Joy is Following God’s Truth, Not Attacking it

Spinning Plates

Have you ever seen the circus or carnival act where someone attempts to spin multiple plates on sticks? It starts out easy enough but as more plates start to spin, the harder it is to prevent them from crashing down. By focusing on certain plates, others are neglected and fall. It’s only by running around frantically that you keep them going. Even a small miscalculation sends them crashing. It’s difficult to micromanage so many objects taken out of their natural state that will just follow the laws of physics without your constant intervention.

I feel like our society is spinning plates right now on multiple levels whether political, economic, or social. Many of our politicians and their supporters insist on abortion on demand. But we then have to deal with the social impact of life being seen as an inconvenience, not something worth protecting. We have to spin the plates of suicide, euthanasia, broken families, and health issues just to name a few. You can’t just demand freely available abortions and pretend they will happen in a vacuum. Devaluing human life has a chain effect of many undesired consequences.

We see this spinning plate scenario play out in many other areas. We want to legalize all sorts of drugs and behaviors citing “personal freedom.” But then we need to deal with the side effects of people needing to feed their addictions. Society doesn’t want to lock people into marriage and raising families. But then we need to address issues brought about by single-parent households. Lately, we don’t even want to acknowledge basic biology. We then wonder why young adults are so confused and retreat to their phones. After all, isn’t easier to bury your head in Tik-Tok videos than face all these societal messes?

Catholicism: A Solid Foundation

The beauty of Catholicism is that her doctrine avoids the spinning plate problem. Instead of life being a tumult of spinning plates, it’s a nicely set table. Acknowledging the truth about the sanctity and dignity of life avoids the issues and tragedies of promoting a culture of death in the name of freedom or privacy. Following the 10 Commandments leads to people treating each other with respect, peace, and harmony instead of everyone doing whatever they feel like. Knowing that there is the Truth of God sure makes life a lot less confusing than the mess woke progressivism has made.

Catholic doctrine has been pondered and refined for centuries by some of the greatest human minds. Just think of the great works and logical arguements of Saint Thomas Acquinas or Saint Augustine for example. Think about the brilliant encyclicals of the popes. These weren’t politicians looking to boost their re-election chances by catering to their base. They looked at Jesus and his disciples’ teachings and made logical, sound arguments about their validity.

Don’t get me wrong, following Catholic teaching doesn’t lead to a utopia. After all, we are sinful people who can easily be led astray by Satan. But Catholicism has answers that don’t lead to more dispair and unhappiness. It might create more work in the short term whether that be finding a loving home for an unintended pregnancy, fighting addictions, and generally nudging people towards what is good. But, work and effort are not the same as being unhappy or unfulfilled.

I think one of society’s largest problems is that we’ve stopped nudging people to do what’s morally good. Instead, we allow them to do what feels good. As a culture, we indulge peoples’ wants instead of helping them seek what they need. As a Church, we’ve stopped emphasizing the need to regularly attend Mass and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. How do we expect people to do what is right if they no longer hear the Truth and pray to follow it? How can we expect people to reform and convert if they don’t understand the saving power of Reconciliation?

God’s Truth isn’t necessarily a prescription for a specific economic, social, or political system. Although, I’m sure we can all think of political systems that deliberately attack religion and how the countries that embrace them turn out. While the details may be different, systems based on Truth certainly lay a solid foundation for a stable society. I said this in a previous article about how the Bible said God repeatedly punished the Israelites for disobeying Him. I pointed out that the Israelites were probably bringing punishment upon themselves by stealing, lying, murdering, and coveting. A society that embraces the opposite of God’s Truth will inevitably collapse into chaos.

