Free Will and the Nature of Suffering

I’ve read many articles lately about suffering. It’s probably the cold, dark January weather that makes people dwell on the nature of suffering. Perhaps it’s the ending of Christmas celebrations that depress us a bit. Or maybe it’s that we’re going into year three of Covid craziness. Suffering is confusing. Why does suffering exist? Couldn’t God have created a universe where no one suffers?

I break down suffering into two broad categories. There’s the suffering brought about by nature often referred to as Acts of God. Think earthquakes, hurricanes, and typhoons. Or illnesses like cancer or Covid. Perhaps it’s more mental like depression or severe anxiety. I discussed this type of suffering in a previous article. We essentially attach ourselves so deeply to earthly comforts and the status quo that we suffer when something unexpected occurs.

Suffering By Our Actions

The second type of suffering is that brought about by decisions that either we or other people make. This type of suffering is essentially cause and effect such as:

  • Over eat = get sick
  • Don’t get enough sleep = feel tired
  • Get punched in the face = ouch!
  • Drive recklessly = crash
  • Insults and taunts = hurt feelings and sadness

Why did God give us free will knowing that such freedom would lead to self-inflicted suffering? Sometimes it feels like our lives would be better without so much freedom. How nice would it be if we couldn’t do anything that would hurt ourselves or others? But God didn’t do that. In His infinite wisdom, God made free will an essential part of His plan although He knew that it would lead to some suffering. He preferred a world with free will and some degree of suffering to one with no suffering and no free will at all. God’s perfect plan involves us to live in an imperfect world.

God desires us to be free above all else. He wants us to use that freedom and intellect to understand what is right and wrong. God set up the world so that we can see what is right and freely choose that course of action. God does not desire us to be slaves with no choice but to obey Him. Historically, it’s often the weak kings and leaders that resort to totalitarianism to keep people in line. But that is not what God desires. Good kings set up a kingdom where people will want to follow them. God, being King of the Universe, wants us to choose to honor and follow Him without coercion.

Unfortunately, we too often ignore what is good and use our free will to do the opposite. And that is where suffering creeps into our lives. We don’t follow our God-given intellect and commit sin. Suffering is the result of us choosing sin over following God.

Fortunately, our freedom swings both ways. We may choose to turn away from God but we can choose to return to Him, first through the Sacrament of Confession and then through the other sacraments. That is the beauty of free will — when we choose to honor God after choosing sin, He will always welcome us back. He doesn’t reject our choice to follow him nor does He hold a grudge.

Suffering in the Rosary

Let’s look at our 2022 featured Rosary mystery — The Crowning of Thorns. We have a choice to make every day — how will we honor God? Will we use our free will to make good decisions that bring us into closer communion with Him? Or will we dishonor Him through sin causing suffering? Jesus physically suffered when the Roman soldiers dishonored him by placing a crown of thorns on his head. We cause suffering when we dishonor Jesus by not seeing him in our brothers and sisters.

We need to choose our actions wisely. Much of the suffering in this world comes from peoples’ choices. With so much suffering at the hands of so many, it seems futile to think we can reduce it. I know I’ve said this story before, but when a fellow monk asked St. Francis what he could do to make the world more peaceful, St. Francis asked him to close the door softly. Basically, St. Francis was teaching that it’s the small choices and actions we make every day that affect our world. A world with less suffering starts with us choosing to honor God in all that we say and do.

Adam and Eve

Some of you astute Biblical scholars may ask what about the case of Adam and Eve? God designed a paradise for them. Wasn’t His design to have humans live with no suffering? I would argue that a world without suffering was the intent, not the design. For Adam and Eve to truly have free will, there would need to be a choice to make. Without choices, could one really claim to have free will? Furthermore, God created a world outside of the Garden of Eden; a world of hardship and toil. I think that God’s design included free will and consequences for not honoring His commandments as Adam and Eve unfortunately demonstrated. He didn’t desire Adam and Eve to suffer no more than he desires us to suffer. But like physics, our actions have reactions. Sin brings forth suffering. Virtue brings forth grace.

