The Value of Fasting

I am an avid reader of science and technology articles. I read Wired and Popular Science cover to cover within days of the magazine arriving in my mailbox and I read articles from numerous websites. I get super excited when I notice a link between my two passions — science and technology and prayer and spirituality.

I came across such an article that dived into the science behind fasting. A researcher has a theory that fasting obstructs a hormone responsible for cell growth and makes people more sensitive to insulin. He thinks that periodic fasting could reduce one’s chances of developing diabetes or cancer. The technical details are beyond the scope of this article but it’s an interesting read.

The article mentions that those who fast often feel sharper mentally because of a process called ketosis. It has something to do with a difference in body chemistry when you’re burning fat instead of carbohydrates. But that got me thinking about why the Church recommends fasting in addition to prayer. If fasting sharpens the mind and makes you physically healthier, could it also make you spiritually healthier as well?

The common idea behind fasting is that we give up something physical (such as food) and replace it with something spiritually nourishing. But this isn’t a trade of equal value. The spiritual benefit will always outweigh the physical loss. Think about that for a second. You give up a dessert or your ritual cup of coffee so you can instead better listen to God and form a deeper relationship with Him. Talk about giving up so little to gain so much!  Seems like an easy deal right?

And yet, while we all know the tremendous benefit of fasting, it is probably one of the hardest disciplines to practice. I think many of us have no problem saying some extra prayers, reading the bible, or praying the rosary when we put our minds to it. But you might as well suggest amputating a limb at the idea of not having that slice of cheesecake, substituting that mouth watering bacon burger for soup, or cutting out that cup of afternoon coffee. But that’s the point isn’t it? The harder the sacrifice, the more you benefit. When you say, “Okay God, I’m giving this up for you!” the better you will be able to hear God respond with a “thank you” and His grace.

And on Saturday he ate 1 piece of chocolate cake, 1 ice cream cone, 1 pickle…

Fasting amplifies our prayers and our reception of God’s Word.  Compare fasting/prayer to diet/exercise.  Exercise is not as effective without a matching, healthy diet.  All that you gain working out for an hour can be undone with a single cheesecake slice.  Or your health can be further benefited by supplementing exercise with nutritious food.  The same can be said for prayer.  All the benefits of prayer can be undone by a moment of sin or it can be elevated when combined with fasting.  Obviously, if we pray and then turn around and sin we really haven’t let God’s grace into our hearts.  But when we pray and fast, we allow God more room in our hearts to truly transform us.  St. Augustine once said, “Those who sing pray twice.”  If that’s true then I say that those who fast must be praying five-fold.

Jesus in Pray
Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How does fasting connect to the rosary?  Think about one of the themes of the Third Luminous Mystery.  Jesus calls us to focus on living for His Kingdom of Heaven.  That focus manifests itself by active conversion of our ways.  We change our earthly focus to a Heavenly one.  And that is exactly what fasting is all about.  We give up something worldly in exchange for something spiritual.  We intentionally choose the Kingdom of Heaven over delights in this earthly kingdom.  No one accidentally fasts.  Nor do we accidentally live for Heaven.  In the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus puts a choice before us.  Will you live for His kingdom and convert your ways or will you remain chained to the pleasures of this life?

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How Catholics Should Give and Receive Criticism

Time for a touchy subject — criticism.  Have you noticed how intolerant everyone appears to get at the slightest hint of criticism?  I understand that no one enjoys criticism, even constructive criticism.  But in the last few years, how society views criticism has changed.  Instead of it as something you either accept or ignore, criticising anyone has become tantamount to hate speech that warrants severe repercussions.  Just look at some of these headlines about how people react when their views are challenged or someone says something that makes them feel uncomfortable:

What I think is going on is that many people infer that any type of criticism comes from a position of self righteousness or malice.  Criticism is interpreted as a passive aggressive way of saying, “I’m better than you.”  In today’s world, the greatest act of love and concern appears to be silence and the cardinal sin of secular society is saying or doing anything that might upset someone.

