Saint Dominic: Model of Humility

I recently completed reading Saint Dominic and the Rosary by Catherine Beebe.  Saint Dominic’s life was a saintly one in every sense of the word.  He practiced the saintly virtues of humility and patience throughout his life.  We should also practice these virtues during Advent as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth and reflect on the life of the greatest saint, our Mother Mary, who is the paradigm of patience and humility.

Catherine Beebe’s book walks through Saint Dominic’s life from his early childhood through his holy death.  Keep in mind that this isn’t an academic or rigorously historical book.  It contains conversations and events that I’m sure came from second and third hand sources or were created in an attempt to better explain aspects of Saint Dominic’s personality.  But that in no way takes away from the motivational and inspiring power of this book.  Personally, I want to learn about Saint Dominic’s virtues, not a dry day-by-day historical account of his life.

According to the book, Saint Dominic strived for sainthood his entire life.  He always oriented himself towards bringing people closer to God.  When he was a young priest traveling through Spain, he was never too tired or busy to preach to the Albigensian heretics and try to convert them.  He lived humbly, never indulging in earthly delights.  In fact, he never ate more food than what he needed to stay healthy.  Even the order he founded put their faith in God to provide for them as they relied entirely on people’s donations of food, clothing, and other provisions.

It is this total giving of self that is the main theme throughout
Catherine Beebe’s book.  And I think this is also why our Mother Mary choose Saint Dominic to bring Her Rosary into the world.  She too, was a total servant of God; putting aside Her wants and expectations to completely accept God’s plan for Her.   That is what God wants out of a saint — a complete and willing submission to His Will.  When I say “submission” I’m not talking about it in that dominating sense of the word.  I mean that we willingly put our lives into God’s hands with faith that He will lead us to true happiness.

You have to be humble to be a servant to God.  Humility is the virtue which defeats pride.  And pride is the sin of centering your entire life around your wants and desires.  You can’t put yourself into God’s hands while centering your life around what you want at the same time.  You have to choose.  Likewise, saintly behavior requires patience.  It’s a lifelong journey of trusting in God when times are either good or bad.  You can’t say you’re devoted to God and then bail on Him at the first sign of hardship.  Is it easy?  Of course not.  But where do you think the phrases patience is a virtue and patience of a saint come from?  Being a saint isn’t easy but it’s the life God calls all of us to live.

The Rosary Connection

Look at Mary in the First Joyful Mystery.  She showed great humility placing Her life in God’s hands in the Annunciation.  Now move on to the Fifth Joyful Mystery.  Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for several days “in sorrow.”  Imagine the patience Mary had to show and not give up hope of finding her lost son.  We can learn from Mary that even when times are difficult, we need to show patience for God to show us the way.  It is in that quiet patience that God will show us the way out of hardship.

PSA: archive.org

Lastly, I want to point our a really useful Rosary resource — www.archive.org.  I found that book about Saint Dominic on archive.org and, like a library, I was able to check it out as an ebook.  If you do a search for “rosary” on the site, you will find all sorts of books, newsletters, pamphlets, etc.  Many of those are out of print and you cannot find anywhere else (which is the whole point of why we have archive.org).  If you’re looking for some new Rosary material, give archive.org a look (and support it with a donation if you find anything of value).

Why Men Especially Need Mary

As we approach the end of the year, I took a look at all the articles I saved and filed under “write about the Rosary connection to this someday.” Well, someday is now. It’s time to clean house. Since I’m on a Marion kick lately with the release of my latest video on the benefits of effective Rosary Prayer, let’s talk specifically about how men’s spiritually is completed through Mary.

In his article, Mastering Manhood Through Mary, Matthew D. Pride talks about how God created male and female to complement and complete each other. He explains how man and woman are made in God’s image, but so is their union. In other words, while man and woman are a reflection of God individually, their union creates another unique image of God.  Therefore, Mary is the spiritual complement to men.  He writes:

Mary is the Immaculate Conception, the New Eve, perfectly complementary to every human male. As the New Eve, Mary is our helper, perfectly compatible with every human male and yearning to help us master manhood to become who God called us to be in our families, in our marriages, and in society.

