The Harmful Effects of Not Attending Mass

The Dam Has Cracks

I think many people are feeling the ill effects of not attending Mass or attending virtually. Some of my friends, who I used to see all the time at Sunday Mass, have stopped going regularly. And while they may not think they feel any different by not attending Mass, I see changes in their personalities and general happiness. This may be due to other circumstances, but not having the Mass as the spiritual anchor makes dealing with life’s challenges all the more difficult.

Skipping weekly Mass is like a leak in a dam holding back water. As you skip Mass, more “cracks” tend to develop because the overall integrity of the dam is compromised. None of those cracks may be huge and individually, they don’t threaten the dam’s overall stability. But when combined, all those small cracks threaten the dam’s overall integrity causing it to fall apart.

The dam in this parable is our faith. On the dry side is our soul. The water being held back is all the influences in this world. It’s a mixture of sins and emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, joy, doubt, and calmness. Our faith acts as a barrier protecting ourselves from the torrent of sin and emotion. But as those leaks start to form, those sins and emotions start to manifest themselves more in our lives. If there are too many leaks causing the dam (our faith) to fail, those “waters” of sin and emotion will completely flood and destroy our lives.

No Joy, Only Anxiety

From my personal experience, I’m starting to see spiritual “cracks” in some people. I notice a greater sense of anxiety and unhappiness in those who stopped attending Mass regularly. They tend to complain about everything in their lives. Every inconvenience is a crisis requiring someone to blame and be punished. They have replaced joy with anxiety.

We’re also seeing this general anxiety play out over the internet. Something happens locally in one part of the world, and the next thing you know, the Twitterverse is in an uproar. There are millions of people whose lives are affected by what’s on social media or the 24-hour news cycle. Without the Mass, they’re losing the ability to counter-balance the craziness of the world.

Many of us couldn’t go to Mass during the Covid lockdowns or we attended virtually. Most of us didn’t have a choice. But that was a crack in our faith that needed immediate patching. And thank God, many of us did fix that crack. As soon as the churches opened, we were right back in those pews. But there are a significant number of people that developed more spiritual “cracks” by not returning to the Church. The tragedy is that they may not see how their absence from the sacraments and the Catholic community contributes to their fears and anxieties.

We have challenges in front of us to bring people back to their spiritual home and the greater Catholic family. We have to compete with endless entertainment options, less free time from school and work, and government and media hostile to religion and our values.

Related: Is Discipleship More Challenging Today? Five Modern Hurdles to Ministry | Desiring God

Related: What’s the role of religion as social trust unravels in American public life? — GetReligion

Loving our Neighbor with the Rosary

What do we do now? I suggest starting with meditating on the Second Joyful Mystery, The Visitation. This mystery’s fruit is loving our neighbor. Mary went out and helped her cousin Elizabeth despite being pregnant herself. We too should help our brothers and sisters in Christ who have fallen away from the Church recently. We need to pray because we need Mary’s help in approaching this delicate topic. We can’t just get into peoples’ faces and start quoting the Catechism. Prayer will help us know what route to take. It may mean working with your parish pastor or finding the right words in a conversation. Prayer also will allow the Holy Spirit to work within people’s souls.

The Abortion Battle Will Grow More Fierce

Anxious in Victory

As happy as I am over the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade, it fills me with anxiety. First, the news tends to focus on liberal politicians’ outrage and quasi-terrorist groups like Jane’s Revenge. The media muffles the voices of those happy over the decision. I also have this feeling that something horrible is going to happen beyond the recent vandalism like shootings or bombings. And worse, I feel like those in power will ignore or stoke the chaos suggesting that it’s righteous indignation over an unjust decision.