You had one commandment!

2022: The Year of the Third Sorrowful Mystery

I’m going to try something a little different with my Rosary prayers starting this year. In addition to my daily Rosary prayers, I’m going to dedicate this year to a single mystery. I’m going to pray that decade every day. Each year, I’ll change the dedicated mystery. That means I’ll have a different mystery to pray for the next 20 years! And who knows, maybe some future pope will introduce more extending my run.

I see dedicating a year to a particular Rosary mystery like how the Church dedicates years to a particular theme. For example, 2021 was the Year of Saint Joseph. As someone who loves the Rosary, I think each year should be dedicated to a particular mystery and thereby providing an opportunity to dive into deeper contemplation. Approaching a mystery every few days is great, but reliving the same mystery every day is even better.

The Third Sorrowful Mystery

This year, I’m choosing the Third Sorrowful Mystery, The Crowning of Thorns, as my dedicated Rosary mystery. I think it’s important to ask myself every day, “How will I honor Jesus in my words, thoughts, and actions?” The soldiers crowned Jesus with scorn, contempt, and mockery in this mystery. This is how they “honored” Jesus.

I think this year is a good time to reflect on what I say and do. Do I honor God and not mock Him or make light of His importance? How am I treating others? Am I seeing Jesus in everyone and treating others with dignity, respect, and tolerance? Or am I like the Roman soldiers and choose to honor people with scorn and contempt?

Seeing God in Others

Honoring Jesus by treating others in a Christ-like way is difficult because people are difficult. Often, we want to respond to people in a similar fashion to how they treat us. Yelling begets yelling back. Insults breed more insults. Anger spawns anger. The key to living the Third Sorrowful Mystery is to not respond in the manner we are being treated, but in the manner Jesus would respond. Watch this short clip and see how Jesus responded to people who hated him.

Is it easy to act in a Christ-like way? Of course not. And that is why I’m contemplating the Third Sorrowful Mystery every day in 2022. I’m going to ask myself where I succeeded in seeing Jesus in others and where I fell short. Did I repay hatred with more hatred in thoughts and actions? Or did I make an effort to understand why someone may have acted a certain way in a difficult situation and let go of any thoughts of rage or retribution?

I invite you to join me in this year of contemplation of the Third Sorrowful Mystery.

How to Have Joy in the End Times

Fear of Loss

In 1992, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus reaching the New World, the movie 1492: Conquest of Paradise was released. It wasn’t a great movie but there was a scene that stuck out in my memory as I was listening to Sunday’s readings at Mass. The Spaniards created a colony complete with buildings and a church made of stone and brick. It was quite modern and luxurious compared to the straw huts the natives lived in. But then a tropical storm hit wiping out all buildings and structures. It was devastating to the Spaniards who had devoted so much time and materials to their earthly paradise. The natives, having simple dwellings adapted for the environment, rebuilt their homes quickly and moved on with their lives.

This scene from Conquest of Paradise showed me the dangers of attachment to earthly luxuries. Inversely, it showed the freedom of living simply. Many of us spend so much of our lives accumulating things. Even if you’re not wealthy, you still have much to take care of — a dwelling, a car, clothes, phones, TV, etc. We also are concerned about our bank account balances, jobs, and bills. We live with the anxiety of losing these things and facing difficult times. Unfortunately, our media and politicians feed on this fear by promising they will provide security or that their opponents will take everything away.

End Times

In this past week’s readings, we catch a glimpse of the end times. These readings often conjure up images of darkness and suffering. And for many of us, it brings to mind the loss of our comfortable lives of readily available food and entertainment. Many of us can’t imagine a day when our phones don’t work, there’s no food at the market, and our hard-earned money disappears or is worthless. We fear that the lives we’ve spent a lifetime accumulating will disappear.

