If You Want God, You Have to Put in the Effort

No Effort, No Goals

I coach youth soccer. My team is composed of 6 and 7-year-olds, many of whom this is their first time playing organized sports. Unfortunately, today’s kids don’t spend as much time playing sports as previous generations. The reason this is unfortunate is that they miss out on working hard towards something that is a little outside their comfort zone. The other day, my team didn’t score many goals in our game. However, they also seemed uninterested in playing that day. They sort of wandered around the field without that drive or that passion to play their best. They wanted to score goals and win but didn’t want to put forth the effort to make it a reality.

I think adults can often act the same way when it comes to their spirituality. We want to form a deep connection with God, but we don’t want to put in the work needed. We wonder why it feels like something is missing in our lives and why it seems so unfulfilling. Or we look at the terrible news and get depressed or frustrated with the state of the world. But at the same time, we don’t pray, don’t participate in Mass, or receive the Sacraments. We want God to do something, just as long as that “something” doesn’t require extra effort from us.

Effort Rewarded

Let’s look at two women who exemplify what it means to put in effort in serving God and ultimately being rewarded for that effort. It meant that their earthly lives would be upended. They would face ridicule, sorrow, and a lack of earthly freedoms. They had a choice — would they put their faith in God and make the adjustments and sacrifices necessary to find greater joy and happiness? Or would they choose the easier, worldly path?

The first woman who had a choice to make was Bernadette Soubirous, better known as Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. By all accounts, she was just a normal girl from a poor family in France. But she then had an encounter with the Virgin Mary who asked her to return to the grotto where she was appearing and eventually build a chapel there. Whatever plans Bernadette had for her life came to an end when she accepted Our Lady’s requests. She became the subject of ridicule and much scrutiny from church and government authorities. She later entered a convent and died from tuberculosis. Saint Bernadette led a challenging life but she never stopped making an effort to serve God by doing what our Mother Mary asked of her. Like other saints, she put in the effort to form a meaningful relationship with God because she understood the value of doing so.

Full-body relic of Bernadette Soubirous. The photograph was taken at the last exhumation (18 April 1925). The saint died 46 years before the photo was taken; the face and hands are covered with a wax coat.

Think about Mary in the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. On Catholic Exchange, Romano Guardini has this to say about Mary’s decision in the Annunciation:

The lesson of the angel’s message alone should suf­fice for every one of the faithful who reads it aright; it is not the announcement that the divine decree was to be consummated in her, but the question of whether she agreed that it be so. This instant was an abyss before which one’s head reels, because here stood Mary in her freedom facing the very first decision on which all of salvation depended. But what does it mean when the question “Will you help the Savior’s coming?” coincides with the other question, “Will you become a mother?”

Why We Linger on Mary in the Rosary (catholicexchange.com)

I don’t think Mary’s plans included becoming an unwed mother to God. And then after Jesus’ birth, her earthly life wasn’t any easier. It was a life of concern and sorrow that we meditate on when we pray the Seven Sorrows of Mary Rosary. But Mary was ultimately rewarded when she was crowned Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery). She knows the value of doing God’s Will better than any other human. As Queen of Heaven, she is willing to help all of us find that strength to make that effort as she did so that we all may live in the joy of Heaven.

Spirit Willing, Flesh is Weak

When God comes knocking at your door with His plan for you, are you going to reject Him because it is difficult? Has God ever not rewarded those who make the effort to follow Him? If we truly believe that God offers us something 1000x better than anything we could create on our own, why do we have such a hard time committing to Him?

Think about the apostles in the First Sorrowful Mystery. I think we can relate to them. Jesus asked them to stay awake and pray with him and instead they all fell asleep. These are the future leaders of the Catholic Church! And they knew Jesus was the Messiah and yet they still couldn’t muster the effort to pray with him or stand by him when he was arrested. They must have enjoyed being some of the chosen few to journey with Jesus when he was curing people and riling up Pharisees. But when things got tough, they couldn’t follow through. They wanted the honor of being apostles without making the sacrifices.

There’s Still Time

What about us? When God asks us for one hour a week to celebrate Mass, are we too tired or too busy? Do God’s requests interfere with a football, baseball, or soccer match? Are we like the apostles, wanting the benefits of being close to Jesus but lacking the will to do what he asks?

