The Rosary is God’s Newsfeed

Did you read about what President Trump said?  Did you see that meme about Nancy Pelosi?  Did you know that the Russians are secretly colluding with the tobacco industry to put nicotine into flu vaccines because a Saudi billionaire is shorting the British pound which is closely tied to Big Pharma?  Junk!  All of it.  It’s not informative or educational.  It doesn’t really raise any awareness of anything substantial.  We consume this junk every day and for what?  Has social media and newsfeeds made us happier and more at peace?  Are our lives better because of it?

Perhaps it is time to break out of the cycle of negative, vindictive, and manipulative newsfeeds and social media posts.  I recommend subscribing to God’s social media feed and making that the first thing you read every morning.  You won’t see any fake news, advertisements, memes, or cat videos.  You’re not going to find Him on Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter.  You don’t even need a computer or smartphone.  God’s newsfeeds are scripture, rosary prayer, reflection, and meditation.

Facebook has become a medium for people to vent their frustrations, share their joys, and ask questions.  God’s feed through prayer offers similar functionality but with more benefits.  In prayer, you can vent your frustrations, share your joys, and receive feedback and assistance.  Why vent all your frustrations to people who will just ignore you, argue with you, or give you generic responses when you can receive honest, sincere feedback from God?  There is nothing you can tell Him that will cause Him to block, ban, or unfriend you.  God is your ideal friend who will always listen as if you’re the only friend on His feed.

Not only is God’s feed informational, He also offers a lot of services.  Okay, so Heaven doesn’t stream videos or offer two-day shipping.  But God does offer us much greater gifts through the Sacraments.  You can be instantly forgiven of sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  You can receive Jesus’s Body and Blood through the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  You receive healing and graces through the Anointing of the Sick.  These are exclusive to God and His Church.  Amazon, Facebook, and Google will never be able to provide these services.

I have this suggestion for subscribing to God’s newsfeed.  Every day, after you wake up, make talking to God the first thing you do.  Make prayer, reading the daily scripture, a Rosary decade, or some moments of reflection the requirement for opening your email, Facebook, WhatsApp, or Twitter account.  Focusing on God first thing in the morning is much better and positive than reading some reposted meme about why some public figure is the worst person since Hitler.

I think the Fourth Glorious Rosary Mystery, Mary’s Assumption, best exemplifies a Heavenly newsfeed.  Mary has a special role in Heaven as our intercessor and guide.  She calls us to love Her Son and follow His teachings.  She has appeared to many people throughout history preaching the importance of prayer, fasting, and the sacraments.  She has provided many “posts” throughout the last 2,000 years and has given us great tools for living in God’s grace.  Namely, She gave us the Rosary prayer which is our best conduit for learning what God desires for us.  The Rosary is God’s newsfeed.  Are you subscribed and following Him?

What the Gospel and Rosary Teach Us About Good Works

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is from Matthew.  I’m only including the part I’m going to reflect on in this article.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

In this Gospel passage, John the Baptist makes a distinction between piety and good works.  The Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves good people because they followed the Mosaic law to the letter.  But John implies in his comparison to a tree not bearing good fruit that just following rules or having a certain status does not lead to salvation.  One must follow up with good works, charity, and compassion.

Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees
Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good works, charity, and compassion were the cornerstone of Jesus’ ministry.  He came into this world, not as someone of status and authority, but as a servant who ministered to those people society had excluded.  Jesus repeatedly taught that what matters most to God is what someone does, not what their title is.  Whether it was teaching the golden rule or telling the parable of the poor woman who gave all she had to charity, Jesus’ ministry centered around instilling the value of good works and sacrifice.  Inversely, those who only followed rules and sought status and honor He routinely called hypocrites.

This past Thursday’s Gospel from Matthew echoes a very similar message:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Notice how Jesus is saying that just accepting Him as the Savior is not enough.  You have to follow up with action what you proclaim in your words.  To put it in more modern terms (but now maybe ridiculously outdated), you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

When you hear and read this Gospel, meditate on the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary, The Visitation.  Think about Mary in this mystery, someone who recently learned that she was to be the mother to the Massiah.  What does she do?  Does she flaunt the fact that an angel visited her?  Does she go about looking for an elevated stature in the community?  No.  Instead, she travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth and helps her through her pregnancy although she herself was pregnant.  Mary’s initial action after the Annunciation was one of charity.

