Activating the Holy Spirit

The Benefits of Credit

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

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

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

Fruits of the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

Excited Evangelism

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

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

Yes! We should be this excited about our faith.

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

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

Owning Lent

I’m always telling my kids that they need to show responsibility and ownership or someone else will. For example, owning their toys and games means not breaking them, putting them away, and not losing pieces. If they don’t take responsibility for keeping them functional, they will get lost or break. Or I may accidentally throw out a random, loose piece or someone will step on and break something carelessly left on the floor. The lesson being taught is that one way or another, something is going to happen to those toys and games. It’s better to be the one in control rather than leave it up to others.

Similarly to responsible ownership of things, we also have to own our faith. What I mean by that is that we need to actively manage or participate in it. But it’s something we often fail at. We sort of float through life, going to Mass on Sundays and saying a few prayers but not much else. When we go to Mass, we go into autopilot with the responses and listen to the priest the same way we listen to someone giving a lecture or presentation. We’re there physically but absent spiritually. And many times, we don’t go out of our way to attend Adoration or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Basically, we don’t give our faith a lot of thought.

Don’t be a Simon

We are often like Simon of Cyrene. He was forced into helping Jesus carry the cross. I like to think of him as someone who was there because he was curious about what was going on. He wanted to see who Jesus was and what was this big deal about him. I think he had no other plan than to passively watch the day’s events unfold. And the next thing he knew, the soldiers picked him out of the crowd and made him shoulder the weight of the cross. That was probably something unexpected and unwelcome.

Jesus said that we all must carry our crosses. But we have a choice. We can either choose our crosses or someone else will thrust one on us. In this season of Lent, we have many “crosses” to choose from. We can fast, abstain, and increase our prayers and charity. But the key is to actively invest in these practices to more fully embrace our faith and increase our love for Jesus. Otherwise, we become like Simon where hardships are thrust upon us.

In not embracing the faith, we may avoid the relatively minor crosses of Mass, prayer, fasting, etc. But we give up so much more. We lose the joy that comes from celebrations like Easter and Christmas and even Sunday Mass. Without the lows of fasting and the highs of celebration, we live in a flat desert of spirituality. We don’t feel connected to God or protected by Him. We are left to our own devices to face our often harsh world and the snares of the devil.

Active Faith in the Rosary

Compare Simon to Mary in the Second Joyful Mystery. She made a conscious decision to travel while pregnant and help her cousin Elizabeth. She wasn’t passive after the Annunciation but actively decided to serve others. It was probably an uncomfortable journey and a lot of hard work. But it was an active choice. It was a “cross” Mary wanted to carry.

Don’t let this Lent pass by. Own it. There’s still time to make a plan on how you want to make this time different and special. If you don’t already pray the Rosary daily, resolve to do it for the remainder of Lent. Make a plan to read Scripture daily, or fast, or visit a church and sit silently in prayer. Don’t be a Simon and think you can just observe Jesus at a distance. Be like Mary and the saints and actively embrace him.

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,
“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.

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent | USCCB

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: Counsel

Spiderman has a superpower called “spidey sense.” He can sense danger before any of his physical senses detect anything. This allows him to quickly move out of harm’s way and he looks like he can move at supernatural speeds. This power is akin to a Star Wars Jedi having lightning-quick reflexes because they can use the Force to see things moments before they happen.

The Holy Spirit gives us a spiritual superpower through the gift of Counsel. Counsel allows us to judge rightly what to do in a particular circumstance. It’s our spiritual “spidey sense” that tells us if something seems right or wrong morally. Counsel truly is a supernatural gift because we can sense right and wrong at a young age before we can explain them. For example, most of us haven’t read or memorized every law in the Catechism. And yet, we know what is good and what is evil without this academic knowledge. That’s the gift of counsel working in our lives.

God imprints a natural law onto everyone’s heart. Natural law is our ability to intrinsically deduce morally correct behavior. And while we all may have the natural law imprinted on us, the gift of counsel amplifies it. It takes a sense that we all have and makes some of us more aware of the moral dangers around us. And when we are more aware of them, we can use the gift of wisdom to act correctly.

Counsel in the Rosary

When you pray the First Luminous Mystery, Jesus’ Baptism, remember to pray for all of those who are born again in Christ but maybe need to be reminded of what it means to be Christian. Their awareness of natural law may be diminished. We need to pray that they receive the gift of counsel. Or maybe, God is calling us to evangelize more to our brothers and sisters that may have fallen away from their faith.

