Prayer Sets Us Free

I think by now many of us are coming down with cabin fever. You can only binge-watch so many series on Netflix and Disney+. You can only play video games and read books for so long. Even getting out and taking a walk is starting to feel a bit repetitive. I feel anything but free.

And yet, Pope Francis teaches us that freedom is exactly what the Holy Spirit provides us. In a homily on April 20, Pope Francis said: “The definition of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gives here is interesting … unconstrained. A person who gets carried from both sides by the Holy Spirit: this is the freedom of the Spirit. And a person who does this is docile, and here we talk about docility to the Holy Spirit.”

I like this idea of being docile. We are flexible and open to new ideas. When we listen to the Holy Spirit through prayer, we need to be open to how he guides us. Just choosing prayer over TV, video games, and other media shows the beginnings of openness. You are choosing to block out distractions to try to listen to the Holy Spirit. That’s a great start.

I often complain that one of the hardest things about sheltering in place is the constant noise. Someone is always talking. Of, if you have kids, someone is always shouting or running around. The constant movement and volume is tiring. That is why it’s important to deliberately carve time for prayer. Otherwise, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit gets drowned out by the daily noise in our lives. And that’s how we feel trapped. We can no longer feel the Holy Spirit’s gentle nudge to break us out of our suffocating routines.

If you’re looking for something new, try praying the Rosary. If you already pray the Rosary, try adding more to it like meditations or scriptural passages. Think about the Third Glorious Mystery and how the Holy Spirit came down and inspired the Apostles. Think of how couped up they must have felt hiding after Jesus’ death and resurrection out of fear of the Jews. They were the definition of confinement. And what was it that set them free? The Holy Spirit! What released them from their bondage of fear? The Holy Spirit! And what guided them across the known world teaching in Jesus’ name? The Holy Spirit! In the words of Pope Francis, “With this freedom of the Holy Spirit, you will never know where you will end up.”

https://www.rosarymeds.com/intentions/the-glorious-mysteries/third-glorious-mystery/

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

Blessed Are Those Who Believe Who Have Not Seen

I read this article on Catholic Exchange about the miracle of the “Dancing Sun” at Fatima on October 13th, 1917. On that day, 70,000 people witnessed the sun moving around the sky as if it was dancing. There is no scientific explanation about the event and believers and skeptics both witnessed it. The article said the following:

The sun moved around in a curious fashion. It became very bright and seemed to move around as no one had ever seen it. The best way to describe it was a “dance of the sun.” This day has been called “the day the sun danced.” 70,000 pilgrims witnessed the event firsthand. People from other villages also reported seeing the curious movement of the sun. Some were as far away as twenty-five miles. The event was reported in newspapers around the world and really cannot be doubted.

Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, LCThe Day the Sun Danced Over Fatima

70,000 people! That’s a large athletic stadium filled to capacity. And yet many of us still have doubts about the existence of God, the power of faith, and following the teachings of Jesus. We doubt because we didn’t personally witness the event despite thousands of people saying it was true. It seems ridiculous that we discount the testamony of thousands of people because we didn’t experience it ourselves. If the events at Fatima don’t drive us to give Mary our full attention and really internalize Her desire for us to embrace Her son, Jesus Christ, what will?

I think of Fatima when I pray the Second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary — the Ascension. Many people saw the risen Jesus after His resurrection until His ascension into Heaven. But because we didn’t see Him with our own two eyes and it was nearly 2000 years ago (no smartphones and Twitter), Jesus’ ministry just doesn’t have a large impact on us. But should the fact that it happened so long ago really lessen the impact and importance of Jesus’ mission on Earth?

I think about the apostle Thomas who didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he was able to personally see Jesus and touch His wounds. And Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). How many of us are like Thomas? Despite accounts from literally thousands, if not millions of people, over the ages, we still have our doubts about putting our lives entirely in God’s hands. We are like Thomas, clinging to our doubts because God hasn’t announced Himself in our lives to our satisfaction. That falls under the sin of pride — not accepting God’s ways but expecting God to conform to our expectations.

I also can’t help but think of the parable of Lazarus. The rich man, in the agony of Hell, asks Abraham to warn his sons about the consequences of not caring for those in need. But Abraham says that all they need to know has already been told to them through the prophets.