The good news is that there’s always time. The apostles may have shrunk away from Jesus’ calling in the Garden of Gethsemane but they made up for it after Jesus’ resurrection. They went to the far corners of the known world preaching Jesus’ Gospel and most of them gave their lives doing so. So maybe you haven’t mustered the strength to follow Jesus. The beauty of our faith is that Jesus always offers us a way to “get back into the game.” We can always receive Reconciliation, go to Mass, and pick up those rosary beads. Jesus will accept anyone willing to put in the effort whether they have 100 years left in his life or 1 minute.

Establish a Daily Prayer Routine

A new school year is starting. If you know school-age people, hopefully, they are heading back to classrooms. As we start a new term, the principal of my childrens’ school wrote a small article stressing the importance of routine. Students have a much smoother and better experience when they stick to routines regarding how they wake up and get ready for school, how they do their homework, and how they go to sleep. Routines are important if you want a smooth day. One routine that is vitally important is a prayer routine.

My Morning Prayer Routine

My prayer routine involves waking up early before everyone else in the house and praying the Rosary (what did you expect?). This gets my day started on the right foot by making my relationship with God my priority. It centers me and allows God to speak to me through Rosary meditation on what I should focus on during the day. That’s also why praying in a quiet environment is so important. I don’t want God to have to fight through the noise of everyday life, especially my own thoughts which tend to grow louder as the day moves forward.

At some point in the morning, typically with my coffee, I read my Bible. As I said before, I’m reading the Bible in a Year which is a 10-minute read of Old and New Testament readings. I find the Bible so much richer when I read it daily and the books in order. I start to understand the context and narratives of the various books and chapters; something that is lost if you only hear the readings during Sunday Mass.

The simple joy of coffee and Proverbs

After dropping my boys off at school, I like to drop by the church for some silent prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Again, it’s the stillness that’s important. Remember, Jesus is present in the tabernacle. Like the people in the Gospel who flocked to Jesus for teaching and healing, we should flock to Him in the Blessed Sacrament. After all, we believe that Jesus is every bit as present in the Eucharist as he was in the Gospels. I’ll then take a walk in the park listening to audiobooks and, if time allows, I’ll go to the daily Mass.

Look at that routine. Before starting my workday, I have prayed the Rosary, read the Bible, and prayed at church. It’s such a great way to ground myself in my faith and gives me the strength to face whatever challenges come my way. Some of you may read this and think, “wow, that takes up so much time!” But it is time well spent even if I have to make changes to other routines to accommodate it. Morning prayer makes the day more meaningful and joyful because you allow God into your day.

I try to live according to this saying: “Work smarter, not harder.” The smart way to approach your day is to get as much help as you can. Who better to help you throughout the day than God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary, and the saints? They will never be in a bad mood or too busy to help you. But you have to approach them. The earlier the better. That’s why starting your day with prayer is so effective. It acts as a preventative measure so that you don’t get overwhelmed by life’s challenges.

The Rosary

Mediate on the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary and consider Mary’s role as Queen of Heaven. She sits beside her son, Jesus, as our intercessor. She works on our behalf to bring us into God’s grace and find eternal joy in Heaven. She’s there, ready and willing. We just have to ask for her help. And we do that when we consistently pray for her intercession. If you’re having a hard time sticking to a prayer routine, then ask Mary to help you establish one.

Our Heavenly Queen is always a prayer away

Since I talked about the value of praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, mediate on the Fifth Luminous Mystery. The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is a cornerstone of the Catholic faith. It’s what makes Catholicism special and unique. It’s a gift that Jesus is with us today and not just someone who lived thousands of years ago. Since we have Jesus present with us, make a resolution to visit him by praying in a church, attending Adoration, and going to Mass more regularly.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Piety

One aspect of parenting I find incredibly difficult is trying to teach my kids to do the right things on their own. I don’t want to have to continually nag them to clean their room, not to interrupt when someone is talking, say “please” and “thank you,” and all those other little things that create peace and pleasantness. It’s an ongoing challenge to instill in them a sense of wanting to do the right thing and to see that it makes life so much better for everyone.