Likewise, praying the First Luminous Mystery is a good time to also pray for all our brothers and sisters who have not been baptized. God has imprinted His natural law in their hearts as well. They too could use the help of the Holy Spirit in the gift of counsel. After all, when more people, regardless of religion, have a better sense of right and wrong, we all benefit. We can all live in a world that is more peaceful with people who are more pleasant to be around.

Remember the gift of counsel when you meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation. Remember how counsel is an almost supernatural ability? Think about how Elizabeth, without being told, knew that Mary carried Jesus, the Savior, in her womb. All she did was hear Mary’s voice and she “was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:42). Counsel not only gives us the ability to sense what is wrong but also heightens our ability to feel God’s presence in our lives and respond joyfully.

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the gift of counsel. It will help you move to follow God’s Will on a more instinctual level; almost automatically. We already have so much to remember and worry about in our lives regarding work, family, health, finances, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if following God was something we did more naturally? Wouldn’t it be great if instead of wondering, “Is this the right thing to do?”, we knew it is the right thing to do. That’s what the Holy Spirit gives us through counsel.

The Tragedy of Having Too Much Stuff

I was listening to the soundtrack to the movie, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, the other day. It isn’t a great movie although it has a terrific score. It’s a telling of the story of Christopher Columbus and his discovery of North America. But I’m not reviewing that movie in this article. Instead, there’s a scene from the movie that I want to explore on how it relates to Jesus’ teachings and the Rosary.

Towards the end of the movie, after the Spaniards established a colony on an island in the Bahamas, a massive tropical storm hits and destroys nearly everything the settlers had built. Their grand church, houses, and other structures lay in ruins. Meanwhile, the natives, having been through such storms in the past, didn’t lose much given the simple structures that they could easily rebuild.

This scene demonstrates that the more stuff we surround ourselves with, the harder it becomes to part with it. The storm was a tragedy for Columbus and the settlers because they had invested so much time, energy, and other resources to bring the comforts they were used to into the new world. But the natives didn’t feel a huge sense of loss because they didn’t have a huge worldly investment for the storm to wipe away.

The Gospels are full of accounts of Jesus warning against the acquisition of worldly goods. He tells the rich man to give all that he has and follow Him (Matthew 19:16-24). He talks about the man who builds bigger barns to store his crops only to die the next day (Luke 12:13-21). Whether it’s the movie 1492 or the Gospel, the message is clear. The more stuff you acquire, the more attached you are to this world and the harder it will be to detach yourself from it. Eventually, it’s not you who owns stuff. Rather, more stuff masters over you. And with all that stuff in your life comes the worries of losing it or the pursuit to acquire more. Where is there room for God’s grace?

Now it’s not like I live a Spartan existence. Like many modern households, I surround myself with television, computers, smartphones, and other things. But I try my best to remember that they are just things. I try to keep the perspective that my life will actually be just as happy and fulfilling if those things went away (and maybe even happier). When I pray, I ask God for the strength to not let my possessions own me. That’s easier said than done, but that’s where daily Rosary prayer comes in.

When I think of detachment from worldly goods, I pray the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion. I remember that Jesus taught us that we should store Heavenly goods, not worldly ones. All the wealth and possessions in the world mean nothing if you don’t leave room for God’s grace. When I do find myself focusing too much on “stuff” I ask God to help convert that worldly focus to a Heavenly one.

Let’s face it, our pursuit of possessions is a form of greed, one of the seven deadly sins. The opposing virtue is charity. When I pray the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation, I think about Mary’s charitable act of helping her cousin, Elizabeth, in her pregnancy although she was pregnant as well. She made the effort to think beyond her needs and desires to help someone else. When we meditate on this Rosary mystery, let’s think about how we can be more charitable in our lives, not only with monetary donations but also with our time and talents. We ask Mary to help us counter our greedy vices with charitable virtues.

Rosary Meditations with Mary’s Magnificat

A Marion prayer that I often overlook in my daily prayer routine is Mary’s Magnificat. It contains Mary’s words when she visited her cousin Elizabeth in the Visitation which we meditate on in the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. The text is as follows.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on his humble servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed,

the Almighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear Him

in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,

he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

and has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel

for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

the promise he made to our fathers,

to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.