McDonald’s will survive but their sundae machine will still be broken

It is this human weakness towards earthly comfort that Jesus preached against. It’s what these end times readings address. To summarize, they revolve around the stripping away of all those earthly luxuries to live in the freedom Christ provides. The end of our worldly comfort doesn’t have to frighten us. Jesus tells us repeatedly in the Gospel that we will find greater treasure and comfort in Heaven than whatever the world can provide. He doesn’t want us to worry over the temporary loss of physical things because it will mean that the coming of something far greater is near.

The apostles at Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion exemplify our fear of loss. They probably enjoyed their status of being close to Jesus when he was the rock star. But they scattered when “things got real” upon his arrest. They didn’t want to give up their status of being close to Jesus the celebrity and have everything, including their lives, taken away. I think we can all relate — it’s easy to say you love God and have total faith in him when life is good. It’s much harder when life starts to fall apart.

The Rosary Connection

When you meditate on the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, the crucifixion, think about how Jesus gave up everything worldly to follow God’s will. Jesus is the Christ, and yet he suffered a terrible death because he understood that God’s kingdom and the salvation of humanity are infinitely greater and more substantive than anything physical. The only worldly things Jesus had left at the end of his life were the cross, a crown of thorns, and nails driven through his body. He asks the same of us when he tells us to take up our cross and follow him. He implies that we must give up what is worldly as he did.

Does giving up everything sound impossible? If it does, you’re in good company. It was initially impossible for the apostles too. They just weren’t spiritually mature to understand the greater glory of God’s kingdom. But when they did understand it, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, they gladly took the path that Jesus took — giving up everything worldly for God. The saints also took similar paths. And Jesus asks the same of us.

I’m definitely not there yet. I’m more like the apostles at Jesus’ crucifixion, not them after his resurrection. I can hardly go an hour without indulging in some luxury whether that be some screen time, coffee, or a snack. But it’s something that I do try to work towards through periodic fasting from food or screen time. I want to have that maturity to see the freedom and joy that comes from detaching from my “stuff.” It’s still a long road and I do stumble. But with God’s help, I do hope to have that outlook that Jesus asks all of us to have — total trust in God and living for His eternal kingdom of Heaven.

If You Want God, You Have to Put in the Effort

No Effort, No Goals

I coach youth soccer. My team is composed of 6 and 7-year-olds, many of whom this is their first time playing organized sports. Unfortunately, today’s kids don’t spend as much time playing sports as previous generations. The reason this is unfortunate is that they miss out on working hard towards something that is a little outside their comfort zone. The other day, my team didn’t score many goals in our game. However, they also seemed uninterested in playing that day. They sort of wandered around the field without that drive or that passion to play their best. They wanted to score goals and win but didn’t want to put forth the effort to make it a reality.

I think adults can often act the same way when it comes to their spirituality. We want to form a deep connection with God, but we don’t want to put in the work needed. We wonder why it feels like something is missing in our lives and why it seems so unfulfilling. Or we look at the terrible news and get depressed or frustrated with the state of the world. But at the same time, we don’t pray, don’t participate in Mass, or receive the Sacraments. We want God to do something, just as long as that “something” doesn’t require extra effort from us.

Effort Rewarded

Let’s look at two women who exemplify what it means to put in effort in serving God and ultimately being rewarded for that effort. It meant that their earthly lives would be upended. They would face ridicule, sorrow, and a lack of earthly freedoms. They had a choice — would they put their faith in God and make the adjustments and sacrifices necessary to find greater joy and happiness? Or would they choose the easier, worldly path?

The first woman who had a choice to make was Bernadette Soubirous, better known as Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. By all accounts, she was just a normal girl from a poor family in France. But she then had an encounter with the Virgin Mary who asked her to return to the grotto where she was appearing and eventually build a chapel there. Whatever plans Bernadette had for her life came to an end when she accepted Our Lady’s requests. She became the subject of ridicule and much scrutiny from church and government authorities. She later entered a convent and died from tuberculosis. Saint Bernadette led a challenging life but she never stopped making an effort to serve God by doing what our Mother Mary asked of her. Like other saints, she put in the effort to form a meaningful relationship with God because she understood the value of doing so.