Seeking Truth in the Rosary

I think this is a good time to reflect on the Fourth Luminous Mystery — The Transfiguration. I love the image of Jesus appearing between Moses and Elijah. You have Moses, the bringer of the Law. You have Elijah who challenged and won against the followers of Baal — a pagan God the Israelites repeatedly worshiped and led to much suffering. The Transfiguration is this image of the unification of the Old and New Testament laws and rejection of actions that are anti-Truth. We need to keep this image in our heads when we’re confronted with current issues. Are we following and promoting the laws and practices preached by the people present in the Transfiguration? Or are our “causes” running counter to the Truth?

I also like the Third Joyful Mystery when contemplating these topics. The fruit of the Presentation in the Temple is obedience to the law of God. Mary and Joseph faithfully followed Jewish laws and customs. Simeon and Anna, who were praying in the temple, also devoutly followed the law. We too must follow the laws of God even if they create challenges and inconveniences in our lives. Going to Mass, confession, adoration, and prayer services may not be fun compared to video games, movies, and parties. But being aware and obedient to God’s laws is what gives us that moral foundation that will lead to true happiness. It’s a happiness that can only be realized when we embrace God, not fight Him.

The Miracle of Individual Conversion

Conversion is a Process

I find inspiration and hope in the conversion of St. Paul. It makes me realize that God has a plan for all of us, even for those who we deem “lost.” And let’s face it, there are plenty of lost people in this world right now. We live in a post-truth, woke, relativistic, manipulated, fearful, easily offended, snowflake, whipped-up world. It’s easy to feel lost amongst the media noise and competing agendas. Like Saul, who thought he was protecting the Jews from these crazy Christians, people are fighting for all sorts of “causes.” This often ends in people feeling angrier and sadder. Yet, even in all this chaos, God’s plan is at work. Maybe it’s not as dramatic as St. Paul’s conversion, but individuals are converted all the time.

Conversion isn’t usually a one-time event surrounded by blinding light and a voice in the sky. It’s a process of gradual change. For many, conversion is opening their hearts and minds to God’s voice. You may find yourself more motivated to pray, read scripture, and attend Mass. That could evolve into receiving the sacraments, especially Reconciliation. You might find yourself letting go of an old grudge and forgiving those who wronged you. It’s a process of taking a few steps forward and maybe a few steps back.

Conversion in the Rosary

Conversion is a central theme of the Third Luminous Mystery, The proclamation of the kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ call to conversion. Jesus calls all of us to come to him with our imperfections and ask for his help to convert them. But we should not only pray that we convert our own earthly ways into heavenly ones but for others’ conversion as well. The world feels torn apart right now with the war in Ukraine and various ideologies, ones that have caused so much tragedy, taking hold once again. We need to pray for those individuals who are lost that they may find Jesus Christ and convert to living for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Convert Souls, Not the World

I think we should focus on the changing of individual souls and not praying that the whole world changes. It’s not that praying for world change is a bad thing. I just think it’s a bit of a cop-out. It’s like we want to wake up tomorrow and see that God fixed everything and made our world a utopia. We lost our utopia when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The world will never be a perfect place. That’s what God wanted, but we choose differently. While the world may never be perfect, God still reaches out to each individual soul offering him a chance to start living for His kingdom.

Gains are made one soul at a time. Sometimes those converted souls can have a large impact on others. Look at Saint Paul’s conversion again. Not only did he stop persecuting Christians, but he went on to write letters that make up a good-sized portion of the New Testament. But a meaningful conversion isn’t one that has a large worldly impact. Finding God’s mercy and grace mean the world to the converted soul. Imagine the near-infinite joy of a single soul, one possibly headed for Hell, finding salvation in Heaven because he converted.

I’m not saying we give up on our world. But the world will never be perfect regardless of what leaders we elect and what laws we pass. It will always be broken until the end of time when God establishes a “New Jerusalem.” There will always be sadness, hardship, and tragedy. But the world and our lives are temporary. Our souls are eternal. Investing in our soul’s well-being is the wiser, long-term investment.

