Gospel for February 27, 2011 — Choices

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The Gospel for February 27, 2011 is from Matthew 6:24-34.  Jesus tells us not to put the riches of this world in front of the majesty of Heaven.  He says, “No one can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  He then asks us to put our faith in Him and not worry so much about acquiring earthly possessions.  The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary echos this same theme when Jesus asks us to put living for God’s Kingdom before our earthly one.

Jesus’ statements in this Gospel lead to a lot of confusion.  Why is He telling us not to worry about what we will eat, drink, wear, or live?  Don’t we have to work and earn a living so that we have a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear?  After all, I don’t think He wants us to be homeless and dieing of starvation.  I don’t think Jesus is calling for a total collapse of society because no one needs to put in a hard day’s work.  Or is Jesus telling us we do not have to work at all and God will just give us everything we want on account of our faith in Him?

Any reader of this blog or the Gospel obviously knows that Jesus isn’t literally telling us not to work.  Jesus understands that we need to work and provide for ourselves and others.  He is not telling us to be slothful and just await for God to “bail us out.”  Jesus’ main point is that our earthly pursuits should not be the focal point of our lives.  We should work, but not solely for the earthly wealth and power.  As in the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary, Jesus asks us to live for His Heavenly kingdom of Heaven first.  He asks us to convert from our native, earthly focus and orient ourselves towards God.  We do this by consciously making a clean start with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, praying more, and really letting the Holy Spirit guide us through life.

According to the Gospel, God will provide for us.  Note that Jesus does not say that our faith will give us an easy life free of burden and responsibility.  This is not what Jesus meant by providing.  Just look at many of the saints.  Their lives were not easy.  Many of them were persecuted, ignored, hated, and even martyred.  But in the end they were all blessed with eternal happiness because they chose to live for God’s kingdom first.  In the end, God did provide for them with the ultimate gift — Heaven.

We have a choice.  Where are we going to put our priorities?  Are we going to choose living for all the good things of this world or all the great things in Heaven?  We only have so much energy and time in the day so we do have to make a choice.  We cannot live for God’s kingdom by accident.  If we do not explicitly choose to live for God, we naturally tend to drift towards living only for this world.  That means we need to make many small decisions every day to choose God’s love over earthly pursuits.  Do we choose to set aside time for prayer?  Do we go to Sunday Mass and treat it seriously and with respect?  Do we receive the sacraments (particularly Reconciliation)?  Do we go out of our way to avoid sin even if it makes our life harder?  Do we help our brothers and sisters, particularly our enemies or those in need?  Those are just a few  of the choices we need to make that will either bring us closer to God or away from Him.  This week is a good time to pray the rosary, focus on the Third Luminous Mystery, and ask yourself, “Who will you serve?”

Gospel for January 30, 2011 — Challenging Yourself

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The Gospel for January 30, 2011 is from Matthew 5:1-12 most famously known as The Beatitudes or The Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus gives hope to those who feel hopeless and lost in a world that does not always seem good or fair.  He talks about how He will comfort the poor, the meek, and the persecuted in Heaven.  In the Beatitudes, Jesus proclaims the greatness and majesty of His kingdom of Heaven which is the central theme of the Third Luminous Mystery.

Jesus wants everyone to know that there is more to our existence than what we see, hear, smell, and feel.  And it does not matter how successful you are in this lifetime because you worldly successes won’t amount to anything in His kingdom.  This message is hard to fully realize since many times we do not see the light at the end of the tunnel when we suffer or make sacrifices for doing what is good and righteous.  But the entire point of praying and meditating on this rosary mystery is to ask God for the faith to see the glory of His kingdom even when it seems like our good acts have little impact in this world.

Let’s break down the Beatitudes into its core message since it is sometimes lost in Matthew’s poetic language.  If you want to live for God’s kingdom, this is what Jesus asks you to do:

  • Be devout in your faith, but do not show it off for the sake of looking holy.
  • Work towards righteousness by not being afraid to call good things good and bad things bad.
  • Be merciful, especially towards those who make life the most difficult for you.
  • Be pure of heart by avoiding sin and the near occurrences of sin.
  • Work towards peace even if it is just within your own heart.
  • Endure persecution, insults, and attacks against you for doing what is good even if the world considers it bad.

