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!

What the Gospel and Rosary Teach Us About Good Works

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is from Matthew.  I’m only including the part I’m going to reflect on in this article.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

In this Gospel passage, John the Baptist makes a distinction between piety and good works.  The Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves good people because they followed the Mosaic law to the letter.  But John implies in his comparison to a tree not bearing good fruit that just following rules or having a certain status does not lead to salvation.  One must follow up with good works, charity, and compassion.

Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees
Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good works, charity, and compassion were the cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry.  He came into this world, not as someone of status and authority, but as a servant who ministered to those people society had excluded.  Jesus repeatedly taught that what matters most to God is what someone does, not what their title is.  Whether it was teaching the golden rule or telling the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had to charity, Jesus’ ministry centered around instilling the value of good works and sacrifice.  Inversely, those who only followed rules and sought status and honor He routinely called hypocrites.

This past Thursday’s Gospel from Matthew echoes a very similar message:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Notice how Jesus is saying that just accepting Him as the Savior is not enough.  You have to follow up with action what you proclaim in your words.  To put it in more modern terms (but now maybe ridiculously outdated), you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

When you hear and read this Gospel, meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary, The Visitation.  Think about Mary in this mystery, someone who recently learned that she was to be the mother to the Massiah.  What does she do?  Does she flaunt the fact that an angel visited her?  Does she go about looking for an elevated stature in the community?  No.  Instead, she travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth and helps her through her pregnancy although she herself was pregnant.  Mary’s initial action after the Annunciation was one of charity.

Also, consider the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary when you reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel.  Mary was assumed into Heaven and now acts as our intermediary to her son, Jesus Christ.  Even when bestowed the title Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery), she has never stopped actively guiding us through the minefield of life.  She protects us from evil, helps those who ask for her assistance, and has continually appeared to many delivering a message similar to John the Baptist in the Gospel — Jesus loves you and wants you close to him, but you must make the effort to love Him through good works, charity, and compassion.

What Rosary Prayer Teaches us About Initiative

This Sunday’s Gospel (10/30/16) comes from Luke:

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

What I find most interesting is how St. Luke makes specific mention of Zacchaeus’ short stature and how he climbed a tree to see Jesus.  He could have just as easily started this story with “Jesus encountered a tax collector named Zacchaeus.”  Why the inclusion of the tree climb?

Zacchaeus being called down from the tree. Fro...
Zacchaeus being called down from the tree. From book: The Life of Jesus of Nazareth. Eighty Pictures. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zacchaeus did not let his short height dissuade him from seeing Jesus.  Instead, he did whatever he could because seeing Jesus was important to him.  And because of his conviction and conversion, Jesus gives Zacchaeus the gift of salvation.  Zacchaeus’ introduction shows us that we all have our limitations and hardships in this life.  And yet, we must find a way to “see” Jesus in our lives despite life’s challenges and distractions.  When seen through this lens, Zacchaeus’ story sounds more like this popular teaching from Jesus:

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

Might as well add, “Climb and you will be seen.”

I think many times we let our situation dissuade us from truly embracing and practicing out faith.  I know I often fall into the thinking of, “well, I’m not a priest,” to justify times when I have not tried hard enough to further my relationship with Jesus.  It is so easy to blame work, health, family, or financial difficulties for not praying more often, not going to Mass, not receiving the sacraments, and not being charitable.  But as Zacchaeus’ story indicates, those are excuses and not very good ones at that.  We need to make our relationship with Jesus a priority and do whatever it takes to receive His grace.  Sometimes the road will be easy but other times we need to be like Zacchaeus and think outside the box.

Zacchaeus’ story ties nicely with the Third Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Nativity.  The shepherds in the fields dropped what they were doing to go praise the newborn savior.  I previously wrote about how risky it was for shepherds to leave their flock.  But they understood the importance of seeing Jesus much like Zacchaeus.  They did not allow doubt or concern over their jobs dissuade them from encountering Christ.

English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Me...
English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. Español: Portal de Belén en la Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires Français : Crèche de Noël dans la Cathédrale métropolitaine de Buenos-Aires (Argentine) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we pray and meditate on the Third Joyful rosary mystery, let us ask God for strength and maybe even a little knowledge to break out of our routines and doubts so that we can truly encounter Jesus.  He’s there; always waiting for us and will welcome us into communion with Him.  But maybe we just need to get over our worries and maybe put a little more effort to go to Him.

