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.

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.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Knowledge

Some of us, when confronted with a crisis, know what to do. Think about emergency personnel like paramedics, nurses, and doctors. When there is a medical emergency, they jump into action. If they are at a restaurant and someone collapses, they jump in and help. Other people, while wanting to help, freeze up. Will they make the situation worse by getting involved? Are they able to make the right decisions in that situation? It’s not that their inaction means they don’t care. It’s just that they don’t know what to do.

The ability to act correctly, especially in spiritual matters, is another gift from the Holy Spirit — the gift of Knowledge. It “enables a person to judge rightly concerning the truths of faith in accordance with their proper causes and the principles of revealed truth” (Catholic Straight Answers). While the gift of wisdom is the desire to follow God’s Will, knowledge is the ability to do so. If the gift of understanding is the “why” behind following God’s Will, think of knowledge as the “how.” Even more than just knowing what to think, do, or say, knowledge is also the confidence that what you’re doing is in line with God’s Will. I see so many people on the Catholic Answer Forums asking, “Did I do the right thing when I …?” Knowledge reduces that doubt and scrupulosity.

Knowledge in the Rosary

Consider the Third Luminous Mystery of the RosaryThe Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion. With the gift of knowledge, we can see what comes from God’s Kingdom of Heaven and what does not. We then can make good, knowledgeable decisions to embrace what is Heavenly. If our current desires are for what is earthly, then using knowledge to change our priorities is the process of conversion. When you pray the Third Luminous Mystery, ask yourself whether you are seeing what is Heavenly and making decisions to embrace them.

Next, consider the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary — The Carrying of the Cross. Think about how many people stood by and watched Jesus carry His cross. Many of them might have wanted to help Jesus but they didn’t know how or they were afraid of what the soldiers might do. However, Veronica found the inspiration and courage to stand out from the crowd to wipe Jesus’ face, giving Him a moment of relief.

One of the ways the gift of knowledge manifests itself is knowledge of how to help others in spiritual matters. Many times, we want to help others when we see them struggle or when they are in despair but we don’t know what to do. We are like the onlookers during Jesus’ passion. The gift of knowledge will help us know the right things to say or do. We will be like Veronica — inspired to find a way to help others in need.

Finally, consider the Fourth Glorious Mystery — Mary’s Assumption. I’ve always said how the Assumption was a sign of God’s special plan for Mary after her earthly death. And that plan was for her to guide us to her Son, Jesus Christ. She guides us in acquiring knowledge of Jesus and His love for us. God has provided us so many tools so that we may know Jesus — the Mass, the Bible, sacred tradition, and countless documents. And we also have guides like Mary, the Holy Spirit, and the saints to help us better know Jesus.

Inspired by Mary and the saints, we should take the opportunity to better know Jesus. We should read the Bible, papal encyclicals, and the Catechism to cultivate our knowledge of our faith. Our small investment in learning our faith will then be compounded by the Holy Spirit and our Mother Mary. With that knowledge, we will be able to better discern what is Heavenly and what is not and take comfort in the fact that choosing what is Heavenly will lead to ultimate joy and peace in God’s grace.

It’s Okay to Fall: That’s How God Builds Us Back Up

Jesus is a hard act to follow. Sure, we meditate about His human nature like how He was scared at the Garden of Gethsemane. We hear about His suffering and crucifixion. But Jesus is the Son of God; someone with super-human abilities that he demonstrated throughout the Gospels. Surely he must have had super-human abilities to deal with the suffering. We may profess that He was human in all ways but sin, but it’s still a difficult concept to fully believe. I think many of us hold to this notion that Jesus, while human, was stronger than we can ever be. We believe that our suffering must be greater than His because we don’t possess His divine faculties.

