What the Gospel and Rosary Teach Us About Good Works

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is from Matthew.  I’m only including the part I’m going to reflect on in this article.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

In this Gospel passage, John the Baptist makes a distinction between piety and good works.  The Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves good people because they followed the Mosaic law to the letter.  But John implies in his comparison to a tree not bearing good fruit that just following rules or having a certain status does not lead to salvation.  One must follow up with good works, charity, and compassion.

Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees
Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good works, charity, and compassion were the cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry.  He came into this world, not as someone of status and authority, but as a servant who ministered to those people society had excluded.  Jesus repeatedly taught that what matters most to God is what someone does, not what their title is.  Whether it was teaching the golden rule or telling the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had to charity, Jesus’ ministry centered around instilling the value of good works and sacrifice.  Inversely, those who only followed rules and sought status and honor He routinely called hypocrites.

This past Thursday’s Gospel from Matthew echoes a very similar message:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Notice how Jesus is saying that just accepting Him as the Savior is not enough.  You have to follow up with action what you proclaim in your words.  To put it in more modern terms (but now maybe ridiculously outdated), you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

When you hear and read this Gospel, meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary, The Visitation.  Think about Mary in this mystery, someone who recently learned that she was to be the mother to the Massiah.  What does she do?  Does she flaunt the fact that an angel visited her?  Does she go about looking for an elevated stature in the community?  No.  Instead, she travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth and helps her through her pregnancy although she herself was pregnant.  Mary’s initial action after the Annunciation was one of charity.

Also, consider the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary when you reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel.  Mary was assumed into Heaven and now acts as our intermediary to her son, Jesus Christ.  Even when bestowed the title Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery), she has never stopped actively guiding us through the minefield of life.  She protects us from evil, helps those who ask for her assistance, and has continually appeared to many delivering a message similar to John the Baptist in the Gospel — Jesus loves you and wants you close to him, but you must make the effort to love Him through good works, charity, and compassion.

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God Must Come First!

Love
Love (Photo credits: PB Teen)

What’s more important, serving God or serving each other?   points out in his article on The Remnant that over the last few decades the Church’s focus has shifted from loving God first to primarily loving our fellow brothers and sisters.  It’s not that we have to choose one or the other.  We are called to do both.  But it is a matter of priority and focus.  If you accept the premise that Catholic Church has shifted its priorities in the last few generations, ask yourself whether that has strengthened or weakened the Church.  Have we veered from what Jesus taught and what has made the Church strong over the centuries?  Patrick Archbold thinks so and believes much of the weakness of faith within the Church has to do with this shift.  I encourage you to read his article in full.  The focus of this article will be on the rosary (naturally).  Let’s look at what some of the rosary mysteries teach us about loving God vs. loving our fellow humans.

Look at the order of the first and second Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.  In the Annunciation, we see Mary putting God first by accepting his plan for her.  We then see in the Visitation Mary going out and helping her cousin Elizabeth.  Notice the order?  Okay, there is the fact that chronologically, the Annunciation did precede the Visitation.  But there is also a spiritual significance in the order as well.  When we pray the rosary we meditate first on the love of God as seen in the Annunciation and then the love for our fellow brothers and sisters as represented in the Visitation.  In putting our love for God first, we receive his grace and can therefore more fully serve each other just as Mary does in the Joyful Mysteries.

On to the First Sorrowful Mystery.  Jesus fears his upcoming arrest and crucifixion.  But he prays to God asking God to first find another way he could redeem the world but also submits to God’s Will.  Jesus shows his primary love for God by acknowledging God’s authority and humbly submitting to his plan.  Later, when he’s arrested, Jesus tells his apostles, who were ready to defend him, to stand down.  While Jesus loved his apostles and his apostles loved him, Jesus puts his life not in their hands, but into God’s hands.  Again, we see the model Jesus asks us to follow — serve according to God’s Will first.

Finally, take a look at the Third Luminous Mystery.  Jesus preaches that we should all convert our ways to God’s ways.  We are called to live first for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Note that Jesus did not tell us to solely live for the Kingdom of Heaven and forsake our responsibilities and others in this world.  But it is a matter of priority — desiring God’s kingdom must come first.  And from that desire, not only for ourselves but for others, we better help our fellow brothers and sisters to also come to live in God’s grace.