What Rosary Prayer Teaches us about the Redemptive Power of Charity

Sunday’s Gospel is a long one from Luke 16:1-13:

Jesus said to his disciples,
“A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that,
when I am removed from the stewardship,
they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one.
To the first he said,
‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’
The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note;
write one for eighty.’
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
“For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,
who will trust you with true wealth?
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is yours?
No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

I always found this parable of the disgraced steward confusing.  I could not wrap my brain around how lowering the amount each debtor owed the steward’s master would bring praise and not further disdain.  I always thought the master would be more upset that his steward was essentially letting debtors off the hook for no good reason and hence, cutting into his master’s wealth.

Maybe the debtors all read this book?
Maybe the debtors all read this book?

I then read commentary that made this parable all make sense.  What if the steward had been overcharging the debtors and pocketing the difference for himself?  For example, suppose the debtor who supposedly owed 100 measures of olive oil really only owed 50.  When the steward reduced the debt he actually cut out the inflated portion he was keeping for himself.  By cutting out his underserved share of the debt he was no longer serving his selfish wants, but the true business of his master.  And now Jesus’ warning at the end of the Gospel makes a lot more sense.  At first, the steward served only mammon (money).  But he then gives that up to serve the will of his master who represents God in the parable.

When I think about this Gospel passage, my mind keeps coming back to the Fifth Joyful MysteryThe Finding of Jesus in the Temple.  I think about how Mary and Joseph had to search for Jesus for three long days in sorrow before eventually finding him.  I liken that to the redemptive suffering many must undertake to reform their wayward and sinful ways and align with God’s Will.  The steward in the Gospel was also faced with a painful situation — being dismissed from his position with few options to earn a living.  He also had to undergo a form of redemptive suffering by letting go of the money he was keeping for himself.  But in doing so, he redeemed himself in the eyes of his master.

“Do you have any idea what you put us through?!!!”

When we pray the Fifth Joyful Mystery, maybe we should be mindful of our attachment to our earthly possessions.  Do we need to undergo a form of redemptive suffering by parting with our money and giving it to the less fortunate?  Do we have faith that in giving more to the poor we actually receive something much greater — God grace?  The steward didn’t know that his master would look favorably upon his actions.  Mary and Joseph did not know if they would find Jesus.  But we have an advantage in this aspect because we know how God will look at us when we give to the poor instead of holding it for ourselves.  Jesus tells us repeatedly in the Gospel how we will be rewarded in Heaven.  The question for you is, do you have the faith to believe in that promise?

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?

Waiting for the Treasure: How the Rosary Teaches Patience

I really wish I had the time to write a rosary reflection every day based on that day’s Gospel passage.  But given that I’m only one person with a family and full-time job, I guess that will just need to wait another 30 years for my retirement.  But I’ll consider myself successful if I can tie at least one Gospel to the rosary each week.

Let’s look at the Gospel from 7/27/16:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

The theology 101 analysis of this reading is straight forward.  Think of the treasure as God’s grace or Heaven.  Those who understand its value will be willing to give away all their earthly possessions to possess it.  Taking their chances that they will have enough money to buy the field or that the field is still available is comparable to our faith in the joys that await us in Heaven.  We do not have any observable proof of the greatness of Heaven, but our faith tells us that it is something worth forsaking all our worldly comforts to obtain.

The phrase that popped out at me was the person selling all that he has to buy the field containing the treasure.  Why didn’t this person just pocket the treasure and go on his merry way?  That way, he would not have to go through the trouble of selling his possessions and buying the field which would cut into his overall profit from the treasure.  Even when he does go through the effort of buying the field, does it seem dishonest to withhold from the owner that there is something of extreme value on his land?

Going through the exercise of selling what you have and buying the land demonstrates that effort is needed on your part to obtain what is valuable.  Just taking the treasure without working for it implies a sense of entitlement; that God owes us his love.  Or, it leads us to believe we are entitled to the glory of Heaven now, in this life.  But Jesus tells us no, you have to be patient and work on your relationship with God and your reward will be found in Heaven.  That treasure must remain buried in this life because we do not yet have the right or the ability to fully possess it.

Saint Matthew’s gospel reading reminds me of the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary — The Presentation in the Temple.  I think about Saint Simeon who met the infant Jesus after what I assume was years of waiting.  Although God promised Saint Simeon a great gift of seeing the Savior before dying, it was still something he could not possess immediately and had to show patience.  He knew God was going to fulfill that promise and he could have done anything with his life.  But the fact that Saint Simeon was in the temple on the day of Jesus’ presentation implies that he was probably a regular worshiper and spend a lot of time in prayer.