This brings me to the final gift of the Holy Spirit — piety. This is the wanting or longing to do God’s Will. It’s not living the faith out of fear or responsibility, it’s wanting to do God’s Will because we desire to live in God’s grace. It’s wanting to go to Mass, pray, and receive the sacraments, not out of a sense of obligation or under penalty of sin, but because we want a close relationship with God. Piety builds on those other gifts of the Holy Spirit, understanding and wisdom, to know that there is nothing better than living in God’s grace. Piety instills that longing to live in that grace and ultimately, in joy.

I think there’s a reason why we are called God’s children and we call him “Father.” When it comes to our interaction with God, we can act childish at times. We do things because we are told to. We often go to Mass or pray before meals because we feel the Church nagging us into it. Like a child reluctantly cleaning his room, we do these things without joy. We do them begrudgingly because we don’t understand the bigger picture. If we did see it, we would gladly go to Mass, pray, and sacrifice like the saints because we would understand that not living in God’s grace is not living at all. We need this gift of piety to see through the drudgery of spirituality and see it as the path to true joy and happiness.

Piety in the Rosary

Let’s look at St. Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. Like many people, I picture St. Simeon as a fragile old man who lived a difficult life. He spent all his time in the temple praying only to finally see the baby Jesus before dying. Many of us might see that as a pointless life. But God is challenging us to see our faith differently in this mystery. We should see Simeon as leading an exceptional life — one that is centered around forming a relationship with God. We should see the joy that comes through piety because it’s a life filled with God’s grace instead of fickle worldly desires. For all we know, Simeon may have come to the temple every day joyful in his encounters with God through prayer. And we too can find joy being with God through prayer.

We should also remember that Mary guides us towards a life of piety. As Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery), she desires everyone to enter into God’s kingdom. That means living in a way that is centered around God. How do we expect to live with God in Heaven if we never make an effort to live in His grace on earth? Fortunately, Mary is constantly guiding us toward God. She bridges the gap between us and God through her messages and apparitions throughout history and her mediation between humanity or Her son, Jesus. When we pray the Fifth Glorious Mystery, let’s remember to lay our struggles living a pious life at Mary’s feet and earnestly seek her help.

Piety is all about saying “yes” to God. This is no better represented in the Rosary than in the First Joyful Mystery. Mary whole-heartedly said yes to God. It wasn’t a “yes” born out of fear. After all, God isn’t some tyrant demanding strict obedience. He gives us the freedom to say “no” but provides us an overly abundant number of reasons to say “yes.” Piety is about having the wisdom and right judgment to weigh a pious life against impiety and see that the pious life wins out in every way.

Piety: The Easier Path

Going back to getting children to do the right thing. Often, I try to show my kids that doing the right thing is easier than doing the wrong or lazy thing. Keeping a clean room means that toys and books don’t get broken or lost. Sharing means that everyone gets more toys and games to play with. Going to bed on time means more rest and more energy.

The same is true with leading a pious life; it can lead to more joy. When we want to follow God, we choose not to follow Satan and fall for his lies. We then avoid a life of sin and avoid vices like greed, gluttony, envy, and anger. All of those choices, while maybe providing short term pleasure, lead to long term unhappiness. In short, it’s a bad investment of our time and energy. Piety is such a small investment but leads to the biggest payoff — a life in God’s grace and an eternity in Heaven.

Covid-19 is the Opportunity Satan’s Been Waiting For

“Know thy self.” It’s a saying that goes back to ancient Greece and is a fundamental concept in modern developmental psychology. It’s about knowing your strengths and weaknesses and then addressing those weaknesses and building on those strengths. It’s an important time to build up our defenses against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. The Catholic Exchange ran an article highlighting the attacks Satan uses to exploit our weaknesses. They are:

  1. Desolation
  2. Kryptonite: Our major weak point
  3. Social Environment
  4. Demonic Proliferation of Impurity
  5. Devil of Despair

Many of us are under quarantine due to the Covid-19 virus. Unfortunately, this makes Satan’s tools more effective, especially if we aren’t wise about our weaknesses. Many of us are feeling more isolated from others than we’ve ever been. And this can foster a greater sense of despair because we feel so alone and powerless. We may start to question God’s love for us and maybe start believing it’s not as absolute as we’ve been taught. That’s what Satan wants us to believe so he can infect us with his lies and lead us away from God’s grace.

Isolation can also breed unhealthy habits. Many people may feel tempted to visit impure websites and watch trashy television shows out of boredom and a lack of entertainment options. Again, this allows Satan to creep into your life and influence you. The Covid-19 virus is Satan’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take possession of unprepared and unsuspecting souls.