This is not easy.  No one said living for God’s kingdom would be.  But that is the point of praying the rosary; to ask for the strength and guidance to live, not for the world, but for Heaven.  I know that sometimes the Beatitudes can sound a little dry when read during Sunday Mass.  I know I sometimes zone out because I’ve heard it so many times.  But it is so important to not only know the Beatitudes, but to live them.  Ask yourself this in your prayers this week, “Am I living The Beatitudes?”  Listen to them one more time from the movie, “Jesus of Nazareth.”  It is my favorite Biblical movie because scenes like this bring life and energy to Jesus’ message that is sometimes lacking during Mass.

Rosary Meditation — The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery

Today’s rosary meditation focuses on the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus Carries His Cross. This mystery encapsulates many of the Stations of the Cross. We see Jesus take up the cross, fall repeatedly, meet the mourning women, be stripped of his garments, and nailed to the cross. Like the other Sorrowful Mysteries, Jesus carrying His cross teaches us about the nature of suffering and that we are called to love God and do His Will despite any suffering we may encounter in our lives.

Christ fallen while carrying the cross, at St....
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Today’s rosary meditation focuses on the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus Carries His Cross.  This mystery encapsulates many of the Stations of the Cross.  We see Jesus take up the cross, fall repeatedly, meet the mourning women, be stripped of his garments, and nailed to the cross.  Like the other Sorrowful Mysteries, Jesus carrying His cross teaches us about the nature of suffering and that we are called to love God and do His Will despite any suffering we may encounter in our lives.

While carrying the cross, Jesus fell down repeatedly.  His falling is significant since we dedicate three Stations of the Cross to it.  And yet each time Jesus fell He got back up.  But why did Jesus continue to get up and continue suffering at the hands of the Roman soldiers?  He must have known that each time He got up His situation was only going to get worse as He became more tired and beaten and crucifixion was the only thing that awaited Him.  Why didn’t He just give up and die where He lay and avoid the increasing pain and torment?  What pushed Jesus to get back on His feet?

Jesus continued because He understood that the purpose of following God’s Will is not to avoid suffering and find comfort in this life.  Just the opposite, our purpose in life is to follow God’s Will despite the suffering it may bring.  Jesus followed God’s Will out of love for His Father and love for us.  Jesus’ love was greater than the physical pain He felt and that is why He got back up and continued to His crucifixion.  Likewise, God desires us to love Him despite the suffering we may encounter doing so.  We know that part of loving someone is to make sacrifices at times.  And while Jesus taking up His cross is an extreme example of this truth,  this mystery reminds us that we are also called to love God regardless of our earthly situation.

We may think there is a huge difference between the Son of God mustering up the strength to carry on in the face of great suffering versus us finding it in our daily struggles.  It is very common to question God’s plan when “the going gets tough” and we do not get what we want or what we think is fair.  I often come across people on Catholic forums asking, “Why me?”  “Why can’t I find a job?”  “Why can’t I find a good spouse?”  “Why did I get this illness?”  “I pray every day, I go to Mass, I go to Confession, and I don’t commit any mortal sins so why does God make my life so difficult?”  The answer to all these questions lies within this mystery.  Suffering is part of this life while our reward for loving God and doing His Will will be part of the next.  We endure the trials of this life because our faith tells us that we will find comfort and relief in God’s Kingdom.  Unfortunately, this is not the answer many of us want to hear.  We want instant miracles.  We want our problems to disappear.  We would love God to “bail us out” immediately when we pray to Him.  However, we do not see the big picture as God sees it.  What we see as monumental suffering now in this life ultimately amounts to nothing compared to the glory of Heaven that awaits us in the next life.  At the same time, following God’s Will, even in the face of great suffering, will yield tremendous happiness and comforts in Heaven.  And in the end, finding eternal happiness in Heaven is all that really matters, not the momentary suffering and comforts in this world.

We should pray for all those who have “fallen” in life that they find the strength to get back up and follow God’s plan.  We should pray for those who think God has abandoned them when in fact God is right here pushing them to work through their troubles.  We should pray for those who do not follow God’s Will just to reap the comforts of this life at the cost of comforts in the next one.  We should pray for the understanding that we love God most when we follow Him regardless of the earthly consequences.  Finally, we should pray for the faith that all earthly suffering will be relieved when we enter into our true home, God’s kingdom of Heaven.