Spiritually, women form this unique reflection of God through their union with Jesus Christ. But what about men? Yes, of course, men can also have a deep spiritual bond with Jesus. But Mary offers us what I’ll call a better fit for men to come to Jesus. Since men and women are hardwired to complement each other, it makes sense that God would provide both sexes a spiritual complement to come to Him.

Not an Old Lady’s Prayer

After my latest presentation on the Rosary, many people commented on how nice it was to see men embrace and share their love of Mary and the Rosary.  These comments, while said with the best intentions, saddened me a little.  Many still consider the Rosary a women’s prayer, or to put it in a less politically correct term — an old lady’s prayer.  But this characterization of the Rosary completely misses the point and ignores centuries of history.

The Rosary is a weapon, a weapon of war both physically and spiritually.  Soldiers prayed it before the Battle of Lepanto and several other battles.  It gave Saint Dominic strength to combat the Albigensian heresy.  More recently, it gave Saint John Paul II the strength to fight the evils of Communism.  Countless saints did heroic acts with the help of the Rosary.  We should pray it daily before doing battle against sin, temptation, and our own weaknesses.  Does that sound like an old lady’s prayer to you?  If men are called to know God through Mary then men need to take up the Rosary.

The Rosary Connection

When you pray the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, The Annunciation, remember that God created Mary for a very specific and special purpose.  She was immaculately conceived so she could be a clear, unblemished window to Jesus.  God’s plan for Mary was more than just give birth to Jesus and then get out of the way.  If that was the case, Jesus could have just emerged mysteriously out of the wilderness as an adult as there would be no need for Mary.  The fact that Mary was part of God’s plan tells us something.  We should utilize the gift God gave us through Mary who willingly said she would be the servant of the Lord at the Annunciation (Luke 1:38).  God wants all men to know Him through our Mother Mary.

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Defeating Pride With The Rosary

The next of the seven deadly sins we’re looking at is pride.  Many consider pride the worst of the seven deadly sins and also the foundation of the other sins.  Pride means putting your wants and importance before anyone else’s authority.  And what is a sin?  It’s putting your desires in front of what God wants.  When we sin, we knowingly act without regard to the consequences because we don’t accept any other law beyond our own.  According to C.S. Lewis, it’s pride that leads to every other type of sin because it’s the anti-God state of mind.

Pride is so deadly because, by its very nature, it remains hidden.  As Fr Dwight Longenecker puts it in his article on Catholic Exchange:

This is why pride is so deadly, because it is the one sin that hides itself so effectively. The proud person, by very definition, does not realize he is proud. If he realized he was proud he would repent, but it is pride which keeps him from seeing that he is wrong or sinful in any way. Pride is a very difficult sin to do anything about because the proud person will even go so far as to admit that he is proud, and that makes him even more “right” than he was before!

The Scriptural Connection

Look at how blinded the Pharisees were by their own pride that they could not accept Jesus’ teachings.  They dwelled on their own self-importance and their understanding of God and the Law that they couldn’t accept the teachings of a poor carpenter from Nazareth.  They criticized everything Jesus and His apostles did from breaking certain Mosaic laws to ministering to sinners; acts their pride did not allow them to do.  So indebted to their pride that the Pharisees didn’t even come to believe after witnessing Jesus’ countless miracles.

We turn next to Saint Paul, or rather Saul before his conversion.  Saul was a Roman Jew who persecuted the early Christians.  He was so blinded by pride that he refused to accept the teachings of the apostles to the point of killing them (poor Saint Stephen).  Saul justified what he was doing by claiming it was God’s work.  In reality, he was just keeping the status quo where the power of the Law was taught and enforced by those who believed they were important and holy enough to wield it.  Ironically, God physically blinded Saul on the road to Damascus to humble him.  That event led to his conversion.  Once a humble servant of God, Paul was able to preach God’s Word throughout the world because he could let go of his own self-importance.  He teaches to this very day through his various letters in the New Testament.

The Rosary Solution

Humility is the heavenly virtue that counters pride.  The humble heart thinks of others and understands and appreciates others’ talents and strengths.  It also allows us to put our faith in God by recognizing His authority over us.  The humble heart accepts Gods law while the prideful one fights and rebels against it.