In short, the world of Fahrenheit 451, where books are burned because people may find the ideas in them offensive, has come true.  Granted, we do not have firemen raiding homes looking for contraband books.  But we do have a culture where people are shouted down and threatened at the slightest implication that someone disagrees with their views or lifestyle.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has this take on criticism and how it is born out of a genuine love for each other.  While I  encourage you to listen to the two minute audio meditation yourself, the tl;dl version (too long; didn’t listen) is that fraternal correction is a great act of love and mercy.  Others often see aspects of us we don’t see ourselves and hence the cycle of continuous and mutual improvement completes us and our relationships with others.  He emphasizes that correction must come from a humble heart desiring only what is best for one another, not from thinking of yourself as better than others.

Pope Benedictus XVI
Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think Benedict’s statement, that true loving correction does not come from a place of self righteousness, is lost in today’s world.  Any attempt to help someone is often immediately dismissed because the person offering the criticism has his own faults and is therefore seen as a hypocrite.  It’s the whole, “Oh yeah!  Well you’re a …” response.  But by that logic, no one can offer advice or help each other because no one is perfect.

I wonder how much unhappiness in the world is born out of people being too afraid to help each other discover the good because doing so may present temporary anxiety or discomfort.  If you are on the receiving end of loving criticism,  Benedict asks us to consider that not all criticism is malicious but is instead maybe the Holy Spirit working through someone to bring out the best in us.

Turning to the rosary, meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion.  Consider this passage taken from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.  He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.  Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land.  It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary forces us to consider that Jesus Christ, and by extension His Church, calls us to see those aspects of our lives that are not moving us toward Heaven and to convert.  Jesus’ ministry was marked with Him challenging people’s beliefs and wanting them to do better.  In the Gospel, Jesus is criticizing the people for thinking that they, and only they, are called to God’s grace.  At the idea that there are others in the world deserving of God’s love, the Jews were ready to throw Jesus over a cliff!  Of course we shouldn’t forget that Jesus’ teachings so upset the status quo that He was eventually crucified because His truth made many feel uncomfortable or upset.

Ask yourself, how quickly do you make excuses to dismiss God’s plan for you?  Or how often do you attack the messenger, who may be acting as an instrument of God’s loving guidance, because you do not like being told that you are doing something wrong or not in accordance with God’s plan?  Look, I’m not saying that you should be all smiles and laughter when someone tries to correct your less than perfect ways.  And not everyone acts out of love.  But we all should ask God in prayer for patience and discernment and not immediately dismiss or attack someone who only wants the best for us.

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Did Pope Francis Really Say it is Bad to be “Very Catholic?”

I almost feel like I need to start a What Pope Francis Means is… section on RosaryMeds.  It’s not that I think what Pope Francis says is wrong.  In fact, both Pope Benedict and Saint John Paul II also said many things that, without looking through a well formed theological lens, one could interpret as going against Catholic doctrine.  But because of Pope Francis’ off the cuff style, he opens more doors than his predecessors for incorrect justifications of uncatholic behavior for those who wish to take it.

In today’s article, let’s look at this report from the National Catholic Reporter about Pope Francis’ remarks during his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square:

“We all know in our communities, in our parishes, in our neighborhoods how much hurt they do the church, and give scandal, those persons that call themselves ‘Very Catholic,'” the pontiff said Sunday.

Francis was speaking Sunday in an off-the-cuff moment during his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square, which focused on one of Jesus’ teachings about the role of the proscribed laws of the faith of his time.

“The literal observance of the precepts is something sterile if it does not change the heart and is not translated into concrete attitudes,” he said, giving examples: “Opening yourself to the encounter with God and God’s word in prayer, searching for justice and peace, giving help to the poor, the weak and the oppressed.”

“The exterior attitudes are the consequence of what we have determined in the heart,” said the pope. “Not the opposite! With outside attitudes, if the heart does not change we are not true Christians.”

What Pope Francis Did NOT Say

Some people could take Pope Francis’ words to mean that it is okay to not embrace all the teachings of the Catholic Church.  After all, you don’t want to be that goody-goody who is “very Catholic” or “too Catholic” as I’ve heard some refer to those who try to follow the precepts of the Church.  Without proper reflection, the pope’s comments could be taken as an endorsement of “cafeteria Catholicism” where you can pick what part of the doctrine you want to follow.  As long as you have a good heart or a just cause it’s alright to skip Mass on Sunday, support pro-choice causes, and not really buy into the “we are sinners in need of forgiveness” idea.  After all, the pope says that being very Catholic can be a bad thing right?