This idealized, almost magical view of Jesus leads to many of us having a hard time fully believing in God’s great plan. The Church teaches us that God doesn’t give us a larger challenge than we can handle. But when those challenges become too much, we start to question whether God expects too much of us. Is God overestimating our abilities? We can feel that God is even more distant because He doesn’t appear to understand us. We aren’t Jesus and yet sometimes we can feel that God expects us to act just like Him.

How can we live up to Jesus Christ Superstar?

This is why I appreciate the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary. It lays out a template on how we can realistically imitate Jesus. When I meditate on this mystery, it tells me that it’s okay to fall under the weight of life’s challenges. Jesus fell multiple times under the weight of the cross. At one point He even needed help carrying the cross from Simon of Cyrene. Jesus, in all his perfection, had a hard time physically doing God’s will.

We will also have hard times in our life. We will have times when we feel like everything is knocking us down and the weight of our crosses is crushing us. And as much as we may not want to admit it, that’s okay. That’s us imitating Jesus.

Sometimes, life needs to knock us down so that God can build us back up. We have to let go of our preconceived ideas of how life should be so that we can leave room for God to work His grace. And for some of us, God needs to be more forceful by giving us a large, seemingly insurmountable challenge. And we may ask “why God?” or even become angry with Him. But at least we’re talking to God in these cases and starting a dialog.

In Jesus Walks with Us Even When Our Cross is Too Heavy, Jeannie Ewing talks about her struggles raising a daughter with severe medical conditions. She admits that there were times when it felt like God was putting too much on her. She lays out a road map for dealing with the crushing pain. And like many other programs, it begins with acceptance. She writes:

Begin by telling yourself that the burden you are carrying is too much for you to bear. It is more than what you can handle. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed of this, as if you have somehow lost the possibility of sanctity in your very human experience. Acknowledge your hurt.

Building a Spiritual Reserve

Look at the ordering of the Sorrowful Mysteries. The Agony of the Garden comes before Jesus took up His cross. The ordering is significant. Jesus didn’t begin praying to God when He fell under the weight of the cross. He prayed to God before His arrest. He asked God for the strength to do His will before the challenges set in.

We should take Jesus’ prayer example to heart. We need to pray and talk to God before the challenges of life occur. We need to prepare ourselves for whatever direction life takes us. This is why daily Rosary prayer is so important. It allows us to build up a spiritual reserve that we can tap into when life gets difficult. We need to meet God halfway. He’ll be there with us when life’s difficulties hit us in force. But we need to also be with Him; drawing on a close relationship with Him.

Faith — the building should never stop

The other great part of the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery is that there’s a flip side to it. We may be the Simon or Veronica to someone’s suffering. Someone may be praying to God for relief from sadness, pain, and suffering. But God’s answer may be to call on us to respond and help that person. We may be the miracle someone is praying for. But again, we have to be constantly praying so that we can hear God and respond to what he’s asking us to do. Sometimes God calls us to be a hero. But are we listening to the call in prayer?

We are the answers to other people’s prayers

Disclaimer

Here’s the lawyer disclaimer. When I talk about falling, I’m not talking about falling into sin. Jesus never said through his preaching or his actions that sinning is okay. He understood that we have a tendency to sin and he gives us the gift of Reconciliation for that. When I talked about falling in this article, I’m referring to feeling crushed under the weight of life’s challenges or trying to follow God’s plan.

The Miracle of Endurance

It’s only human to compare the challenges and difficulties in our personal lives to the highlights of others. We feel envious on social media seeing the supposedly glamorous lives our friends lead. It seems like all my friends are enjoying perpetual vacations and attend parties every day. Meanwhile, I’m working long hours and need to pay yet another high water bill. I think, “it’s just not fair!” Why do good things happen to everyone except me?

When I pray the rosary, the same thoughts come into my head when I pray the Second Luminous and the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery. When I meditate on the Miracle at Cana I ask God to bless those with the miracles they need (or at least I think they need). Maybe a family member or loved one needs the miracle of healing. Maybe someone needs the miracle of repairing a broken relationship. Maybe someone needs a miracle of steady employment. But instead, I often feel like God answers these requests with a cross. Instead of a miracle like at Cana, He gives us a cross like Jesus in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.

