How God Enables Greatness in Us All

When Jesus ascended into Heaven, the apostles must have felt incredibly scared.  This wasn’t the fear they felt when Jesus was arrested and crucified.  That fear had passed since experiencing the truth and glory of His resurrection.  But they must have been scared knowing that the Church was now in their hands.  The apostles were no longer followers, but leaders.  They were commissioned to go out and spread Jesus’ teachings to the whole world.  But there was a hitch — they weren’t Jesus!  They were fishermen, tradesmen, and even a tax collector.  They only had two years of on-the-job training with Jesus and they were confused most of the time.  How were they going to lead God’s Church as effectively as Jesus?

That’s where the decent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost comes into play.  On Pentecost, we see God’s plan coming together for the post Jesus-as-human world.  The apostles weren’t left to their own devices but had the Holy Spirit to guide them.  I’ve often talked about how one of the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit is courage.  I’m now realizing that part of that boost in courage must come from the reduction in anxiety.  When the Holy Spirit came and the apostles were able to speak in any language, that must have been a great confidence builder for them.  At Pentecost, the apostles must have realized that it was possible for them to go out and do the seemingly impossible — spread Jesus’ teachings.

Icon of the Pentecost
Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What about us?  Are we any different from the apostles?  They were common people who were able to do uncommon things because they allowed the Holy Spirit to guide them.  They weren’t Pharisees, scribes, or other learned people.  We, the laity, aren’t priests.  But Jesus does not want us to be passive consumers of the Catholic faith and leave the heavy lifting to the priests and nuns.  We are called to the same service as the apostles and we have the exact same strength and courage through the Holy Spirit as they had.  In other words, we are just as capable of leading God’s Church as the original apostles.

We have to remember that compared to the power of God, all humans are roughly the same.  Comparing the greatest saint to the lowest sinner and then comparing them to God is like asking what grain of sand is mightier compared to a mountain.  The original apostles did great things, but not because they were superhuman.  They would have failed if they were left solely to their own abilities.  The apostles succeeded because they had the help of the Holy Spirit.  They contributed all their power and ability, and God provided them with the rest (which was probably 99.9% of the overall power needed to spread His Word).

Pope Francis’ May intention is all the more relevant in the light of Pentecost.  He asks that the lay faithful may fulfill their specific mission, by responding with creativity to the challenges that face the world today. The pope echoes what Jesus asked of His apostles in the Ascension — do not be passive consumers of the faith. Do not hoard your faith by not sharing it with others.  We each have a mission which requires active participation.  Be champions of the faith.  Embrace it.  Listen to the Holy Spirit, and don’t be afraid to follow Him.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rosary Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be at Peace Even Without a Full Understanding of God

Have you ever tried to explain a complex topic to a small child?  How does a bird fly?  How does a television work?  Why does that factory produce so much smoke?  Trying to explain these realities can be difficult to distill into something a child can understand.  And often, despite our best efforts, they still come away with a wrong understanding.  Last Sunday’s Gospel reveals how we often misunderstand God because we try to box Him into our limited understanding of the reality He created.

In the Gospel, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at a well where He talks about living water.  She asks, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?” (John 4:11).  She is taking Jesus’ words literally; that the living water is something that is down in the well and can be fetched.  She doesn’t understand that Jesus is not talking about physical water you find in a well but the living water of the Holy Spirit.

The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and ...
The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, by Giacomo Franceschini, 17-18th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We probably laugh at the woman’s naivete talking to Jesus.  But are we really any different from her?  We often take what the Church teaches and try to place it within the confines our physical reality.  We want to know how exactly the Eucharist is transformed into Jesus’ Body and Blood.  Where is our soul?  What is it made of?  Where is Heaven?  What temperature is Hell?  When will the Apocolypse take place?  The questions that people have trying to define the physical realities of God are nearly endless.

For many, the lack of concrete answers that obey the laws of science and physics causes them to lose faith in the Catholic Church.  Because the pieces don’t fit exactly like the steps of a mathematical proof, they reason that something must be wrong or at least incomplete about the Church.  In a way, this attitude falls into the sin of pride.  We think that God can only exist within the confines of space and time as we know it.  Instead of realizing that we aren’t capable of fully understanding God, we tell ourselves that there must be something incomplete with Him and His Church.

The Rosary Connection

We can look at the Mary in the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary where she asks, “How can this be?”  upon learning that she will immaculately conceive a son.  The initial reaction is one of surprise because God is not following the rules of science and human physiology.  Likewise, when Mary’s story defies everything known about how conception works, Joseph tries to quietly divorce her.  He takes the skeptical approach to what he does not understand while Mary takes the faithful approach when she said, “May it be done according to His Will.”  Who are you more like, Mary or Joseph, when God acts in ways you cannot explain?