Full-body relic of Bernadette Soubirous. The photograph was taken at the last exhumation (18 April 1925). The saint died 46 years before the photo was taken; the face and hands are covered with a wax coat.

Think about Mary in the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. On Catholic Exchange, Romano Guardini has this to say about Mary’s decision in the Annunciation:

The lesson of the angel’s message alone should suf­fice for every one of the faithful who reads it aright; it is not the announcement that the divine decree was to be consummated in her, but the question of whether she agreed that it be so. This instant was an abyss before which one’s head reels, because here stood Mary in her freedom facing the very first decision on which all of salvation depended. But what does it mean when the question “Will you help the Savior’s coming?” coincides with the other question, “Will you become a mother?”

Why We Linger on Mary in the Rosary (catholicexchange.com)

I don’t think Mary’s plans included becoming an unwed mother to God. And then after Jesus’ birth, her earthly life wasn’t any easier. It was a life of concern and sorrow that we meditate on when we pray the Seven Sorrows of Mary Rosary. But Mary was ultimately rewarded when she was crowned Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery). She knows the value of doing God’s Will better than any other human. As Queen of Heaven, she is willing to help all of us find that strength to make that effort as she did so that we all may live in the joy of Heaven.

Spirit Willing, Flesh is Weak

When God comes knocking at your door with His plan for you, are you going to reject Him because it is difficult? Has God ever not rewarded those who make the effort to follow Him? If we truly believe that God offers us something 1000x better than anything we could create on our own, why do we have such a hard time committing to Him?

Think about the apostles in the First Sorrowful Mystery. I think we can relate to them. Jesus asked them to stay awake and pray with him and instead they all fell asleep. These are the future leaders of the Catholic Church! And they knew Jesus was the Messiah and yet they still couldn’t muster the effort to pray with him or stand by him when he was arrested. They must have enjoyed being some of the chosen few to journey with Jesus when he was curing people and riling up Pharisees. But when things got tough, they couldn’t follow through. They wanted the honor of being apostles without making the sacrifices.

There’s Still Time

What about us? When God asks us for one hour a week to celebrate Mass, are we too tired or too busy? Do God’s requests interfere with a football, baseball, or soccer match? Are we like the apostles, wanting the benefits of being close to Jesus but lacking the will to do what he asks?

The good news is that there’s always time. The apostles may have shrunk away from Jesus’ calling in the Garden of Gethsemane but they made up for it after Jesus’ resurrection. They went to the far corners of the known world preaching Jesus’ Gospel and most of them gave their lives doing so. So maybe you haven’t mustered the strength to follow Jesus. The beauty of our faith is that Jesus always offers us a way to “get back into the game.” We can always receive Reconciliation, go to Mass, and pick up those rosary beads. Jesus will accept anyone willing to put in the effort whether they have 100 years left in his life or 1 minute.

A Church Asleep

We all want to do the right thing. We all want to be considered good people. But doing what is right and what is good has become a difficult, if not risky, lifestyle choice. In the aftermath of the Covid19 pandemic, we’re now experiencing what I’ll call the woke wave. We have groups trying to redefine what is right and good in ways that run counter to Catholic teachings. And while the Church has always been under assault, the Covid19 pandemic has weakened our ability to defend the truth.

Constance T. Hull, in her Catholic Exchange article, Christ’s Call For Us to Stay Awake, paints a rather bleak picture of the state of the Catholic Church. But you can’t deny her truthfulness. This Covid19 pandemic has weakened many of the faithful because we have lost touch with the cornerstone of our faith –– the celebration of the Eucharist in the Holy Mass.