There’s a Little “Doubting Thomas” in All of Us

Poor Saint Thomas. I always felt like he got a bad wrap being forever known as Doubting Thomas. All the apostles had their faults, but Saint Thomas and Saint Peter’s are probably the best known along with Judas Iscariot. How unfortunate that his moment of weakness came to define him. He’s like the kid at school that picked up an unflattering nickname based on doing something silly on his first day.

Why did Saint John include this story about Saint Thomas? All the Gospel writers had good reasons for removing or including certain content. Saint John even went as far as providing editorial notes saying that he intentionally left out many of the acts Jesus performed (John 20:30, 21:25) But he included Saint Thomas’ doubt. That story made the cut. What’s so important about it?

We Can’t Put Our Hands in Jesus’ Side

I think Saint John included this story about doubt knowing that everyone reading it for ages to come would relate. Future generations would be like Saint Thomas — being told of Jesus’ resurrection without actually seeing him. We have the Church telling us that Jesus rose from the dead, but we can’t actually place our hands in Jesus’ nail marks. In the lack of physical evidence, will we doubt or believe?

Before we’re too hard on Saint Thomas, ask yourself if you would have acted differently. Jesus rising from the dead was an extraordinary claim. It wasn’t hardened by thousands of years of Church history. Remember, the apostles at this time were still trying to make sense of Jesus’ teachings. They didn’t have centuries of teachings and theologians to help guide them. I think Saint Thomas’ reaction was reasonable. And it was one that many of us still exhibit today.

Many of us have moments of doubt about our faith. We’re just lucky that we don’t have someone recording our doubts and putting them into the most widely distributed book of all time as Saint Thomas did. I think there are times when we want more proof from God. We want to know that the prayers, fasting, almsgiving, etc. are all necessary and ultimately beneficial. Our doubt manifests itself in various ways such as:

  • Not going to Mass or not paying attention during Mass
  • Not believing in the Real Presence of the Eucharist
  • Delay receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • Not praying
  • Acting in ways that are contrary to Church teaching
  • Committing sin

Sin is Doubting God

It’s that last one, committing sin, that I would like to focus on. Sin is demonstrating a lack of faith. It’s knowing what Jesus wants out of us and then doing the opposite. If we were 100% faithful to Jesus with no doubt in him or his Church, we wouldn’t dare do anything contrary to his teachings. And yet, we all show our doubt when we sin. We implicitly say, “I’ve heard the Church’s teachings, but I don’t fully believe them.” We wouldn’t dare commit a sin if Jesus was physically standing in front of us. But he is always there with us but our doubt blinds us to his presence.

Here’s the good news and why Saint John included Saint Thomas’ story in his Gospel. He knew that future generations, billions of people, will not have the advantage of seeing proof of Jesus’ resurrection like Saint Thomas and the apostles. John’s Gospel says, “Blessed are those who have not seen but believe” (John 20:29). That’s us! This account, while at Saint Thomas’ expense, is meant for us. It is a call for us to have faith in Jesus Christ for all time after Jesus physically left this world in the Ascension.

Fighting Doubt with Rosary Prayer

When I’m looking to fight doubt and have faith, I turn to praying the First Joyful Mystery, The Annunciation. Mary, while confused and puzzled by the Angel Gabriel’s announcement, didn’t doubt God’s plan. Likewise, Saint Joseph, while having concerns of his own, also put his faith in God when he stood by Mary’s side instead of divorcing her. They didn’t demand proof or challenge God like Saint Thomas. Rather, they humbly accepted God’s Will. When we pray this mystery, let’s also ask God for humble faith in His divine Will.

I also think about the Third Luminous Mystery, The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Call to Conversion. The Kingdom of Heaven is real. But how much faith and confidence do we have living for it instead of earthly delights? Again, when we sin, it shows our doubt in the reality of God’s heavenly kingdom. And that is why Jesus calls us to conversion. Conversion means having more faith and less doubt in God’s plan for us. It means trying harder to live for something we cannot immediately see instead of demanding God to prove himself.

