Close Encounter of the Papal Kind

Buona sera! That is Italian for “Good Evening.” I got used to saying that phrase quite often during my two-week trip to Italy. I’m back now and I thought I would share the highlight of the vacation. My wife and I attended Mass on Pentecost Sunday, in St. Peter’s Basilica, lead by Pope Benedict XVI on our first-year wedding anniversary.

Pope Benedict giving a blessing

Buona sera!  That is Italian for “Good Evening.”  I got used to saying that phrase quite often during my two-week trip to Italy.  I’m back now and I thought I would share the highlight of the vacation.  My wife and I attended Mass on Pentecost Sunday, at St. Peter’s Basilica, lead by Pope Benedict XVI on our first-year wedding anniversary.  I wish I could say that I planned this all especially for our anniversary, but it was mostly a lucky coincidence of being in the right place at the right time.  However, I can’t think of a better way of spending our anniversary than attending a Papal Mass at the literal center of the Catholic Church.

This experience was very energizing and felt like a small pep rally for my soul.  It definitely fell more on the electrifying side rather than a deeply spiritual one.  It is difficult to have a deeply solemn and meditative experience when you are in St. Peter’s Basilica with thousands of other people, many of whom are there to watch a good show, listen to a symphony, and take pictures rather than pray.  That being said, the grandeur of the ceremony appealed to another side of my spirituality — my excitement and joy of being a member of the Catholic Church.  Throughout the Mass all I could think about was how great it is that this is my Church, my traditions, and my faith and I couldn’t be prouder to be a Catholic.

The excitement of the entire ceremony can be summarized in seeing The Holy Father walk down the isle only ten feet away from us.   As he walked by, staff in hand, I could really feel the presence of the Holy Spirit that surrounds him.  I felt a sense of excitement and pride coming so close to someone whose very smile radiates a joy that can only come by fully embracing the Faith.  Despite all the burdens and responsibility of his position, Pope Benedict XVI really looks like he is at ease with the monumental task God has given him.  This reminded me of Mary at the Annunciation where She accepted God’s Will despite the worldly burdens it would bring.

It’s safe to say that God calls most of us to much lighter service than what He asked of Mary and what He asks of the Pope.  So if they have the strength to say yes to God, and do it with a smile, then I’m confident that any one of us can accept God’s calling and do our small part with joy.

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Random Thought: Forgiveness

There is no such thing as an unforgivable sin.

There is no such thing as an unforgivable sin.  No matter how far you may stray, God will always welcome you back.  And He will never hold a grudge or tell you “I told you so.”

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Random Thought: Divine Insurance

Your eternal soul is too important to leave only to God’s mercy. Get a little extra insurance by living in God’s grace by doing His will and avoiding sin.

Your eternal soul is too important to leave only to God’s mercy.  Get a little extra insurance by living in God’s grace by doing His will and avoiding sin.

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Random Thought: Forever

This is a great quote from Father Corpapi:

In the end, forever, you and I will be in Heaven or Hell. Period.

The question is, are you working towards Heaven or Hell?

This is a great quote from Father Corpapi:

In the end, forever, you and I will be in Heaven or Hell.  Period.

The question is, are you  working towards Heaven or Hell?

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Random Thought: Living God’s Word

Judas received the best spiritual teaching and guidance as one of Jesus’ apostles. And yet, he never took Jesus’ message to heart and betrayed Him. Remember that just listening to God’s Word isn’t the same as living God’s Word.

Judas received the best spiritual teaching and guidance as one of Jesus’ apostles.  And yet, he never took Jesus’ message to heart and betrayed Him.  Remember that just listening to God’s Word isn’t the same as living God’s Word.

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Random Thought: Acting Saintly

The earliest saints were liars, cowards, and doubters. They were Jesus’ apostles. Remember that the next time you doubt your abilities to do God’s will.

The earliest saints were liars, cowards, and doubters.  They were Jesus’ apostles.  Remember that the next time you doubt your abilities to do God’s will.

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Random Thought: Friendship

Friends talk to each other and treat each other kindly. Have you been Jesus’ friend today?

Friends talk to each other and treat each other kindly.  Have you been Jesus’ friend today?

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Eating Your Spiritual Vegetables

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

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

From the article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Faith in Flux” study states:

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

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

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

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

Thanks Mom and Dad!

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Lent: A Time for Spiritual Fitness

Lent is a time to get spiritually fit and our souls in shape for God. I’ve outlined some activities you can do during Lent to prepare your soul for Easter.

The season of Lent is already here.  This means that it is time to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls for Easter.  Think of this as your spiritual equivalent of a New Year’s resolution.  It is time to get our souls in shape so that we can fully embrace our faith and Jesus’ love.

In the Gospels, Jesus spent forty days in the desert before starting His public ministry.  In that time, He prayed and fasted.  But He was also repeatedly tempted by the devil.  In a similar way, Lent poses many temptations and challenges for the modern Catholic.  We live in a world that no longer values self-sacrifice.  The idea that someone would deliberately deny himself something is a very alien concept in a society where you can get anything you want whenever you want.  But the point of fasting, sacrifice, and preparation during Lent is to clear out our hearts and minds of all these material goods and make room for God.  Like a diet, Lent is a time to clear our souls of all that “junk” we accumulate in our daily lives (work, money, politics, wealth, power, etc.) and really focus on our faith and relationship with God.  While it is so easy to treat a day in Lent as just another, normal day, let us really make an effort to make these days extraordinary by taking more time to examine, prepare, clean, and mend our hearts for God.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, prayer is our spiritual exercise. So below I have prepared a Lenten spiritual fitness checklist.  And like any exercise program, I’ve divided it into different levels so you can go at your own pace.  The clock is ticking folks so lets get moving!