300px-Nancy_Pelosi_0009_3
Sorry Nancy, the pope isn’t saying those who are pro-life are bad Catholics

Of course Pope Francis is not saying that you can embrace uncatholic behaviors and still be a Catholic in God’s grace.  Nor is he telling practicing Catholics to butt out of the lives of those who have fallen away from the Church.  Unfortunately, for those looking for excuses for their behavior and shortcomings, you can easily pick and choose the pope’s words to support your actions.

What is Pope Francis Saying?

In my view, Pope Francis’ comments come down to a single word: PRIDE.  It’s not that trying to be a very good Catholic is a bad thing, but you start getting into sinful territory when you start to believe that  you’ve achieved some state of heavenly perfection in this lifetime because you follow all the rules.  You give scandal when you try to lord that false perception of perfection over others.  The very act of believing you are a better person than others because you follow the rules prevents you from being a fully realized Catholic because you fail to acknowledge your sinful act of pride.

My search for “pride” didn’t turn up any family friendly pictures. Here’s a cat instead.

There is an old saying that I’m going to paraphrase — being wise means understanding that there is a lot you do not know.  I think that’s important to meditate on when thinking about how good of a Catholic you are.  Someone who is truly very Catholic understands that they have a lot of sins and shortcomings that they need to work on.  No one can achieve perfect Catholicism in this world (Mary and Jesus excluded of course).  That is a state reserved for the souls in Heaven.  Even the saints acknowledged that they were poor sinners who had to battle various imperfections throughout their lives.  Even those who were the most holy among us like Saint Pope John Paul II went to confession weekly because he had the humility to know he could still be a better Catholic.

The Rosary Connection

The rosary relates to Pope Francis’ comments in two ways.  First, we pray it so that we can more humbly approach our faith.  When I meditate on the various mysteries and think about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, I understand the long road I have before me in areas of my life where I need to improve.  I don’t think anyone who earnestly prays the rosary can believe they are very Catholic when compared to the lives of Mary and Jesus or even the martyrs, apostles, and saints.  If I ever do start to feel prideful and that there isn’t any more I  can do to be a great Catholic, meditating on the rosary brings me back to reality.

The rosary also helps me become very Catholic, but very Catholic in the right way.  As Pope Francis said, we should focus on changing our hearts, not just our exterior attitudes.  Think about the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary.  Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven and calls us to a life of conversion.  This conversion is a conversion of heart, not actions.  Because when we do have a true conversion of heart and orient ourselves towards God, the actions will naturally follow.

Think of it like this, you aren’t very Catholic because you go to Mass on Sunday.  You are very Catholic because you love God with all your heart and want to embrace Him by listening to His Word and celebrating the Eucharist at Mass.  True conversion and becoming very Catholic starts from within with regular prayer and reflecting on what areas of your life need improvement.  The rosary is a great tool that leads you to true Catholicism, not a false, prideful one.

Most people won’t have a “Road to Damascus” moment like St. Paul. Conversion is a lifelong process.

Need more help getting the most out of the rosary?  Download my free ebook chock full of rosary intentions to meditate on.

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Eschewing Comfort for Better Rosary Prayer

One of my favorite self improvement blogs is LifeHacker.  For those who don’t know, LifeHacker has interesting tips and tricks in all areas of life whether it be career, digital, health, finances, play, or family.  They posted a link to a podcast featuring General Stanley McChrystal and his philosophy for success.  He said that you have to continuously raise your standards every day.  The LifeHacker article states:

You can almost always find something you’re able to improve about your life or your work. The important thing is that concept of eschewing comfort. Success doesn’t consist in finding the right routine to stick with for your whole life. Success comes from changing that routine constantly until your life is better.