Amen

On Catholic Exchange, this article discusses how the Magnificat is another great Marion prayer to meditate on especially since it focuses on praise and thanksgiving for all God provides us. Not only does the prayer’s text itself come from an event recalled whenever we pray the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, but many of the themes in the Magnificat are reflected in other mysteries as well. Let’s take a look at a few.

When I pray the Third Joyful Mystery, The Nativity, I often meditate on how the shepherds in the field came to Jesus after angels announced His birth. I think about how they took time off from their work to rejoice. And this is Mary’s tone in the Magnificat; one of joy and thanksgiving. She talks about how God has done great things for her and how she’s blessed.

nativity scene

Do we take time out of our day to thank God for all He has done for us? Or are we only focused on life’s challenges asking God to make things easier? Do we think about how Mary’s life, as blessed as it was, wasn’t easy? And yet she still rejoiced in what God gave her. And did the shepherds ignore the angels’ announcement of Jesus’ birth? No, they went and rejoiced at Jesus’ manger. Do we take time out of our day to rejoice in what God has provided us, both the big and the small?

The middle portion of the Magnificat reads like the Beatitudes. Mary proclaims how the proud will be “scattered” and the humble “lifted up.” In essence, those humbly living for God’s kingdom will be the ones who will eventually find happiness in Heaven. And that is a core theme of the Third Luminous Mystery, The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus proclaims the greatness of His Father’s kingdom and asks us all to convert from our prideful, earthly ways to heavenly ones.

It takes humility and faith to accept something we cannot experience with our physical senses. In fact, God asks us to do more than just accept His will. We must fully embrace it with a sense of joy. Mary wasn’t tepid in her response to God’s calling and neither should we. We may not know the details of what God has in store for us, but we do know that His plan ends with us joining Him forever in Heaven. And that knowledge alone should be more than enough to make us excited over embracing our faith to the fullest.

The Catholic Exchange article ends with talking about the difference between happiness and joy. The Magnificat is a prayer of joy. Mary didn’t say she was happy, she said she was joyful. She must have known that her life wasn’t going to be easy after accepting God’s calling and it wasn’t always going to be happy. She did experience periods of great sadness such as witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion and death which we meditate on in the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery.

We too will experience challenges and unhappiness; some more than others. But that doesn’t mean we can’t live joyfully knowing that God has made a place for us in Heaven. We can live joyfully by seeing all the blessings He has provided us that we may otherwise overlook in our daily lives.

I encourage you to pray the Magnificat daily, either before or after the Rosary. I think it will help flip the mentality that many of us have which is focusing mostly on our hardships and asking God to help us. The Magnificat will provide balance because we’ll also see all that God does provide and blesses us with daily. There’s a saying in the classic 80’s movie, Ferris Bueler’s Day Off. Ferris says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I think the Magnificat conveys something similar — “life moves fast and if you don’t slow down and appreciate God’s blessings, you could miss them.”

Conquering Envy Through the Rosary

Let’s talk about sin, specifically, the seven deadly sins (also known as cardinal or capital sins).  Theologians in the early Church devised a list of sins that form the foundation for other sins.  Think of it like the taxonomy, or classification, of sinful behavior.  By reducing sin to a small list, teaching about sin and virtue became easier in the early Church because priests could teach people simple “do this, avoid that” style rules.  The seven deadly sins as we know them today were formalized by Pope Gregory I in 590 AD and later expounded by Saint Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica.  For those of you who never saw the movie Se7en, the seven deadly sins are:
  • gluttony
  • lust
  • greed
  • pride
  • sloth
  • wrath
  • envy
This article is going to focus on envy.  In the age of social media and instant communication with others, it’s so easy to suffer from envy.  We see people’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts about their fantastic vacations, cute families, crazy parties, and glamorous lives and it’s difficult to not feel envious.  We fixate on the nice car our neighbor bought or the slightly larger TV that is in his living room.  Unless you live in a completely isolated environment, it’s difficult not to see the blessings others have around you and not feel just a bit envious.