COVID-19 has led many Catholics to wrongly believe that watching Mass on Sunday is good enough. I was saddened to see how abysmal the Easter turnout was at my own parish this year. The highest feast day of the year and there was plenty of room to spare at all of the Masses. This is what happens, however, when we spend a year telling people to stay home, or worse, that Mass isn’t a priority, but those shopping trips, family gatherings, group events, and even riots are acceptable over and above the sacramental life.

Constance T. Hull

The Importance of Catholic Identity

My wife and her family are from Poland. We joke that when you marry into a Polish family, you must become Polish yourself and raise your kids to embrace all things Polish. They express a strong cultural identity and sense of pride that rubs off on you. It was that identity that kept their culture alive when they weren’t a country and invaded by both Germany and Russia in the 20th century. Through hardship and sacrifice, they preserved their identity even when others tried to wipe it away.

I think the Catholic Church is under assault and many seek to wipe it off the globe. But the difference between the assault on Poland in the 20th century and the current assault on the Catholic Church is that Poland didn’t have smartphones and streaming video services. When armies march on your cities, you take notice and fight back. When there was a new season of The Mandalorian, we let the woke movement march right over us. We’ve become so pacified by our digital devices that many of us don’t realize that our faith is under attack. Poland had to face armies marching in and taking over its cities. The current attack on the Catholic Church is much more subtle but more dangerous.

Catholics are seeing the result of decades of soft teachings. We’ve been so afraid to talk about the truth that when the truth came under attack we didn’t know how to defend it. Worse, many of us didn’t even care to defend it. When was the last homily where you’ve heard your priest mention mortal sin, hell, the need to go to confession, the sanctity of marriage, and the Real Presence in the Eucharist? The Mass just became another streaming show on our phones and TVs and was one that many of us skipped in favor of The Queen’s Gambit.

A Church Asleep

Constance Hull compared the current situation to the apostles, asleep in the Garden of Gesthemenme while Jesus prayed before his crucifixion.

As He prays in agony to the Father, the Apostles fall asleep. Our Lord warns them to remain awake so they may not undergo the test. In other words, stay alert and spiritually prepare for we don’t know the hour of His return or testing. We don’t know exactly when persecution will come upon us and we as the Church will once more enter into Our Lord’s Passion. The Apostles continue to sleep despite Our Lord’s warnings for they were overcome with sorrow. The hour He repeatedly warns them about comes much quicker than any of them expect, so they flee.

Constance T. Hull

The world was unprepared when the pandemic first hit. We didn’t have the emergency infrastructure to combat it. We scrambled to find masks, ventilators, etc. Like the apostles, many Catholics were caught off guard too. Our spiritual infrastructure wasn’t prepared for the battles we now find ourselves in. We so readily embraced taking a vacation from our spiritual responsibilities that when the woke movement came in with their assault on core Catholic teachings, we were asleep like the apostles.

Your Rosary Meds

When you meditate on the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, ask yourself how you’ve been asleep this past year during the pandemic. Have you made an effort to go to Mass in person if you’re not in a high-risk group? Have you contributed financially to your parish if you have the means to do so? Have you put your faith in God’s ability to perform miracles in this pandemic?

Even if we’ve fallen short, we can take comfort in the fact that the apostles abandoning Jesus was part of God’s divine plan. Yes, it led to the physical tragedy of Christ’s death. But it also led to his glorious resurrection just as Jesus said it would and a renewed sense of faith in the apostles. Being asleep, physically in the garden, and then spiritually after abandoning Jesus became a wake-up call for the apostles. And wake up they did. They came back with renewed faith to evangelize and change the world.

Staying spiritually “awake” is challenging

Pray that we too, while we may have been asleep, like the apostles, during this pandemic, that we can bring the world back to Christ Jesus. We may have been scared like the apostles, but we also must have faith that all of this is part of God’s plan. The apostles needed to be asleep and abandon Jesus for God’s plan to manifest itself. And so we must have faith that all that is transpiring with the pandemic, the woke wave, and the assault of Catholic values will lead to an ultimate good that God has already mapped out for us.

