What Jesus’ Arrest Tells us About Those Critical of the Church

One of the aspects of the Passion narrative that initially confused me was Judas’ betrayal with a kiss. Why was the kiss to identify Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane necessary? Wouldn’t the soldiers sent to arrest Jesus know what he looks like? After all, they arrested Jesus because of the threat He supposed posed. This was the man who had been preaching and healing throughout the region and the authorities had wanted to arrest for some time. Jesus was basically public enemy #1 on the Pharisees‘ “most wanted” list. Why then, did the Jewish authorities need Judas to pick him out in the small group gathered in the garden?

To me, the answer to this question is yet another question — did the Pharisees really know Jesus?  The Pharisees knew that there was this person traveling around the region criticizing their authority.  He was a person the people loved despite not following the Mosaic law.  And that’s all the Pharisees bothered to learn about Jesus.  Did they actually listen to His teachings and think about what He was saying?  It looks like the Pharasis dismissed Jesus’ teachings outright without even thinking about them.

Since the Pharisees and their followers never took the time to really understand Jesus, they didn’t know who to look for to arrest.  To them, Jesus was a faceless agitator.  Those who arrested and ultimately crucified Jesus didn’t really know Him and that is why they needed one of His disciples to identify Him.

When we read about Jesus’ arrest or meditate on His agony in the garden when we pray the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, we should ask ourselves whether we are making the time to try to understand Jesus.  Are we praying daily and trying to know His Will and ask for the strength to follow His teachings?  Or are we like the Pharisees and see Jesus’ teachings as an impediment or inconvenience in our lives?  Do we dismiss Jesus because we aren’t taking the time to understand what He is trying to teach us?

When I read articles that are critical of the Catholic Church or make fun of Her teachings, I think about the Pharisees that Jesus encountered.  Popular media criticizes the Church because they do not understand the Church nor do they want to make an effort to learn.  In their minds, the Church is some arbitrary and controlling patriarchy telling people what they can and cannot do.  They don’t see the centuries of reason and logic that go all the way back to Jesus who taught what He taught out of love.

The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Again...
The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Against Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In addition to the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, the Joyful Mysteries also have a lot to say about not dismissing God’s Church without understanding Her.  Like Mary and Joseph in the Annunciation, we need to have a willingness to trust God’s plan even when it runs contrary to our plans.  Or jump to the Fourth Joyful Mystery and look at Saint Simeon and his devotion to God.  When we pray the Rosary, remember to pray for those who act like the Pharisees — those who criticize the Church without the desire to understand Her.  I honestly believe that with enough prayer, the most critical of the Church can become Her most fervent supporter.  Don’t believe me?  Look up “Blessed Bartolo Longo.”

Ask God for Strength, Not an Outcome

I usually visit LifeHacker to read up on new technology and browse daily deals. It’s not the sort of place I would expect to find advice on prayer and spirituality. Whenever they discuss social issues they are usually advocating positions counter to the Catholic Church. That is why I did a double take when I saw an article titled Don’t Pray for Outcomes, Ask for Strength. For a second I thought I had my browser tab open to Catholic Exchange.

The LifeHacker article quotes Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

Try praying differently, and see what happens: Instead of asking for ‘a way to sleep with her,’ try asking for ‘a way to stop desiring to sleep with her.’ Instead of ‘a way to get rid of him,’ try asking for ‘a way to not crave his demise.’ Instead of ‘a way to not lose my child,’ try asking for ‘a way to lose my fear of it.’

One way to summarize Marcus Aurelius’ thoughts is that we should look at changing ourselves before changing our circumstances.  Sometimes, we can’t change our circumstances.  The world will always be a nasty place full of dangers and vices.  We can’t change large things like countries going to war with each other or even small things like the refrigerator going dead and needing to be replaced.  But we can change how we approach our circumstances and try to put them in perspective.