I will leave you with a quotation from the Council of Trent that Patrick Archbold cites in his article as I think it sums up nicely why the love of God needs to come before our love for our fellow humans.

“Moreover, no honor, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength. The love of our neighbor, on the contrary, has its limits, for the Lord commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To outstep these limits by loving our neighbor as we love God would be an enormous crime.” —Catechism of Trent, Part 3, Chapter 5, Question 5

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Do You See God’s Gifts?

Previously I said how articles on RosaryMeds would tie together news and current events with the rosary.  I talked about the Pope meeting with young seminarians, a recent announcement from English bishops reminding people to abstain from eating meat on Fridays, and some tips for people going to college.  However, not all news is neutral and light hearted.  It is the difficult cases that teach us the most about our faith and the power of the rosary.

Take this story for example.  A jury awarded a Florida couple 4.5 million dollars because their child was born without arms and one leg.  And while that is unfortunate, the real tragedy was their reason for suing the doctor.  According to the Palm Beach Post (bold by me):

During a roughly two-week-long trial that ended Wednesday, Mejia and Santana claimed they would have never have brought Bryan into the world had they known about his horrific disabilities. Had Morel and technicians at OB/GYN Specialists of the Palm Beaches and Perinatal Specialists of the Palm Beaches properly administered two ultrasounds and seen he was missing three limbs, the West Palm Beach couple said they would have terminated the pregnancy.

I’m going to skip the social, political, moral, and ethical commentary since, as a pro-life Catholic, I think what’s wrong with their argument is very clear (plenty of other articles dive into those discussions).  Instead, I want to focus on what we can learn from this story.  What does the rosary teach us about difficult cases like this one?  If we look at the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation, we see Mary sharing the joy of her pregnancy with her cousin Elizabeth.  Luke’s Gospel talks about how John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in Elizabeth’s womb upon hearing Mary’s greeting and how Mary felt blessed.  Mary goes on to say how her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and how God did great things to her.  We learn from this encounter that all life, in whatever form, is a gift from God.  All human life, while not perfect, is valuable because God infused us with souls meant to live with Him in Heaven forever.

Mary
Image by andy castro via Flickr

Compare Mary’s story with the Santana’s.  Mary also faced hardships first by being pregnant and unmarried (which would have been quite the scandal) and later seeing Jesus suffer in the Crucifixion.  But through all those challenges she saw God’s ultimate glory and her role in bringing joy and happiness to the world.  Both Mary and the Santana’s stories show that life is not without its hardships.  Some people face larger obstacles in life than others.  But God does not give us any challenge we cannot ultimately handle.  Unfortunately, all the Santanas saw was the hardship and not God’s gift to them.  Instead of finding strength through God as Mary did, they wanted a “do over” because they saw their son as a gift with “strings attached.”  And while many of us may not face such large challenges as the Santana family, we often want God to pave over all the challenges or hardships we might encounter through life.  We tend to blame God for any inconvenience or think He does not hear our prayers just because we do not receive the answers we want.

When we meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery we should remember that all life is precious no matter what form it comes in.  Even the “lost souls” in this world, whether they be criminals, addicts of all kinds, or just plain “evil” persons, are special and precious in God’s eyes.  All those living in mortal sin have an opportunity for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and can return to the same level of grace as the greatest saints.  In short, we all have an intrinsic value despite the terrible acts we may commit or our physical/mental limitations.  We pray that we have the strength to see past the hardships and challenges in life and see God’s imprint on everyone as Mary does.

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Have You Friended Jesus?

True or False?  As Catholics we should abstain from eating meat on Fridays.  I know a lot of people hear this and think this is an older tradition that no one really follows anymore.  Or this is only required during Lent.  However, the Bishops of England and Wales, to reunite people with their faith, are reminding people in their diocese to abstain from meat on Fridays.  From their press release:

The Bishops also wish to remind us that every Friday is set aside as a special day of penitence, as it is the day of the suffering and death of the Lord. They believe it is important that all the faithful again be united in a common, identifiable act of Friday penance because they recognise that the virtue of penitence is best acquired as part of a common resolve and common witness.