Unfortunately, Saint Thomas can’t escape his Doubting Thomas label. But Saint John included his account in his Gospel for our benefit. Are you striving to live in God’s grace and have faith in God’s plan? Or are you wasting valuable time demanding proof before living for God’s kingdom?

Evil is Real, Prayer is Necessary

Suddenly Too Tired

Like most kids his age, my 7-year-old son has tons of energy. He runs around the house all day chasing his older brother. He talks at great length about his interests. He’s an active kid. But then, when it’s time for evening prayers, he is suddenly “too tired” to pray. If we’re lucky, we’ll get some mumbled prayers out of him but not much else. But then a miracle usually strikes and he’s soon jumping off sofa cushions before going to bed. It’s uncanny how he gets his second wind immediately after prayers are over.

Is what my son does during evening prayers really that much different from how many of us practice our faith? How many times do we not seem to have the energy to pray, fast, or go to Mass? And yet, we somehow find the energy to go to work, parties, and various social events. We can spend hours watching TV or sports, but can’t spare any time or energy to go to a church to pray.

The Real Risk of Sin

Many people diet and exercise because they want to avoid many medical complications that come from an unhealthy lifestyle. But exercise and diet can only lower your risk. They can’t guarantee that you won’t get sick or contract a serious disease. Because of this lack of certainty, many of us choose to roll the dice. We’ll take the immediate gratification now like eating what we feel like and sitting in front of a screen. Why not enjoy life now instead of trying to fight diseases we may never get right?

“I don’t need exercise; I have strong genes”

I think that mentality spills into many of our prayer lives. Prayer and living the Catholic faith aren’t a guarantee of earthly happiness. This is because we don’t see all the sins or unhappiness that we avoid through prayer. This is similar to how someone doesn’t exactly know all the diseases he didn’t get through exercise and healthy living. Unfortunately, it’s not knowing what didn’t potentially happen that dissuades many of us away from prayer, fasting, and receiving the sacraments.

Unlike a physical illness which we may not get whether we exercise or not, sin and temptation are a certainty. We face it every day and we need to be prepared. The war in Ukraine shows the evil that is always lurking around us just waiting to be unleashed. Here is what Ukrainian Greek Catholic Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk had to say about the nature of evil:

“This war reminds us more and more of the rules of unseen warfare, the spiritual struggle that every Christian wages with the devil, with evil, and his servants, Therefore, if we hide or conceal our sins, our flaws, they become stronger, they dominate us. But when we bring them to light, go to confession, speak of them truthfully to ourselves, and open our hearts to a spiritual father, it is as if we bring the devil to the light and take away his power.”

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk

When we don’t pray, fast, attend Mass, or receive the sacraments, evil grows more powerful. I’ll reiterate that this isn’t a probability of sin and evil having an effect on you, it’s a certainty. Some people may get lucky and live a long healthy life without proper exercise and diet. But you can’t get lucky and avoid the wickedness and snares of the devil without a strong prayer life.

The devil is always around trying to lead us astray

How to Defeat Sin

Many of us are tied as we enter Holy Week and then the Easter season. We’ve been praying and fasting for over five weeks now. But now is not the time to let up on our commitment to faithfully serving God. Like I said in my previous post, God calls on all Catholics to be His elite followers. He asks a lot of us but only because the dangers are real. God loves each of us and doesn’t want us dominated by evil. We have the tools to fight back and remain in God’s grace:

  1. Prayer
  2. Fasting
  3. Reading the Bible
  4. Confession
  5. The Eucharist

God Wants Us to Lead this World

Leaders are meant to go that extra mile for their team or organization. They need to set a great example for others. They inspire people to do their best. People want to work for great managers. Athletes want to play for great coaches. But being a leader isn’t easy. You can’t phone it in or be a hypocrite — creating rules that you don’t follow.