Portrait of Emperor Marcus Aurelius as a boy. ...
Portrait of Emperor Marcus Aurelius as a boy. Roman artwork. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Rosary Connection

Look at Jesus at the Garden of Gestheme which we meditate on in the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary.  First, He prays for a very specific outcome — for God to spare Him the suffering of the Crucifixion and bring about salvation some other way.  Jesus shows that there is nothing intrinsically wrong making a specific request in prayer.  For us, thinking about the situation helps us gain different perspectives on it and helps us better understand how God answers us.  We can start to understand that there may be multiple ways we can handle our circumstances besides wanting them to just disappear.  What we want to avoid is focusing solely on a specific outcome and closing our heart and mind to how God actually answers us.

Jesus entrusts His life to God’s Will.  Keep in mind that while the scripture verses of the agony in the garden are quite short, Jesus prayed for hours; long enough for the apostles to repeatedly fall asleep.  I think he probably did spend a good deal of that time asking God for the strength to do His Will.  Jesus was focused not on changing his situation but on preparing Himself for whatever was coming His way.

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

And that brings us back to Lent.  This is our time to focus on changing ourselves, not expecting God to change our circumstances to fit our desires.  This is why we fast, abstain, and make small sacrifices — to make us stronger to carry out God’s Will for when life doesn’t go as expected.  By voluntarily making things harder for ourselves and enduring, we prepare ourselves for the involuntary hardships that will come our way.  Last Sunday’s Gospel talked about how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying so that he was prepared for His ministry.  Likewise, we too should spend the 40 days of Lent preparing our bodies, minds, and hearts for living out our Catholic faith in whatever form God plans for us.

Why the “Meds” in RosaryMeds?

rosaryIt has been a while since I’ve written a “go the extra mile” type of post.  But with all that is going on in the world right now I think a little spiritual “kick” is appropriate.  I want to tell you why I chose the name “RosaryMeds” for this website.  “Meds” can mean a lot of things.  The first word that comes to mind is “meditation” which I certainly promote on this website and in my guide on praying the rosary.  But you can also think of “meds” as the slang word for “medicine” which also applies to rosary prayer.  First, we should take a look at how some people view medicine:

  • Medicine is meant to treat a disease
  • Sticking to a prescribed regiment takes discipline and often a conscious change in lifestyle
  • Many people stop taking treatments because they don’t feel any positive effects
  • Many people don’t take the fully prescribed dosage because they believe they are already cured

We first must identify the disease being treated when thinking about the rosary as a type of medicine.  In my opinion, we all suffer from the human weakness of failing to follow God‘s will and having the tendency to commit sin.  In many cases, knowing right from wrong is fairly straight forward.  We know that we should avoid vices (lust, greed, envy, wrath, etc.) and embrace virtues (love, charity, compassion, etc.). But we often fall short in finding the strength, energy, and courage to act virtuous and follow the path God puts before us.  And that is where our “rosary medication” comes in.  Praying the rosary is our medicine that strengthens our resistance of committing sin.

Our holy mother Mary tells us that the rosary is our spiritual medication in many of her 15 promises.  She promised:

  • The Rosary will be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin and dispel heresy. (#3)
  • It will draw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. (#4)
  • Those who trust themselves to me through the Rosary will not perish. (#5)

Generally available Marian image created in th...

Destroying vice, drawing hearts away from the love of the world, and not perishing in the fires of Hell sound like a some pretty powerful medicine to me.  But we never receive the rosary’s benefits if we never pray it.  Keeping a rosary in a drawer is like keeping the pill bottle in the medicine cabinet.  Medicine doesn’t magically get into our bodies and do its wonders by itself.  We have to want to get better from our affliction and take our medicine.  Similarly, we have to resolve to pray the rosary, stick to it, and make it part of our daily routine.  We have to want to become better people, stronger in faith, and closer to God’s good graces.  Once we find that motivation, the rosary “meds” can kick in and help multiply the benefits of God’s gifts to us.