Fallout from Supreme Court abortion decision: When reporters parrot partisan talking points — GetReligion

Legal Misconceptions

Beyond people’s personal safety, I’m also frustrated over the misconceptions, if not outright lies, that people have over this ruling and issue. Legally, this ruling puts abortion legislation back into the hands of the state governments. This is a good thing. Many of our laws should be decided at the state and local levels instead of at the federal level. People acting crazy over this foundational principle of the United States frustrates me. It shows the lack of understanding of how the US government is designed to function.

As abortion policy returns to the states, the pro-abortion lobby will find themselves fighting on multiple fronts and with less political cover from the federal government. We may start to see greater restrictions on abortions in many states which will put pressure on the entire abortion industry. Like a cornered beast, we’re going to see the pro-abortion lobby get louder, less rational, and more extreme. I think they will counter the general lack of support for their position with outrageous claims and actions. I’m afraid of what those actions may be.

7 myths about Roe v. Wade, now that it’s been overturned | Catholic News Agency

Social Misconceptions

The other aspect of this SCOTUS decision that stresses me is the lack of understanding of why people have pro-life convictions. If you were to listen to the media and shouting heads on Twitter, you would think that the sole reason to ban abortion is to suppress women’s rights and establish a patriarchy in the USA. Why do people have such a hard time seeing that there are those who see the preciousness and value of all human life and seek to preserve it? It seems so obvious and good to me. That is why I get so unnerved when I see the vitriol directed at people who only want the best for everyone — women, men, mothers, fathers, children, the elderly, and the unborn.

This hatred will be well-publicized and encouraged by pro-abortion politicians. They will seek to label all Christians as “extremists” and, ironically, opponents to a just and civil society. I fear that Christian persecution will become more widespread and legal action against those who do harm will go unenforced. And where they’ve lost ground on abortion, we’ll see redoubled efforts in other aspects of the woke agenda to undermine Christian and other religious values.

Strength in Weakness

What frightens me is that all of this comes when the Church is in a weakened state. We’ve endured waves of scandals from the priesthood. High-ranking church officials have become indulgent in political power instead of acting as servants in Christ’s Church. And people in general are starting to believe and practice their faith less. I fear we’ve unleashed wild beasts hungry for our destruction at a point in time when we will have a harder time fighting them off.

I think about Saint Paul’s words, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10) We find comfort and inspiration that the Church has endured and thrived at times when opposing cultures believed they had defeated us. The Church has been in difficult positions countless times. But we have found strength to not only survive but to grow stronger. This isn’t a strength that comes from adopting the tactics of our persecutors. This is the strength that has come from putting our faith in God. It’s about knowing that God is Truth and embracing that Truth will ultimately set us free.

If you’re looking for comfort in the Rosary, meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery. Remember these lines from the Canticle of Mary:

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.

No matter how much influence and power the pro-abortion lobby has, no matter how much glowing coverage they receive from the media, their efforts won’t bring forth fruits where it matters. Their position is shaky on logical, legal, and moral grounds. They can’t fight Truth and win. Let us pray for their conversion so that God doesn’t send them away empty, but rather unites us all as his children.

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 Fourth 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.

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?

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

Adding Joy Through Christ this Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas

As we go into the third week of Advent, I think many of us start to feel a little fatigued and anxious. Some of you may be wrapping up a marathon of shopping, decorating, and attending various events. Others may feel stressed out because you haven’t done much preparation and feel like “you won’t make Christmas.” And others may just feel like Charlie Brown, a time when you are supposed to feel happy, but aren’t.

I think many of us can relate to Charlie Brown. It’s hard to reconcile a supposed season of joy with all the stress we’ve created around Christmas. Besides the normal Christmas stressors, we also have to contend with Covid fatigue, wokism, and politics. Many of us also have work, financial, and family issues. How do we put on a happy face on all of this?

The Nativity

We need to look to Mary and Joseph and the first Christmas. They traveled far in hard conditions only to find no room at the inn. They made due in a stable and delivered Jesus away from family and friends. As any mother knows, giving birth, even in the best conditions, is not easy or fun. The first Christmas wasn’t fun or easy. But through all that hardship there was joy. Through Mary, Christ the Savior was born. That event changed everything for all of us.