Humility is the fruit of the First Joyful MysteryThe Annunciation.  Mary proclaims, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) when hearing God’s plan for her.  She doesn’t consider herself high and mighty as a prideful person would.  She doesn’t see God choosing her as some sort of award or even something to brag about.  Instead, she sees herself as the humble servant called to do God’s Will.  She doesn’t complain about God messing up her life’s plans.  Instead, she realizes that God’s plan is the best plan even if it’s unconventional.

Humility also shows itself in the Third Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus’ Crowning of Thorns.  It is a time when Jesus is mocked or tortured.  At that time, He could have proven Himself as the Son of God by performing any number of signs.  Jesus could have said that He didn’t have to take any more abuse from lowly humans since He was the Messiah.  But Jesus humbly lived out God’s Will by enduring mockery and torture.  Humility sometimes means suffering in doing what is right instead of constantly asking “Why me?  Am too good for this type of treatment.”  We should take Jesus’ example in the Third Sorrowful Mystery and always accept God’s plan for us even when it’s difficult or doesn’t make sense.

Ask yourself, are you humbly accepting God’s plan for you or is your pride causing you to rebel against Him?  Are you depressed or saddened because you have a hard time accepting God’s Will?  Ask yourself, is that your pride talking?  Humility isn’t something to fear.  It means greater freedom and comfort knowing that you are putting your life in the hands of some greater authority.  And what better authority to place your life than our loving God and His Church?

Priests are People Too — Pope Francis’ July Intention

I don’t know if you’ve ever encountered this uncomfortable situation when you were young — running into your teacher outside of school at a restaurant, bank, or supermarket.  I was often confused on how I should act because there was a person who was an authority figure in one context but a “regular person” in another.  It was hard seeing my teacher as anyone other than my teacher.

As I  got older, I realized how isolating that must have made teachers feel if their encounters outside of school with students were so awkward.  To many of the people in their lives, they would only be that red pen using, sticker distributing, detention giving teacher.

The same goes for priests.  Growing up, I always viewed priests, not as regular people with hobbies and interests, but as men who spent all their time conducting Mass, teaching, visiting the sick, and praying.  In my mind, they didn’t watch sports, read non-religious books, play musical instruments, or browse the internet.  Nor did they have normal faults that I could relate to like impatience, selfishness, greed, laziness, etc.  Like teachers, my interaction with priests always felt awkward because I couldn’t figure out how I should act around them.  After all, how do you act normally around someone who has heard all your sins in the Sacrament of Confession?

Pope Francis’ July 2018 intention is for priests, who experience fatigue and loneliness in their pastoral work, may find help and comfort in their intimacy with the Lord and in their friendship with their brother priests.  It’s important to understand that priests lead hard lives.  In many instances, they are away from their friends and families and the area where they grew up.  They are always on call for emergencies like administering the Sacrament of Healing to the sick or need to counsel those who are having difficulties in life.  I’m sure that they would appreciate some normalcy in their lives.  It’s not that they want to get away from their vocation, but instead, not have people act awkwardly around them because of their vocation.

The Rosary Connection

Vocation is a central theme of the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.  In this mystery, God calls Mary to a very specific life.  And that’s what a vocation is — a calling.  Mary responds with a humble yes with an idea that her vocation would be difficult even without full knowledge of what she was accepting.  And so it is for priests who freely enter the priesthood with an understanding that it will be a difficult vocation but probably not fully realizing it until they’ve lived it for years.  The Annunciation should teach us to really discern our vocation and once we say yes to it, to work as hard as we can to make the most of it.  We should be mindful that priests, as learned and experienced as they are, are also discovering new aspects of their vocation and can benefit from the lay faithful’s support.

Moving on to the Fourth Joyful Mystery — the Presentation.  There are many vocations at play in this mystery.  We see Mary and Joseph living their vocation as husband and wife and parents to Jesus.  The presentation shows that they are committed to raising and teaching Jesus their faith.  It’s a model that all parents should imitate — that we are responsible for teaching our children the Catholic Faith.  This means setting a good example and actively practicing our faith.  In keeping with Pope Francis’ July intention, it also means educating our children on religious life and the important role priests play in our spiritual development.  Parents should be open to the idea that their sons may have a calling to the priesthood and help them explore that vocation.

