Today, March 25, 2023, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. This is the First Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary whose fruit is Humility. May we all imitate Mary and humbly say “YES!” to God’s plan for us.
Category: First Joyful Mystery
The Dangers of Making Assumptions
The Right Stuff
For those who don’t know, I’m a big fan of movies and television. I worked in visual effects and feature animation for close to 20 years. It’s almost a family business as I have ancestors that worked both in front of and behind the camera throughout the 20th century. I’m going to look at certain scenes in movies and see what they can teach us about practicing our faith.
I’m taking a look at The Right Stuff. It’s a classic about the Mercury space program which put the first Americans in space and tested the science, math, and engineering needed for the Apollo program. You may recognize names like John Glenn and Alan Shepard and you certainly can’t forget those dazzling reflective space suits.
In one scene in the movie, the astronauts’ wives meet each other for the first time. They talk up a storm with a lot of small talk. Everyone that is, except John Glenn’s wife, Annie. After the meeting, one of the wives commented to her husband about how unfriendly and snobby Annie is. Some thought that Annie just sat there silently as if she was better than everyone else and the pleasantries were beneath her.
What the wives didn’t know was that Annie had a speech impediment and stuttered. She was very self-conscious in social situations, so she remained silent. She was shy, not snobby.
The Danger of Assumptions
This scene from The Right Stuff reminds me of how we so often make assumptions about others. Our assumptions aren’t always true. Someone who is short-tempered may be so because he didn’t get any sleep the night before because he needed to deal with a family emergency. Maybe someone drops out of an event at the last minute for personal reasons, not because they didn’t like who was attending or how it was planned. Perhaps someone didn’t talk to you after Mass, not because he’s mad at you, but because he has to be somewhere else soon. People have many reasons for acting as they do and they may not be for reasons you assume.
Contemplate on the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. Mary became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. That stretches all believability. I’m sure Mary and Joseph caused quite a scandal in their village and everyone probably had their version of the story which probably didn’t include a virgin pregnancy. Even Joseph had a hard time believing in the truth and was ready to divorce Mary before an angel intervened.
Imagine an alternate reality where Joseph divorced Mary or she was stoned to death for being pregnant outside of marriage. It would have been a reality where Jesus, as we know him, did not come into the world. You see, this is what happens when we assume too much about people — we spin off into this alternate reality based on our false narrative. How many times do you dwell on something someone said or did without knowing the facts? We may destroy a desirable outcome by filling in what we don’t know or understand with a false narrative.
Let God Fill in the Blanks
At the same time, we can’t always assume the best. Some people are naturally ill-tempered, mean, flakey, or dishonest. People do bad things. We are all sinners after all. And this is where prayer comes in. We have to ask God for help to help separate reality from our own fiction. It’s okay if we don’t understand people and their motives and circumstances. God will steer us in the right direction if we come to him in prayer and humbly ask for his help when we don’t know how to deal with certain individuals.
God may not answer us as dramatically as he did with Saint Joseph in the form of an angel in a dream. But he does talk to us and may nudge us into the right action. It may be something subtle like you asking someone if everything is okay instead of being angry with him. It may require you to take a step back and cut someone a little slack. When we don’t know something, it’s best to ask God to help fill in the blanks.
The Importance of Self-Control
I recently read We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess by Daniel Akst. He explores the cultural shifts in our views around self-control. This is a secular book so you won’t see much on Church teaching except some implicit connections that those who are religious tend to exercise more self-control. Nor is it a self-help book trying to push some 12-step program. It’s just an honest look at self-control and whether its declining value in our world is a good or bad thing. Naturally, I read it thinking about how self-control is linked to our faith and what the Rosary can teach us about this topic.
We have to endure a world of temptation and excess our ancestors never had to. Think about how convenient life is for the modern person. Most of us have nearly instant access to an abundance of calories, entertainment, and things. We don’t have to go for long periods of time between meals. Food is either a supermarket trip, fast food run, or pantry raid away. And with smartphones and the internet, we aren’t lacking options to occupy our time or buy anything our heart desires.
Our minds and bodies aren’t designed for this modern level of excess. Think about our primitive ancestors. They would need to fast for days between hunting animals. So when they did come across food, they consumed as much as they could because they didn’t know when the opportunity to consume more calories might be. As for entertainment; forget about it. They were too busy trying to stay alive. But if they could find some downtime, they took full advantage of it since they needed the rest to conserve energy.
Humans evolved amongst scarcity. Surviving when resources are scarce is our default setting. So our minds and bodies are working as designed when we indulge in tasty food or relaxing activities. The becomes problematic because we are surrounded by food and leisure 24/7. But our bodies don’t know that and are slow to adapt to the last few decades of changes (a blink in evolutionary terms). We need to override our default mode in this world of abundance. We need to show self-control.