The Scriptural Connection

Of course, envy isn’t anything new.  In fact, envy plays a prominent role in the first book of the Bible when Cain killed his brother Abel.  Cain envied his brother because God favored Abel’s offering over his.  What I find interesting is God’s response to Cain’s anger: “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance (mood) fallen? 7 “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The Bible doesn’t say how much effort Cain put into his offering to God.  Maybe he held something back and didn’t put forth his best crops for God but kept them to himself.  Maybe Cain was lazy which lead to a small harvest.  God basically challenges Cain to do better and work harder.  But instead of accepting the challenge, Cain fixated on his brother’s good fortune to the point of murdering him. That is why envy, when not addressed, is such a deadly sin.  It can grow and spread like cancer.  It then cuts us off from others because all we see in others are our own desires.  We don’t see others as our fellow brothers and sisters but more like a store’s windows displaying what we want but cannot have.  It reduces people to the summation of their possessions.  Many of the deadly sins are interconnected since we can see envy being related with pride (everything centered around what I want), greed (always wanting more), and wrath (hatred because you have what I want).

The Rosary Connection

Father Ed Broom wrote an article on Catholic Exchange about what we can do to combat envy.  It’s worth a read.  But of course, the Rosary also teaches us about envy and how to fight it.  Let’s look at the Second Luminous Mystery — the Miracle at the Wedding at Cana.  What does that have to do with envy?  Let’s consider God’s miracles and blessings.  When others receive them, are you happy for them or do you envy them?  For me, one person’s unexpected blessings can bring about feelings of envy and resentment.  I ask why other people have all the good fortune.  Or, why has God saddled me with more hardship than someone else? Of course, feeling envious is the wrong way to look at God’s blessings and miracles.  To start, someone receiving a miracle or blessing doesn’t take any blessings away from you.  God’s grace is not a zero-sum game where someone receiving grace deprives someone else of his.  God has infinite power and hence, can dole out infinite grace.  When others encounter miracles, Father Broom says we should thank God for all the blessings and miracles He performs in our lives.  Yes, we may not have the cushy job, a huge bank account, a nice car, or a great phone.  But we are alive and able to praise God by living the day as virtuously as possible.  God gives us the miracle of a new day of infinite possibility.  Don’t squander it by being envious of others. Let’s also look at the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation.  Each Rosary mystery has an associated “fruit.”  You can think of fruits like the lesson taught in each mystery.  For the Visitation, the fruit is “Love thy Neighbor.”  Of course, loving your neighbor is the opposite of envying or being jealous of your neighbor.  Father Broom states that praying for those whom you envy will help fight that envy.  It does this by taking that sinful fixation and transforming it to a healthy one.  Your focus is on asking God to help you instead of being jealous of others.  Fighting envy difficult, but so was traveling to Elizabeth’s home for Mary.  She did it out of her love for her cousin.  We too must take up that difficult challenge of fighting envy with love, prayer, and kindness (which is one of the seven heavenly virtues that combats envy).

Humane Vitae and the Value of Self-Discipline

If you’ve done any type of sports or exercise, you probably know the term no pain, no gain.  All athletes must push themselves hard to obtain victory.  Muscles only grow when they are challenged.  Your heart needs a little bit of stress from cardiovascular activity to function its best.  It’s just the way our bodies are designed to function — you need to periodically exert yourself to stay healthy.

Much like how we have to exercise our muscles, we also have to exercise our souls.  Here’s another slogan you’ve probably heard — use it or lose it.  But what does it mean to exercise and use your soul?  Using your soul means feeding yourself with grace by practicing virtue.  Is that easy?  No, of course not.  But much like how our bodies are designed to function best by stressing it a bit with exercise, our souls are at their best when we challenge ourselves by practicing virtues and avoiding temptations.  Sounds hard right?  The good news is that we’re not alone in this challenge.

No pain, no gain!

The Catholic Church is a great spiritual fitness instructor.  She has challenged people to work harder at developing their spiritual muscles.  We may often want to quit when life gets challenging and temptations mount.  But the Church is like that coach telling you, “you can do this!”  Or, “just one more set!”  The Church has never allowed people to cheat and take an easy way out of a difficult situation if doing so ultimately harms their spiritual state.  There’s no, “you’ve gone to enough Masses” or “sure, commit a little sin; you’ve earned it.”  The Church sets a high bar for our spiritual health understanding that it will be challenging.  But it doesn’t veer away from teaching what is right just because many people find that path difficult and fail to live up to God’s expectations.  The Church knows that it’s within everyone’s ability to lead a spiritually healthy lifestyle.  You just have to make the effort.