For many of us, the lack of attending Mass has weakened us. I know that we’ve all been given a dispensation from attending Mass and physically receiving the sacraments. But still, not being able to physically celebrate Mass has left even the strongest of us in a weakened state. Watching Mass online or on TV is okay, but not a substitute for physically celebrating Mass and receiving the Eucharist. And it looks like we may be locked down through Holy Week and Easter which means that even the casual Mass-goer won’t be receiving their yearly dose of God’s grace.

The Catholic Exchange article goes on to highlight five ways we can protect ourselves from Satan’s increased influence. At their root, it’s knowing your weaknesses and building spiritual defenses through:

  1. Fervent Prayer
  2. Practice of Penance and Fasting
  3. Periodic Spiritual Direction and Transparency
  4. Nunc Coepi—Begin Again!
  5. Mary

This time of isolation can be a blessing if you choose to make it one. It can be a time where you build up your spirituality through prayer and fasting. If your bored or feeling alone, use this time to build your relationship with the Lord. Don’t mindlessly watch YouTube clips and binge watch Netflix. Set aside some time to pray the Rosary and read Scripture and other books to build your faith.

Pray the Fifth Glorious Mystery and ask Mary, our queen in Heaven, for her intercession. She doesn’t live in Heaven for her gratification. She’s there to bring souls closer to her son, Jesus. She wants us to come to her and lay down our worries and concerns at her feet so that she can amplify them and bring them before Jesus. She desires us to know ourselves better so that we learn our strengths and weaknesses. She can then work through her son, Jesus Christ, to increase our desire to live for God’s Kingdom. Our queen doesn’t want to lose any of us to Satan.

Ask Mary, Queen of Heaven, to:

  1. help end the Covid-19 pandemic
  2. help comfort those affected by this virus, either directly or indirectly
  3. help medical and emergency professionals on the front lines of this outbreak
  4. help those who have fallen under Satan’s influence in this time of increased isolation
  5. help us use this time to draw closer to God and trust in His ability to see us through this difficult time.

Strength Comes From Humility

Balancing humility and pride can be difficult. On the one hand, many of us desire confidence and independence. As an adult, you strive to provide for both yourself and maybe a spouse and family. In the family or at work, you need to be dependable. People need to have confidence in you. You need to project a sense of strength. But you can’t go too far down that road and fall into the sin of pride. You need to keep in mind that you can’t do everything on your own and that you’re part of a greater community made up of people who can make their own contributions.

Humility is seen almost like a negative trait because it conveys a sense of weakness. It requires you to admit that you can’t do everything. You must admit dependence on others. And yet, it’s through humility that God pours his grace on us. One of the best examples is the Holy Family. In her article, Grace is Given to the Humble, Debra Black quotes Fr. John Tauler about Mary:

She became one spirit with God, and she was taught by Him; for she resigned herself as a fitting instrument to His dear Will, in fervent love for His glory. She was poor in spirit, and always bore herself in God with deep humility and self-annihilation; for she had no desires, no will, and was as passive, as though she were uncreated. And thus an entrance was made for God into her spirit, soul, and body. 

Fr. John Tauler (14th century)

Mary was an empty vessel filled only with God’s grace, both spiritually and physically through giving birth to Jesus Christ. Her humility was a complete dependence on God. But that total submission didn’t make her weak. On the contrary, God was able to work through Mary and raise her up as Queen of Heaven and our Mediatrix. Mary shows that it’s through humility, not pride, that one achieves true greatness.

Also notable for his humility is Saint Joseph. Little is said about him in the Gospels. As a husband and father, he was the traditional head of the family. And yet, he was humble enough to understand that God had made special plans for his wife and child. Saint Joseph needed to show strength to step aside and have Mary and Jesus take center stage in God’s great plan. While there’s no mention of this in the Bible, I would have to imagine this would have been hard for Joseph to give up a role society expected him to have.

The Rosary Connection

Lessons in humility abound in the Rosary. And they all have to do with people letting go of their pride and earthly desires to allow God to work through them. First, look at the Visitation. Mary could have acted like a worldly queen upon learning that God chose her to bring the Messiah into the world. I’m sure many of us would flaunt how we were God’s chosen one. But Mary goes out to help her cousin Elizabeth. Mary’s first act as the Mother of God was to be in humble service to someone else.

