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.

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.”

How the Rosary Increases Our Patience with God and Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Striving for Manliness, the Catholic Way

Did I miss a memo from the Vatican? I feel like I keep coming across this theme of becoming a better Catholic man all over the place. First I found it on Catholic Exchange when I wrote 12 Ways to be a Better Catholic in 2016. Then a friend sent me a video about the need for authentic Catholic manliness. Was there some sort of synod or papal document released recently on this issue? Or is it the Holy Spirit gently giving me hints that this is a topic I should write about?

If you don’t feel like reading and just want to veg out for a bit watching a video, here is the one my friend sent me about authentic Catholic manhood:

A few thoughts.  I really like the part in the middle that asks, if you can’t resist all those little temptations how are you going to resist and protect yourself and others from the big ones?  This concept of mastering the small things to prepare for the big ones ties into why I keep pushing on the idea of regular rosary prayer.  I think we all encounter those moments of big crisis, temptation, despair, etc. at some point in our lives.  It’s not a matter of if, but when.  How much harder will overcoming those large challenges be if you haven’t proven to yourself that you have mastered the smaller ones?  How much more difficult will it be to pick up that rosary in your hour of need if you’ve never prayed it?  It’s the regularity of prayer and self-mastery which makes the big challenges in life manageable.  It’s the difference between seeing a large mountain from the base camp vs. already being 90% to the summit.  Start the climb now, whether it means resisting those small sins and temptations, fasting, or praying the rosary so that you won’t be starting from the bottom when life throws a mountain of challenges your way.

Another area I want to explore is why there is a cultural aversion to Catholic (or just spiritual) manliness.  Why is being strong in faith not considered manly?  I think part of it is that faith requires humility.  It requires acceptance that you cannot conquer every challenge on your own but need God’s help.  And like out of every cheesy romantic comedy, REAL MEN DON’T ASK FOR HELP!  Unfortunately, as the movie earlier in this article points out, so much of our image of manhood is shaped by popular culture, not by real interaction with real people.  So we develop this warped view that having a spiritual side somehow makes you weak.

"Put that map down! I know where I'm going."
“Put that map down! I know where I’m going.”

Okay, hopefully you’re reading this knowing that popular culture has the concept of manhood all wrong.  But how can the rosary show us what true manliness is?  The answer should be clear as most of the rosary mysteries revolve around Jesus.  What example is he setting before us?  I’m going to focus on the Sorrowful Mysteries given the challenges Jesus faced.  After all, it is in the times of great hardship that our true character shines.

  • First Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus prays for help and for a different fate but also accepts God’s Will.
  • Second Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures suffering.
  • Third Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus endures humiliation.
  • Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus repeatedly falls but gets back up and moves forward.
  • Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus asks for God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

What picture do the Sorrowful Mysteries paint of manly virtue?  Humility, sacrifice, perseverance, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and conviction.  Those are the attributes everyone, men and women, are called to show.  To steal the quotation from the opening of the movie, “You were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness.”  And greatness comes from embracing your faith and imitating Jesus, not just when it is convenient, but when it is overwhelmingly challenging.

Come on, you all thought of Tim Tebow when you thought of men praying.

We pray for those facing huge life challenges.  But we also pray that we all build up our spiritual strength by praying, faster, receiving the sacraments, and avoid sin.

5 Ways You Can Keep Religion Relevant

I came across this article the other day on the Drudge Report about how Americans are becoming less religious.  It read:

“The share of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, while still high compared with other advanced industrial countries, slipped to 89 percent in 2014 from 92 percent in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study.  The percentage of Americans who pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion important in their lives are down by small, but statistically significant measures, the survey found.”

Other headlines also found on Drudge:

  • Fatal rush-hour shooting near Penn Station
  • ZombiCon shooting leaves one dead
  • COPS: Thief stole operating room table from hospital!
  • CITY OF HATE: Breast-feeding mom mugged in Manhattan park…
  • COPS: Man killed for grabbing last piece of chicken at dinner

Anyone else making a connection here?  I’m not saying that correlation equals causation and that a loss of religion directly contributes to a raise in tragedies.  After all, the world has never really been a pleasant place.  However, I don’t know about you but I feel like the world is really falling apart at an accelerated pace.  I’m not just talking about large world powers colliding in global conflicts either.  I’m thinking more on a micro scale to individuals.  People seem to be much angrier and unhappy.  Everyone seems to fly into a blind rage at the slightest offense or inconvenience.  Or people are retreating into their own little worlds where they just don’t give much thought about their actions and who they may affect.  And this isn’t just me observing this.  Studies are showing a rise in death rates among middle aged, white Americans due to suicide and substance abuse.

 

While the decline in religion may not have a direct causation to the world’s problems, I bet that a return to religion would help alleviate some of them.  In these dark times we need to pray for those who do not practice their faith whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.  Or we need to pray for those who have twisted their faith into something that it is not.  We do live in dark times globally, but for many, individually as well.  And so we can look at Jesus’ example in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary for how we can approach these dark hours.

First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in...

When the world or our individual lives feel like it’s in a downward spiral, we need to follow Jesus’ example and turn to God in earnest prayer like he did in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We ask God for the strength to endure whatever is ahead.  Keep in mind that Jesus was still arrested and crucified despite his prayers.  Those prayers didn’t result in God removing hardship but helped Jesus find strength.  Maybe he found comfort and courage talking to God in prayer, like a child holding a parent’s hand when they are scared or upset.  And so we can also find comfort talking to God in prayer in a world hostile to hearing and living the truth.

Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

When I think of all the anger and misery in the world, I wonder how much of it is self inflicted because people have turned away from their faith.  How many people find themselves unhappy for reasons they can’t explain because they stopping listening to the source of truth for true happiness, Jesus Christ?  We pray for those who suffer because they have turned away from their faith.  May they find that practicing their faith can provide the answer to their unhappiness and suffering.

Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning of Thorns

The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus because they did not understand him or his teachings.  And so we find ourselves in a world that mocks Jesus and his truth because they do not know him.  Fewer people are taking the time to know Jesus through living their faith and turn to practices that dishonor him such as premarital sex, pornography, substance abuse, lying, cheating, stealing, cursing, and greed (to name a very small few).  We pray for a realization of the effects our actions have on others and a conversion of heart to Jesus’ truth.

Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross

How hard must it have been for Jesus to carry his cross among a crowd of people, many who supported him and many who had turned against him.  As we journey through this world, let’s not be discouraged by those who are mean to us, attack our values, or wish us harm.  Rather, may we find strength in those who want us to keep fighting the good fight, get up when we fall, and continue living our faith.  While it may seem like the Church is beaten down and her critics are winning, so did it seem like the Romans and pharisees had their victory the many times Jesus fell under his cross.  But we all know that in the end, Jesus found strength in his weakness and those who tried to hurt him ultimately failed.

Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion

Christ on the Cross cropped. Crop of old Mass ...

So many people stood before Jesus at the cross mocking him.  Today, so many people stand in front of his Church and mock her by living contrary to the truth.  But when the centurion, a Roman, at the cross witnessed Jesus’ death, he exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!”  Jesus, at his death and supposed victory of the pharisees over him, showed a glimmer of the victory that was yet to come by converting the heart of an unbeliever.  And so we hope that through our tireless example of living for Jesus we too can turn even the most hardened skeptics into believers.

A World on Fire

There has been so much happening at the intersection of politics and religion lately (it’s a block down the road from the intersection of crazy and truth).  We have the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, abortion standoffs, international issues in the Middle East, Obamacare’s HHS mandate, scandal after scandal, and immigration reform debates.  Political developments seem to come in so fast that if I took the time to write in depth about any one issue, a dozen more would come to the forefront before I could publish it.  So I will leave it to the political news sites to report on the details of these stories.  They have the resources and the audience to go into much more detail than I ever can.  I will stick with what I know — rosary prayer and meditation.

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Overwhelmed by all the bad news lately?

I think it is so easy to read the current headlines and get discouraged.  One would think that the world is on the brink of falling apart completely.  What is wrong or evil are considered virtues.  What was once thought of as good and decent are now seen as hateful and intolerant.  Common sense seems to be in rare supply.  Humanity appears to be in a tailspin from which there is no recovery.  But that type of thinking assumes that the current state of the world is somehow drastically different from the past.  It assumes that there was a time when all was good and peaceful in the world and that recent conflicts are the exception to history.  But can you think of a time in human history when everything was fine?  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the world has always been a violent, hostile, and illogical place, especially towards truth, values, and faith.

If you want to see how cruel this world can be to those of faith, you don’t need to look any further than the mysteries of the rosary.  First start with the easy ones — the Sorrowful Mysteries.  Each mystery shows how humanity treats the source of truth and love, Jesus Christ.  He’s betrayed in the First Sorrowful Mystery, scourged in the Second, crowned with thorns in the Third, carries a cross in the Fourth, and is crucified in the Fifth.  Not exactly a pleasant view of how humanity treats people of faith is it?  You can look at other mysteries too if you want to see how hard it has been to live morally.  When you pray the First Joyful Mystery, imagine how difficult it must have been for Mary, an unwed teenager, to learn that God called her to bear His Son.  Meditate on the Third Glorious Mystery and picture the apostles locked in a room out of fear of being found and killed by those who crucified Jesus.  History shows that following God’s plan often presents more challenges and defeats than victories.

End the end, we win!
How does it end? We win!

So what are we, as people of faith, to do?  Do we cast off our religious values and embrace the trends society embraces?  Do we hide our faith so that we don’t offend anyone?  Do we go on the offensive and use every dirty trick in the book to force a better world?  Again, we only need to look as far as the rosary.  When confronted with the difficult challenge of God choosing Mary to bear His son, she humbly puts her faith in His plan.  The apostles, when confronted by a hostile world, found strength in the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus, in the Sorrowful Mysteries, endured the torture and insults the world flung at Him.  Even at His lowest moment in His Passion, Jesus never stopped loving and forgiving.  Jesus practiced what He preached even in His most difficult moments.  And so God calls us to act like Mary and say yes to His plan even when in conflicts with the social norms of our society.  We must remember, like the apostles, the Holy Spirit empowers us to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus calls us to imitate Him and live according to His truth despite the suffering the world will heap upon us for doing so.

It isn’t all suffering and defeat.  To end on a positive note, remember that this world and our lives are only temporary.  The entirety of human history is but a blink of an eye compared to the enormity of the afterlife.  The problems and turmoil of today, while they may seem large to us now, are nothing compared to the joy and happiness of Heaven.  That isn’t to say that we can turn a blind eye to this world and its problems.  But we must keep everything in perspective.  We fight the good fight but our goal is Heaven, not this world.  Remember, the crucifixion isn’t the last rosary mystery.  We have the entire Glorious Mysteries after that where Jesus conquered death and prepared a place for us in His kingdom.  Our end is not tied to a Supreme Court ruling or the HHS mandate.  Our end is not summed up by bills, laws, and elections.  Our final end is praising God forever in Heaven.  Keep that in mind the next time you read the Drudge Report and feel like throwing your chair out the window in despair.

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