It seems unfair that God has these two sides. On one hand, He is capable of miraculous acts of healing and blessings of good fortune. But on the other hand, it feels like He’s leaving us on our own to struggle under our crosses. Why does God give me a cross when I need a miracle? We believe that God hears and answers our prayers. We pray the Memorare with the promise of Mary’s intercession. But where are my miracles? Why don’t I see God stepping into my life to help me through life’s challenges?

The nature of God’s intervention and His miracles can be seen in Jesus’ Passion. When Jesus carried His cross, there were in fact miracles taking place. The fact that Jesus found the strength to get back up and carry the cross to His crucifixion is a miracle. It’s miraculous that Jesus forgave the people who crucified Him before He died. Think of the Centurian who said, “Truly He was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). How many others came to believe in Jesus on that sorrowful day? That seems rather miraculous to me. And of course, when you take the long view as God does, Jesus’ Passion led to His resurrection, the empowerment of His disciples by the Holy Spirit, and eventually the spread of Christianity around the globe.

The same principle applies to our lives. While we might see endless hardship, we may overlook that God gives us the strength to endure another day. That is another day to do good, to help others, and pray for those who need it (like souls in Purgatory). It is another day to receive God’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s another day to receive our Lord through the Eucharist. In essence, every day God gives us the miracle of time. And that time is an opportunity to bring ourselves closer to God.

I know we all want the overt miracles like the changing of water to wine at Cana. And we bemoan hardships like a natural disaster, sickness, losing a job, poor finances, etc. But those hardships are just the results of physics, chemistry, biology, economics, etc. They aren’t things that God necessarily needs to save or relieve us from. In the long view that God takes, they will pass much like how Jesus’ pain in carrying the cross passed. We may bend, we may fall, but if we stay close to God, He won’t allow us to break. God leads us through all our challenges if we have the faith to let Him. And when all is done in this life, we can stand before God and He will welcome us into His Kingdom of Heaven. And that is truly miraculous.

I’ll leave you with the words from a famous poem, Footprints in the Sand. I think it sums up nicely that God does perform miracles in the hardest parts of our lives even when we don’t know it.

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Holiness Is Possible

There’s a saying in the creative world that the artist is his own worst critic. Many people, when seeing the results of their efforts, focus on the flaws. A painter only sees a shade of color that is slightly off. An actor remembers that one line that didn’t quite deliver the emotional impact he wanted. A musician dwells on that missed note that no one else noticed. A software developer, see a working computer program, instead dwells on a few lines of code that feel hacked together. We all have our faults that gnaw away at us leading us to doubt our abilities.

What about our spirituality? How accurately do we see our ability to live in holiness? Do we think we have the ability to live holy lives? Or do we only see the challenges and limitations and think holiness isn’t possible? This is the exact question Matthew Kelly asks in his book, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity. Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler since he clearly states it in the first chapter. The biggest lie in Christianity is that holiness isn’t something we can achieve. And that lie has had a negative cascading effect on the world.

Buy it now on Amazon

Buying into the lie that we cannot be holy has prevented many of us from even trying. We look at the lives of the saints and think, “I can’t be like that.” And so we skip Mass, skip prayers, and go along with the secular crowd. Why choose a challenge that can only end in failure? And that’s the type of thinking Satan wants us to fall in to. If we give up on holiness we become susceptible to his influence.

Now, of course, the book (which is an easy read by the way) goes into detail on exposing the lie that we cannot achieve holiness. Holiness is possible. Matthew Kelly explains that we need to practice what he calls holy moments — small instances when we act holy. We can start small with one or two holy moments per day — saying prayers, making a sacrifice, doing something nice, etc. We can then expand the number of holy moments. And guess what happens when you chain together enough holy moments? You have a holy day! Then a holy week, holy month, and guess what? You now have a holy life! And what happens when multiple people live in holiness? A holy world!