Jesus calls us to lead

I was thinking about great leadership when I read the Gospel for Wednesday, March 23. Here Jesus talks about fulfilling the law.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent | USCCB

Jesus is telling us that we need to be great leaders in our spiritual life. He is telling us how God calls us to follow Him in all ways, both big and small. We may not know it, but the way we live sets an example for others. It may be for our kids, our family, friends, or coworkers. They all see us as a representative of a group whether that be a family, community, company, or faith. Jesus tells us we need to be great leaders and examples of the Catholic faith for others to follow.

Not acting as leaders

Unfortunately, I think many of us take our calling as leaders of the Catholic faith too casually. We don’t realize that the way we live paints a picture of Catholic life to others. When we don’t attend Mass, receive the sacraments, or do not acknowledge the importance of Jesus in our life, others will think that’s what Christianity teaches and promotes. And that is what Jesus in the Gospel tells us we can’t let happen.

You can’t lead the Church if you don’t go to church

I feel like we Christians are called by God to be his elite leaders. We are like the star athlete or rock star employee. God asks a lot of us and He expects us to come through. An athlete can’t ignore the rules of the game or slack off in the middle of a big game. A manager can’t ignore the needs of the company or his employees. And a Christian can’t ignore God’s plan.

As you go through Lent, think about what God asks of you. Be thankful that He wants you to succeed in living a Christian life. All those rules and laws are there to help you achieve that. They help mold and shape us into the humble leaders God intends us to be. Lent is that period of sacrifice and prayer that can strengthen us in our faith and eventual joy if we choose.

Mary’s example of leadership

Meditate on Mary in the Fifth Glorious Mystery. She wears the crown as Queen of Heaven because she accepted God’s calling for her to be a humble leader. She obeyed God’s Will in all ways, big and small. Imagine the difficulty, sorrow, and confusion she faced when you meditate on her seven sorrows:

  1. The Prophecy of Simeon
  2. The Flight Into Egypt
  3. The Loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem
  4. Mary Meets Jesus on the Way to Calvary
  5. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  6. Mary Holds the Life Less Body of Jesus in Her Arms
  7. Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

God laid out this challenging path for Mary to follow and she did. He lays out a path for us to follow as well. It may not be an easy path, but it’s one that we have the ability to traverse and ultimately succeed. We don’t do it alone. We have the help of Mary, the saints, the Holy Spirit, and our Christian brothers and sisters. Rejoice that God has put a path before you that ultimately leads to His Kingdom of Heaven.

Pushing Ourselves During Lent

Exercise is Hard

Like many of you, I don’t like working out, particularly jogging. Who likes setting his lungs on fire and drenching his clothes in sweat to burn off a sip of soda or a bite of cake? However, while I don’t like each individual workout, I do like how I start to feel over time. I feel stronger and have more energy. I also start to enjoy pushing myself — can I run one more house without taking a break? Can I do three more pushups? Can I plank for ten more seconds?

We put ourselves through so much inconvenience and discomfort for our physical health. But what about our spiritual health? It seems much more difficult to fast and abstain for the good of our souls during Lent. Maybe it’s because we can’t physically see our souls like we see our body in the mirror. But it so important that we focus on our spiritual health like our physical, mental, and emotional health. And Lent is the perfect time for that.

The Lenten Desert

Jesus went into the desert for 40 days knowing that he would be tempted by Satan. But he was determined to resist those temptations. He didn’t fear the temptations. He went headlong into them. Fasting and defeating the devil strengthened him for his public ministry and eventual Passion.