This piece of military wisdom applies to so many areas of life.  Let’s focus on using it to achieve success with rosary prayer and meditation. In my rosary SEAL post I wrote about how we grow spiritually when we accept the discomforts of rosary prayer and push ourselves to block out easier, but less effective, alternatives. From my experiences with software development I learned that routines lead to optimization. In other words, the more we do the same action over and over again, the faster and more efficient we become at it. That’s great when you want to blast through mundane tasks at work but not so great when it comes to rosary meditation. Becoming comfortable with the rosary is what leads to meditation autopilot, distractions, and less effective prayer.

matterhorn-968_1280
The bigger the challenge, the bigger the success

Rosary meditation is not about speed. It’s about fostering your friendship with Jesus Christ. Are your best experiences with your friends the times when you are distracted and race through interactions with them? Probably not. My most cherished memories in my friendships involved long and deep conversations where I was actively engaged. The same goes for the time we spend in prayer with our friend, Jesus Christ.  Our friendship with Jesus isn’t something static, but one that we should always be improving.  That means treating each rosary prayer as something new and distinct from the previous rosaries.  Yes, the actual prayers may be the same, but the dialogue with Jesus should be something unique because the circumstances you’re prayer under will be unique.

Here is an excerpt from John’s Gospel that should sound familiar since we read it a few weeks ago on May 10th:

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.

Always remember that Jesus considers us his friend.  It’s important that friendship is never a one way street.  Jesus has reached out to us but we need to reach out to him.  And that means never taking the power of prayer for granted.

Rosary prayer: Quality time with our friend Jesus

The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary focuses on conversion and communicates a similar idea about never getting comfortable with a routine.  What is conversion other than changing our routines until our life is better?  Unfortunately, in our broken human state we never achieve a lasting success of living in God’s grace.  It’s a process of falling to sin, receiving forgiveness, and striving to be better.  No one on earth has ever obtained a lasting perfection in our human form and isn’t in need of some conversion (our Mother Mary excluded of course).  When we meditate on this rosary mystery, let’s remember that there is always something more we can do to improve our friendship with Jesus whether it be praying longer, being more aware of the factors that lead us to sin, attending Adoration, receiving the sacraments more often, being more charitable, or just consciously centering more of our lives around Christ.

What are your comfort points with rosary prayer?  What can you do to break through them?

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Catechism Thoughts: Living for Heaven

As I read the Catechism as part of my new year’s resolution I’m going to share little insights and passages that I find relevant to rosary prayer. I came across this prayer in section 260 which I think highlights the power and peace that comes from prayer.  It’s part of the prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity:

O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.

In business there is a saying — work the job you want, not the job you have. In other words, if you want to receive a promotion or have greater responsibilities at work, then take the initiative to display your skills now in your current role. Otherwise, you’ll always stay where you are because no one will see that you have the abilities or desire for anything greater.

A businessman's silhouette.
A businessman’s silhouette. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer is the spiritual equivalent of that business philosophy. Act like you’re already one of the saints at peace in God’s Kingdom. After all, Heaven is our ultimate goal (or at least it should be) where we will realize how inconsequential and petty many of our problems really are. Why focus so much time and energy on the problems of this life?  This life is temporary and fleeting and is not where God calls us.  God calls us to look past our earthly selves and look towards raising to new life with Him in Heaven.  If you want your soul to live in Heaven, then act heavenly while on earth.

This prayer’s message is echoed in the First Glorious Mystery, Jesus’ Resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead He showed us that our earthly death is not the end, but only a transition.  In His resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of Heaven and provided a place for us. Our souls are not temporary and bound only to this life but will live on for eternity. But how do we want to live that eternity? In the grace and joy of Heaven or in the despair and anguish of Hell? When we pray this rosary mystery, we should meditate and examine how much we are truly living for the place in Heaven Jesus prepared for us in His resurrection.

English: Resurrection of Christ
English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer also recalls themes from the Third Luminous MysteryJesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion.  She talks about how our journey into God’s grace is achieved “each minute.”  In other words, grace is achieved in small steps, not in one fell swoop.  It’s not like we fall asleep one night wallowing in sin and wake up the next day a saint.  Conversion is a process made up of a lifetime of small steps into God’s grace.  We should take that to heart when we pray this mystery because it can be so easy to become discouraged when it seems like no matter how hard we try we don’t find that peace we so desperately crave.  Remember, Jesus didn’t find peace here on earth either.  True peace is found only in Heaven.  And you find Heaven only when you convert your earthly ways into heavenly ones.