Holy Moments in the Rosary

When I think of holy moments when I pray the Rosary, I think of Veronica in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus carrying His cross. Veronica is the woman who wiped the face of Jesus during His passion. I consider it a pure holy moment. It was something small and mostly ineffective in relieving Jesus’ suffering. But she showed courage standing out from the crowd and possibly incurring the wrath of both the Roman soldiers and Jewish authorities to help someone in need the best she could. We may scoff and criticize the futility of Veronica’s actions. But who knows how many people she converted in that single action. Perhaps her example eased the fear others in the crowd may have been feeling at the time. And maybe many of those people went on to become one of the many of disciples that formed the early Church.

Matthew Kelly wants us to understand that there is no act of holiness too small. They all can have an impact, especially when combined. And there is no challenge too great that we can’t overcome if we leave ourselves open to God’s influence. When you pray the Rosary and meditate on the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, remember that we can all act like Veronica and stick out from the crowd. But first, we have to want to stick out from the crowd. It’s not easy to break out of our routines but that is exactly what God calls us to do. And that is why we pray the Rosary — asking Mary for her help to follow God’s plan. When we have as powerful of an intercessor as Mary, holiness is not only possible, it’s inevitable.

God’s Time is not Our Time

Lent is a great time to contemplate about the time scale God operates on. As I said in my previous post, our time frame isn’t God’s time frame. The way we look at time vastly differs from how God looks at time. What seems long to us — a day, a year, a decade, a lifetime, and even multiple generations is a passing instant compared to God’s eternal view of time. The entire age of the universe is but a grain of sand in God’s hourglass.

Lenten Challenges

I think back to fasting on Ash Wednesday. To me, it felt like a long day because I had small meals with no snacks in between. Throughout the day I kept looking at my watch. Was it lunch yet? Was it dinner? When can I eat again? Should I go to bed so this day will end? When you’re hungry, time seems to slow down to an almost unbearable pace. But you know what? The day of fasting eventually came to an end. I woke up the next day and was fortunate enough to eat a satisfying breakfast.

I gave up alcohol for Lent. I’m not a big drinker but I do enjoy an ice cold beer on the weekend or a glass of red wine with dinner. So 40 days without a social cocktail seems like a long time. The wine bottles in my house will be taunting me until April 21. But I have to remember that it’s only 40 days. Much like fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Lent will pass and I’ll be able to enjoy my weekend bottle of beer again.

Can’t have any of that sweet, sweet Duff.

Throughout Lent, we can begin to understand the finite time frame we live in and the infinite one of God’s. Much like our Lenten sacrifices and fasts, this life will come to an end as well. And all our suffering, both minor and major, will be over. And then hopefully we’ll enter into eternity in Heaven. Our lives may seem like a long time to many of us especially if we want God to immediately answer our prayers or perform a miracle. But God does answer our prayers, even if the answer for many of us is, “wait until Heaven; you don’t have to wait long.”

The Rosary

Let’s look at the Rosary, particularly the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery. Picture Jesus carrying His cross. It must have seemed like an eternity of pain and suffering as He was whipped, beaten, and fell multiple times. The human side of Him must have wanted all that suffering to end instantly. But Jesus also understood that to God and His divine plan, Jesus’ suffering was ending instantly compared to the eternal majesty He would obtain in His resurrection and ascension into Heaven.

We may find ourselves feeling like we’re in a similar situation as Jesus carrying His cross. We may have challenges with our health, family, money, faith, or addictions. Relief never seems to come despite how hard we try and how much we pray. But God assures us that it will come to an end, even if it’s not in this life. We must remember that a lifetime of suffering is an instant compared to the eternal joy of Heaven. Like Jesus carrying His cross, we have to get back up and continue doing God’s will in this relatively short time we have in this life.