Another important person in the Fourth Joyful Mystery is Saint Simeon.  In the Gospel, all that is really said about him is that he was a righteous man who spent most of his time praying in the temple after the Holy Spirit came to him with a promise.  Doesn’t that sound like the call to the priestly vocation?  Saint Simeon’s life revolved around prayer and he was one of the first to introduce the world to the Chosen One, Jesus Christ.  This parallels the role of priests — introducing the lay faithful to Jesus.  But Saint Simeon’s life must have been difficult; one of solitude and uncertainty.  When you pray this mystery, think of the solitude your parish priest may feel as he works on bringing Jesus to his congregation.

Finally, think of the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus carrying His cross.  Jesus was exhausted and close to death as he fell three times and could barely walk.  I think priests must feel the same way at times — exhausted by the years of living their vocation.  We need to be like Veronica; making an effort to comfort and support the priests we know in our lives.  It can be something as simple as inviting a priest you are close to (like the one who married you, baptized your children, etc.) out for coffee or breakfast; something “normal” and relaxing.

What will you do?  Stand on the side like so many people did when Jesus carried His cross?  Or make an effort to let priests in your life know how important they are and that you appreciate their sacrifices?

How the Rosary Increases Our Patience with God and Others

The Rosary is a prayer that requires an above-average level of patience.  It’s long, repetitive, and doesn’t have a narrative like reading Bible passages.  Admit it, you’ve zoned out more than a few times praying the Rosary haven’t you?  I know I certainly have.  The motivation for the RosaryMeds website and my books is to make the Rosary a more engaging and less monotonous prayer.  But when it comes down to it, you just have to work up the motivation and put effort into praying it effectively.  No amount of websites, books, and videos can substitute for the will to pray the Rosary and the patience to allow it to transform you.

In this post, I want to focus on the value of patience and how it relates to the Rosary.  There are two ways the Rosary helps us grow in patience.  First, there are many Rosary mysteries that teach patience as a core value.  When you meditate on these mysteries, ask Mary to help you grow in patience.

  1. First Joyful Mystery: Saint Joseph‘s patience with God’s plan for his wife, our mother, Mary.  Imagine learning that God has a completely different life prepared for you that will be much more difficult and confusing.  It takes a lot of patience to accept God’s Will when it conflicts with your desires or expectations.
  2. Fourth Joyful Mystery: Saint Simeon‘s patience with God’s promise that he would one day see the Chosen One.  He did, but only at the end of his life.  Talk about needing patience for God’s plan to come to fruition.
  3. Second and Fifth Sorrowful Mysteries: Jesus enduring the scourging and insults during His Passion and Crucifixion.  He kept silent while soldiers beat Him and the authorities interrogated Him because He knew it had to be done to bring about our redemption and salvation.  He was patient onto death because it was God’s Will.

Jesus in Pray
Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second way the Rosary helps us grow in patience is the act of praying the Rosary itself.  It’s not an easy prayer and takes time and energy to pray correctly.  But that focus and perseverance you practice in Rosary prayer translate into increased focus and perseverance in other aspects of your life.  It is practice for dealing with annoying coworkers, parents, or uncooperative children (parents, you know what I’m talking about right?).

But what’s so important about patience?  Patience is often referred to as a virtue.  But why?  In other words, what’s so bad about impatience?  Why is it bad if you have a low tolerance for people making mistakes or not giving everything their 100% best effort?  This Catholic Exchange article frames patience as a reflection of our relationship with Jesus:

Simply by reminding ourselves that we’re being patient not primarily for the sake of the person who is irritating us, but as an expression of our love for Jesus. Following Him often means putting up with people, events, and situations we’d prefer to avoid entirely.  This effort is very valuable, for, as St. Katherine Drexel noted, “The patient endurance of the Cross — whatever nature it may be — is the highest work we have to do.”