If you want peace and you want Heaven, work towards it now.  Pray, confess, fast, receive the sacraments, and learn and follow Jesus’ teachings.  You don’t have to be officially recognized a saint to act like one.

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Immigration: Theology vs. Politics. Part 2

Immigration Rally

I could not come up with a decent rosary meditation at the end of my earlier article on comprehensive immigration reform and the Catholic Church.  That’s been tearing me up a little because it’s the challenging issues like this one that need the most prayer and meditation.  It is much easier to pray for the issues where I already agree with the Catholic Church like the intrinsic evilness of abortion.  I even find it easy to meditate on the theological and moral foundation of immigration reform of how we should treat our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of their immigration status.  But I’m having a hard time swallowing the Church’s enthusiasm over the latest comprehensive immigration bill that recently passed through the senate.  But I think I found a mystery of the rosary that helps address my current doubt and worry over the Church’s stance on this bill.

The rosary mystery that comes to mind when I think about the immigration reform bill is the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion.  We should meditate on the first part of the title — the proclamation of the kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus came into the world to proclaim that there is something greater to live for than what we see around us in our lives.  He prepared a place for us in Heaven.  Jesus told us what we need to do to live for His Kingdom:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). ”  Immediately following, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to point out that everyone is our neighbor.

Jesus didn’t attach conditions to His call to love one another.  He didn’t instruct us to love our neighbor, but only if doing so wouldn’t have a negative impact on the economy.  He didn’t say love your neighbor, but not if they broke the law.  He didn’t instruct his disciples to secure the border before they could start loving and showing compassion to those around them.  And so when it comes to the immigration reform issue, I think the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is trying to echo a similar sentiment as Jesus in the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary.  They want to show us that it is far more important to live for Jesus’ Kingdom and follow His laws regardless of the social, economic, and political impact in this world.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijna...

Loving our neighbor unconditionally is difficult particularly when it might have an adverse affect on our social or economic well-being.  Or maybe it is hard to swallow teachings that conflict with our political ideology.  We only know this world and this life and we try our best to find as much comfort and happiness in it.  But God does not want us to constrain our thinking to the here and now but remember that there is a larger picture involved.  He calls us to spend eternity in the happiness of Heaven.  So even if our economy and society collapses and we lose our comforts in this world, if that happens because we loved our neighbor, we will gain infinitely more.  But seeing our laws through that lens is tremendously difficult.

But the Third Luminous Mystery doesn’t end with the proclamation of the kingdom of Heaven.  It ends with Jesus calling us to a life of conversion.  Jesus understands that almost everyone will have a hard time letting go of the comforts of this world and embrace living for His heavenly kingdom.  He knows that all of us need to undergo conversion in one form or another.  And so this mystery doesn’t end with Jesus giving us an ultimatum that we must immediately accept leaving no room for error.  Instead, Jesus acknowledges that we may not be 100% on board with His teaching, but that’s alright.  He wants us to make an effort to align our ways with His ways.  He knows that it will be challenging to follow Him and we will stumble, but He gives us all the tools through the magisterium of the Catholic Church that we need to stay on that path.

We pray and meditate on the rosary, particularly the Third Luminous Mystery, that we orient our lives toward God’s heavenly kingdom and make whatever course corrections we need to get there.  I’m certainly not there yet on issues like the comprehensive immigration reform bill.  And I think there are other ways we can love our neighbor and reform our immigration policies without implementing yet more massive government programs.  But at least I understand where our US bishops and Church leaders are coming from.  They are trying to offer a glimpse of how God views these issues which is very different from how many of us might see them.  Much like how we have faith that there is a heavenly kingdom that awaits us after this life, maybe we also should show a little faith in our Church leaders.  It’s easy to have faith in people when you completely agree with them.  But real faith is believing even when you have doubts.  But with the help of Mary, the saints, and the Holy Spirit, maybe we’ll be able to conquer that doubt and not fear what we have to lose in this life but rejoice in all that we will gain in the next.

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Pope Asks Catholics to be “Annoying”

I took a lot of acting classes and performed in many plays throughout high school and college. Looking back on my teenage and early adult years, acting was one of the greatest experiences of my life. One skill that was difficult to learn initially was leaving the familiar and comfortable to take chances discovering the character. In order to be successful on stage I had to embrace my character and all his quirks, mannerisms, and eccentricities and push aside any sense of self-consciousness or embarrassment.  My best performances resulted from breaking out of my comfort zone and doing things I would never regularly do but my character would.