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now connect the dots between Saint Simeon in the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary and Matthew’s gospel.  While we have the promise of God’s grace, we have to put ourselves in the right frame of mind and spirit to fully receive it.  I imagine that Saint Simeon wanted to accept God’s gift in the fullest manner possible and worked hard living righteously.  Otherwise, I could envision him having regrets if he was to receive Jesus in an unworthy state.  The same goes for us receiving the treasure that God freely offers us — the ability to spend eternity with him in Heaven.

Are we putting in the effort to fully receive that gift by living a spiritual and righteous life and avoiding sin?  Or do we pass up that treasure in the field because we are still uncertain it’s worth the effort to obtain it?  Or do we feel bitter and resentful because we cannot have it now?  The next time you pray the rosary and meditate on the Gospel, ask God for the patience and perseverance to live for his Kingdom and the understanding that it is not something we can fully grasp in this life.

Gone Fishing

Another Divine Mercy Sunday, another empty church. I am always disheartened to see so many empty pews after the standing room only Easter Mass. Where did everyone go? So much for Easter transforming hearts and minds right?

Seeing all those empty pews reminds me of this reading from John’s Gospel.  One of the first things Peter did after Christ’s death was go fishing. In the Gospel, he says it almost casually — “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). After the drama that he had just encountered, Peter was looking to return to something comfortable and familiar. It’s almost like he was thinking that being one of Jesus’s apostles was great, but that was now something in his past.  Maybe he saw it like we see our teenage or college years — a phase that we grew out of. Peter was picking up his life where he left off before meeting Jesus — as a fisherman.

Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the...
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t we all have a bit of Peter in our hearts? We fasted and sacrificed during Lent and celebrated on Easter Sunday. For 40+ days our hearts were focus on making room for Christ. And then what do we do? Go to work the next day and do the same things we’ve always done as if Easter was just another day on the calendar. Do you even recall what the priest said in his Easter homily? Do you feel fundamentally changed? Probably not. But you seem to be in good company since it seems that many of the apostles initially treated their time with Jesus like it was a passing fad. It had its moments and even some promise, but now it was time to get back to reality.

When I find myself sliding back into routine, I meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple.  I recall how the Holy Spirit promised St. Simeon that he would not die until seeing the chosen one.  Imagine how surprised, joyful, and maybe even a little scared Simeon must have felt upon hearing this news.  Maybe we felt a similar passion and joy towards our faith on Easter Sunday.  Now imagine how many years Simeon must have waited for that promise to be fulfilled.  The Bible doesn’t give an exact count, but all depictions of Simeon show him as an elderly man.  Who would have blamed him if he started to doubt that promise and believed his time would be better spent on something other than his faith?  But did he lose hope or did he let any doubt affect his faith in God’s plan for him?

Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast
Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like St. Simeon, remaining devout to the end of his life, so too must we be devout in our faith long after the immediate joy and glory of Easter fades.  Many times our faith feels challenging like Christ’s last human days on Good Friday and not the celebration of Easter.  But we pray the rosary and focus on imitating those who remained steadfast even in the absence of signs, wonders, and even joy.  We remember St. Mother Teresa who fought a seemingly hopeless battle of helping the poor.  Or we draw inspiration from the martyrs who died without seemingly changing anyone’s heart towards Jesus Christ.  When we pray the rosary, we pray for the faith and hope that Jesus hears our prayers and does answer them even when it seems like we are wasting our time.

Peter may have thought that his time as Jesus’ apostle was in vain.  He may have thought that he would just return to being a fisherman instead of the fisher of men that Jesus promised.  But of course we know that God had a grander plan for St. Peter than just being Jesus’ apostle in Jesus’ earthly life.  And so we pray that we also have the faith, courage, and fortitude to understand that God has a grander plan for all of us even when it seems like our prayers go unheard.

God Must Come First!

Love
Love (Photo credits: PB Teen)

What’s more important, serving God or serving each other?   points out in his article on The Remnant that over the last few decades the Church’s focus has shifted from loving God first to primarily loving our fellow brothers and sisters.  It’s not that we have to choose one or the other.  We are called to do both.  But it is a matter of priority and focus.  If you accept the premise that Catholic Church has shifted its priorities in the last few generations, ask yourself whether that has strengthened or weakened the Church.  Have we veered from what Jesus taught and what has made the Church strong over the centuries?  Patrick Archbold thinks so and believes much of the weakness of faith within the Church has to do with this shift.  I encourage you to read his article in full.  The focus of this article will be on the rosary (naturally).  Let’s look at what some of the rosary mysteries teach us about loving God vs. loving our fellow humans.