Patience is tied to humility.  What is impatience but a lack of humility for God’s plan and our desire to change our circumstances immediately?  Patience is admitting that we cannot change everything to suit our desires but instead we must let God’s plan for us and others play out.  Patience means telling God, “I may not like this situation but I will put forth the effort to endure it because it is Your Will.”  Patience is an admission that our lives and circumstances are in God’s hands.  Instead of wishing that they be different, it is our opportunity to respond to our circumstances as Jesus taught us.

The next time you feel like putting down the Rosary because you feel like you aren’t getting anything out of it, take a small pause and tell Mary you will be patient with Her and her gift and then continue praying the Rosary.  She promises miraculous things through the Rosary which we often lose sight of in our impatience of repeating Hail Marys and Our Fathers.  Don’t let impatience prevent you from obtaining all that God desires for you.

What Jesus’ Arrest Tells us About Those Critical of the Church

One of the aspects of the Passion narrative that initially confused me was Judas’ betrayal with a kiss. Why was the kiss to identify Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane necessary? Wouldn’t the soldiers sent to arrest Jesus know what he looks like? After all, they arrested Jesus because of the threat He supposed posed. This was the man who had been preaching and healing throughout the region and the authorities had wanted to arrest for some time. Jesus was basically public enemy #1 on the Pharisees‘ “most wanted” list. Why then, did the Jewish authorities need Judas to pick him out in the small group gathered in the garden?

To me, the answer to this question is yet another question — did the Pharisees really know Jesus?  The Pharisees knew that there was this person traveling around the region criticizing their authority.  He was a person the people loved despite not following the Mosaic law.  And that’s all the Pharisees bothered to learn about Jesus.  Did they actually listen to His teachings and think about what He was saying?  It looks like the Pharasis dismissed Jesus’ teachings outright without even thinking about them.

Since the Pharisees and their followers never took the time to really understand Jesus, they didn’t know who to look for to arrest.  To them, Jesus was a faceless agitator.  Those who arrested and ultimately crucified Jesus didn’t really know Him and that is why they needed one of His disciples to identify Him.

When we read about Jesus’ arrest or meditate on His agony in the garden when we pray the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, we should ask ourselves whether we are making the time to try to understand Jesus.  Are we praying daily and trying to know His Will and ask for the strength to follow His teachings?  Or are we like the Pharisees and see Jesus’ teachings as an impediment or inconvenience in our lives?  Do we dismiss Jesus because we aren’t taking the time to understand what He is trying to teach us?

When I read articles that are critical of the Catholic Church or make fun of Her teachings, I think about the Pharisees that Jesus encountered.  Popular media criticizes the Church because they do not understand the Church nor do they want to make an effort to learn.  In their minds, the Church is some arbitrary and controlling patriarchy telling people what they can and cannot do.  They don’t see the centuries of reason and logic that go all the way back to Jesus who taught what He taught out of love.

The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Again...
The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Against Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In addition to the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, the Joyful Mysteries also have a lot to say about not dismissing God’s Church without understanding Her.  Like Mary and Joseph in the Annunciation, we need to have a willingness to trust God’s plan even when it runs contrary to our plans.  Or jump to the Fourth Joyful Mystery and look at Saint Simeon and his devotion to God.  When we pray the Rosary, remember to pray for those who act like the Pharisees — those who criticize the Church without the desire to understand Her.  I honestly believe that with enough prayer, the most critical of the Church can become Her most fervent supporter.  Don’t believe me?  Look up “Blessed Bartolo Longo.”

Be at Peace Even Without a Full Understanding of God

Have you ever tried to explain a complex topic to a small child?  How does a bird fly?  How does a television work?  Why does that factory produce so much smoke?  Trying to explain these realities can be difficult to distill into something a child can understand.  And often, despite our best efforts, they still come away with a wrong understanding.  Last Sunday’s Gospel reveals how we often misunderstand God because we try to box Him into our limited understanding of the reality He created.

In the Gospel, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at a well where He talks about living water.  She asks, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?” (John 4:11).  She is taking Jesus’ words literally; that the living water is something that is down in the well and can be fetched.  She doesn’t understand that Jesus is not talking about physical water you find in a well but the living water of the Holy Spirit.