Performance
Actors must give it everything they got for truly remarkable performances

Much like how I had to leave my comfort zone in acting, Pope Francis challenges all Catholics to leave their comfort zone in their spiritual life. The Catholic News Agency reported that in a homily, Pope Francis said:

“We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church,” he said at the chapel of the Saint Martha residence, where he lives.

The Pope preached on today’s first reading from Acts 22 and contrasted “backseat Christians” with those who have apostolic zeal.

“There are those who are well-mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and apostolic zeal,” he stated.

The pontiff said apostolic zeal “implies an element of madness,” which he labeled as “healthy” and “spiritual.”

He added that it “can only be understood in an atmosphere of love” and that it is not an “enthusiasm for power and possession.”

The pope’s reference to “well-mannered” and “backseat” Christians echoed my thoughts about how we too often do the bare minimum our faith requires. And looking at the dramatic drop off in Mass attendance between Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, many people aren’t even meeting the minimal requirements. I noted how great of a statement Catholics could make to the world if people driving by a church on Sunday saw it filled to the brim with faithful Christians. What if the billion+ Catholics in the world expressed a loving enthusiasm for our faith every day in everything we do?

And yet, many of us (myself included) fall back into our pattern of living as “well-mannered” Catholics. Sure, we may go to Mass on Sunday and pray regularly but it’s in a very detached way from our regular lives. We don’t want to stir up controversy by proclaiming our faith in public. Raise your hand if you read a really interesting online article expressing a Catholic viewpoint but didn’t post it on your Facebook profile out of fear of causing trouble. Do you remain silent in a conversation when someone starts spouting off falsehoods or exaggerations of Church doctrine because you want to avoid conflict? Come on, be honest. I know I do that all the time, even with my own RosaryMeds articles. I sometimes refrain from sharing my own RosaryMeds articles on my personal timeline because I don’t want the headaches of defending my faith.

We all need role models and examples who we can teach us how to break the mold of the “comfortable Catholic.” Who in my life is an example of “apostolic zeal?” My mother-in-law comes to mind. She does not have two lives — a public one and a spiritual one. They are the same for her. For example, when something bad or good happens in her life, her immediate instinct is to say a prayer. And she doesn’t wait to be alone and pray silently, but will ask others to pray with her when the situation calls for it. That’s the sort of apostolic zeal the pope wants in all of us — to have that immediate gut instinct to publicly live as people of faith. It doesn’t need to be loud or bossy. It just needs to be ever-present in everything you do.

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

Christ teaching in the Temple

When I meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery of the holy rosary — Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion, I often ponder my own personal conversion. I think about ways I can live as a better Catholic and more faithfully follow Jesus’ teachings. But Pope Francis’ homily on living with “apostolic zeal” provides another way to view this mystery. In addition to your personal conversion, how about focusing on converting others? How can you help bring others closer to God’s loving grace? For those “backseat” Christians, maybe you can give them that little “push” whether it be inviting them to Mass (and not letting them hide in the back of the church), saying grace with them before meals, and just working in a little Catholic catechesis in conversations. It might be something as simple as, “I read this interesting article on RosaryMeds today that said…”

As for dealing with those openly hostile to the Catholic Faith, I understand that we all can’t be like St. Paul and stir up riots proclaiming God’s Word. But as I said before, pray for those who hate the Church. You will probably not be able to convert someone’s heart and mind through idle conversation regardless of how many facts or well-reasoned arguments you present. But the Holy Spirit can work miracles and touch people in ways words cannot. But you need to condition yourself to pray for people like this because praying for those who hate you doesn’t come naturally to many of us.

I will leave you with this to ponder.  If you think the Catholic Church and this world is perfect as-is, then there is no need for us behave differently.  But if you think this would could use a little improvement then it needs to start with each one of us making little changes in our lives.  Are you ready to break out of your spiritual comfort zone to make those changes a reality?