Catholicism and Self-Control
Our Catholic faith helps us develop this sense of self-control. Think about the 7 deadly sins — gluttony, lust, envy, wrath, greed, sloth, and pride. For the most part, the root cause of these sins is a lack of self-control. It’s a failure to control our appetites, desires, and wants. The Church acknowledges and teaches that self-control is about resisting temptation and avoiding sin. This helps us stay healthy physically, but more importantly, spiritually.
Of course, showing self-control isn’t simple in the age of excess. We live in a world that affirms just about every vice. Lust, greed, and gluttony are celebrated as people being free to embrace whatever lifestyle they desire. The world isn’t going to honor your efforts to live on the straight and narrow. In fact, it will mostly like shame you for following conventions it sees as authoritative and fascist.
Self-Control in the Rosary
We can turn to the Rosary for guidance on self-control. When we look at the 7 deadly sins, the root sin is pride. Our pride is what justifies our lack of self-control. Pride is what puts our wants and desires ahead of anyone else’s. It tells us to ignore those voices telling us to exercise self-control. The virtue that counters pride is humility. Naturally, Mary is our model for humility. Meditate on the First Joyful Mystery. Picture Mary putting aside her own desires to do God’s Will. Humility means allowing God to guide us. Self-control and humility are about looking beyond your immediate wants and acknowledging others’ needs. Those “others” are our friends and family, our brothers and sisters in Christ, Christ himself, and our future self.
Look at Simeon and Anna in the Fourth Joyful Mystery. They exemplify restraint and dedication. They spent their lives in the temple praying and waiting for the Chosen One. Think about the level of self-control and patience they must have had. Simeon didn’t give in to their immediate desires but instead focused on what was promised to him — the privilege of seeing Jesus before he died. God promises us Heaven. But like Simeon, we have to show self-control and patience by not giving in to our sinful desires. We have to invest in our future selves that will enjoy the fruits of God’s kingdom. That “investment” won’t always be easy and might take a long time to bear fruit.
Self-control may be a dirty word in today’s culture. But we have to see it for what it really is — putting aside desires that aren’t physically, mentally, or spiritually healthy for us. This is why praying the Rosary, receiving the sacraments, and going to Mass are so important. They amplify this need for self-control, patience, and humility in a world that has practically drowned them out with messages affirming any vice you can think up.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.seekfirst.blogspot.com
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?
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.
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.
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.
How to Listen to God in a Noisy World
All that noise, noise, noise! Who remembers that phrase from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas“? Now that I’m older, I can sympathize with the Grinch and his desire for some peace and quiet. I wonder if sometimes God thinks something similar… “how can they hear Me over all that noise, noise, noise”? We can learn about the gift of listening to God from the story of Zechariah.
Then Zechariah said to the angel,Saturday of the Third Week of Advent | USCCB
“How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
And the angel said to him in reply,
“I am Gabriel, who stand before God.
I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk
until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah
and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary.
But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them,
and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.
He was gesturing to them but remained mute.
I always viewed Zechariah’s silence as a punishment for his disbelief in the power of God. However, in one meditation book I read, the author wants us to look at his silence not as a punishment but as an opportunity. It was an opportunity for Zechariah to listen to what God was telling him. God freed Zechariah from all the noise, both external and internal, so that he could finally listen.
Notice how Zechariah was stricken mute when he was praying in the Holies of Holies. God was basically telling him to be quiet and listen when he prayed. I think often we are like Zechariah in our prayers. We ask God for this and that, expecting Him to answer. But we don’t give Him a chance to answer, we just keep talking and talking. Our prayers are all output. But do we take the time to accept input from God? Maybe God tries to answer but is drowned out because we won’t stop to listen.
Any parent of small children can sympathize. My kids have a tendency to talk in long, run-on sentences. Even if I want to comment or answer a question, I can’t because there’s no opportunity. Of course, I could always interrupt, but that would be impolite. God, the ultimate gentleman, probably acts the same way. Instead of interrupting us, he waits patiently for the right opportunity. And that means we need to stop the talking and be still enough to hear Him.
Quietness and stillness are at a premium this year. With many of us working from home and our kids remote schooling, finding a quiet time and place during the day is challenging. It may require more of an effort. Perhaps we need to wake up earlier before the daily chaos kicks in to pray the Rosary and just sit silently to listen to God (a good cup of coffee helps). Maybe it means turning off the TV, computer, and phones earlier in the evening and just meditate in a dark, quiet house. These are sacrifices, but isn’t it worth it for a chance to listen to God’s personal advice to you? Or would you rather He strike you mute for nine months?
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.