Humanae Vitae

This Church’s mindset of uncompromising spiritual living is seen in the 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which we celebrated its 50th anniversary this past July.  Many people, when they hear about Humanae Vitae, they immediately think, “Oh, that’s that document that is against artificial contraception.”  But that’s like saying football is that sport where everyone just lines up and falls down.  Sure, the Church’s position against artificial contraception is a core teaching of that document.  But there’s so much more to it.

Humanae Vitae puts a challenge before all of us.  It asks us to put the needs of our soul first in our lives even when recent inventions and social conventions make it seem like we don’t have to.  Just because the birth control pill exists, abortion is legal in many countries, and pornography is readily available doesn’t make them good or healthy.  Humanae Vitae wants us to realize that a life of immediate gratification is not necessarily happier because we don’t grow spiritually in accordance with God’s design.  God’s design requires us to challenge ourselves to stay spiritually healthy.  Consider this excerpt from Humanae Vitae about self-discipline and how it leads to “spiritual blessings.”

Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop to their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings.

From Humanae Vitae, Section 21

The Rosary Connection

The whole Rosary is an exercise in practicing virtue and growing spiritually by challenging yourself.  It’s not an easy prayer.  It’s relatively long and repetitive.  It’s tiring to say it every day, especially when it’s done in a meditative manner.  But, the Rosary is a great prayer to tell God that you want to spend time with Him despite your access to various forms of entertainment.  We tell Mary that we’ll pray Her Rosary because we believe that it’s one of the best ways to build grace.

There are so many Rosary mysteries that center around the theme of self-discipline.  The one I’ll choose to mention is the Second Joyful Mystery, The Visitation.  You really have to give Mary credit for traveling and helping Her cousin Elizabeth when She was pregnant.  No one would have faulted Mary for cloistering Herself during Her pregnancy given Her circumstances.  But She knew that was not what God was calling Her to do.  And that is the core of many Church teachings — true happiness comes when we do God’s Will even when it is difficult or inconvenient.  That is how we grow and stay spiritually fit.

Mary visiting Her cousin Elizabeth

Mary had a choice — does She try to bend God’s Will around Her desires or challenge Herself to follow the path as God designed?  She’s our Heavenly Queen for a reason — She uncompromisingly chose to obey God’s Will in Her life.  How about you?  Are you growing spiritually by challenging yourself to follow God’s plan or are you feeding yourself spiritual junk food through sin and vice?

How the Rosary Helps Us Understand the Pope’s May Intentions

I had the privilege of attending a First Holy Communion Mass last weekend.  The Mass was great; all the children were in their fine attire and super excited, parents and family packed the church, and everyone went home to big parties.  I asked my relative who attends the parish how many of those families attend Mass regularly.  More specifically, how many of these families will be at Mass next Sunday.  He guessed about 20%.  I was saddened but not shocked when I heard that low number.

I would think that emphasizing the importance of regular Mass attendance would be a core tenant of preparation for one’s First Communion.  We can’t really blame the second graders for not coming to Mass every Sunday.  After all, they depend on their parents to take them to church.  The responsibility lies almost entirely on the parents to make sure their children attend Mass.  If parents do not attend Mass regularly they convey the message that Mass isn’t that important.  More broadly, they convey that practicing their faith isn’t all that important.  This message creates a cycle where the kids grow up thinking that Mass and receiving the Eucharist is something unimportant and optional which they will pass to the next generation of Catholics.

See the source image
Plenty of first communicants, not many second ones though.

With this scenario in mind, listen to Pope Francis’ intention for the month of May:  That the lay faithful may fulfill their specific mission, by responding with creativity to the challenges that face the world today.  The pope is asking all Catholics to actively live and promote the Catholic Faith.  Promoting the faith cannot fall solely on ordained priests and nuns.  They only make up a small fraction of the Catholic Church.  For the Church to remain thriving, it requires the active participation of the lay faithful who make up 99% of the Church.  Remember, Jesus didn’t select the Pharisees, scribes, and scholars to spread His message.  He chose fishermen and a tax collector as His apostles.  From the start, the foundation of the Church was the laity.

As the lay faithful, we of course need to set a good example.  We need to attend Mass and avoid sin.  And that’s a good start because that can help break the cycle of indifference.  But God wants more from us than just the bare minimum.  He doesn’t want His Church to just survive; He wants it to flourish!  God desires all of us to one day join Him in Heaven and so we need to be active promoters of the faith.  This doesn’t mean pestering and annoying people into conversion.  As the pope says in his May intention, we need to be creative in our approach.