Beginner:

  • Give up something you enjoy (chocolate, cookies, coffee, television, video games, etc.).  Whenever you have a craving, fill it by saying a prayer.
  • Arrive early or stay after mass on Sunday and say an extra prayer.
  • Actually sing the hymns and speak up during responses at mass.  Participate!
  • Find an annoying habit or sinful behavior that you do.  Make an earnest effort not to do it.
  • Go to confession at least once.
  • Do not eat meat on Friday.  But that does not mean you should go out and have a lobster dinner either.  Remember, this is a time of sacrifice.
  • Pray daily.

Intermediate:

  • All the beginner tasks.
  • Meditate on a mystery of the of the rosary daily.
  • Read scripture daily.
  • Go to the Stations of the Cross at least once.
  • Go to adoration at least once.
  • Fast once a week.
  • Learn something new about the Catholic faith by reading the Catechism.

Expert:

  • All of the intermediate tasks.
  • Pray all four mysteries of the rosary daily.
  • Fast twice a week.
  • Refrain from having or going to large, boisterous parties.  Instead, use that time to pray.
  • Make plans to meet with your parish priest in a non-religious setting.  Get to know your priest outside of Church.  Remember, they are human beings and like social events too.

And here is a little motivation from the ultimate spiritual fitness guru, Pope Benedict XVI:

Lent, A Time for More Intense Prayer and Penance

Pope Urges Fight To Do Good This Lent

It’s always a good time to visit and shop in the RosaryMeds Store.

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Exercising Spiritually

I am going to take a short divergence from my rosary meditation to offer up some thoughts on WHY I think prayer is such an important part of life.  Thank you for reading my meditations on the mysteries of the rosary and there will certainly be more to come.  However, I know that there are many out there that ask, “why should I pray the rosary at all?”  While there are more reasons to pray it than you and I can possible know (and definitely more than what I can put into one article) I want to try to explain the importance of the rosary by comparing it to exercise.

First of all, why do we exercise physically?  It is hard, sometimes painful, takes time, and often we do not see any immediate, tangible results for our hard effort.  However, many of us exercise because we understand that it has many benefits:

  • Keeps us in good health and decreases the chances of illness.
  • Increases our strength and endurance for those times when we need it (like sports or work).
  • Improves our physical appearance.
  • Relieves stress.

Many of us, no matter how busy we are, make the time to exercise because we know that it is an important part of healthy living.  Not only is exercise important enough to schedule into our daily routines, but it is also important enough to spend our hard-earned money on gym memberships, equipment, clothing, and diet foods and supplements.

It is amazing how much time, money, and effort we put into physical exercise and how little we put into spiritual exercise.  Many of us somehow find an hour of our day to “hit the gym” but we cannot find one hour a week to go to church, 20 minutes to pray a rosary mystery or even 30 seconds to say a short prayer of thanks before a meal.  If the exercise analogy does not work for you, then replace that with work or a hobby (and go for a walk).  How much time do you spend browsing the Internet or playing video games compared to how much time you spend in prayer and mediation?

It is important to work out our spiritual muscles just as much as our physical ones.  When you build up your spiritual muscle you will be much more prepared when you are challenged.  Whether the challenge comes as a problem of faith or just handling day-to-day complications, you can better handle any challenge when you pray regularly.  Trying to handle difficult life challenges without a deep faith is like trying to run a marathon with only minimal training.  Sure, you may finish the race but it will be more difficult and painful than if you were adequately prepared.  But more likely, we tend to just give up when the going gets tough because we have not conditioned our heart, mind, and soul to work through life’s obstacles. 

Like exercise, you only need to put in small, but constant effort praying in order to feel results over time.  It takes 20 minutes to pray a mystery of the rosary which is shorter than the time it takes to watch a sitcom.  You most likely will not feel like a saint after a week of prayer (or a month or even longer) but it will start to change you over time.  It will change the way you see the world and your life and really puts into perspective what is really important.  I have a hard time explaining how praying the rosary has changed me.  Unlike exercise I cannot point to a certain metric that tracks my progress.  Unfortunately there is not a faith ranking I can improve.  But I know the rosary has affected me positively as seen in the way I interact with others and in just my overall outlook on life.  It has also brought me closer to my Catholic faith by making it a priority in my life.  Now my faith is every bit as important as my physical health, my finances, my family, and my career.

I could draw out the exercise/rosary analogy longer (since I love analogies) but hopefully you get the idea.  I hope these words might encourage some of you to give rosary meditation a try. 

And like many exercise programs advertised on television (like this one), I’m going to end with my prayer sales pitch:

You can change your life in just 20 minutes a day!  Increase your faith and spiritual health for no money!  That’s right, you can start living a better life and it will not cost you a thing!  Millions of people have tried this program and have seen remarkable results.  So what are you waiting for?  Go and pray the rosary today!

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