Also, consider the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary when you reflect on this Sunday’s Gospel.  Mary was assumed into Heaven and now acts as our intermediary to her son, Jesus Christ.  Even when bestowed the title Queen of Heaven (Fifth Glorious Mystery), she has never stopped actively guiding us through the minefield of life.  She protects us from evil, helps those who ask for her assistance, and has continually appeared to many delivering a message similar to John the Baptist in the Gospel — Jesus loves you and wants you close to him, but you must make the effort to love Him through good works, charity, and compassion.

Pope Francis Said What? — Contraception and Catholic Doctrine

Pope Francis. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA.

As well intentioned Pope Francis seems to be, he sure can generate a lot of misunderstandings of Church doctrine. I think it’s important to call out these instances and try to clarify them. After all, I don’t want the secular media, who aren’t the most Catholic friendly, having the final word interpreting the pope’s words.

While the pope’s supposed twitter war with Donald Trump has garnered a lot of attention, he also made statements about the use of contraception to combat the Zika virus in South America.  This didn’t get the amount of attention it deserves as it will live well beyond a few tweets between a presidential candidate and the pope. I fear the media will quote this in the future whenever the Catholic Church and contraception are mentioned.  Here’s the specific part of the transcript I want to focus on (bold is mine):

Paloma García Ovejero, Cadena COPE (Spain): Holy Father, for several weeks there’s been a lot of concern in many Latin American countries but also in Europe regarding the Zika virus. The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoiding pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of “the lesser of two evils?”

Pope Francis: Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.

Here’s the problem. Did Pope Paul VI actually permit nuns in Africa to use contraception? Pope Francis’ argument hangs on the premise that a previous pope had a doctrinally sound reason for doing so. Surely, Pope Francis can refer to some papal document from Pope Paul VI supporting this position right? But it looks like the pope has been hoodwinked by a Catholic urban legend. I came across a great article by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf that examined the root of the “Pope Paul VI permitted nuns to use contraception” myth.

English: picture of pope paul VI Español: foto...
English: picture of pope paul VI Español: fotografia del papa pablo VI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I encourage you to read the entire article, the tl;dr version is that the scenario of nuns in Africa using contraception was written as a hypothetical example in a theological article about the principle of double effect that was published two years before Paul VI became pope. Like any urban legend, it starts based on some actual event and then little changes to the details are applied.  Like a game of telephone, eventually the story the persists is nothing like the original. There’s even a similar version of this story except it’s St. John Paul II instead of Paul VI and Bosnian nuns replace African nuns.

I understand why the New York Times or the Washington Post may mistakenly report this myth as fact. After all, they probably think Nancy Pelosi is an authority on Catholic doctrine. But I would hope that the pope would be better informed and not repeat an urban legend as truth. What’s worse is that while the words attributed to Paul VI or St. John Paul II are myths, the words of Pope Francis are not. He actually said them and believes that they are rooted in Catholic teachings. I fear that over time the Paul VI myth will be replaced with Pope Francis’ own words.  After all, who needs to keep a myth alive when you have the words straight from the pope’s mouth?

The pope’s off the cuff statements create a challenge for those who want to show the world the reality, truth, and beauty of the Catholic Church.  When the truth in areas like contraception are blurred, it waters down the appeal of authentic Catholicism.  Going back to the book, Rome Sweet Home, that I wrote about recently, part of the reason the Hahn’s left the protestant church was because they started to see inconsistencies and too much gray area in the doctrine.  They saw the Catholic Church as an unwavering rock of well reasoned, biblical doctrine that created an opportunity to truly live in the fullness of God’s grace.  Catholic doctrine may not be the easiest to understand and follow, but at least it’s true.  Speaking of rocks, the office of the pope should be acting as the doctrinal cornerstone as Jesus commanded Peter.  That is why Pope Francis’ interviews, where he creates a lot of confusion, bothers me so much.  When the pope gives off the cuff comments, I feel like he weakens the divinely appointed role and power of the papacy.

Retable de l’Agneau mystique

Whenever I think of Church doctrine, my thoughts go towards the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary — Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.  I think that one of the reasons God assumed Mary into Heaven is because her duties as our mother extended beyond her earthly life.  God chose her to be our mother for all ages to come.  And like a good mother, Mary desires us to know our faith and see its depth and beauty.  There is so much misinformation out there about the Catholic Church, both intentionally and unintentionally spread.  It’s our responsibility to learn all that we can so we aren’t led astray into a false or watered down sense of our rich faith.  Holy Mary, we pray to you for guidance to learn as much as we can about the Heavenly Kingdom you so greatly want us to enjoy.  Amen.