What Shall We Do With Jesus the Messiah During Easter?

With Covid cases dropping in many places around the world and more people being vaccinated, I’m starting to hear how things will get back to normal again. Unfortunately, looking at the empty pews in the church at Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, for many people normal means going to Mass only at Christmas and Easter.

We aren’t the first ones to look at the post-Easter Sunday as a return to secular normalcy. Some of the apostles also believed that they would resume their lives prior to following Jesus. Peter talked about how he would go back to fishing (John 21:3). In a way, it did seem like Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were just a moment in time for the apostles much like how Easter Sunday comes and goes for many of us without a lasting effect.

Simon Peter told them, “I am going fishing.”

Of course, Easter Sunday isn’t just a single day of prayer and celebration before resuming our normal lives. In fact, the Easter season lasts 50 days. Much like how Lent is 40 days of preparation, Easter is 50 days of celebration! That should be 50 days of continual prayer, reading scripture, and giving thanks to God. It’s not a time to go back to normal and forget about God until Christmas.

The Rosary

I know you might find it strange meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries during the Easter season. But I think we can meditate on the Second Sorrowful Mystery and the question posed by Pontius Pilate. It’s a small question, but worth extra thought.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

Matthew 27:22

Pilate’s solution was to let the people crucify Jesus. In other words, get Jesus out of the way. By getting rid of Jesus, Pilate thought he would rid the world of his teachings so things can get back to normal. The Pharisees would stop being called hypocrites. They wouldn’t bother Pilate about matters of little interest to the Roman empire. The people would go back to following the Mosaic Law instead of following Jesus’ teachings and questioning the Pharisees.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

Many of us act the same way after Easter Sunday. We just want to get Jesus out of the way and return to the status quo. Maybe it’s because we’re fatigued from 40 days of Lent and fasting. Or perhaps you didn’t fast during Lent and don’t want the Easter season to continually remind you how you fell short of your goals. Or you don’t want to think about going to Mass every single Sunday, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, praying, and all that other stuff the Church “makes” us do. Some of us, even the most faithful, want to get Jesus out of the way because Jesus’ way is a difficult one.

In this season of Easter, let’s not think of our faith as a burden and something to be avoided. Put yourself in the shoes (or sandals) of the first disciples and think of the joy they must have felt when they learned that Jesus had risen. Were they confused and maybe a little scared? Probably. Did they immediately understand what it all meant? Not really. We may also be confused about what Jesus’ rising from the dead means to us. But like the early Church grappling with Christ’s resurrection, we have this whole Easter season to ask ourselves what we should do with Jesus.

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.

Are We Choosing Barabbas or Jesus?

Raising kids means witnessing actions that don’t make much sense. They often choose to fight over silly things, harass one another, and generally create chaos. When asked why one chose to hit the other, the response is all too common — “I don’t know.” Children seem to act on a more instinctual level. Not like us reasonable adults right? Think again. Adults are prone to making unreasonable choices every bit as foolish as children.

Consider those who chose to release Barabbas over Jesus. Often, we meditate on this event when we pray the Second Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary.

Mark 15:6-15 – Now on the occasion of the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they requested. A man called Barabbas was then in prison along with the rebels who had committed murder in a rebellion. The crowd came forward and began to ask him to do for them as he was accustomed. Pilate answered, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” For he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate again said to them in reply, “Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted again, “Crucify him.” Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” They only shouted the louder, “Crucify him.”  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.

Rosary Meditations: The Sorrowful Mysteries | The Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College

Why Barabbas?

What good reason did the people have choosing to release Barabbas over Jesus? Let’s just take the two choices based on their outward qualities. First, we have Jesus, someone who healed the sick and raised the dead. He showed compassion towards sinners and was a voice for the common person. Then you have Barabbas, a murderer and insurrectionist. It seems like Jesus would have been the obvious choice if people gave their options some thought.