Prayer is such strong medicine that Jesus Christ not only prescribed it to His disciples, but He took it as well.  While Jesus didn’t have a human weakness towards sin, He did experience fear about doing God’s will as we see in the First Sorrowful Mystery — the Agony in the Garden.  And what was Jesus’ action in the face of human weakness?  Jesus prayed to God for strength and courage which God gave Him as He endured a scourging, a crowning of thorns, carrying the cross, and crucifixion.  Jesus got all the spiritual medicine He needed to endure a level of hardship many of us will never (hopefully) experience.  If prayer was powerful enough for Jesus in His darkest hour, imagine what it can do for you in your daily struggles.

We know that sin and temptation attack our souls every day like a virus.  We know that the rosary is God’s prescription for treating it.  If you were sick with a physical illness would you skip taking your life-saving medicine because “you don’t feel like it?”  Keeping our souls healthy is so much more important than our our bodies (don’t get me wrong, we should take care of both).   So when it comes to our spiritual well being maybe we should be good patients and follow the doctor’s orders by praying regularly.  Remember, a rosary a day keeps the devil away!

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What Athletes Can Teach Us About the Rosary

Scandals in professional sports is nothing new.  Every few weeks we hear about an athlete cheating on a spouse, using drugs, squandering money on an extravagant lifestyle, or being arrested for any number of crimes.  And yet, if you were to take the secular media’s take on professional sports, the most scandalous and controversial athlete of the last few months was Tim Tebow because he (gasp) prays publicly!  And now there is another devout Christian in pro sports making news headlines.  Basketball star, Jeremy Lin, of the New York Nicks has been on fire lately; helping his team to seven victories in a row.  And like Tebow, Lin does not hide his religion either.  So what can Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin teach us about prayer and the rosary?

Unless prayer is part of your life, you probably won’t understand people who pray publicly.  Many people see Tebow’s taking a knee in a game as some sort of act of self-righteous piety.  But to Tebow, turning to prayer is just as natural as saying “please,” “thank you,” or “sorry” when the situation calls for it.  When something great happens, Tebow turns to God and thanks Him.  In any situation, whether it be a call for help or in thanksgiving, God is Tebow and Lin’s almost-instinctual “go to” person.  The fact that their faith seems weird and out of place tells more about our society and our values rather than their character.  But they can’t hide their faith or “tone it down” any more than we can stop our hearts from beating.  Prayer is just part of their DNA.  And in my opinion, that is something to be praised and admired, not mocked.

Jeremy LinTebow and Lin’s focus on their faith and prayer reminds me of the First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary — the Agony in the Garden.  Jesus was scared before His arrest and crucifixion.  And when He found Himself in a difficult situation, Jesus’ immediate reaction was to turn to God and ask for help through prayer.  I’m sure that those who arrested Jesus, the pharisees that tried him, and Pontius Pilot who condemned Him probably all wished that Jesus would have “toned down” all that Messiah talk much like how many of us wish that some outwardly religious people would just shut up.  But being connected to God through prayer was an integral part of who Jesus was.  And, as followers and imitators of Jesus, we are called to make prayer an integral part of our lives too.  When we pray the First Sorrowful Mystery we should ask God for the strength and wisdom to constantly turn to Him in prayer regardless of the worldly consequences.

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in...Another aspect of the Agony in the Garden is how God chooses to answer our prayers.  While Jesus asked that God find another way to bring salvation to the world besides crucifixion and death, Jesus did yield to God’s ultimate wisdom.  It may seem that God did not answer Jesus’ prayer since He asked to be spared but was ultimately crucified.  But God did answer Jesus’ prayer by giving Him the strength and courage to face His physical and mental torture.  When we pray, we should realize that God does answer us and leads us, but probably not in the way we expect.  Tebow won’t win a football game because he asks God for victory.  Lin won’t always score 20+ points every game because he asks God for it.  We won’t win the lottery or get a promotion at work because we pray for it.  God knows that winning a football game, winning the lottery, or receiving that promotion won’t make us ultimately happy.  In fact, given our innate human weakness, the more worldly success we have the more likely we are to move away from God’s grace and true happiness.  God wants us to be ultimately happy by living forever in His heavenly kingdom.  And so we should look for the answers to our prayers that will meet that goal instead of the short term, and often short sighted, happiness we seek in life.