5 Ways to Keep the Cross in Christianity

I came across this article on Catholic Exchange about how there are many in the Church who want to free Christianity from the cross. And yet, this article makes a good point about how you can’t separate the cross from Christianity because you can’t separate Jesus from the cross. Or, as the article puts it, “There simply cannot be a joyful Easter without there first being a Good Friday.”

The article says that the Church faces a lot of enemies within:

Sadly, at the very highest levels of the Church, there are men who are opposed to the Gospel of Christ. They despise the cross and they want a Christianity free from it. They want a Catholicism sanitized of sacrifice, of repentance, of dying to self, of carrying one’s cross to follow Christ. They want an easy religion—a religion that accommodates us in our sin, that pats us on the back and assures us that everything will be ok, a faith that requires nothing of us.

To create this crossless religion, they believe they must change the Church and her immutable teachings. All their thought is bent upon it, and they are currently using every machination in their power to accomplish their aim. Perhaps their chief method is to question what is settled—to whisper like the serpent of old, “Did God really mean what he said?”

This article seems timely given that the Synod on the Family is taking place. I know that Pope Francis has asked everyone not to politicize the Synod. But I still can’t help but wonder who is more passionate at this point in history — those who want to remove the cross or those who seek to preserve it? I know that preserving the cross won’t make you the most popular. But neither are needles and scalpels and you don’t see doctors giving those up.

( )
“Let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”

The article ends with 4 ways we can keep the cross, and hence our salvation, alive and not be deceived by those who wish to remove it. Here is the summary:

  1. Learn and embrace the teachings and traditions of the Church
  2. Receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist
  3. Stay close to Mary in prayer
  4. Pray and sacrifice

When looking at this list, I can’t help but think about the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary — Mary’s Assumption into Heaven. As I wrote about in The Rosary for the Rest of Us, God set aside a special place for Mary, not just in her earthly lifetime but in ours as well. She has appeared throughout the ages giving us advice and tools with the promise of eternal joy to those who use them.  I think Mary’s guidance can be summed up in some simply, yet important, tasks which mirror what was offered in the Catholic Exchange article:

  1. Pray — How can you have a close relationship with Jesus if you don’t take the time to talk to him?
  2. Read the Bible and other Church teachings — How can you love and embrace your faith if you don’t take the time to learn it?
  3. Fast — How can you love God with your whole being if that being is constantly attached to earthly pleasures?
  4. Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation — How can you remain close to God with a barrier of sin between you two?
  5. Receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist — How can you love and embrace the Catholic Church without receiving her cornerstone sacrament?

English: The statue of the Assumption venerate...

When you pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery, remember to integrate these five tasks into your routine. Doing so will not only remind you about the importance of the cross but also embrace it. As Jesus commanded, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Jesus didn’t make the cross optional. It’s as fundamental to our spiritual life as air and water are to our physical one. Following these routines will remind you of the cross’ importance and not let you be deceived by those who wish to whitewash it out of Christianity.

What Software Engineering Teaches Me About Morality

I’m a software engineer and that means I look at a lot of computer code all day long.  Often, I’m working with other engineers and look at their code and offer suggestions for improvement.  I’m always telling other software engineers to not “reinvent the wheel.”  That means don’t write your own code to solve a problem that someone else has already adequately solved. For example, if my application needs to send an email notification, it would be a waste of my time to write my own email routine instead of using one someone else has already written.  Why should I go through all the effort to design, implement, debug, and test a piece of software when someone else, who probably knows a lot more about the details of email protocols, already made the effort and produced a tool that fits my needs?

The fifth of Thomas Aquinas' proofs of God's e...
St. Thomas Aquinas

I see parallels between code reuse in software engineering and theology. I often ponder why I believe what I believe. For example, I believe that abortion is an intrinsic evil. I know this because this is what the Catholic Church teaches.  According to the mainstream media or popular culture, that makes me an ignorant lemming who does not think for himself.  But quite the contrary, I’m not relying solely on my thoughts and emotions to arrive at the conclusion that abortion is evil.  I refer to thousands of years of Catholic teaching built on the foundation of some of the greatest philosophical minds the world has ever known.  Like the software engineer that builds an application using various tools and libraries others wrote, I build my moral foundation by integrating the deep insights of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

People should use their talents while relying on the talents of others in areas where they aren’t experts.  I’m a software engineer, not a philosopher or theologian.  When people need help with their computer, they call me.  When I  need moral guidance I call St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Albert the Great, Blessed John Paul II, St. Augustine of Hippo, Pope Benedict XVI, and many other great minds of the Catholic Church.  I would be foolish to “wing it” and rely solely on my own thoughts and emotions when facing a moral question because I’m not utilizing all the time-tested thoughts and teachings available to me.  And whether it is a software engineer or someone looking for moral guidance, when you try to do everything yourself you will usually not produce as good of a solution as trusting those who have deep domain expertise.