This brings us back to Charlie Brown. In all his anxiety over Christmas, what turns it around for him? It’s not directing the Christmas play or buying a tree. It was Linus’ monologue retelling the Nativity story that turned everything around, not just for Charlie Brown, but for the whole Peanuts crew. They became nicer to him, saw the hidden beauty of his scrawny tree, and wished him a merry Christmas.

Add More “Christ” To Christmas

We can learn a lot from Charlie Brown, Mary, and Joseph in finding joy this Christmas. We won’t find real joy at Target, Walmart, and Amazon finding great deals or that perfect gift. We’re not going to find it through our amazing lighting displays. It may not easy or even happy as in “laugh out loud happy.” But we can find a level of joy and peace if we add Jesus to this Advent and Christmas.

“Let’s not live a fake Christmas, please, a commercial Christmas,” the pope advised Dec. 10. “Let us allow ourselves to be wrapped up in the closeness of God, this closeness which is compassionate, which is tender; wrapped in the Christmas atmosphere that art, music, songs, and traditions bring into the heart.”

Pope Francis: Avoid ‘fake Christmas’ of commercialism by reflecting on God’s closeness | Catholic News Agency

We only have so much time and attention. We have to choose how we are going to fill that time. Are we maximizing joy by shopping for gifts and trying to create that Norman Rockwell-depicted Christmas? If that is leading to great anxiety and stress, maybe you should try adding more Jesus to your routine in the coming weeks. Jesus brought joy out of hardship to Joseph and Mary. He will bring joy to us as well.

If you want joy this Christmas and Advent, you should remember to add “Christ” and the “Mass” to your day. Ease up on Amazon and ramp up on the Rosary. Don’t focus on finding the perfect gifts, rather pray perfectly. Don’t dwell on what things you don’t have, but rejoice in the real joy you receive when you make Christmas about Christ.

In Defense of the Pharisees

Leaders of a Defiant People

What comes to mind when you think about the Pharisees in the Bible? Hypocrites? Dogmatic? Unfair? You probably conjure images of Jesus “knocking them down a peg” when he answers their “gotcha” questions. Needless to say, the Christian view of the Pharisees isn’t the most flattering.

But maybe we’re being a little too harsh on the Pharisees. Remember, the Jews had a long history of disobeying God as chronicled throughout the Old Testament. It’s a history of God guiding and providing for them only to have them turn away from Him in sin by following false gods and breaking the Commandments. They were punished by famine, war, and pestilence and ultimately exiled to Babylon and subject to Roman occupation.

I think many of the Pharisees only wanted to avoid God’s further judgement and punishment. That may account for their dogmatic approach to following the Mosiac law. Like a parent enforcing rules, I think the Pharisees felt responsible for protecting the Israelites from incurring punishments. What do parents do when kids repeatedly disobey them? They usually make more rules and enforce them more rigidly. Now imagine a people who had disobeyed God for generations. Think about how rigidly the Pharisees felt like they needed to enforce the law so that their people would “toe the line.”

This is not excusing the Pharisees’ actions and hypocrisy. They did impose rules and burdens that they themselves did not always follow. Or they got so consumed with the letter of law that they forgot about the spirit of the law until Jesus reminded them. Or they got too used to their power and prestige that they forgot that they were foremost teachers of the people. Jesus showed them how they were supposed to be guiding the Jewish people.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

I bring up the Pharisees to show that people aren’t always so easy to label and categorize. We so often label the Pharisees as “bad people.” But that isn’t taking into account the historical and cultural circumstances they found themselves in. We should remember the saying, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Before we look at someone and make a judgement about their character, we should take some time to consider their circumstances and maybe try harder to understand their motivations.