And so, when we see an athlete like Tebow take a knee and thank God, we should aim to imitate that behavior, not ridicule it.  We should be always conscious of our relationship with God which means constantly talking to God in prayer.  It seems like we spend so much time announcing to the world what we are doing through Twitter and Facebook.  Well, perhaps we should also remember to update God about our joys, sorrows, and worries.  Because ultimately, having a close relationship with God is all that really matters.  When you have that, everything else falls into place.

Do you want to learn more about the First Sorrowful Mystery and other rosary mysteries?  Read “The Rosary for the Rest of Us.”  Available now on Amazon.

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Blessed are the Students…

Grinnell College Gates Tower
Image via Wikipedia

For many of us, September means the start of a new school year.  And perhaps one of the largest transitions students face is going off to college.  I know this is “so last month” for those on the semester system, but I was a quarter system guy when I was in school.  Regardless of whether you are just moving in for orientation or are a few short months away from graduation, I want to share this article I came across in the Catholic San Francisco and how it relates to the First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary.

The article is the Beatitudes for College Students and it outlines eight smart tips for thriving in college.  Some of them like staying away from drugs and going to class are just part of being a good student and a responsible adult.  But other ones like making sure you attend Mass, pray regularly, and keep in touch with family are often swept aside in pursuit of higher education.  While many people may do well on the academic, social, and career fronts, some often stumble spiritually during their college years.  For those who do fall away, hopefully it is just a temporary bump in the road.  But unfortunately, many become spiritually derailed in college.  We should pray for all of those in college as many schools (even Catholic ones) have become extremely hostile environments for practicing religion and spirituality.

One of the college student beatitudes is “Blessed are students who pray about and think through important decisions.”  People make very important decisions during their college years.  They must decide what to study, how to support themselves after graduation, where to live, how to manage finances, who will be their friends (or possibly spouse), and just how manage life as a responsible adult.  Furthermore, college is often a time to decide how much of a priority you will make living according to your faith and values.  For example, as many students find themselves living away from home for the first time, the question arises on whether to continue praying or attending Mass.  Often, we come to these decisions after consulting with friends, professors, family, and counselors.  We read articles, attend lectures, and try to research these life-altering decisions as best we can.  And yet we often forget to ask God for guidance by praying.  This not only applies to college students, but all of us.  Do you pray earnestly and listen to God before making large decisions?

We should remember the First Sorrowful Mystery where Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus prayed so hard to God on the eve of His death that He started sweating blood.  He begged God to find another way to redeem us other than crucifixion.  Ultimately, crucifixion was God’s will and Jesus followed it faithfully.  But Jesus’ prayers were answered in that God gave Him strength to endure crucifixion and peace knowing that through His death and resurrection He would ultimately open the gates of Heaven and give us the opportunity for eternal joy and happiness.

And so college students can learn a lot from Jesus’ example of praying earnestly when facing big decisions.  God does have a plan for each one of us but we have to listen carefully through prayer.  We must be particularly vigilant in those times when it seems like God does not answer our prayers.  Perhaps He did but in a different way than what we were expecting.  Sometimes, instead of removing obstacles in our lives, God gives us the strength to overcome them.

College saddles students with many questions and decisions.  For those starting college, take time to reflect on what people are of good quality and what activities will ultimately make you a better person (hint: it’s not drinking and partying).  For those in the middle of their college years, ask God for guidance before declaring a major.  And for those in the final years of school, consider praying for insight on how you will spend the rest of you life after you get that diploma.  And important decisions don’t end after graduation.  Your will need to make decisions your entire life whether it be about work, family, finances, and politics.  You will have challenges but don’t think you’re alone in facing them.  God is always one prayer away and will always lead you in making the right decision if you listen to Him.