The real “lemmings” in our culture are many of the ones who accuse the faithful of not utilizing rational thought.  While the Catholic faith built its foundation on people who really studied and thought about life’s great questions, many in society at large draw their beliefs from the words of politicians, special interest groups, celebrities, and talking heads on the news.  And like fads, their moral foundation is constantly changing because it’s based mostly on emotion and news polling.  How stable is that foundation if it is constantly in motion?  Why should the Catholic Church “modernize” if that would mean replacing its strong moral foundation with one that has no deeper thought than a joke on The Daily Show?  Do we really want to throw out the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas for the wisdom of Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden?  Do we replace the influence of the Summa Theologica with the popular sentiment of “Everybody’s doing it.  Don’t you want to be cool?”

 What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

Purchase “The Seven Big Myths About The Catholic Church” from Ignatius Press.

Society has come down with a serious case of soundbiteitis.  Symptoms include basing your morality on the words of celebrities and politicians and believing various myths and flat out lies about the Catholic Church and her principles.  You are advised to meditate on the Fourth Glorious Mystery — Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.  Mary has a special place in Heaven and she serves as our guide to bring us into God’s grace and eventually into His heavenly kingdom.  Throughout generations she came to many people through apparitions with a message to turn towards prayer and to really attempt to understand Jesus’ Church.  To understand the Church, you need to read its teachings found in the Bible as well as the writings of her saints and theologians.  Mary knows just how great the fullness and joy of Heaven really is and she wants all of us to have an understanding of it too.  Because if we did take the time to educate ourselves about the Church, and pray for the faith to even feel the slightest sense of what awaits us in Heaven, we would turn away from our sinful ways.

We all have a choice.  Do we put base our morality on the sound bites of politicians and celebrities?  Or do we put our faith in the teachings of the Catholic Church, its generations of scholars, and our Heavenly Mother Mary?  Seems like a no brainer to me.

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Non-Religious at a Greater Risk of Developing a Mental Disorder

I love it when I find a connection between one of my RosaryMeds posts and a news article. It makes me feel like I’m really on to something and my thoughts aren’t too far off in right field if they relate to current media headlines. Of course, I wish the topic wasn’t about the declining practice of religion. But unfortunately that theme seems very prevalent in our world today. In a previous article about the growing number of US voters with no religions affiliation, I mentioned the dangers about being a “believer” but not ascribing to a particular religion. I wrote:

Here’s the problem with “nones” who are supposedly “believers.” What do they believe? Are their beliefs just an arbitrary set of guidelines that they will follow or ignore at their convenience? Are they in that “God loves me and I think He’s cool with how I choose to live my life” group? Because that’s not belief. That’s just finding justification for living however one pleases. It’s a religious foundation built on sand where the slightest disturbance or challenge will knock it over. Or less poetically, they are beliefs that will change as soon as someone declares them outdated, uncool, or not following the majority in society. In my experience, not being connected to an organized religion is synonymous with not practicing any religion at all.

It turns out that modern psychiatry backs up my claim about the dangers of being a free-form “spiritual” person with no religious affiliation. Non-religiously affiliated people might have a greater chance of developing a mental disorder. The Telegraph reported this study:

Professor Michael King, from University College London, and his fellow researchers wrote in the British Journal of Psychiatry: “Our main finding is that people who had a spiritual understanding of life had worse mental health than those with an understanding that was neither religious nor spiritual.”

The researchers concluded: “We conclude that there is increasing evidence that people who profess spiritual beliefs in the absence of a religious framework are more vulnerable to mental disorder.

This was a small study on only 7,403 people. And while I didn’t arrive at the exact conclusion in my thought exercise about mental disorders, I did point out how vulnerable unaffiliated believers are to the whims of society. And since our culture is getting crazier by the day, it stands to reason that those who base their spirituality solely on the societal norms might also go a little crazy too.