The Holy Spirit as a dove in the Annunciation,...
The Holy Spirit as a dove in the Annunciation, by Philippe de Champaigne, 1644 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We can also see this theme of disbelief in the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary where Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven.  Many people had a hard time believing Jesus because he was a carpenter’s son.  They could not make Jesus’ teaching fit with their understanding of how God would manifest Himself as the Christ.  Those with pride, such as the Pharisees, dismissed Jesus because He did not conform to their understanding of God’s law.  Ironically, it was the poor, sick, and outcasts who showed the humility to believe in Jesus even if they couldn’t completely understand His true nature.  Who are you?  Are you dismissing Jesus’ presence in your life because He is someone you can’t fully explain and understand?

This Lent we should strive to take our faith seriously even when we don’t fully understand it.  God, as the creator, is not limited to the confines of His creation.  Therefore, God exists outside of our ability to understand Him.  But instead of losing faith, we should work hard at showing patience and understanding in accepting God’s wisdom and divine plan even when the pieces don’t seem to add up.

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.

Building Your Relationship with Jesus Through Rosary Prayer

I came across this interesting article on DesiringGod about something I think many of us struggle with — balancing our love of leisure activities with our love of God.  In the article, a reader asks:

My question is about my desire and satisfaction in spiritual discipline and worship. I prefer entertainment to time with God. That’s the honest truth. Time with God feels like labor. Entertainment is the passive place I go to get away from work for a while. But I am also terrified for my soul, because my past tells me I’m just not trying hard enough, and I will regret this in the future.

I can absolutely relate.  Actively building a relationship with God is hard work.  I know I have given into my lazy tendencies and decided to watch TV over praying my Rosary.  I tell myself that I’ll watch a quick YouTube clip and then I’ll start praying.  Then it’s one quick article in a magazine, then right after I  brush my teeth and get dressed, then… I know that I’m kidding myself when I say I’ll pray the Rosary right after something else.  But it’s easier to believe the lie than to admit that sometimes I’m just not feeling strong enough to pray the Rosary.

I think the hardest part about Rosary prayer is that there is not immediate gratification from it like watching TV.  You usually do not feel any holier after praying the Rosary.  In fact, you may feel more worn out or feel sad after contemplating all the times you have fallen short living the faith.  You cannot pin down the small, incremental gains you make each time you pray the Rosary.  It is that lack of immediate feedback that drives many people away from their rosaries and into the warm embrace of a TV or smartphone screen.

Let me ask you this.  If you are married or in a relationship, can you pinpoint the exact moment you went from liking spouse to loving him/her?  Can you say, it was December 22nd and 9:13 pm that your relationship went from admiration to love?  Most likely, you can’t pinpoint the exact time when your feelings for your spouse took a large leap forward (and no, changing your status on Facebook doesn’t count).  After a lot of time and effort, relationships deepen but the change is imperceivable at any given moment in time.

Praying to the Madonna of the Rosary, by Carav...
Praying to the Madonna of the Rosary, by Caravaggio, 1606-1607 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The same idea goes for the Rosary.  You probably will not know the exact moment when Rosary prayer turns from chore or burden to necessity and comfort.  But there is one thing for certain.  It will remain a chore if you never work up the energy to start praying it.  Our relationship with Jesus is similar to any other relationship — it takes work and effort and isn’t always very fun.  You need to look past the momentary inconvenience of Rosary prayer and see how you are building one of the most important relationships of your life — your relationship with Jesus.  With the proper perspective, the graces your receive through the Rosary dwarf the pain you feel praying it.

Don’t Envy Those Who Didn’t Work All Day

Jesus told the parable of the laborers in the field in last Sunday’s Gospel. In the parable, an owner of a vineyard paid his workers the same wage regardless of how long they worked. Some worked all day while others worked a single hour. And while people often question the fairness of how God pours out His grace, this parable fills me with hope and comfort.  Here’s why.

One of the lessons I take away from the parable of the vineyard laborers is that it does not matter how late you come into God’s grace when it comes to earning a place in Heaven. A life of sin can be wiped clean by the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the final moments of someone’s life. This fills me with hope because I know that no matter how badly I mess up in life, there is always the opportunity for salvation as long as I come before God with a humble heart.  And not just me, but when I see or hear about all the lost souls around me I know there is also hope for them to turn around their lives and receive all of God’s grace.

