study, or the teachings of a saint.

Dear Children, As I look at you, my heart seizes with pain. Where are you going my children? Have you sunk so deeply into sin that you do not know how to stop yourselves? You justify yourselves with sin and live according to it. Kneel down beneath the Cross and look at my Son. He conquered sin and died so that you, my children, may live. Permit me to help you not to die but to live with my Son forever. Thank you!

Mary’s message sounds very much like a mother who sees all the ignorant and dangerous things her children do and wonders what could possibly be going through their young minds.  She has the benefit of seeing the splendor and glory of God’s kingdom and she tells us that all the sins that we commit are not worth losing the gift of Heaven for all eternity.  She wants us to take a hard look at our lives and ask ourselves why we sin.  Sure, certain sins may make us a little happier temporarily, make our lives a little easier, make us a little more popular, or richer.  But all those small gains in this world will cost us much more in the next.  In the best case we will serve more time in Purgatory for those sins.  At worst, we lose the gift of Heaven forever.  Mary does not want any of us to miss out on what awaits us in Heaven and that is why it pains her so much to see people living only for this world without regard for the next.

We should listen to Mary and turn away from sin.  Jesus taught that all are welcome into His kingdom as long as we have the courage and strength to turn away from sin.  We should lay all our worries and weaknesses before the Cross and ask for greater faith in God’s loving mercy.

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