I think of unaffiliated, spiritual people like a leaf floating in the wind. The leaf cannot control its trajectory or destiny. It is completely at the mercy of the elements around it. Now if the wind is society, than it is blowing like a tempest. Everyone is so hot-headed and pointing fingers at each other. People pay too little taxes, people pay too many taxes, government is doing too much, government is doing too little, gun owners are evil, the Catholic Church is a hate group, the GOP hates minorities, Obama is a Marxist, and on and on and on. This is what the media spews out all day and every day. And so, like the leaf caught in the hurricane, people without a dogmatic religious foundation just get battered around without any control.  And so I don’t find it surprising at all that many unaffiliated spiritual people develop mental disorders and need to turn to drugs to achieve some level of control in their lives.

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

Society has come down with a case of battered belief syndrome. The name describes people who aren’t rooted in any religious belief system and so the chaotic nature of the modern world beats them down. Symptoms include an increase of drug-dependent people not practicing any particular religion. They often suffer from anxiety and nervousness because they have a hard time coping with the craziness all around them. I prescribe a healthy dose of meditating on the Fourth Glorious Mystery — The Assumption of Mary. Our Mother Mary is the greatest physician when it comes to fighting battered belief syndrome. She informs us to really embrace our faith and learn what the Church really teaches. We must take those teachings to heart and try our best to live by them. That way we form a strong foundation that won’t crumble no matter how chaotic and anti-religious the world becomes.  Learn the faith by reading scripture, Church documents, and any number of great educational books.  But most importantly, pray that you let that knowledge sink into your soul and act like an anchor that will keep you standing tall no matter what societal storm comes your way.

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Because I said so…

Picture this.  You’re watching a football game and in the middle of a play some yahoo, frustrated with his team’s performance, jumps from the stands and runs on to the field.  He manages to take the ball from the quarterback and runs into the end zone.  He spikes the ball and declares that he’s such a great football player.  Meanwhile, his drunken friends in the stands are also cheering him on by telling everyone just how great of a football player their friend is.  However, that fan’s shenanigans ultimately do not mean anything. His touchdown wouldn’t count for either team, and his effort would not go down in any official record book.  And no amount of cheer leading or yelling from either him or his friends would change the fact that he is not an actual football player that has an effect on the outcome of the game.

English: Caroline Kennedy speaks during the fi...

And so we shift from football to the Democratic National Convention.  Here we have Obama and other Democrats cheer leading for their base.  Many people who spoke basically said, “Look at us! Look at how compassionate and pro-life Obama and the Democratic party is!”  But like the yahoo who ran onto the football field acting like a football player (and his drunken friends who echoed that claim), simply proclaiming you are compassionate and pro-life doesn’t make you so.

For example, we heard Caroline Kennedy say how a women’s reproductive health care is under attack because of the stricter abortion laws passed in many states.  She said that her Catholic faith would not allow her to support such laws.  I don’t know what theology class she took or what priests she consulted, but the Catholic Church is definitively against abortion in all forms.  Implying that the Church supports abortion in any way is a gross distortion of the truth and is scandalous because it misleads other Catholics who aren’t educated in their faith.

But the real woppers came from former congresswoman, Kathy Dahlkemper.  She went one step further than Caroline Kennedy and actually tried to make the argument that Obama is pro-life and that ObamaCare is the most pro-life piece of legislation ever passed in the Unite States.  Her words were:

So when people criticize Obama for his record on abortion, she continued, “you can turn on them and say, ‘He is pro-life.'”

Well that settles it.  There is no more debate.  Obama is pro-life because someone said so.  Never mind any of the hidden abortion funding in ObamaCare, the HHS contraception mandate, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the cancellation of federal funds for adult stem cell research, and the attacks, blackmail, and extortion from the federal government towards any state that tries to restrict abortions or defund Planned Parenthood.  Never mind the glowing endorsement Obama got from Nancy Keenan, president of National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice America (NARAL), at the start of the DNC.  Never mind what Obama and the liberal left do, they are pro-choice, pro-life, whole-life, no-life, and whatever else they want you to think they are… because they say so.

Our Lady's Island Church of the Assumption Eas...