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard
The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But what about the ones that did work all day in the field? How could they not feel cheated? I can’t help but feel sorry for those who worked all day only to learn that they could have received the same pay for a lot less work. There are a few ways to look at this scenario. Yes, some people only worked an hour. But on the flip side, they were only an hour away from not being hired at all and would have received nothing. Those who were hired in the morning, assuming that they worked hard throughout the day, guaranteed their reward.

The same can be said about earning our spot in Heaven. Yes, there are those who come late to God’s grace. But there are also those who run out of time and do not come into God’s grace at all and miss eternal salvation. Given how little God really asks of us to receive His grace, we need to pray for those who continue to live in sin that they don’t wait to receive God’s mercy and possibly lose out entirely.

If we follow the parable, those who are working in the field all day can be compared to those who faithfully follow the teachings of the Catholic Church throughout their lives. We should feel comforted knowing that God promised us the gift of Heaven for dutifully following His Will.  Is it always easy?  No, work is often challenging.  But it’s rewarding.  And I’m not just talking about the final reward of Heaven either.  In doing God’s Will, you also have a sense of security knowing that God will look after and help those who follow Him much like an employer making sure his employees are safe and taken care of.  By working for God, you stay focused on that goal of Heaven and won’t be as easily tempted to sin.  Remember, idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.  If you’re too busy working for God, you leave Satan little opportunity to influence you.

Think about this parable when you pray the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion.  Jesus told us that Heaven is open to everyone and provided a roadmap to get there.  He said to love your neighbor.  Is that hard?  You bet!  Loving some of the people around you may be the hardest job many people will ever have.  And don’t envy those who may have started working on following Jesus’ teachings late in life.  You never know how much more challenging their lives were before working towards God’s Kingdom of Heaven.

Rosary intentions

  • We pray for those who live in sin; for their conversion.
  • We pray that we don’t envy those who start following God’s Will late in life.
  • We pray for God’s mercy on those who died in a state of sin.
  • We pray for those who believe living for God’s kingdom is too hard.
  • We pray that those who do live for God’s kingdom reamin faithful and not become tempted by Satan’s lies.

How the Rosary Helps Us Overcome Obstacles

I don’t watch a lot of television.  However, when I find a few minutes and don’t feel like doing anything serious, I enjoy watching American Ninja Warrior.  It’s a show where athletes run through an obstacle course trying to complete increasingly more rigorous feats.  Most people fail to complete the entire course.  But those that do are ecstatic because they overcame the temptation to quit even when they were fatigued and were entertaining thoughts that they didn’t have the ability to complete the course.

The same conflict between completing a goal or giving up because the obstacles seem too great appears in many of our spiritual lives.  Many of us have a hard time mustering up enough energy to make it through an entire rosary chaplet or Bible reading.  We all want to do God’s will and form a deep relationship with Him through prayer.  And yet, despite all that we desire, we let trivial obstacles like a television show, website, or video game distract or derail us from doing what we know is good.

Saint Peter highlights what happens when we let obstacles overpower us and distract us from God’s will.  In the Gospel, St. Matthew wrote about Jesus walking on the water in a terrible storm.  Peter also tried walking on the water and was initially successful but then was overcome by fear and doubt and sank (Matthew 14:22-36).

Does Saint Peter’s story sound a lot like yours when it comes to prayer and doing God‘s Will?  I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “This time I’m going to stick to a rigid prayer schedule.”  Or I read a book about the importance and benefits of prayer and get all excited initially only to be overcome by distractions.  Like Saint Peter walking on water, instead of staying focused on my relationship with Jesus Christ I get distracted by the world around me.

But when we make an effort to pray and act according to God’s will, we actually act in a way that is doubly pleasing to God.  Rev. P.J. Michel explains in his book, Temptations:

On this principle, when you observe the law of God and do His will in a way that is displeasing to nature, you acquire a double claim to reward: first, you have obeyed, and secondly, you have obeyed with difficulty and against resistance and combat. The sac­rifice you have made of the natural inclination that solicited and impelled you is rewarded here by new graces and hereafter by an increase of eternal glory and happiness.

What does the rosary teach us about praying through distractions and temptations?  You can probably pick any of the Sorrowful Mysteries and see Jesus’ example of doing God’s will despite the pain and suffering.  But that’s too easy of an example for regular RosaryMeds readers!  I want to look at the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation.  Here we have Mary being asked to be the Mother of God.  At first, she focuses on all the earthly limitations of such a request.  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” she asked (Luke 1:34).  But Mary didn’t let all those concerns distract her from accepting the burden and the honor God wanted to bestow on her.