The 40 days of Lent may seem like a long time, especially if we’ve given up something that we really enjoy or taken up a practice that is hard to do. But let’s treat it as an opportunity to better understand how God works. Lent comes to an end in the joy of Easter. Just how joyful Easter feels depends on how hard we work on focusing on our faith during Lent. Think of Lent and Easter as a microcosm of life and eternity. Much like Lent, our lives will end. And it’s really not that long of a time we have so we must make the most of it. And when we do, we can enjoy living in God’s grace, both during Easter and in Heaven to come.

Coping with the Church Scandal One Rosary Bead at a Time

Have you read the book or seen the movie, The Martian?  It’s a story that takes place in the future where a man is stranded on Mars after his crew leaves believing he is dead.  In this story, the stranded scientist, Mark Watney, overcomes all sorts of challenges to stay alive.  It’s one of those stories where everything that can go wrong does go wrong  — storms, failed equipment, communication issues, etc.  But he just works each problem as it came along to survive just one more day.

I think the Church is in a similar situation — everything that seems like it can go wrong is going wrong regarding the abuse scandal and accusations of coverups going up to the pope himself.  The Church is in uncharted territory right now.  We have a retired pope who may have known something about the Cardinals’ abuses who is silent on the matter.  We have a sitting pope who is remaining silent.  We have all sorts of insider leaks pointing to spiritual rot at high levels.  It’s enough to make the strongest of us doubt that the Church will come out of this in a better state.

As individuals, we can’t do much regarding the Church scandals inside the Vatican.  But like Mark Watney facing countless setbacks trying to survive on Mars, we will also face setbacks in the coming months as more news comes out.  The key is not to get overwhelmed and abandon those who need our prayers the most.  We can’t make this a “Vatican-only” issue.  It’s a problem that all the faithful need to do our part.  We just need to take each day in turn and live the best Christian example we can.

Charlie Johnston puts it well in his blog, A Sign of Hope, when he talked about the need to deal with reality before us, not how we want or expect it to be:

You are going to fail at some things, you are going to be wrong about some things, some of your cherished certainties are going to fall. Your faith is dependent on none of these things and your duty is not suspended because of your errors. If your faith is dependent on your certainty that you have it all figured out, it is just a subtle form of pride – and you know what pride goeth before. Follow the example of King David who, after he sinned grievously of his own fault, got up again at the behest of the prophet and lived his duty, even so. You will fail, you will err, you will sin of your own fault. God knows all of this. He waits to see whether, after each failure, you will get up and start again, humbly living your duty with steadfast resolve even though your fault is ever before you – thus trusting to Him, and not to your own virtue.

Charlie’s words remind me of the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, Jesus Carries His Cross.  Jesus fell multiple times under the cross.  Each time He resolved to get back up again and do God’s Will.  He fell under the weight of sin too, our sins.  But Jesus found the strength to not get discouraged about the seemingly hopeless situation He was in and did not give up.  His will to follow through with God’s plan was greater than the pain He felt.  Jesus got back up and completed God’s work one painful step at a time.

And so we too, are called to keep going and live our Catholic faith.  It will be difficult at times when we hear about what is happening inside the Vatican.  But, like I said in my previous article, our faith isn’t dependent on the virtue of men.  It lies on the power and virtue of God Himself.  Pray the Rosary and imagine each bead being one slow (sometimes painful) step out of the darkness and into God’s grace.

The Archbishop of San Francisco wrote a letter about the Church scandal.  In it, he outlines a 3-step plan to keep us moving forward and repair the damage caused by the Church hierarchy.  He asks for:

  1. Praying the rosary daily – and for families, to pray the rosary as a family at least once a week;
  2. Practicing Friday penance by abstaining from eating meat and one other additional act of fasting (e.g., another form of food or drink, or skipping a meal);
  3. Spending one hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament at least once a week

Priests are People Too — Pope Francis’ July Intention

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

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

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

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

The Rosary Connection

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

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

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

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

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

What the Rosary Tells Us About Judas’ Betrayal

Because we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension on Sunday, many of us didn’t hear the regular readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles was particularly interesting to me. It highlighted the discussions among the apostles on how to fill the vacancy in the apostleship left behind by Judas.  This reading provides plenty of rosary meditation ideas.