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Bible Gateway

How many of us act like the rich man and ask God to send some definite, irrefutable sign of His existence and love for us? I like to change the last verse a little by rephrasing it like this: “If we don’t believe in what is written in the Bible, expressed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, or witnessed through countless miracles, we won’t be convinced if God hosted a podcast and posted selfies on Twitter.” We have all the signs and evidence we need to fully embrace God by embracing our faith. When you pray the Rosary, ask yourself, what is preventing you from fully embracing God?

Now look, I’m no saint and I often take my faith and God’s love for granted. I surely do not live each day with passionate faith that unquestioningly follows God’s Will. But when I pray the Second Glorious Mystery, I do remind myself that God has revealed himself countless times to humanity and I should take those signs as seriously as if God revealed them to me personally.

Fighting Temptation Through the Rosary

I came across these three articles over the last few weeks. And while they focus on different topics, they are interconnected. They paint a picture of a world falling into Satan’s hands because many of us do not prioritize practicing our faith to defend against temptation. We leave the door wide open for Satan to enter our hearts when we should be letting in our Mother Mary and the Holy Spirit.

The first article discusses the results of a worldwide survey about people’s view of religion. Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, a large number of people think religion plays a less important role than it did 20 years ago. And while that view was held by only 37% of the total respondents, it was much larger, and even a majority, in some regions. 58% of Americans and nearly 50% of Europeans all said that religion’s importance has declined in the last 20 years. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find whether the question was asked regarding the role of faith to people personally or if they were asking about what people observe about society in general.

In another article, an exorcist explained that temptation, not possession, is the most common and dangerous form of demonic manifestation. Here is his advice to fight temptation.

“To resist temptation is simple,” he encouraged, although it might not always be easy. “You must avoid the occasions of temptation, of course, and you must have a Christian and spiritual life. You must pray, you must try to behave correctly, and to love the people you meet every day and the people with whom you live.”

In the third article, Connie Rossini quotes the Catechism that prayer is a battle — one fought against Satan and ourselves. Battles are not easy and they are fraught with danger. We must put ourselves in the right frame of mind and prioritize our spiritual needs just as much, if not more, as our physical and mental needs.

Pray like your life depends on it.

When these three articles are put together, it paints a rather stark picture of the state of many people’s souls. Prayer is hard so people don’t prioritize it. Without prayer, religion and spirituality play a less important role in people’s lives. And without a focus on prayer, people are more susceptible to temptation. In other words, a world without prayer is a world where Satan has greater influence.

As I’ve said multiple times, we must pray the Rosary every day. Numerous saints and scholars have said that the Rosary is our best defense against Satan. It’s our defense against temptation and Mary provides her protection to all who pray it. So please prioritize the Rosary. When you meditate on the Fourth Glorious Mystery, think about how Mary was assumed into Heaven and is there now wanting to help you.

Think of what Jesus said in Matthew 24:42:

 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.

Be on alert and prepare for the battle you wage every day against Satan and the temptation to sin. We may not know when God calls us to stand before Him in judgment. But we do know that Satan will be trying to tempt us every day. It’s a battle that we need not lose given the amount of guidance and protection Our Lady offers us. All we need to do is realize the serious threat Satan imposes. Then we need to get serious about defending ourselves. There’s no time to wait, pick up the rosary today!

Holiness is the Goal

I read this article on Catholic Exchange about how we should never give up striving for holiness. The author, Constance T. Hull, echos many of the same thoughts as Matthew Kelly in his book that I reviewed, The Biggest Lie in Christianity. Essentially, both talk about how life is made up of moments where we decide either to act holy or sinfully. Of course, the goal is to decide to make each moment a holy moment. Mrs. Hull makes these fine points as we strive for holiness.