Look at the order of the first and second Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.  In the Annunciation, we see Mary putting God first by accepting his plan for her.  We then see in the Visitation Mary going out and helping her cousin Elizabeth.  Notice the order?  Okay, there is the fact that chronologically, the Annunciation did precede the Visitation.  But there is also a spiritual significance in the order as well.  When we pray the rosary we meditate first on the love of God as seen in the Annunciation and then the love for our fellow brothers and sisters as represented in the Visitation.  In putting our love for God first, we receive his grace and can therefore more fully serve each other just as Mary does in the Joyful Mysteries.

On to the First Sorrowful Mystery.  Jesus fears his upcoming arrest and crucifixion.  But he prays to God asking God to first find another way he could redeem the world but also submits to God’s Will.  Jesus shows his primary love for God by acknowledging God’s authority and humbly submitting to his plan.  Later, when he’s arrested, Jesus tells his apostles, who were ready to defend him, to stand down.  While Jesus loved his apostles and his apostles loved him, Jesus puts his life not in their hands, but into God’s hands.  Again, we see the model Jesus asks us to follow — serve according to God’s Will first.

Finally, take a look at the Third Luminous Mystery.  Jesus preaches that we should all convert our ways to God’s ways.  We are called to live first for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Note that Jesus did not tell us to solely live for the Kingdom of Heaven and forsake our responsibilities and others in this world.  But it is a matter of priority — desiring God’s kingdom must come first.  And from that desire, not only for ourselves but for others, we better help our fellow brothers and sisters to also come to live in God’s grace.

I will leave you with a quotation from the Council of Trent that Patrick Archbold cites in his article as I think it sums up nicely why the love of God needs to come before our love for our fellow humans.

“Moreover, no honor, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength. The love of our neighbor, on the contrary, has its limits, for the Lord commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To outstep these limits by loving our neighbor as we love God would be an enormous crime.” —Catechism of Trent, Part 3, Chapter 5, Question 5

Praying for Those Who Hate the Prayerful

God Isn’t Fixing This! (Article title from the New York Daily News)
I do not want to hear one more politician say that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims and their family.  For the love of God. Do Something (Facebook post from The Coffee Party USA)
“Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again” (Tweet from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.)

We witnessed something new in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack and that is an attack on people who resort to prayer. It is an almost knee jerk reaction that many people have to offer “thoughts and prayers” in the face of tragedy. Whether it was the terrorist attacks in Paris, Fort Hood, World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, tragedy seems to bring out people’s deep rooted, and often suppressed, spiritual side. And for as long as I can remember, offering your thoughts and prayers was as natural and inoffensive as saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes.

But with the San Bernardino attack, I saw the automatic “thoughts and prayers” sentiment immediately shamed by both the media and politicians.  I find it amazing that changing your Facebook profile picture to the Eiffel Tower or the French flag or liking posts is seen as supportive but don’t you dare pray for the victims! As if that wasn’t shocking enough, I was also surprised how quickly that movement got started. To me, it felt like people already had their talking points ready to go and just needed a catalyst to roll it out. Like they say in politics, “never let a crisis go to waste.” And in this case, the San Bernardino tragedy seemed to provide the right setting to attack the idea of finding comfort through faith and spirituality.

When you look at the overall theme of these attacks, they do fall apart and make little sense with even minimal scrutiny. The premise is that we can’t stand around praying but we need to act. The assumption is that prayer and action are mutually exclusive and we aren’t capable of doing both. I have repeatedly said, especially in my meditations on the Second Joyful Mystery, how prayer is not always an end in itself.  Rather, it puts us in the state of mind and heart to more readily receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit to act in a way in accordance with God’s plan for us.  In this light, prayer and action actually go hand in hand.  We pray before we act so that we can act justly.

When you see the link between prayer and action I think it becomes clearer why the media and politicians want to shame those who turn to prayer in the face of tragedy.  If you are trying to push through an agenda the last thing you want to do is have people stop and meditate on it.  By saying that we need immediate action with no time for serious contemplation, politicians are actually saying, “Don’t think about it.  Don’t debate it.  Let’s just get this 1000 page bill signed into law.”  And then the politicians (and the special interests they are beholden to) can celebrate how they alone did something to address the problem without the help from that rule-laden man in the clouds.