Now jump to the Fifth Glorious Mystery, Mary’s Coronation in Heaven.  Going back to the passage from Temptations, when you do God’s will in the face of difficulty, you increase your eternal glory and happiness.  What better example is there than seeing Mary crowned Queen of Heaven?  She followed God’s will even when that meant seeing her son rejected and crucified.

When you don’t feel like you have the time or energy to pray the rosary, look to Mary’s example of the grace God gives you when you make the effort to pray and do God’s will despite the difficulty.  It may be hard, but the reward dwarfs the inconvenience.

How to Recover After a Disappointing Lent

We’re now in the middle of the Easter Octave and Lent 2017 is in the history books.  Maybe you didn’t have the most spiritual Lent this year.  Maybe you didn’t give something up or cheated a bit.  Maybe you didn’t receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, didn’t fast, or didn’t commit yourself to prayer.  Some of you may not have acted any differently during Lent than any other time of the year.

In the wake of a disappointing Lenten season, it’s easy to throw your hands into the air and say, “well, better luck next year.  That’s when I’ll really take Lent seriously.”  With that attitude, you basically turn Lent into some sort of spiritual open enrollment period where, if you miss it, you have to wait an entire year before you can make changes to your spiritual behavior.  Granted, I haven’t read the entire Bible (yet) but I don’t think God specified a time window on when you can convert and invest in a deeper relationship with Him.

I also hope there isn’t a three month wait list to receive God’s grace.

What can you do now that Lent is over?  Easter is a celebration that lasts for 50 days.  What better way to celebrate than committing yourself to increased prayer, fasting, and receiving the sacraments.  Like Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast, we want to come dressed to this glorious Easter celebration “dressed” appropriately.  That means with a soul cleansed of sin and a humble spirit of conversion.  Sure, we may not have used all 40 days of Lent to adequately prepare, but getting prepared now and arriving a little late to the party is better than missing the party completely.  Better late than never, right?

On the flip side, maybe you had a great Lent which is turning into a great Easter.  And while we may ease up a bit on the fasting and sacrifice, we shouldn’t do a complete 180 and undo those gains by sinning, not praying, and ignoring our faith.  Hopefully, what you did during Lent will have a lasting impression.  For example, I gave up snacking for Lent.  But just because Lent is over, it doesn’t mean I’m going to become a glutton (although I may have gone overboard on the donuts last Sunday).  While I may not be as steadfast as I was during Lent, I think I will continue to abstain from snacking at least two days a week.

Remember, it will all still be there tomorrow. Stay strong and resist temptation.

After Jesus’ death, many people thought they could back to their “old” lives and basically wrote off Jesus as someone who had some interesting ideas but died tragically.  Saint Peter momentarily went back to fishing.  Jesus’ disciples started leaving Jerusalem to pick up where they left off.  We too may have that feeling that now that Easter Sunday has passed, it’s time we return to our “normal” lives.  But Jesus’ resurrection actually created a new normal and permanently altered human kind‘s relationship with God.  Similarly, each Lent and Easter, we should be creating a new normal for ourselves as well; always pushing ourselves to form a deeper relationship with God.  Let’s not make the same mistake Jesus’ disciples made treating Jesus as a passing fad.  Instead, prolong the spirit of the Resurrection and make your relationship with Him something you work on every day for the rest of your life.

And Jesus Wept…

We are coming down the home stretch of this Lenten season.  Like a movie, the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is hitting its climax as Jesus’ miracles get larger and more public but so does the ire of the Jewish authorities.  It, of course, culminates with Jesus’ crucifixion and then resurrection.  Similar to how the readings are hitting their crescendo, so too should our observance of Lent.  It’s time to pick up the praying, fasting, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and just putting our faith front and center in our lives.

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  I want to focus on one specific verse.  It’s a short, three-word sentence — “And Jesus wept (John 11:35).”  It is easy to overlook the significance of this sentence when you know what Jesus is about to do.  In fact, this sentence does not seem to make a lot of sense.  If Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, why did he weep?  Naturally, the other people wept because they did not know Jesus was going to raise Lazarus.  But why would Jesus, someone who healed and raised others from dead, weep when he knew that Lazarus’ state was only temporary?

English: Picture of the And Jesus Wept statue ...
English: Picture of the And Jesus Wept statue that stands next to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus’ weeping ties him to our shared humanity with him.  It is so easy to see Jesus’ divinity in the accounts of him healing others, performing miracles, and resurrecting from the dead.  On top of that, we have the Catholic Church and it’s billion+ members in all its grandeur.  But after 2000 years we tend to forget that Jesus was also human.  He shared all the same emotions as us except the tendency to sin.  Even when he knew that he was going to raise Lazarus, his weeping told people that he sympathized with them and understood their grief.  He did not distance himself but instead drew us closer to God by making himself more relatable.