  1. We cannot do it alone. It is only through Christ that we achieve holiness. In other words, apart from Christ holiness is not possible and it doesn’t even make sense. How can you be holy without dedicating the moment to Jesus Christ?
  2. We will fall daily. There will be times when we choose not to act saintly. It’s important to realize when we fall so we can analyze why we made that decision and how to not repeat it in the future.
  3. We must get back up. We can’t dwell on our sins. When Jesus forgives us through Reconciliation, He puts our sins behind Him. And we must put them behind us too and not let them lead us into despair.
  4. Seek forgiveness immediately. Part of putting our sins behind us to make forgiveness a priority. This means prioritizing the Sacrament of Reconciliation and setting things right with the people we’ve hurt through our sins.
  5. Holiness is the goal. It’s not just priests and nuns that must live holy lives. We are all called to be saints and we all have the ability to live as saints. But that doesn’t happen by accident. We have to make it a priority.

Enter the Rosary

The mysteries of the Rosary help us lead holy lives. I could pick any of the twenty mysteries and discuss how they touch on one of the aspects of holiness mentioned by Matthew Kelly or Constance Hull. Let’s look at a few. Think about how God calls you to holiness when you meditate on these mysteries.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery, the finding of Jesus in the temple, always reminds me of our quest for holiness. This mystery is a story of loss, agony, and ultimately finding Jesus. And that’s what life is — a continuous cycle of losing Jesus through sin, suffering, and ultimately coming back and finding Jesus in His father’s house, aka the Church and Her sacraments.

I also can’t help but think of the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of Heaven and His call to conversion, and meditate on our call to holiness. Matthew Kelly explores this a lot more, but a central theme of holiness is allowing God to totally transform you. It’s not a minor change here, and a tweak there. Jesus asks us to dedicate our lives to conversion. That means changing from one thing to something completely different. We can’t be both saintly and worldly. We have to choose what we want to be and actively convert our actions from worldly ones to holy ones. Remember Mrs. Hull’s words — conversion to holiness is the goal for all us.

Lastly, let’s look at the Third Glorious Mystery, Pentecost. Mrs. Hull said we cannot become holy on our own. And that is why we have the Holy Spirit to guide us on our quest towards holiness. We need to be conscious of how the Holy Spirit acts in our lives as it will often be subtle. It won’t be through a burning bush, a booming voice in the sky, or an apparition. The Holy Spirit acts by providing opportunities to act holy, or implanting a quick thought on doing something nice, or providing a sense of peace and thankfulness towards God. We have to be open to the small ways the Holy Spirit nudges us towards holiness.

God gives us all of the opportunity and many tools to becomes saints. Are you taking advantage of all of them?

Don’t Lose Your Moral Bearings in the Darkness

Imagine you’re a pilot flying alone on a completely dark night with no instrumentation.  Envision how hard it would be to know your altitude, your level, and whether or not you’re about to crash into something.  In total darkness, with no visibility and landmarks for reference, there is a good chance the airplane will crash and burn.

Keep that airplane analogy in mind as you read this article about the Glamor of Evil by Dr. Gregory Popcak.  We all know about how we should avoid committing sin. That’s Catholicism 101; easy stuff. But you can also be seduced by sin without actively participating in it.  He writes:

Evil is glamorous, not only in the sense that it can be hard to resist being drawn into it, but also in the sense that it can be hard to look away from it. If you aren’t careful, it’s tremendously easy to stare at it, and stare at it, and stare at it, until you can’t see anything else. Until everything good, and godly, and righteous, and beautiful has been drained from view, and all that is left is outrage, and anger, and indignation, and disgust.

Like the pilot alone in the dark, when we fixate on all the evil, darkness, and problems in this world we lose our moral bearings.  We can become disoriented in the darkness and start to lose hope, joy, and our faith.  We can no longer see the differences between good and evil because we’ve lost our spirital point of reference.  Our actions no longer seem to matter because we don’t see any goal or point to them.  Does it really matter what I do if everything is falling apart around me?

Being lost and aimless doesn’t usually end well.

Dr. Popcak tells us that we can’t let negative thinking completely envelop us.  Our faith and relationship with Jesus Christ should act like a shining beacon, even in our darkest hours.  The beauty and goodness of our faith can provide all the guidance we need to find strength, peace, and maybe even happiness, even when our world looks nonredeemable.