The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and ...
The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, by Giacomo Franceschini, 17-18th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We probably laugh at the woman’s naivete talking to Jesus.  But are we really any different from her?  We often take what the Church teaches and try to place it within the confines our physical reality.  We want to know how exactly the Eucharist is transformed into Jesus’ Body and Blood.  Where is our soul?  What is it made of?  Where is Heaven?  What temperature is Hell?  When will the Apocolypse take place?  The questions that people have trying to define the physical realities of God are nearly endless.

For many, the lack of concrete answers that obey the laws of science and physics causes them to lose faith in the Catholic Church.  Because the pieces don’t fit exactly like the steps of a mathematical proof, they reason that something must be wrong or at least incomplete about the Church.  In a way, this attitude falls into the sin of pride.  We think that God can only exist within the confines of space and time as we know it.  Instead of realizing that we aren’t capable of fully understanding God, we tell ourselves that there must be something incomplete with Him and His Church.

The Rosary Connection

We can look at the Mary in the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary where she asks, “How can this be?”  upon learning that she will immaculately conceive a son.  The initial reaction is one of surprise because God is not following the rules of science and human physiology.  Likewise, when Mary’s story defies everything known about how conception works, Joseph tries to quietly divorce her.  He takes the skeptical approach to what he does not understand while Mary takes the faithful approach when she said, “May it be done according to His Will.”  Who are you more like, Mary or Joseph, when God acts in ways you cannot explain?

The Holy Spirit as a dove in the Annunciation,...
The Holy Spirit as a dove in the Annunciation, by Philippe de Champaigne, 1644 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We can also see this theme of disbelief in the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary where Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven.  Many people had a hard time believing Jesus because he was a carpenter’s son.  They could not make Jesus’ teaching fit with their understanding of how God would manifest Himself as the Christ.  Those with pride, such as the Pharisees, dismissed Jesus because He did not conform to their understanding of God’s law.  Ironically, it was the poor, sick, and outcasts who showed the humility to believe in Jesus even if they couldn’t completely understand His true nature.  Who are you?  Are you dismissing Jesus’ presence in your life because He is someone you can’t fully explain and understand?

This Lent we should strive to take our faith seriously even when we don’t fully understand it.  God, as the creator, is not limited to the confines of His creation.  Therefore, God exists outside of our ability to understand Him.  But instead of losing faith, we should work hard at showing patience and understanding in accepting God’s wisdom and divine plan even when the pieces don’t seem to add up.

How the Rosary Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Different Responses to God’s Unbelievable Plan

The Bible is full of parallels.  It may be parallel themes between Old and New Testament readings or accounts of different people having similar encounters with God.  We see one such parallel between the story of Mary in the Annunciation and that of Zechariah, husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth.  We pray and meditate on these readings, which make up the first two Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, all this week leading up to Christmas.

Cappella tornabuoni frescoes in Florence. Annu...
Cappella tornabuoni frescoes in Florence. Annuncio dell’angelo a San Zaccaria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In both accounts, the angel Gabriel comes with news of a pregnancy.  Mary is told she will give birth to a son through the Holy Spirit and Zechariah is told that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist.  Furthermore, the announcement is initially met by disbelief.  Mary’s amazement comes because she is not married and Zechariah’s stems from Elizabeth’s old age.

The difference in these two accounts comes next.  In Mary’s case, she praises God and humbles herself saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  But in Zechariah’s case, the angel Gabriel takes away his ability to speak because of his disbelief.

What confused me about these two accounts was that according to the text, it appears as if Mary and Zechariah both show a very similar reaction, one of amazement and disbelief.  Why was Zechariah punished and not Mary?  I think the key is understanding Gabriel’s ability to see into someone’s heart and not just hear their words.

Angel Gabriel's Annunciation to Mary, by Muril...
Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, by Murillo, c. 1655 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Mary was confused initially, in her heart she truly believed and accepted God’s Will for her.  But I think that Gabriel must have sensed that Zechariah did not fully believe the news he had just heard.  To put it another way, Mary’s initial reaction may have been out of shock and quickly passed while Zechariah harbored a real sense of disbelief.  Maybe, while he was in the holy sanctuary, Zechariah was going through the motions of prayer but not fully open to God’s grace.  It is fitting that he was punished with speechlessness as a sign that maybe he was giving more lip service to his faith rather than truly internalizing it.