This role of service carries on through the Fourth and Fifth Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. Mary is Queen of Heaven. But the focus of that exultation isn’t Mary, but Jesus. In her many apparitions, Mary’s focus isn’t on herself but on her Son. She desires all of us to form a close and loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ and is willing to help us however possible. Again, Mary’s greatness is not through what she does herself, but through which her humility allows God to work through her.

Finally, consider the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, the Presentation in the Temple. Think about both Simeon and Saint Joseph. Simeon shows great humility and patience. He devoted his life to serving God and for that, he was able to hold the infant Jesus before his death. Also remember Joseph, the silent protector in the background of Mary and Jesus’ life. He may not have been “showy” as the head of the family but he was humble enough to accept God’s role for him.

What do We Learn?

God gives great strength to the humble. Because humility leaves room in our hearts for God’s grace. In a way, humility is us actively setting aside room for God. We make a choice to put aside pride, greed, our busy schedules, our worries, and our earthly desires for God. We admit that there are things that only God can provide. We can’t find them on Amazon.com or any store. But leaving room for God means we are leaving room for that which will ultimately make us the strongest, most confident, and happiest.

Pride and personal holiness mix about as well as oil and water. Where our ego is, little if any room is left for God. What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ but to be someone who fills himself totally with God in order to bring him within the reach of everyone. But what union, grace or friendship with God can there be in a proud soul? What fervor, what degree of holiness? There is no possible compromise between God and a proud soul – either the soul would have to let go of itself, or God would have to stop being God.

Regnum Christi

The Pope’s June Intention: RESPECT

My wife and I spend a lot of time teaching our boys about respect; respecting adults as well as respecting each other. That usually means lessons about listening, responding, and following directions. When we don’t follow directions and do what is expected of us, we aren’t respecting others. We need to listen and acknowledge what people are saying and can’t ignore them. We need to understand that sometimes people have deadlines and multiple priorities and so we need to show respect by providing our full cooperation.

Pope Francis’ June intention is, “That social networks may work towards that inclusiveness which respects other for their differences.” The key word in the pope’s intention is respect. The easiest way to think about respect is to remember the Golden Rule — treat others as you want to be treated. Or, as Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Respect isn’t only about loving those we see and interact with. We also need to respect Jesus and His Church. We need to listen to Him, talk to Him, and follow His instructions. We can’t say we follow and respect Jesus if we do the opposite of how He asks us to live. By sinning, we are showing disrespect. We are like little kids ignoring our father’s directions.

Even if we’re not committing confessable sins, we still may be disrespecting Jesus by ignoring Him and not responding to His call. Are we talking to Him in prayer? Are we listening to Him? Is our relationship with Jesus something important to us and something we work on maintaining? Respect implies that we acknowledge the importance and authority someone has. How can we call ourselves one of Jesus’ disciples if we don’t routinely and honestly acknowledge His importance to us?

Social Media

In the modern world, much of our communication is online whether it be Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, email, or even just the comments section of web pages. Now ask yourself, what if Jesus was one of your “friends” or “followers” on your social networks and He read your posts? Would you be proud of them? Are you fostering a respectful environment? Note that respectful doesn’t mean always being agreeable or a pushover. It doesn’t mean compromising your values and the values of the Church. But it does mean recognizing that how you treat others is also how you treat Jesus. So if you’re not respecting others online, you’re not respecting our Lord.

The Rosary

There are many rosary mysteries to consider and meditate on when it comes to respect. For example, think about the Descent of the Holy on Pentecost (Third Glorious Mystery) and the role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives. Are you showing God the proper respect by listening to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to guide you in life? Or are you ignoring Him like a disrespectful child? The same can be said about our Mother Mary who reigns as Queen of Heaven which we pray in the Fifth Glorious Mystery. Are we listening to the guidance of our Heavenly Mother and respecting Her authority?

What about respect for Jesus in the Eucharist which we meditate on in the Fifth Luminous Mystery? Are we receiving Him in a worthy state or are we showing him disrespect by receiving Him in a state of mortal sin? And are we truly appreciating the gift which is the Eucharist and thanking God for how lucky we are to receive Him? While we may not have any mortal sins on our soul, receiving the Eucharist without much thought of its preciousness is another sign of disrespect.