When Good Things Turn Us Bad

I’m going to go one step further. It’s not just evil that can completely block us from whatever is good and godly. Neutral activities can also do the same. Consider social media and the 24/7 cable news cycle. On their own, there’s nothing sinful about them.  They allow us to stay updated on recent events and connect with each other. But for many of us, these seemingly harmless pastimes can consume 100% of our attention leaving room for nothing else. And when your world is completely consumed by Twitter, Facebook, Fox News, and MSNBC, you can stop seeing the genuine good in the world. You will either see a carefully curated goodness that isn’t real or you will just see everything as bad and hopeless and fall into despair.

As we enter the season of Advent and Christmas, it’s important to not allow ouselves to fixate on what is ultimately unimportant. I know we want to buy presents, decorate our homes, and participate in all the other traditions associated with Christmas. But we can’t let the commercial side of Christmas blind us to the true meaning behind it. Because when you obsess over what to buy and what you want to receive, you leave yourself open to the sins of greed, envy, and even wrath. Want an example?  Look no further than the annual chaos around Black Friday and how people lose their moral bearings fighting over TVs and toasters.

The Rosary Connection

Look at the Fourth Luminous Mystery, The Transfiguration.  I’m talking about darkness and the light in this article.  Well, in this mystery you see Jesus’ clothes literally become dazzling white (Mark 9:3).  And that, of course, got the apostles’ attention.  When you meditate on this Rosary mystery, ask yourself, is Jesus a dazzling beacon of love, hope, and goodness in your life?  Does He shine brighter through the darkness keeping you morally oriented toward His teachings?  If not, maybe you need to turn around or take off your blindfold.  Jesus is always present in our lives.  If you don’t see that “light” in the darkness, ask Mary for guidance when you pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery, Her Assumption.  She wants nothing more than to guide you through the darkness to Her son.

Also, when you pray the Third Joyful Mystery, think of the wise men traveling through the desert to pay homage to Jesus.  They would have been wondering around aimlessly and hopelessly if it weren’t for a star to guide them.  Again, you have a point of light, a referrence point, which guided the three wise men to Jesus. Are you following the signs in your life which lead you to Jesus?

Coping with Controversy with the Rosary

These are unsettling times for the Catholic Church in the wake of abuses and cover-ups at the highest levels of the Church.  It’s hard to learn about such corruption by people who are supposed to be spiritual leaders in a Church that espouses such high moral values.  It can also shake your faith in an institution that is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

The cardinals and priests are spiritual leaders, but they are also human.  They carry the same weaknesses as you and I.  Those weaknesses include lust for power and the tendency to sin.  Unfortunately, people move up through the ranks in the Church the same way they do in business or politics.  They know what to do and what to say to move up the “corporate” ladder.  It’s a ladder that is ascended via politics, not neccessarily holiness and virtue.  While we hope that those who lead the Church focus on practicing a high level of virtuous behavior, increased power and authority often has the opposite effect.  Fortunately, our Catholic faith is made up of more than the collective virtue of those who lead it.

I’m not going to tell you to ignore what’s going on at the higher levels of the Church.  Ignoring the issues is what got us into this mess in the first place.  We, as a community of believers, must confront and address these issues.  But at the same time, we must remember that the cardinals, bishops, and even the pope, aren’t the center of the Church.  The Church is not solely a human institution.  It’s a divine institution with the Holy Trinity at its core.

When we pray, we don’t pray to the pope, cardinals, bishops, and priests.    We pray to God!  It’s an infallible and all-loving God that is the center of our faith.  The clergy are servants of God to guide us.  Our perfect God works through His imperfect vessels.  And no amount of human corruption can weaken God.  No amount of corruption can weaken His love for us and our desire to live in His grace.

Humans sin and we have to be accountable for our actions.  What I will call the political side of the Church will go through hard times in the near future.  But if you keep the right perspective, you will understand that the Church is far more than the sum total of virtue and sins of the clergy.  She hasn’t survived and flourished over the centuries because of clerical virtue.  She’s flourished because it’s God’s Church which can’t be destroyed by the inherent weakness of Her followers.

I think about the current difficulties the Church faces when I pray the Third Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary — Jesus Crowned with Thorns.  I picture Jesus, battered and ridiculed.  I then think about our Church and how battered She is right now; ridiculed by the behavior of those who are supposed to honor Her.  Like the Romans paying fake homage to Jesus with a crown of thorns, we have clergy mocking Jesus by using His Church as a means to acquire riches and power and succumb to sinful weaknesses.