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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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Teacher Fired from Confirmation Class for being “Too Passionate” About Her Faith

I have to share a sad story about a friend of mine who the parish pastor removed from teaching a Sacrament of Confirmation class for “being too passionate about her faith” around “impressionable” students. This is an unfortunate event but hopefully some good can come out of it if it awakens the conscience and awareness of others about the threats to the Catholic Church. Here is a letter my friend wrote explaining what happened (I removed the names at my friend’s request):

Last night I was “let go” from teaching Confirmation to High School students at [name of school] because I am accused of “being too passionate about my faith” and the students are “too impressionable”.

I am a very good faithful Catholic Catechist that teaches only the Truth from Scripture and the CCC.

I believe in helping the students to develop “well formed consciences”, so I speak about the “intrinsic evils” in our current dark culture. Abortion, euthanasia, cloning, destruction of stem cells for embryonic research, the eroding and re-definition of traditional marriage and the assault on our religious freedom. But most of all the disappearance of “God” in our world. The DRE says that I’m only to teach Confirmation (LOL).

Last Wednesday the day after the election I spoke to the students about voting as Catholics when first and shared the above with them. A question came from a student asking “does this mean if you voted for Obama that you are not Catholic?” I said that voting for a platform that supports intrinsic evil like that means you are not a “faithful Catholic”.

I had a meeting with the pastor this morning, he is supports the DREs viewpoint. He voted for Obama and doesn’t believe that in doing so you are not a “faithful Catholic”. I told him he was wrong and that the majority of U.S. Bishops and our Pope thinks so too. He said he didn’t care what the Bishops say–which means this Priest is outside the magisterium of the Church–which is not new news to any of us. The majority of current leadership of our Church have succumb too.

It’s terrible enough that those who are not Catholic would attack us–but to be attacked from within is very depressing. I believe that God is allowing all of this to happen to me and to the world for a greater good and I trust in Him. I will fight this and all those like this within the Church and in the public square.

First, we should look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches about the Sacrament of Confirmation. The introduction in the CCC says (italics mine):

For by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is a calling to spread and defend the faith. Defend it from what? What are the threats to the Catholic faith? I think my friend nailed it in her letter when she identified these threats as “the ‘intrinsic evils’ in our current dark culture. Abortion, euthanasia, cloning, destruction of stem cells for embryonic research, the eroding and re-definition of traditional marriage and the assault on our religious freedom. But most of all the disappearance of God in our world.” In order to defend against evil, you must be able to identify it. All my friend did was introduce these evils through the lens of the Church. We cannot act so naïve as to think that these young adults will never encounter these challenges to the faith. So shouldn’t we prepare them using the best tools available to us like the CCC?

The paster’s actions also seem to fly in the face of this year’s theme for the Catholic Church, the year of faith, and the call for the New Evangelization. This is a call from the highest levels of the Catholic Church for the faithful to become better catechized and make an effort to grow deeper in their faith. And yet, at the local level, when someone tries to do just, she gets kicked out of her role.  The world will catechize these impressionable teenagers one way or another. Would you prefer the future generation of the Catholic Church to be catechized by popular culture, the media, and our politicians or by those who truly love their faith and want to see the Church thrive in the grace and love that Jesus intended?

By avoiding teaching these difficult issues, local parishes present a watered down version of Catholicism. Teenagers are impressionable, but they can also be very astute. They detect when someone isn’t giving them straight answers or presents Church teachings using clichés and platitudes. Church teachings no longer become the product of centuries of thought by some of the most brilliant theologians the world has ever known, but instead are reduced to the equivalent of flowery song lyrics. And like a song in a large playlist, teenagers will just file away their perception of Church doctrine as just one idea of many and head towards what they feel is more exciting, interesting, and important. When local parishes keep this status quo, I’m not surprised that regular Mass attendance is down to 23% among US Catholics. Teenagers crave substance and yet many parishes are afraid to give it to them.

What Does the Rosary Teach Us?