“Sorry God, I issued an executive order overriding you”

Let’s suppose we could remove the link between prayer and right action.  Is there still value in praying in the wake of tragedy?  You bet!  Prayers open a dialog with God and makes you more open to his grace and comfort.  It doesn’t change what happened but it can provide an understanding deep in your heart (even if it’s one your mind can’t comprehend).  Think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary).  His prayers did not stop the authorities from arresting and ultimately crucifying him.  But it did put Jesus into a state of mind and heart to endure the upcoming hardship.  And so when we are faced with tragedy, prayer can help us cope with the overwhelming sorrow.  And let’s also remember that tragedy usually involves the loss of life.  The recently departed need prayers too both for God’s mercy and to decrease their time in Purgatory.

It’s time to double down.  If you see someone mocking prayer, that should be your call to action.  You don’t have to engage them on social media since their little soundbite quip requires a larger response and dialog than what social media usually affords.  Instead, think of their comment as a cry for help.  Those who mock prayer are the ones who need it most.  Give them what they need.

5 Ways the Rosary Prepares Your Soul During Advent

It’s that time of year again.  My house is all lit up like a homing beacon for lost aircraft, my browser history is 99% Amazon.com, and Santa is watching my boys’ every move.  It’s Christmas time!  But it is also New Years.  I’m not talking about January 1st.  I’m talking about a new liturgical year that kicked off with Advent this past Sunday.  It’s a time to not only prepare your traditional Christmas cookies, but also time to prepare a place in your heart and mind for Jesus.  Let’s look at the five Joyful Mysteries of the rosary for ideas on how you can supersize your Advent.

#1. In the Annunciation, Mary accepts God’s plan for her.  She said, maybe still afraid and confused, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  This Advent, meditate on what God is asking of you.  You never know what God may ask of you or when.  Advent is a great time to prepare a spot for Jesus Christ in your heart so that you’ll be able to show the same courage Mary showed when God comes knocking on your door.

#2. In the Visitation, Mary exercises God’s grace by helping her older cousin Elizabeth in her pregnancy.  Advent is a time when we can prepare ourselves to best receive God’s grace through good works of kindness and charity.  Remember that in helping others, we are recognizing Jesus in our brothers and sisters.  When we comfort those less fortunate, we are comforting Jesus.  In this season of preparation, make room for Jesus in this world and provide him the comfort, respect, and honor he deserves by providing others comfort, respect, and honor.

Second Advent Week
Second Advent Week (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

#3. In the Nativity, we see shepherds leaving their posts to give homage to the baby Jesus.  Later, the wise men traveled far to honor him.  Both these stories show that people were willing to drop everything and go through some hardship to see Jesus.  In Advent, consider adding a few spiritual challenges like making sacrifices and fasting, receiving the sacraments especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and trying to attend extra Masses.  The Christmas season is a fun time, but remember that is is also a spiritual time.  Imagine how much more joyous Christmas will be if you not only prepared your house and completed your shopping list, but also kept a space for Jesus in your heart and mind by making small sacrifices for him.

#4. In the Presentation in the Temple, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph become one family in the eyes of God.  This mimics how we have a physical birth but also a spiritual one through the Sacrament of Baptism.  Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, but the Holy Family was unified under God in the Presentation of Jesus.  Advent is a good time to prepare a place in your heart for your family.  I know many of us have strained relationships with our families, either immediate or extended.  Maybe a family member has hurt you or you have hurt them.  Make Advent a time for family unity and peace.  Pray and meditate on how to best tear down any walls that separate you from your family.  Not only will it bring peace to your soul, but it will make Christmas dinner so much less awkward.

#5. In the Finding of Jesus of the Temple, Mary and Joseph traveled for many days just assuming Jesus was with them we he really was not.  This reminds me of the modern mindset that assumes we are close to Jesus no matter what we do.  In preparing for Christmas this Advent, stop assuming and start examining.  How central is Jesus in your life?  Have you done anything that has moved you away from God’s grace that requires the healing power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  Even if you don’t have any mortal sins on your conscience, ask yourself what you have done to honor Jesus.  Advent is the start of a new liturgical year.  So like a New Year’s resolution, Advent is a time to analyze where you are in your faith and make a spiritual resolution to improve it.

Need a little more help getting into the right spiritual mood this Advent?  Try downloading my free rosary guide.  Or purchase my rosary meditations book on Amazon.com.  Heck, maybe all you need is a little coffee to wake you up.  I have you covered.