Christ Crowned with Thorns (Marten van Heemskerck)

But from the weakness, Jesus was ultimately triumphant.  There is an element of hope throughout the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.  We know that Jesus’ Passion ends in joy and triumph in His Resurrection.  And we should know that the Church will ultimately be triumphant because that is what scripture and our faith tell us.  As we confront these dark times ahead, remember that the true center of the Church is Jesus Christ.  Our faith is built on Him, not on the imperfect, fallible humans who run it.

How the Rosary Helps Us Avoid “Everlasting Sin”

 

“’Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.’”

This passage from the Gospel of Mark confused me until recently.  We talk about an all loving and merciful God so how can there be an unforgivable sin?  How can the God that created everything from nothing not have the capacity to forgive everything?  When I was younger, I asked myself, “what if I already committed this unforgivable sin and not know it?  Is the rest of my life pointless because God has already told St. Peter to not allow me into Heaven?”

Fortunately, the unforgivable sin doesn’t work like that.  This isn’t some sort of gotcha or fine print in Catholic doctrine that God will use to keep you out of Heaven.  It’s simply a way of restating that a sin will remain unforgiven if you never ask for forgiveness.  This Catholic Exchange article does a good job of breaking down the unforgivable sin into six aspects:

  1. despair
  2. presumption
  3. impenitence
  4. obstinacy
  5. resisting truth
  6. spiritual welfare

Do you notice a common theme in these?  As the CE article states:

In every case analyzed above, we can determine that the only way any sin is truly unpardonable is if the person remains unrepentant. The reasons, as we have sorted through, vary from envy to despair. Each is caused by a hardness of heart, which is directly opposed to meekness. Meekness is that beatitude that mollifies and softens what has become calloused by deep, unhealed wounds. Our models for meekness, of course, are Jesus and Mary.

How does the Rosary teach us about meekness and avoiding behaviors that lead to an unforgiven sin?  Let’s look at the Fifth Joyful Mystery and the finding of Jesus in the Temple.  Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for three days after losing Him in the caravan.  They did whatever they needed to do to find Jesus.  We too must do whatever it takes to find Jesus when we lose Him by sinning.  We can’t have a hardened heart or the presumption that Jesus is okay with our behavior.  We must acknowledge our wrongdoings and come back to Him through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Think about the Second Luminous Mystery of the Rosary and Jesus’ miracle at Cana.  We see Jesus’ ability to perform miracles and turn potential disaster (a wedding without booze, oh no!) into overflowing joy.  That miracle is a great metaphor for what happens to our souls in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  God, through the Holy Spirit, takes our broken, damaged soul and miraculously transforms it into a pure one filled with hope, joy, and grace.  Mary asked Jesus to perform a miracle at Cana.  And, whenever we enter that confessional, we ask Him to perform a miracle too.

Next we turn to the Third Glorious Mystery of the Rosary — the descent of the Holy Spirit.  Why is a hardened heart such a grave offense?  Remember, the Holy Spirit is one part of the Holy Trinity.  So rejecting the power and authority of the Holy Spirit is rejecting God.  And what’s mortal sin but the total rejection of God?  By thinking that God can’t or won’t forgive us, we reject His supremacy over His creation.  We are saying that we, the created, are capable of actions that are beyond God’s control.  When we pray this Rosary mystery, let’s not only think of the Holy Spirit as our guide but also remember that He’s also God as part of the Holy Trinity.

Finally, the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus’ Crucifixion.  There’s actually two things to consider.  First, Jesus is so willing to forgive that He asked God to forgive the ones who crucified Him.  For most of us, our sins will probably never be as grave as murdering God’s begotten Son.  If God can forgive that, He can forgive anything we do.

Also, the criminal crucified next to Jesus simply asked Jesus to remember him.  And Jesus proclaimed that the criminal would be with Him in paradise.  Again, ask Jesus anything with a meek and humble heart and Jesus will respond.

Okay, now that we’ve talked about the power of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, I’ll end on a more light-hearted note.  Here’s a clip from The Simpsons about the limits of God’s power.

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.