Think about Mary in the Annunciation. Imagine how quickly people must have judged her when learning about her unwed pregnancy. And her explanation stretched believability, to say the least. But now extend that idea out to the Israelite people. God led them out of Egypt and through the desert but asked them to show a lot of faith in His plan. What he asked of them wasn’t easy and often seemed impossible. And that disbelief caused many of them to disobey God. How quick they were to judge what God could and could not do. Mary, on the other hand, showed complete faith in God’s plan despite how unorthodox it seemed.

Understand, Don’t Judge

What about you? Are you quick to judge what God is capable of? How much faith do you put in your prayers when you bring your intentions before God? How about how you see others? Maybe we’re too quick to label people based on a Twitter or Facebook comment. Maybe we see how someone is dressed or how they speak and assume certain things about them. Maybe we read about the bad actions of a few people and associate that with an entire group.

Whatever the case may be, let’s ask God for more understanding. We know that God’s ways aren’t always our ways. Before we determine whether a certain event or person is “bad” or “good,” let’s remember that it’s part of God’s divine plan for us. Let’s come before God in prayer and ask him for patience and understanding when confronted with situations we do not understand. We may be surprised how God answers if we listen to Him instead of making judgements based on our limited understanding.

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.

Are We Punishing Ourselves?

Seeking the “Different”

All too often we seek the “different” because it seems more exotic and impressive. Consider weddings. It’s seems no longer good enough to have a ceremony followed by an enjoyable reception. No, you have to find things to make your wedding stand out — lavish locations, over-the-top decorations, exotic animals, and confetti cannons. Or you can’t go on a regular vacation. It needs to be something you can post on Facebook to make your friends envious.

This need to do something different and exotic didn’t start with Facebook and Twitter. It goes back to the Old Testament. In the book of Kings, generations of kings of Israel followed other gods. I think part of their motivation for doing this was that they wanted to be the king that did something new and progressive. Why follow that old-fashioned God who delivered people out of Egypt with his antiquated commandments when you can worship a more modern god like Baal? Because these pagan gods didn’t actually exist, the kings could attribute anything they wanted to them — any rule and practice would be okay in the eyes of the deity of the day.

Rejecting God

Fast forward thousands of years and look at our current situation. It isn’t too different than Israel in the Book of Kings. Governments and groups try to promote everything progressive and reject anything traditional. They want to take what has worked for generations and throw it out to try something new. Like the couple getting married or an Israelite king, they want to be remembered for doing something novel and unique. They don’t want to follow their predecessor, even if what they did worked, because they aren’t making their mark on history. Furthermore, they don’t want to be bounded by the existing rules but make new ones that are more malleable.

Let’s look around at what all these new progressive ideas have brought us as a society. Are we better off having adopted more woke progressivism and rejecting traditional ideas of marriage, stable families, gender, and even logic? Has tearing down time-tested traditions and institutions made us happier? Based on news headlines, I think people are generally less happy now than in previous generations. What’s changed? Do you think the devaluation of spirituality in our lives plays a part?

In the Book of Kings, terrible things happened to the people who rejected God. In some cases, it was due to God’s punishment. But I also think much of the misery came from the people’s rejection of God’s Commandments. If the Israelites rejected God and His commandments against stealing, adultery, murder, lying, etc. do you think they were happier as a result? Does that sound like a society anyone wants to be part of? Are we happier in a world that has rejected many of those same commandments? Seems like God doesn’t need to punish us when we’re doing a great job punishing ourselves.

The Rosary Connection

Let’s look at the Fourth Joyful Mystery — The Presentation in the Temple. When I first started praying the Rosary, I always contemplated the meaning and value of tradition with this mystery. Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus in the temple as was tradition. They understood the importance of staying connected to the past as a means of grounding themselves spiritually. They acknowledged the role God plays in all our lives. By presenting Jesus in the temple, Mary and Joseph acknowledged that it was God and His Truth, not human institutions, that would form Jesus.