Demonstrating outward signs of our faith is something lost in modern society.  Many people go through the entire day without a saying a single prayer or having any thoughts about God.  We tend to live our day in a religious neutral zone of neither separating ourselves completely from God through mortal sin but not really making much effort to further our relationship with Him.  Basically God has become like that Facebook friend we mostly ignore but have not de-friended.  We just aren’t interested in sharing our life with Him.  The bishops remind us that there are many simple things we can do to make our relationship with God a more integral part of our lives.

The bishops’ words remind me of the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary.  Remember, in the Bible immediately after the Annunciation, Mary travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  After receiving such a tremendous gift from God the first thing Mary does is goes out and shares that joy with others.  Mary shows us that when you receive God’s grace the best thing to do is go out and share it with others.  Similarly, the bishops want us to live our faith publicly and share the joy of Jesus’ love with everyone.  When we weave little reminders of our faith into our daily routine, whether it be fasting, abstaining from meat on Fridays, or praying more regularly, we forge a more intimate relationship with God which will burn much brighter for all the world to see.

Let us pray for the resolve to live our faith publicly by consciously performing outward signs that remind us of God’s presence.  We should also pray for those who are persecuted for living their faith.  May they draw strength from the Holy Spirit to continue living as God calls them.  And finally, we should remember when we pray the Second Joyful Mystery all of those who have left the faith for whatever reason.  May our outward signs of the greatness of God’s loving grace bring them back to the Church’s welcoming arms.

Do you have any simple things people can add to their daily routine to remind them of their faith?  Please leave a comment below.

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Rosary Meditation: The Second Joyful Mystery

Today’s rosary meditation is the Second Joyful Mystery — The Visitation. After accepting God’s will in the Annunciation, Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist. This mystery is one of the best examples of using God’s grace to help others. As the Mother of God, Mary chose to use God’s grace to serve others and not to be served. This is a theme seen in Jesus’ ministry as well as the lives of the saints.

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Image via Wikipedia

Today’s rosary meditation is the Second Joyful Mystery — The Visitation.  After accepting God’s will in the Annunciation, Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist.  Mary came with this message, “My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my savior.  For He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness; all ages to come shall call me blessed” (Lk 1:46-48, emphasis mine).  She stayed with Elizabeth for three months presumably offering a helping hand whenever needed.

This mystery is one of the best examples of using God’s grace to help others.  Keep in mind that traveling to see relatives in the time of the Roman Empire was no easy task.  It would take weeks, if not months, to travel between villages.  Traveling was a challenge and dangerous for the very strong let alone a pregnant teenager.  Despite the hardship, Mary made the journey in order to share the good news with her cousin and help in any way she could.  As the Mother of God she chose to use God’s grace to serve others and not to be served.  As she said in Luke’s Gospel, God’s greatness is found in His lowly servants doing His will, not those who try to be masters.   We see this same theme through Jesus who is King of Heaven and yet came into this world as a humble servant.

When I meditate on this mystery I’m often reminded about the difference between acquiring God’s grace and using it.  I know that prayer, fasting, and receiving the Sacraments (particularly washing away sin during Confession) all help me achieve God’s grace.  However, I often fail in using grace to help others in need.  I could help others more whether it be donating some of my time for charitable causes to just making myself available when friends or family need me.  I’m sure I miss great opportunities to actually put my faith into practice all the time.   Ask yourself, are you using all of your God-given gifts to their full potential?  Are you choosing to serve others as Mary did or are you expecting to be served?

The lesson behind The Visitation is that God calls on us all to put our faith into action.  Yes, our faith is something that is deeply personal.  But it is also something that should be very public.  God gives us grace not only for our own sake, but to also help others in their conversion towards God’s love and their ultimate salvation.  I’m reminded of the saying, “actions speak louder than words.”  Let us remember that about prayer.  Let us not just pay lip service to God, but actually put into action what we believe.  Prayer is good and necessary, but it is the foundation for good works and not an end in itself.

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