Of course, we all falter and sin. We all disrespect Jesus at some point in our lives. But the good news is that Jesus is willing to forgive us and start anew through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Think of Jesus on the cross in the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery. He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Our Lord was willing to forgive those who killed Him. He will surely forgive us for the times we haven’t respected Him.

In this month of June, let the idea of respect, particularly how you conduct yourself online, be at the forefront of your mind. Show Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and your Heavenly Mother Mary the proper respect they deserve by listening to their guidance and following Jesus’ teachings. You may not always succeed in living how Jesus directs you, but He will be proud of you when you put in the effort.

Honor Mary by Asking for Her Help

In his article, Prayer takes Practice, Fr. Ed Broom lays out five ways to improve your prayer life.  For the TL;DR crowd, the summary is:

  1. Conviction — Have faith that prayer is actually important
  2. Confession — Mend your relationship with God whenever you sin
  3. Set a time and place to pray — Routine helps you pray consistently
  4. Mass and holy communion — Mass and the Eucharist are the greatest prayers in the world
  5. Seek our Lady of the RosaryPray the rosary to bring about peace

I want to focus on that last point — seeking out our Lady of the Rosary (naturally, this is a rosary prayer blog after all).  On Aug 22nd, we celebrate the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary which we pray in the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  When we pray the rosary we are in essence “crowning” our Heavenly Queen.  Mary wants nothing more than for us for to have a close relationship with her son, Jesus Christ.  We honor and crown her whenever we show faith and conviction that our relationship with Jesus matters to us.

But having conviction and faith is not easy.  Think about it.  You may brood for days over a friend’s disagreeable Facebook post.  You can get into a funk at work or at home when it seems like nothing is going smoothly.  Many of us get tied up in knots over our finances.  But how much time and energy do we devote to thinking about the state of our relationship with Jesus?  Do we put more energy into worrying about Facebook posts than finding time to go to Confession?  Do we spend hours on our hobbies and minutes in prayer?

If you feel like you are falling short in improving your prayer life, I suggest starting with the fifth point on that list.  Pick up a rosary and earnestly tell Mary that you need her help.  Tell her you need the courage to go to Confession.  Tell her you need help to be more engaged at Mass.  Tell her you need help praying on a more regular schedule.  Tell her you need more faith and conviction that prayer actually means something.  Praying the rosary will make all the other items on that list easier to accomplish.

 

You crown Mary through the rosary when you earnestly say, “I need your help!”  Speaking as a parent, I feel honored when my kids need my help no matter how trivial the matter.  I’m lucky that my kids are young because it will feel odd when the day comes when they no longer need my help.  Mary isn’t satisfied with the title of a queen but with nothing to do.  She wants us to come to her with all our worries and problems so she can help us.

And let’s face it, we all need Mary’s help because having a perfect relationship with Jesus is nearly impossible because of the active attempts by Satan to derail us and our own weakness towards sin.  But God knows this challenge and doesn’t leave us in a hopeless situation.  He gave us a Heavenly Queen in Mary and the means for her to help us through the rosary.  Honor Jesus by honoring Mary by asking for her help through rosary prayer.

How the Rosary Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

I don’t watch a lot of television.  However, when I find a few minutes and don’t feel like doing anything serious, I enjoy watching American Ninja Warrior.  It’s a show where athletes run through an obstacle course trying to complete increasingly more rigorous feats.  Most people fail to complete the entire course.  But those that do are ecstatic because they overcame the temptation to quit even when they were fatigued and were entertaining thoughts that they didn’t have the ability to complete the course.

The same conflict between completing a goal or giving up because the obstacles seem too great appears in many of our spiritual lives.  Many of us have a hard time mustering up enough energy to make it through an entire rosary chaplet or Bible reading.  We all want to do God’s will and form a deep relationship with Him through prayer.  And yet, despite all that we desire, we let trivial obstacles like a television show, website, or video game distract or derail us from doing what we know is good.

Saint Peter highlights what happens when we let obstacles overpower us and distract us from God’s will.  In the Gospel, St. Matthew wrote about Jesus walking on the water in a terrible storm.  Peter also tried walking on the water and was initially successful but then was overcome by fear and doubt and sank (Matthew 14:22-36).