The twisting of facts and the outright lies at the DNC regarding contraception, abortion, and the teachings of the Catholic Church remind me the importance of the Fourth Glorious Mystery — Mary’s Assumption.  We remember in this mystery that Mary calls us to forge a deeper relationship with her son, Jesus Christ.  Part of forging this relationship is coming to know Jesus as the Truth and not distort it to fit our wants and desires.  But this is an understanding we only receive when we pray, read the Bible, learn the Catechism and tradition of the Catholic faith, receive the sacrament of Reconciliation, and receive the Eucharist.

There will be many people and groups that will try to confuse you and distort the truth in the upcoming weeks.  The Caroline Kennedys and Nancy Pelosis of the world will try to use their twisted view of the Catholic faith to serve their political ends instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them in making wise decisions.  It is so important to make an effort to learn and understand your faith so that you won’t be swayed by anyone’s empty words, promises, and distortions.

I think it’s fitting to end with a small prayer:

Oh Lord, be with us now in this time when Your Word is so distorted or ignored in this world.  May we seek the guidance of Mary, the Holy Spirit, and the angels and saints to understand Your Truth and find the energy to follow it.  We pray for the conversion of those who choose to speak in Your Name to solely fit their personal ends instead of humbling themselves to truly listen and follow You.  Amen.

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Understanding the Catholic Church’s “Users’ Manual”

I did something stupid — I updated the BIOS on my computer’s motherboard thinking it would solve a problem with my CPU fan.  As a result, my computer blue screened at Windows start up.  So I was without a functional computer for over a week resulting in lost productivity and a lot of frustration.  For those who aren’t computer geeks like me, I tried updating my computer and ended up breaking it.  This small ordeal taught me a lot about the details of my computer and how changing one little component can have far reaching consequences.  It also taught me a lot about faith and dogma.  Sometimes in life, when we ignore little warnings and the wisdom of others, we can find ourselves in a whole heap of trouble.

I could not find any updates or fixes for my noisy fan problem on my computer manufacturer’s website.  However, I did find a similar update file elsewhere and installed it despite all the warnings on the manufacturer’s website saying I should only use the updates they provide.  I thought I knew better.  I thought the update file I found would work just fine and all the warnings were for people with much less computer experience.  But as I quickly discovered when I turned my computer into an expensive paper weight, there’s a reason why the manufacturer’s website had those warnings.  I would have saved myself a lot of grief by heeding the manufacturer’s advice.

What does my experience breaking my computer have to do with the Catholic faith?  It taught me a great lesson in the importance for dogma.  The rules, guidelines, and teachings of the Catholic Church exist for a reason.  They act like a user’s manual and warranty for one’s spiritual, mental, and physical well being.  And when someone decides to ignore those rules and warnings, like we do when we sin, unpleasant difficulties can emerge.

Think about some of today’s hot button theological topics that popular culture criticizes the Catholic Church over like premarital sex, artificial contraception, divorce, abortion, embryonic stem cells, homosexuality, natural law, existence of absolute evil, and the objectivity of sinful behavior.  They often criticize the Church without really looking at the Church’s history and why it teaches what it teaches.  It isn’t that the Church wants to control everyone’s lives or destroy our fun.  Quite the opposite, the Church’s teachings are meant to protect us from harm and give us the best possible opportunity for happiness.

Let’s look at premarital sex as an example.  If you were to read any anti-Catholic (or just a secular) publication, you would think that the Church is just “old fashioned” and has a fear of women’s sexual freedom because it is run by a bunch of old, celibate men.  But if you actually look at the Church’s teachings, you will find that one of the reasons for coming out against premarital sex is to strengthen the bonds of marriage and allow a couple to experience a deeper sense of love for each other.  When people wait, they increase their chances of living a happier life.  The Church’s stance is even supported by a lot of secular research that shows that the divorce rate is lower for those who are virgins when they marry.  When you look around society and see the STDs, higher divorce rate, and just general unhappiness that has come from “free sex” you come to see the logic and wisdom on why the Church teaches you to wait for marriage.  It’s not always easy to do what is best for us.  Like impatient children that “just want it now” because “we feel like it,” many people dismiss the Church’s teachings only to find hardship, anger, and sadness.

Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens)When I think about the rules and dogma of the Catholic Church, I think of the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary — The Assumption of Mary.  I have said multiple times that Mary is our guide in finding ultimate happiness in God’s heavenly kingdom.  She is joined by saints, theologians, and others who have contributed over the last 2,000 years to the collective knowledge of the Catholic Church.  We owe it to ourselves to listen to Mary and these other guides through prayer and read the Church’s “users’ manuals” such as the Bible, the Catechism, encyclicals, and other teachings.  We owe it to ourselves to build up knowledge of our faith so we can make decisions that will lead us closer to God’s grace and not stray when society tempts us to live contrary to the faith.