The Rosary Connection

As you pray the Rosary in May (Mary’s month), remember the pope’s intention.  Think about how you can be a more active champion of the Catholic Faith and lead others to realize the peace that comes from God’s grace.  Here are how some of the mysteries relate to the pope’s call for greater laity involvement in the Church.

The Visitation (2nd Joyful Mystery) — This account immediately follows the Annunciation in the Bible.  Note that God did not direct Mary to go visit her cousin Elizabeth.  Mary went on her own accord to help someone who needed it.  This should remind us all that upon receiving God’s grace we should all be moved to use that grace in helping others in whatever creative way God calls us.

English: Statue of the Visitation in the Churc...
English: Statue of the Visitation in the Church of the Visitation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ascension (2nd Glorious Mystery) — This mystery is about Jesus’ final human appearance before going into Heaven.  He left behind dedicated disciples to carry on His mission.  Today’s lay faithful are descendants of those early disciples.  We have just as much of a responsibility for spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ as those disciples.  Ironically, we find ourselves in a similar world; one that does not know Jesus.  We need to be the ones showing others that our desire for true happiness only comes through Jesus, not by fulfilling all our worldly desires.

The Assumption (4th Glorious Mystery) — Mary is our guide who desires nothing more than for us to know Jesus’ love for us.  We can call on Her when we have a particularly difficult time living and spreading the faith.  Mary will help us and intercede for us if we ask.  God isn’t asking the lay faithful to spread His Word alone.  We can always rely on Mary to assist us.

I hope you have a joyful and glorious month of May.  Honor Mary by praying the Rosary and contemplating the pope’s intention.

How the Rosary Removes the “Beams” from our Eyes

The Gospel reading from this past Monday, June 26, 2017, was from Matthew 7:1-15 about the well-known analogy about judging others hypocritically.  This lesson could also be about not letting the actions of others blind you to your abilities of living God‘s will.  First, the actual text:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

By now we all know we shouldn’t judge others considering that we all have our own flaws. I think many of us understand Jesus’ teaching and work hard to avoid judging others.  Note, this does not mean we don’t care for others and help them become better people living in God’s grace.  But we must do so caringly knowing that we also must work out many of the same sins on our own souls.

Let’s take a different look at this passage. Perhaps Jesus was also instructing his disciples to understand the greater influence one’s personal actions can have over the actions of others. What if the “beam” is not someone’s faults, but rather the amount of influence we give others for our situation in life? We are, in a way, judging others according to their perceived effect on our lives.  And many times, we place that judgment in a disproportionate way. So many of us tend to look at others as the main source of frustration or disappointment in life, even when they have a minuscule amount of influence, while overlooking the much larger effects of our own actions.

Just look at how much time and energy we place on the influence of politicians, companies, media outlets, etc. Many of us consume news and show more concern over what President Trump tweeted than who needs help, attention, and kindness in our own family or circle of friends. We give politics so much attention even when the day-to-day soap opera of government has actually relatively little effect on our happiness.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t be involved in politics and not hold our government responsible for their actions.  But we need to find a balance and not tip towards government and news being EVERYTHING to us.  That diminishes our own ability to find peace and happiness in our lives.  It becomes our “beam” that prevents us from helping others.

How can you live happily if all you focus on is politics?

I think the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, The Visitation, communicates this idea of not letting others blind you to your ability to control your well being.  Mary had every reason to dwell on how others might perceive her pregnancy outside of marriage.  It could have consumed her to the point of inaction out of fear and embarrassment.  After all, things weren’t really going the way she had planned.  But instead of dwelling on the thoughts and actions of others, she went out and did God’s will which, at the time, was being with her cousin Elizabeth.  Mary was able to remove any “beams” in her eyes which would have prevented her from clearly seeing God’s plan for her and acting accordingly.

When we pray the rosary, let us ask God to clear our minds of the fear, hatred, and overall energy spent on the people and events that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of our lives.  We need to ask God to block out the noise that can distract us from doing His will (turning off the TV is a good place to start).  We should ask Mary through our rosary prayers for the strength to imitate her and remain focused on serving God instead of living in fear of the influence others have on our overall happiness.  When we take out the distractions which act as the “beams” in our eyes we can then see more clearly and help others better see how God is calling them to receive His grace.