Fast forward to the Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist. Jesus still observed the Jewish customs such as the Passover. While many claimed that he disregarded the Mosaic law, he explained that he was fulfilling it; bringing the people back to its true meaning. He wanted people to follow God’s commandments, not to be miserable, but to find joy and happiness. He didn’t want people to be blind rule followers, but instead people who treated each other kindly and honored God. If they could do that, they would find greater peace, joy, and happiness than they had ever known. But like the kings of the Old Testament, many people still insisted on doing things their way, not God’s way.

When you think about the sources of unhappiness in your life, ask yourself if they are due to breaking away from God’s plan for you. Are you rejecting God in favor of what is new, hip, and socially acceptable? Are you rejecting teachings that have brought true happiness to millions of people over thousands of years because they seem difficult or irrelevant? Are you happier as a result?

Activating the Holy Spirit

The Benefits of Credit

A credit card is just a piece of plastic with no function until it is activated. Once activated, you still have to use your credit responsibly. You have to not exceed your limit, run up too much debt, and make your payments on time. Finally, an unused credit card is also pointless because you’re not taking advantage of any benefits or discounts. But using credit responsibly provides many benefits and opens up your purchasing power.

If you are not manifesting the fruits of the Holy Spirit in your life:  [Charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity], the chances are that you have not activated the gifts. After you receive a new credit card, you activate it before you can use it. After the activation of the card, timely payment of your bill is the way to continue to enjoy the credit card.

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I like the analogy that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are like a credit card. To unlock all the benefits and rewards of a credit card, you have to activate it first. As we come up to Pentecost Sunday, ask yourself whether you’ve activated the fruits of the Holy Spirit in your life. Have you been praying, going to Mass, going to Confession, and fasting? In short, have you been trying to live the Catholic faith? That is how we activate the Holy Spirit.

Fruits of the Holy Spirit

God gives us a lot of freedom. He’s not going to force the Holy Spirit onto us. If we don’t want to receive all those benefits, we don’t have to activate them. But that begs the question, why not? Why wouldn’t we want God’s grace to help us to be more charitable, joyful, patient, and kind? People talk about how stupid it is to pass up free money. Why pass up God’s grace and the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are nearly free?

Don’t be foolish! Accept the gifts God wants to give us.

If credit cards have terms and conditions, what about the fruits of the Holy Spirit? Yes, they have them too but they are very generous. Basically, we have to use these gifts. We have to go out and be living witnesses to the faith. You can’t practice charity, patience, kindness, etc. in a vacuum. These are all fruits of interaction. God desires us to share these fruits with the world. Think about the saints. Yes, they prayed a lot. But that wasn’t all they did. They shared the gifts that God gave them with the world.

Excited Evangelism

When I think about sharing the fruits of the Holy Spirit, I think about the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary — the Visitation. As I’ve said before, Mary could have stayed put after receiving the news of her pregnancy in the Annunciation. But instead, she went out and shared joy, charity, peace, generosity, and kindness with her cousin Elizabeth. Mary was so full of God’s grace that she couldn’t resist sharing it with others.

Imagine a time when you had some really exciting news that you had to share. It was hard to keep quiet about it right? You probably felt like a balloon about to burst unless you had some way to release some of that excitement. That’s how Mary wants us to feel about our faith and love of Jesus! She knows what it is like to be so full of God’s grace and she desires that all her children experience the same.

Yes! We should be this excited about our faith.

The apostles couldn’t hold back using the fruits of the Holy Spirit to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. They went from cowards during Jesus’ Passion to inspired evangelists. They went to the ends of the known world utilizing the gifts bestowed on them at Pentecost. That passion is how God intends all of us to wisely use the gifts He gives us.

Pray that you have the desire to use the fruits of the Holy Spirit. When God sees that desire, He will provide all that you need and more. He’s done it countless times to Mary, the apostles, and the saints. God will do the same for you.