Does Saint Peter’s story sound a lot like yours when it comes to prayer and doing God‘s Will?  I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “This time I’m going to stick to a rigid prayer schedule.”  Or I read a book about the importance and benefits of prayer and get all excited initially only to be overcome by distractions.  Like Saint Peter walking on water, instead of staying focused on my relationship with Jesus Christ I get distracted by the world around me.

But when we make an effort to pray and act according to God’s will, we actually act in a way that is doubly pleasing to God.  Rev. P.J. Michel explains in his book, Temptations:

On this principle, when you observe the law of God and do His will in a way that is displeasing to nature, you acquire a double claim to reward: first, you have obeyed, and secondly, you have obeyed with difficulty and against resistance and combat. The sac­rifice you have made of the natural inclination that solicited and impelled you is rewarded here by new graces and hereafter by an increase of eternal glory and happiness.

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What does the rosary teach us about praying through distractions and temptations?  You can probably pick any of the Sorrowful Mysteries and see Jesus’ example of doing God’s will despite the pain and suffering.  But that’s too easy of an example for regular RosaryMeds readers!  I want to look at the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation.  Here we have Mary being asked to be the Mother of God.  At first, she focuses on all the earthly limitations of such a request.  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asked (Luke 1:34).  But Mary didn’t let all those concerns distract her from accepting the burden and the honor God wanted to bestow on her.

Now jump to the Fifth Glorious Mystery, Mary’s Coronation in Heaven.  Going back to the passage from Temptations, when you do God’s will in the face of difficulty, you increase your eternal glory and happiness.  What better example is there than seeing Mary crowned Queen of Heaven?  She followed God’s will even when that meant seeing her son rejected and crucified.

When you don’t feel like you have the time or energy to pray the rosary, look to Mary’s example of the grace God gives you when you make the effort to pray and do God’s will despite the difficulty.  It may be hard, but the reward dwarfs the inconvenience.

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.

Speak Up! — What Rosary Prayer Teaches Us About Stating Intentions

Do you remember one of the early scenes in Million Dollar Baby where Client Eastwood’s character kneels in prayer next to his bed? He says something to the extent, “Lord, you know what I want, there’s no use in me repeating myself.” Boy, how often can I relate to that sentiment! I sometimes think to myself that God knows everything and definitely knows my intentions and my needs better than myself so why go through the exercise of formulating them in prayer? The Gospel reading from 10/6/16 addresses this dilemma.

Last Thursday’s Gospel reading included this popular verse from Luke:

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The Regnum Christi website’s meditation on this Gospel reading talks about how we fall into the sin of pride when we don’t explicitly ask God for help through prayer.  From their website:

When I Don’t Ask for What I Need, I Treat God as My Servant: When we expect God to give us all we need without asking, are we not placing the whole burden of our salvation on him and nothing on ourselves? Are we not in a sense being lazy? “You know what I need, Lord. Just give it to me, take care of it, while I focus on my own interests.” Not only is this laziness, it is pride, treating God like a servant whose role is to provide whatever I need. We forget he is God. Certainly God is generous and loving, willing to give us everything that is good for us; but he is still God, and he deserves our respect, adoration, and especially our gratitude.

The rosary connection to this Gospel reading is the Fifth Glorious MysteryMary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven.  Traditionally, the mother of a king held tremendous prestige because while a king may have multiple wives, he only has one mother.  The king’s mother was referred to as the gebira.  It makes sense then that Christ, being King of Heaven, would coronate his mother Mary as Queen of Heaven.

The chief responsibility of the gebira was to act as a mediator and speak on behalf of the king.  When we pray the rosary, we acknowledge Mary as our mediator of our needs and intentions to her son, Jesus Christ.  But she can better mediate on our behalf when we consciously and humbly come to her and ask for her help in prayer.

Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671
Crowned Madonna, Rokitno, Poland, 1671 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Think of Mary like a doctor and you are the patient.  Mary is here to help you and she will do whatever she can to cure the illness of sin and bring you into God’s grace.  However, she will be better able to help you if you are forthright and honest with her by humbly stating your needs in prayer.  The better the patient you are, the more effective Mary can be in her role as your Queen of Heaven.  When you can formulate your intentions in prayer then you will be able to understand how God responds to your request.

If you know what ails you spiritually, speak up!  Because if can’t form the request in your head, how will you recognize the heavenly response?