As we prepare in these final days of Advent, let us remember to have an open heart like Mary and not a closed one like Zechariah.  Pray that you don’t go through the motions of spirituality by treating Christmas Mass like a mere formality before the real celebration can begin.  Mass is the real celebration!  I know many of you have large dinners to attend, guests to entertain, and presents to open.  And while you may say you believe and celebrate Jesus’ birth, how much of your heart is centered around Him?  God knows what is in our hearts and you can’t fool him.

This Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  The best birthday present you can give Him is an honestly open heart.  Don’t go through the motions of prayer and practicing your faith but earnestly make room in your heart for God’s grace manifested in His son, Jesus Christ.  Merry Christmas!

How Rosary Prayer Teaches the Glory of Humility

I’m a lector at my parish.  One of the perks of serving as a lector is that my parish provides me with a workbook for the readings that contain explanations and commentary.  Reading this book during the week helps me obtain a deeper understanding of the readings at Sunday Mass.  I want to start providing you insight into the Sunday Gospels and how they relate to the rosary.  This way, when you pray the rosary, you can integrate the Sunday readings into your meditation as well.  Think of this as doing your Sunday Mass homework.

The Gospel for Sunday, August 28, 2016, is:

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

When I initially read this Gospel passage, I felt like I was reading the biblical equivalent of an Amy Vanderbilt etiquette book on how to politely find your place at a banquet table.  The reading confused me because it seemed like Jesus was giving his disciples a social hack for getting to a place of honor in a disingenuous way.  Is it not false humility to sit at a lowly spot of the table expecting the host to come and fetch you and put you where you think you deserve to be?  I can almost picture that fake humble person sitting next to the stereotypical “chatty lady,” not even listening to her but scanning the room making sure the host sees him so he can “rescue” him from the dregs.

How long do I have to listen to you?
How long do I have to listen to you?

The confusion lifted when I realized that Jesus asks us to behave as the guest and the host!  Jesus talks about the host not looking for reciprocity or acknowledgment for his efforts.  But that is also the same requirement for the guest who takes the lowest spot at the table.  He should not be looking for the host to save him from his situation but rather, accept and enjoy his situation regardless of the outcome.  After all, the guest should be thankful and grateful that he was invited to the feast at all.  We too should be grateful for all the blessings God bestows on us even when it seems like others have it better.

The people who are truly humble and accepting of their situation are ultimately the happiest.  They are not always looking for something better but find contentment with what they have.  That is because they do not come with any preconceived notions of their importance but they just do what needs to be done.  They do not worry about who notices them or if they will receive a certain level of reward.  In a sense, the humble person is free from the burden of self-imposed expectations or entitlement.  When you do not feel entitled to that place of honor, being elevated to it makes it that much more glorious.

Just about every mystery of the rosary teaches some aspect of humility and the glory that comes out of it.  The rosary itself is bookended by these two traits by the First Joyful Mystery and the Fifth Glorious Mystery.  In the Annunciation, Mary humbly accepts God‘s plan for her.  She does not turn God down or try to reshape His request into something she would prefer.  God is essentially upending Mary’s life but her humble reply is,  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Thy Will be done.
Thy Will be done

When we walk and talk with Jesus through the rosary, we finish with Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven.  Like the person sitting at the lowest spot of the banquet table only to be seated at the place of honor so was Mary glorified after her lifetime of humbly accepting God’s plan for her and the pain and sorrow that it entailed.  She is our model for our ultimate elevation to a place of honor in Heaven when we live in earnest, humble service of God’s plan for us.

When you pray the First Joyful and Fifth Glorious mysteries of the rosary, pray and ask yourself:

  • Am I living a sincerely humble life or showing a fake sense of humility as a means to more selfish ends?
  • Am I content and satisfied with all God has given me or am I expecting something better?
  • Am I looking to Mary as an example of humility?
  • Am I showing humility by putting my trust in God’s plan or am I trying to avoid or amend it?