My friend’s situation reminds me of the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of the Heaven and the Call to Conversion. Remember the response Jesus received when He announced that He was the fulfilment of scripture. Did the people rejoice and listen intently to Jesus’ teachings? Nope. They chased Him out-of-town and later crucified Him. Similarly, St. Paul caused riots and was almost assassinated trying to spreads Jesus’ teachings in the Acts of the Apostles (you should definitely listen to it). And so we find ourselves in a similar situation today. There are many people out there who truly love Jesus and His Church and want to proclaim authentic Catholic teachings. But they are chased out, like Jesus, because those teachings upset the status quo and force people to evaluate their priorities and values in life. Conversion is difficult and takes effort especially when it forces us to leave the comfort of the status quo or admit that we are on a wrong path. But in the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus asks us all to a life of continuous conversion and to always try to move ever closer to Him.

When we pray this mystery we should keep in our intentions those people who cling to their beliefs even when they run counter to the Church’s teachings. May the Holy Spirit open their hearts to the true conversion to which Jesus calls them. And we should pray for all of those who want to teach the Catholic faith but are persecuted and chased out. Like St. Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery, may they stay steadfast in their convictions even when it seems pointless.

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Do You Ask for Holiness?

Do you ask for holiness?  Seriously, how many times do you pray and ask God to make you holier?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t ask nearly enough.  My prayers usually revolve around asking God for other things like, “help so-and-so with an illness,” “help so-and-so with his job,” “give me the strength to be a good person,” etc.  But it never really occurs to me to ask for more holiness.  And yet, being holy should be at the top of our list of things to ask from God when we pray since it is the root of all good things.

Mother Teresa
Morther Teresa isn't the only one called to be holy

Holiness isn’t something reserved exclusively for Jesus, the saints, priests and nuns.  And yet we often think that because we don’t receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we don’t have a calling to be holy.  We often set a high bar for priests to always do the right thing and never sin.  And yet we don’t apply those same standards to ourselves.  We sometimes rationalize that because we aren’t a priest or nun, it’s ok to commit “little” sins, avoid praying, and not follow Church doctrine.  However, God calls everyone to lead a holy life regardless of vocation.

At its core, holiness is the recognition that God has set us apart from the rest of His creation for a special purpose.  We are called to imitate God for He is good.  Hence, we are meant to be good.  We must understand that holiness is a cause, not an effect.  It is the root from which all good things flow.  For example, someone is not holy because he does works of charity.  He does works of charity because he is holy.  Notice that holiness is the cause and good works are the effect.  Someone is not holy because she prays.  She prays because she is holy.  Think of holiness as the seed God plants in all of us that enables us to live according to His will.  Without that seed, true good cannot flourish since we do not have that recognition of God in our life.

There are many mysteries of the rosary that refer to our call to live holy lives.  Think about the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call for Conversion.  Being holy means aligning our souls to be more in line with how God calls us.  And that is exactly what Jesus asks of us in this mystery — convert those aspects of your life that are not aligned with God to become more aligned with Him.  In other words, Jesus calls us to become holier.  This is challenging because how many people like to examine their lives, see what is wrong with it, and then resolve to change it?  Most of us would rather just continue living assuming we are holy enough and being any more holy would just cramp our lifestyle.  Being holy means that you also acknowledge that there is more you can do to imitate God’s ways.  When we pray the rosary, challenge yourself to examine those aspects of your life where you are not as holy as you could be and then ask God for more holiness.  I’m sure God will be more than happy to grant more holiness to those who sincerely ask for it.

If you still think holiness is not important, consider this study.  The Barna Group conducted a survey of church-going Christians.  Of those surveyed, 46% said that their lives were largely unchanged from going to church.  Furthermore, the study showed that Catholics felt less positive effects from Mass than Protestants.  This study points to what I said in a previous article — Mass is becoming more of a social gathering rather than an opportunity to connect with God (aka, become holier).  There is saying about exercise and athletics — You only get as much out of it as you put into it.  The same goes with Mass and prayer.  Do so many people get so little from their Mass experience because they aren’t putting much prayer into it?  Do they come to Mass with the intention of asking God for more holiness and how they can convert to live as God calls them?  Or do people put more thought into what they will eat after Mass is over?

Remember, holiness is the root of a spiritually healthy life.  Without holiness, truly good things cannot flourish.  And it will take more than a handful of holy priests, nuns, and saints for goodness to spread across this world.  It takes each and every one of us trying to be as holy as possible.  So the next time you pray and ask God to hear your intentions, make it a point to ask Him for the will and strength to be holier.

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