We enter into our own personal desert during Lent for many of the same reasons and benefits as Jesus. It is our time to strengthen ourselves spiritually through fasting and prayer. It is our challenge to resist temptation, whether that be committing sins or just not following through on our Lenten promises. We should take more of an athlete’s mindset during Lent — to really push ourselves a little harder each day. Because in the end, we not only celebrate the joy of Easter but become spiritually stronger to defeat temptation in the future.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our God is a God of joy and happiness. His joy echoes in our hearts when we are determined to overcome sins in our lives, “There is so much joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:7) The Blessed Virgin Mary, all the angels, and saints are cheering us to victory. Even if we do not overcome all natural and physical evils in this life, God wants us to be truly joyful now and in heaven with Him by overcoming the moral evils that proceed from our free actions.

Finding True Joy Through Overcoming Temptations (catholicexchange.com)

Going Soft from Watching Videos

As a concrete example, I gave up watching frivolous video clips. At first, it was hard because it was so ingrained into my daily routine. But over the last several days of Lent, I do feel a bit freer and more productive in the evening. Instead of watching clips, I’m reading and writing more. Time spent watching clips is now spent reading one of the many neglected Catholic books.

While watching videos seems innocent enough, it does start to erode your desire for spiritual things. It doesn’t even need to be sinful videos either. It’s the passivity of videos that weakens us. I came across this article that talks about the dangers of consuming so much video content.

If the way we’re using entertainment erodes our ability to reflect, reason, and savor truth, it erodes our ability to know and enjoy Jesus. “Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1–2). If we lose the ability to think, we lose the ability to meditate. And if we lose the ability to meditate, we lose our path to meaningful happiness. The life of the mind, and heart, is a pivotal battleground in the pursuit of real and abundant life.

The Blissful and Trivial Life: How Entertainment Deprives a Soul | Desiring God

The World Needs Strong People

It’s easy to sit on the couch and binge-watch Netfix or Youtube. It’s easy to reach for that bowl of ice cream or bag of cookies. We probably have 101 justifications for why we can’t exercise. But we need to recall that it’s Lent and we’re called to do what is good and necessary, not what is easy. When we do that, we find the strength to resist sin. But we also find real comfort through Jesus.

The world is so upside down right now. Whenever I think we’ve reached an apex of craziness, the world has a way of squeezing out more. We need to squeeze out more spiritual strength. We can’t be weak in this life. Spiritual weakness will not only bring misery in this life but may also bring eternal misery in the next. That is why Lent cannot just be a regular forty days. We need to push ourselves so we come out strong. We need to push ourselves so we come out joyful. We need to push ourselves so we are counted as one of Jesus’ disciples.

Communism and the Denial of Human Dignity

Remembering the Evils of Communism

I recently finished reading a book and watching a short movie on peoples’ experience under Communism in the 20th century. This is a timely topic given the current events unfolding in Ukraine. Many of us are so detached from the events of the Cold War and the rise of Communism in the 20th century. In fact, many of you reading this article probably weren’t born when the Berlin Wall came down. It’s important to take a look at the effects Communism had and why it’s so antithetical to Church teachings on the value of human life.

I read a book titled Willing to Die. This is an autobiography of John Muntean, someone who grew up in Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist regime. He goes into detail about how his village went from close-knit and self-sufficient to just scraping by. He’s quite clear that one of communism’s needed goals for it to succeed is the elimination of religion. This is because a centralized and planned economy and society can’t have anything outside of government interfering with its plans. Under communism, everything is done in service of the state. People are nothing more than cogs in that machine. Religion isn’t tolerated because it preaches the inherent freedom, dignity, and value of the individual.

The Eroding Religion

Much of the religious opposition to socialism has already eroded away since the Cold War ended. And that is what makes Western society’s march towards socialism so scary to me. It didn’t take tanks, soldiers, and labor camps either. It took a virus, mandates, and Netflix to wipe out peoples’ desire for religion. I fear that the days of people willing to die rather than deny their faith are gone in much of the Western world. If communism needs religion out of the way to succeed, then it’s pretty much there. But there’s still a sliver of hope.