Maybe the people were scared of choosing to free Jesus because that would upset the Pharisees. Maybe they thought that the Pharisees would make their lives difficult and cast them out socially if they learned who voiced their support for Jesus. Some, while they may have liked Jesus, decided to go with the opinions of the learned Pharisees. And others maybe didn’t have any opinion about Jesus or Barabbas and just went with the crowd’s sentiment.

Why we Choose Barabbas

We may look back at the Gospel and wonder why the people made such a foolish decision. But, if we want to see foolishness, we don’t have to look any further than a mirror. How often do we choose to commit sin over following Jesus? We may say how we love Jesus and agree with the Church’s teachings, but then we get caught up in a moment and choose to do something sinful. We choose the “Barabbas option” and we don’t even know why most of the time.

I think many times, we simply like Jesus the same way we like someone’s Facebook post. It’s a very shallow affection for Jesus that is easily broken under a little pressure. Maybe it’s giving into peer pressure to do something wrong or going along with “the crowd” because you don’t want to be cast out of the group for thinking differently. When our knowledge and commitment to Jesus is weak, choosing to sin is all the easier.

Choosing Jesus

We need to build up our commitment to Jesus. This is why we need to pray every day, particularly the Rosary. We also need to read the Bible and Church teachings. We need to build that relationship to resist the temptations to sin, especially when it comes to resisting peer pressure. Our love for Jesus needs to be so strong that we would never think of choosing something that would damage our relationship with him.

Unfortunately, Catholics are in for a rocky time ahead as our world veers away from sharing Catholic values. We’re going to have hard choices to make. Who are we going to follow? Are we going to follow what is trending on social media? What’s being reported on the news? Are we going to blindly follow our political party? None of these are necessarily wrong, but we have to weigh what they want against what Jesus wants. We have to identify what options are like choosing Barabbas and what option is choosing Jesus. Because in the end, when we stand before God, He’s not going to accept an “I don’t know.”

The Value of Not Praying for Specific Outcomes

I’m going to talk briefly about politics. I know, I can hear the collective groan from you all because you’re sick and tired of everyone talking about the US elections. But please, stay with me as this ties into Rosary prayer and faith.

I can’t tell you who is going to win the presidency or which party will control the Senate after November 3. But one thing is certain — there will be a large group of people unhappy with the results because their side lost. And there were be others ecstatic because their side won. Some people will think their prayers were answered while others will ponder why God ignored them and would allow such an outcome. What is playing out in 2020 has happened thousands of times throughout human history.

Regardless of the winner, now is the time to learn this important lesson — we shouldn’t pray by asking God for a specific outcome to our concerns. That’s missing the point of prayer and reduces God to the role of a genie. Instead, we should ask God to give us strength, patience, and understanding to live with the outcome. The outcome of an election is manmade, but how we deal with it can be aided through God’s grace. God doesn’t favor one political party over the other. He sees all of us, whether we are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc. as His children.

Like a parent watching children quarrel over a toy, God will let us fight and argue without intervening in some large, magnificent way. Because from God’s perspective, what we argue about in this world isn’t all that important. Yes, even something as worldly important as the US 2020 general election isn’t significant universally. Who we choose as president of the United States is minuscule in importance compared to the state of one’s soul. That is what matters most to God and should be of the utmost concern to us.

It’s not that I don’t care about the outcome of the election. I do. And I’m concerned about the direction the United States could go in after this election. But when I meditate on the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, I think about Jesus in the garden asking God to let this cup pass over him. Jesus asks God to find a way for salvation that doesn’t involve pain and suffering. And I pray that the outcome of this election doesn’t result in increased hardship and suffering. But Jesus also said that he would do God’s Will. I too ask that I will remain faithful to God’s plan for me regardless of how the world changes.

Let’s also think about the Fifth Luminous Mystery and the institution of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist and Holy Mass, Jesus is present with us. No matter how the world changes and what hardships we encounter, He is with us. We can always find him in the Mass. He is always waiting for us in the stillness of a church to come and pray. Even if governments try to inhibit our ability to visit Christ in the Eucharist, it’s nothing the Church hasn’t endured before.