Here’s a clip from the first reading.  You can read it in full here or listen to the audio here.

Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers
—there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons
in the one place —.
He said, “My brothers,
the Scripture had to be fulfilled
which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand
through the mouth of David, concerning Judas,
who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.
He was numbered among us
and was allotted a share in this ministry.

“For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
May another take his office.

“Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men
who accompanied us the whole time
the Lord Jesus came and went among us,
beginning from the baptism of John
until the day on which he was taken up from us,
become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

The downfall of Judas is interesting to me for many reasons. Judas was someone who was as close to Jesus as anyone could have been. He was in the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples and had an understanding of Jesus teachings no one else had. Remember, the apostles understood Jesus on a different level than everyone else. In Mark 4:11, Jesus said He talked in parables to people because the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you [the apostles], but not to them [the people]. Judas had been given all these graces and yet he threw them away for 30 pieces of silver. Judas exemplifies the inherent weakness of the human spirit; that we willingly give away so much for so little.

We may not be one of the twelve apostles, but we know Jesus through the lens of history and Church teachings. We know the tremendous gifts God offers us and yet we so readily throw them away like Judas did. How?  Maybe we skip going to Sunday Mass because we would rather watch a football game or sleep in. We break fasts because that Snickers bar looks way too tempting. We skip prayers because there is something good on TV. We engage in sinful activities substituting happiness through God’s grace with empty pleasures. Whenever we sin, we are like Judas giving away so much in return for so little.

“At least at Mass I could have coffee and donuts afterwards.”

Judas’ story also shows us just how much freedom God gives us. Even as one of the twelve apostles, Judas freely left and betrayed Jesus.  We know from the Agony in the Garden how scared Jesus was of his crucifixion.  He had all the power to stop Judas if He wanted to.  But it was so important to Jesus to let people freely chose to follow or reject Him that He accepted Judas’ choice to betray Him. We never fault Jesus for Judas’ betrayal. And hence, we shouldn’t feel like we have failed when those closest to us turn away from their faith or fall into a life of sin. If Jesus could be betrayed, any one of us can also be.

The Rosary Connection

Think of the Fifth Joyful Mystery and how Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple after they had lost him. We lose Jesus whenever we sin but we return to His grace when we look for and find Him in the Sacrament of Confession. Jesus is always willing to welcome us back. Even Judas could have received forgiveness if he had only looked for it. After all, Peter denied knowing Jesus but returned and was strengthened because he understood Jesus’ ability to forgive him. The Fifth Joyful Mystery should remind us that the choice is always ours on how we want to deal with our sin. Do we want to wallow in it and have it ultimately consume us like it did Judas? Or do we choose to seek God’s forgiveness and return to His grace?

Finding Jesus in “His Father’s House”

We should also think about those who have their own Judas in their lives — those who have loved ones who chose a life of sin. Think about them when you pray the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery. They have heavy crosses to bear that may not be entirely of their own doing. But it weighs them down all the same. We pray that those who are rejected in favor of sin have the strength to carry on whether that means continuing to reach out and help those who have turned away from God’s path or accepting that sometimes we can’t bring people back from their sinful ways through physical actions. And when I say accept, I don’t mean give up. We should always continue to pray for lost souls because while we may not be able to change their hearts, the Holy Spirit can.

We Pray…

Lord, please forgive us for the times we’ve acted like Judas. Provide strength to those who feel betrayed by those closest to them. Help those who wallow in sin and let them know that they can always choose to return to you through your sacraments.  Amen.