I know the Russian invasion into Ukraine is on our minds. And while I’m sad to see fighting and indiscriminate destruction, at least I see a nearly unanimous reaction that what Putin is doing is morally wrong. It doesn’t matter the country or political party, there’s been an almost total condemnation of the attacks. That provides some hope that when the world is pushed into a dire situation, we can put aside various partisan issues and see evil for what it truly is. Perhaps we haven’t moved away from listening to God as I may have thought.

If you don’t have time to read about the evil done in the name of Communism, watch the 1-hour movie, To Believe. It’s free to watch on ETWN. It’s about the horrors done to the Ukrainian people by the Soviet Union in the 20th century. It again focuses on the communists’ hatred for religion because it gave people a doctrine to live by that wasn’t under state control. When you read about current events, keep in mind what it means to these people to have Russia invade their country and why they fight so hard to defend it.

Remembering Human Dignity Through Rosary Prayer

For me, it’s hard to read these books and watch these films and not get angry when I hear people praising socialism. I feel like they have no understanding of history and what socialism inevitably leads to. That’s when I need to take out my rosary and pray the Second Joyful Mystery. I think about Elizabeth’s greeting towards Mary in the Visitation, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” I think about the inherent value and dignity everyone has from the moment of conception. Every human life is blessed. That dignity is something that a government or ideology doesn’t have the authority to give or take away. It’s given to us by God.

All  human beings, therefore, are ends to be served by the institutions that make up  the economy, not means to be exploited for more narrowly defined goals. Human personhood must be respected with a reverence that is religious. When we deal  with each other, we should do so with the sense of awe that arises in the  presence of something holy and sacred. For that is what human beings are: we  are created in the image of God (Gn 1:27). (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All, no. 28)

Life and Dignity of the Human Person | USCCB

Who do You Say I am?

Challenging His Disciples

On Feb. 22nd’s Gospel (Yes, I know I’m way late), Jesus asked his disciples two questions — “Who do others say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” He got two different responses. To the first question, people said he’s a prophet. To the second, Jesus is the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-16).

I can imagine that it was easy for people to see Jesus as a prophet. There were many prophets in the Old Testament. Much of scripture at that point were the writings of prophets. Therefore, a Jewish person had a model for how prophets acted and Jesus fit that mold. He preached about God and had supernatural abilities much like the prophets the Jews had learned about in scripture. When trying to define Jesus, “prophet” would have been a natural choice.

But Jesus was constantly reinventing how people saw their relationship with God. He was challenging people to break out of their preconceived notions of who God is and who the Messiah would be. And that was why he pressed his apostles and asked them who they truly believed he was. He wanted them to really think about all they had seen him say and do and speak from their hearts. Would they have the insight and courage to break away from the crowd and acknowledge Jesus as someone more than a prophet?

Challenging the Faithful

During the peak of Covid, the Masses in my parish were closed to the public but live-streamed. I was the lector and often the only person present in the church along with the priest. It’s an eery feeling being the sole member of the congregation. I couldn’t fall back on following along with others. And while I’ve been attending Mass regularly my entire life, it was still difficult to participate as an individual, not as a member of a group.

When we’re at Mass in a large congregation, it’s easy to just follow along with others. But take away the missals, the overhead projector, and the people. How present are you when you participate in the Mass? Are you going through a well-rehearsed script or proclaiming what you truly believe? Even if you attend Mass every week for your entire life, it’s still difficult to embrace the Mass and the Eucharist confidently as an individual. We too often seek the comfort of blending in with the crowd instead of confidently proclaiming what we believe.

The Apostles’ Conviction

I think about Saint Peter and him coming forward declaring Jesus as the Christ. I wonder if he had any hesitancy or doubt. Was he scared about saying something incorrect or foolish? He knew Jesus was the Messiah, but perhaps he had some hesitancy or timidity proclaiming it. He was going out on a limb not knowing how his statement would be received. After all, just moments later Jesus rebuked Peter (Matthew 16:23). So it’s possible that the apostles knew they had to weigh their words carefully because Jesus might take them to task on what they said.