When we pray the rosary, we should remember Jesus’ humanity in addition to his divinity.  Remember that despite all the miracles he performed, Jesus was one of us.  He showed grief at the death of a loved one.  He showed fear in the Garden of Gesthemene before being arrested and crucified.  He showed anger when he threw the merchants out of the temple or the countless times he chastised Peter.  Even going back to the story of Lazarus, the Gospel says that Jesus was “perturbed” by everyone’s lack of faith.  Yes, it seems like Jesus wasn’t immune from frustration.

Jesus asks a lot of us.  He asks us to live for the Kingdom of Heaven and convert by turning away from our sinful or earthly ways.  Like a defiant teenager rebelling against his parents, we may tell Jesus, “Easy for you to say!  You’re perfect!  You just don’t understand what it’s like to be me!”  But Jesus replies, “I understand perfectly.   Remember, I know what it is like to be human.  I shared the same feelings and emotions.  And I ask these things of you because I know what it is like to be you.  I’m not some distant God who does not know the human condition for I experienced it personally.”

You think you have it tough, try healing a man on the Sabbath!

Fasting, praying, reading the Bible, and confessing sins are all difficult during Lent.  And in general, living a spiritual life can be difficult.  But the Church calls us to this life not because it expects us to fail.  The Church does not call us to a holy life that is completely beyond our ability to grasp.  The Church follows Jesus’ teachings born out of his experience being human and knowing what we are capable of.

Finding God in the Midst of Trouble

Is it just me or is there a growing feeling of despair weighing on everyone lately?  Whether it’s natural disasters, politics, or peoples’ personal situations, everything just seems so negative.  My Facebook feed is so full of hateful memes from both sides of the isle I’ve basically given up reading it.  I rarely engage in conversations at work because someone will eventually throw out some ridiculous political opinion that I have neither the time or energy to dispute.  Our world seems to have gotten meaner and more adolescent than any grade school playground I’ve ever known.

But the world being a cruel place is hardly a modern invention.  I read this article about the trials and misfortunes of Joseph from the Old Testament.  He was a man sold into slavery by his own brothers and later thrown into prison in Egypt.  God never made Joseph’s problems magically disappear but instead guided him through them.  The article’s author remembers her period of utter despair and what God was teaching her:

I remember years of crying out to God, thinking my faith would get back on track when life got back to normal. But as the pain grew more intense, I realized I needed to find God in the present, and not wait for my circumstances to improve. God wanted me to find him sufficient in the midst of trouble rather than just demanding that he deliver me from it.

And I found God more than sufficient as I met with him daily in Scripture and in prayer. His word became exceedingly precious to me. It brought light to my darkness. It became life to me.

I think we can all appreciate the author’s initial bargaining sentiment.  How often do we tell God, “make my life easier and I will be more faithful?”  Or, “I will start praying more when my life improves.”  Or how often do our prayers, no matter how well intentioned, turn into us specifying our wish list to God?  But as the author and Joseph’s story points out, many times the darkness in our lives is needed so that the faint light of God’s grace can be better seen and understood.

Prayer time is not a contract negotiation with God.

Joseph had an amazing gift — the ability to interpret dreams.  And in a complicated series of events, it was necessary for Joseph to be sold into slavery and thrown into prison for his gift to be used as God planned.  And so we too may have to pray and meditate in the darkness of our lives so that God can better illuminate the gifts he gives us to fulfill His plan.  Without the darkness, God’s Word, either in scripture or in prayer, might be drowned out by the noise of daily life.


 

 

 

Naturally, any Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary shows the darkness in Jesus’ life which was necessary for Him to fulfill God’s Will.  And while we can all smile and nod in agreement about this cornerstone of our faith, imagine how difficult it was for Jesus’ apostles to accept.  Here was Jesus, the rising star of the Jews, who healed, cast out demons, calmed storms, and did many other amazing miracles.  The apostles probably thought that they would ride those miracles to an easy salvation where Jesus would just magically transform everyone’s hearts and minds.  Imagine their confusion and disappointment when their hero was arrested, beaten, and crucified.

Like the apostles, we too can become very confused when life throws unexpected and difficult hurdles our way.  And like the apostles, our instinct may be to run and hide.  Or maybe we become angry because God didn’t do something the way we want.  But like Joseph or Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemene, instead of running from God in the face of difficulty, we should instead call on Him to help us endure.  The world has always been a cruel and unforgiving place and probably always will be.  But God is one powerful ally to have in your corner.