I lost a week to a broken computer because I didn’t heed the warnings.  When you don’t heed the Church’s wisdom, you could lose much, much more — happiness, your life, your freedom, God’s grace, and His heavenly kingdom.

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Crisis of Faith

You have to love our German Shepherd, Pope Benedict XVI.  Last week he traveled to Germany and delivered some great speeches and homilies.  What I like about the Pope is that he tells things as it is and teaches the Catholic faith even if it runs contrary to the norms of modern society.  And unlike many politicians, he doesn’t take on the victim mentality but instead challenges the faithful to really live as Jesus calls them regardless of the obstacles imposed by the outside world.  Like the manager of a sports team, he discusses our weaknesses so that we are aware of them and can aim to be better Catholics and better people.  In this day and age, that level of honesty mixed with compassion and motivation are rare.

Last Saturday, Pope Benedict met with Central Committee of German Catholics and discussed challenges the Church faces in developed, Western countries.  According to the Catholic News Agency, the Pope told them:

“We must honestly admit that we have more than enough by way of structure but not enough by way of Spirit.  I would add: the real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith.”  This is observed, said the Pope, “in the inconstancy and fragmentation of many people’s lives and in an exaggerated individualism,” such that many people “no longer seem capable of any form of self-denial or of making a sacrifice for others.”

Pope in Fatima
Image by Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Flickr

I understand what the Pope means in terms of the Western Church having structure but lacking faith.  I receive a Church bulletin every Sunday and there is no shortage of club meetings, events, and services.  There is also no shortage of people in the pews at Sunday Mass.  And yet, I do feel that something is missing in terms of spirituality.  Many people treat Sunday Mass as putting in one hour of work before they can socialize and enjoy donuts and coffee.  And yet, where are the large crowds to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, pray the rosary, and attend Adoration?  How many people attend Mass on Sunday almost like they are clocking in and out of work because it is an obligation?  And worse, how many children learn that “in and out” attitude regarding Mass from the adults’ example?

Contrast the modern day American parish with that of a small village in some unknown part of the world.  I’ve seen other parts of the globe where someone’s life and faith are basically one.  They pray regularly for long periods of time, dedicate and offer fasting and abstinence for intentions, attend Mass multiple times a week, and receive the Sacraments.  But there is more to their faith than just these outward acts.  It’s hard to explain, but you just get the sense that their faith is just part of who they are and means so much to them.  When you compare these two groups you realize that Pope Benedict is right when he noted that the Western Church has plenty of structure and not enough of the Holy Spirit.

When praying the rosary, meditate on this crisis of faith on the Fourth Glorious Mystery — The Assumption of Mary.  Remember, God assumed Mary, body and soul, into Heaven.  And she is now our guide in all things spiritual.  We pray for her guidance that we live our faith fully every day, in every word, every action, and every thought.  We pray especially that we can muster the strength to imitate Mary and not take the great gift of faith for granted or reduce the Church to a weekend social club.  Mary begs us to follow her advice because she knows the great joy that awaits us in Heaven and she does not wish for that joy to be delayed (Purgatory) or lost (Hell).

We must remember that we are Catholics, not just for an hour at Mass on Sunday, but 24/7.  And nearly all of us fall short of living our faith in its entirety.  And that is why we pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit, Mary, the saints, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

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The Feast of the Assumption

The statue of the Assumption venerated at Ghax...
Image via Wikipedia

With all the upheaval and uncertainty in this world — riots in England, financial markets slowing down, jobs disappearing, etc., maybe it is time to get back to basics and focus on what’s really important.  Monday, 8/15/11, was the feast of the Assumption which we pray in the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  In my meditation on that mystery, I talk about how Mary is our spiritual guide and offers us five easy habits we can use to get back in touch with God’s awesome grace.  I call them the 5 R’s — Recite (prayers), Read (the bible), Refrain (from indulgent eating), Repent (from your sins), and Receive (the Eucharist).  We should all take a little time out from all the worries of this world and focus on what is really important.  We should also pray particularly for all those who do not seem to have a spiritual compass and live in a world without hope or joy of something permanent such as God’s love.  We pray that they find the strength to orient themselves towards God’s truth and live in His grace.