I know this is a big ask. But please don’t put all your energy and focus into an election. Don’t stake your happiness on a particular outcome. Don’t give Biden or Trump all-consuming power over your emotional wellbeing. Don’t be a slave to the 24-hour news cycle trapping you in an emotional whirlwind to bump up ratings. The sure bet is to put your faith in God. In other words, “vote” through your actions that you want to send your soul to Heaven. That is way more important than endlessly worrying about who we send to the White House.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Fortitude

Two great movies are “Touching the Void” and “Lone Survivor.” The former movie is a documentary about a mountaineer, Joe Simpson, who broke his leg at the summit of a difficult climb, fell off a cliff on his way down, and was assumed dead. And yet he managed to crawl down the mountain on one good leg back to camp where his climbing partner was able to get help. “Lone Survivor” is the story of Marcus Luttrell and a Navy SEAL mission gone bad. He crawled to safety with a broken back after a terrible gunfight with the Taliban killing everyone on his team.

What is remarkable about both these true stories is how hard they fought to stay alive without knowing how their situation would turn out. For all Joe knew, his climbing partner may have broken camp and left the area. His efforts to get crawl down the mountain may have been for nothing if there was no one left to get him to a hospital. For all Marcus knew, he could have crawled into a Taliban camp instead of a village willing to protect him. Both of them didn’t give up fighting although they had no idea whether their efforts were in vain.

That brings us to the next gift of the Holy Spirit — fortitude.  “Fortitude is the virtue that allows us to overcome fear and to remain steady in our will in the face of all obstacles, physical and spiritual. Prudence and justice are the virtues through which we decide what needs to be done; fortitude gives us the strength to do it. It show itself in moral courage against the evil spirit of the times, against improper fashions, against human respect, against the common tendency to seek at least the comfortable, if not the voluptuous.”(learnreligions.com).

I see fortitude as the strength to practice the Catholic faith in the face of uncertainty. We take it on faith that all the prayer, sacrifices, and restraint leads to a closer relationship with God and eternal happiness in Heaven. And while we may know this, it can be hard to muster the strength to practice it on a daily basis. We don’t always feel close to God. It’s this gift that reminds us not to give up doing God’s Will.

Fortitude in the Rosary

Look at Jesus in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary. I know I’ve mentioned this point several times in the past, but He fell three times and got back up knowing that his situation was never going to improve. Just think about the strength Jesus had to posses to look past his physical pain and see the greater role God had for Him. Jesus knew that God’s Will was not to have Him die on the road. But that meant Jesus had to summon the courage to get up and follow God’s Will to His Crucifixion so that he could triumph through His Resurrection.

We must look at Jesus’ example of fortitude in our own lives. Let’s face it, being a Christian isn’t always easy or fun. We are saddled with our crosses. Prayer doesn’t always seem fruitful. Fasting doesn’t seem beneficial. Following God’s laws isn’t always a joy. Making this more difficult is that we don’t receive immediate feedback. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see our heavenly scorecard whenever we practice virtue or sin? But it’s the gift of fortitude that allows us to carry on, like Jesus taking up His cross, in the face of uncertainty. When you pray any of the Sorrowful Mysteries, meditate on how faith requires fortitude because we need to do God’s Will without immediate, concrete feedback.

We must also remember that fortitude isn’t just about summoning courage for the “big things.” We all aren’t called to be martyrs or overcome some momentous challenge. We must show fortitude in the small things too. That means remembering to pray every day, attend Mass, receive the sacraments, fast, and live chastely. These aren’t easy. Sure, we may be able to muster the strength on our own some days. But in order to do God’s Will consistently, we need this gift from the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, we’ll just get worn out, dejected, and give up. It’s this gift of fortitude which gives us that “second wind” to keep going even when we think we have nothing left to give.