The apostles seemed to ebb and flow in their convictions. Sometimes they would confidently proclaim their beliefs in Jesus and other times they were quite timid. I picture them huddled together in a room right before Pentecost, scared and confused. They lacked confidence in their beliefs and just sort of found safety being together as a group. I think this describes many of us at Mass — together as a group, but all trying to keep a low profile. But after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the confidence to go out alone into the world to boldly teach others about Jesus. The weak “we” became the confident “I.”

Who is Jesus to You?

When you’re at Mass or deep in prayer, reflect on whether you are saying what our faith expects you to believe or what you truly believe. Are you just trying to hide amongst the congregation and going through the motions because you don’t firmly believe who Jesus is? Is Jesus and the Catholic Church more like a prophet to you; someone giving you well-meaning advice on the nature of God? Or do you truly believe in Christ Jesus, wholly present in the Eucharist at Mass? Who do you, not others, say Jesus is?

My 2022 Lenten Plan

As we start Lent, I think it’s a good idea to put into writing how I’m going to fast. When I was young, I would often pick 3-4 things to give up knowing that I would fail to follow through on about half of them. I was hedging my bets as it were. Of course, if you come into something with a defeatist attitude, you’re going to be defeated. Now that I’m older and a little wiser (very little), I’m approaching Lent with more conviction. You have to plan for success if you want to be successful.

Here’s my plan for a successful Lent.

  1. No alcohol.
  2. No sweets — candy, cookies, donuts, ice cream, etc.
  3. No wasting time on pointless streaming video. You know the ones — the five minute “10 things you didn’t know about Star Wars” type. Important/relevant videos are okay.

That’s it. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Trust me, these three things will be hard enough. And more than just giving things up, I really want to focus on making this a spiritual time of increased prayer and focus on my faith. Happy Lent everyone!

Ending the Day with Meditative Prayer

Stuck in a Rut

As you may have noticed, I haven’t written many new articles lately. While I strive to write one article each week, lately they’ve come out every three weeks. I’ve run into a bit of writer’s block; I just can’t find topics to write about. I usually read articles that inspire me. But I haven’t come across anything that spurs me to write.

I’m in a bit of a rut. I think we can all relate — we want to accomplish so much but we lack the energy to work on them. Instead, we fall into our patterns of work, relax, sleep, repeat. And usually, that relaxation time is spent on low-quality entertainment such as vegging on streaming video. For example, I know I should be working on my next book (yes, I do have another Rosary book in the works). But after a long day of work, I often can’t muster up the energy to write.

Why Streaming Videos?

Now that I acknowledge this shortcoming, what am I going to do about it? I’m a solutions person — I always want to fix things that aren’t working. How am I going to fix the wasted weeknights? First, I need to identify why I turn to watch videos as mental comfort food:

  1. They are familiar and comforting
  2. They are relaxing and regenerative
  3. They are easy to jump into
  4. I can set how much time I want to spend watching them

A Better Alternative

Are there other, higher-quality activities that can meet these same characteristics? Of course! Otherwise, why would I be telling you all of this? I should integrate prayer into my evening routine. The Rosary is familiar, relaxing, comforting, and regenerative. And it’s definitely a better use of my time than watching YouTube videos.

I realize that I tend to front-load my daily prayer. I wake up early to pray the Rosary and read Scripture and the Catechism. But then I go through a busy workday and home life without much prayer and meditation. I should end the day the same way I start it — with God. Starting now, I’m going to spend time in contemplative prayer when the house quiets down.

I’m not saying that I’m going to completely stop watching videos. After all, there are some good movies and shows worth watching. We need rest and relaxation in non-sinful activities. But I’m going to better diversify those activities by mixing in more quality time with God.

What about you? Do you have any low-quality relaxation routines that need adjustment? Try adding more prayer. Let me know how that works for you.