Conquering Envy Through the Rosary

Let’s talk about sin, specifically, the seven deadly sins (also known as cardinal or capital sins).  Theologians in the early Church devised a list of sins that form the foundation for other sins.  Think of it like the taxonomy, or classification, of sinful behavior.  By reducing sin to a small list, teaching about sin and virtue became easier in the early Church because priests could teach people simple “do this, avoid that” style rules.  The seven deadly sins as we know them today were formalized by Pope Gregory I in 590 AD and later expounded by Saint Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica.  For those of you who never saw the movie Se7en, the seven deadly sins are:
  • gluttony
  • lust
  • greed
  • pride
  • sloth
  • wrath
  • envy
This article is going to focus on envy.  In the age of social media and instant communication with others, it’s so easy to suffer from envy.  We see people’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts about their fantastic vacations, cute families, crazy parties, and glamorous lives and it’s difficult to not feel envious.  We fixate on the nice car our neighbor bought or the slightly larger TV that is in his living room.  Unless you live in a completely isolated environment, it’s difficult not to see the blessings others have around you and not feel just a bit envious.

The Scriptural Connection

Of course, envy isn’t anything new.  In fact, envy plays a prominent role in the first book of the Bible when Cain killed his brother Abel.  Cain envied his brother because God favored Abel’s offering over his.  What I find interesting is God’s response to Cain’s anger: “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance (mood) fallen? 7 “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The Bible doesn’t say how much effort Cain put into his offering to God.  Maybe he held something back and didn’t put forth his best crops for God but kept them to himself.  Maybe Cain was lazy which lead to a small harvest.  God basically challenges Cain to do better and work harder.  But instead of accepting the challenge, Cain fixated on his brother’s good fortune to the point of murdering him. That is why envy, when not addressed, is such a deadly sin.  It can grow and spread like cancer.  It then cuts us off from others because all we see in others are our own desires.  We don’t see others as our fellow brothers and sisters but more like a store’s windows displaying what we want but cannot have.  It reduces people to the summation of their possessions.  Many of the deadly sins are interconnected since we can see envy being related with pride (everything centered around what I want), greed (always wanting more), and wrath (hatred because you have what I want).

The Rosary Connection

Father Ed Broom wrote an article on Catholic Exchange about what we can do to combat envy.  It’s worth a read.  But of course, the Rosary also teaches us about envy and how to fight it.  Let’s look at the Second Luminous Mystery — the Miracle at the Wedding at Cana.  What does that have to do with envy?  Let’s consider God’s miracles and blessings.  When others receive them, are you happy for them or do you envy them?  For me, one person’s unexpected blessings can bring about feelings of envy and resentment.  I ask why other people have all the good fortune.  Or, why has God saddled me with more hardship than someone else? Of course, feeling envious is the wrong way to look at God’s blessings and miracles.  To start, someone receiving a miracle or blessing doesn’t take any blessings away from you.  God’s grace is not a zero-sum game where someone receiving grace deprives someone else of his.  God has infinite power and hence, can dole out infinite grace.  When others encounter miracles, Father Broom says we should thank God for all the blessings and miracles He performs in our lives.  Yes, we may not have the cushy job, a huge bank account, a nice car, or a great phone.  But we are alive and able to praise God by living the day as virtuously as possible.  God gives us the miracle of a new day of infinite possibility.  Don’t squander it by being envious of others. Let’s also look at the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation.  Each Rosary mystery has an associated “fruit.”  You can think of fruits like the lesson taught in each mystery.  For the Visitation, the fruit is “Love thy Neighbor.”  Of course, loving your neighbor is the opposite of envying or being jealous of your neighbor.  Father Broom states that praying for those whom you envy will help fight that envy.  It does this by taking that sinful fixation and transforming it to a healthy one.  Your focus is on asking God to help you instead of being jealous of others.  Fighting envy difficult, but so was traveling to Elizabeth’s home for Mary.  She did it out of her love for her cousin.  We too must take up that difficult challenge of fighting envy with love, prayer, and kindness (which is one of the seven heavenly virtues that combats envy).

The Transfiguration and the Awe of Catholicism

Monday, August 6th, is the Feast of Jesus’ Transfiguration which we meditate on in the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the Rosary.  One question I’ve always had about the Transfiguration is why Jesus felt it was necessary.  After all, He had traveled throughout the region preaching God’s Word and healing people.  The apostles, for the most part, already believed He was the Messiah.  Why this extra revelation?  And what meaning does it have for the Catholic faithful today?

The Transfiguration was necessary, in part, because Jesus’ ministry had become routine to the apostles.  I bet they must have lost some of their sense of wonder and awe while ministering with Jesus.  They traveled from village to village listening to Jesus tell the same (or similar) parables, heal the sick, and occasionally admonish them for not understanding Him.  While Jesus’ miracles probably amazed them initially, they probably lost some of the awe over time.

Wait, what?  How could being witness to Jesus’ miracles lose their awe?  Well, let’s look at how many of us treat the amazing miracle of Mass.  How often do you fall into the Go to Mass, receive communion, repeat cycle?  At Mass, we are in the presence of Jesus, the same Jesus the apostles served with, and yet we’re probably already thinking about what donut we’ll get afterward or how we’ll spend the rest of the day.  The miracle that occurs during the consecration comes and goes for us without much thought similar to maybe how the apostles started seeing Jesus’ healings.

“Haven’t we, like, seen this show a hundred times already?”

And it’s not just Mass either.  Even if you have a more regular prayer life, it can also descend into a routine and lose its awe.  While I try to pray the Rosary every day, I admit that some days are better than others.  I can often pray an entire decade of the Rosary only to realize that I didn’t even consciously know what mystery I was praying.  I’m having a conversation with God and I’m thinking more about what I’ll have for dinner!

When Peter, James, and John witnessed the Transfiguration, it must have been a real wakeup call for them.  Maybe it snapped them out of any complacency they were feeling about their calling.  It took a great event to give them a needed kick and boost of energy

We don’t have Jesus physically transfiguring before us today.  Most of us will never have a direct apparition of Jesus, Mary, or the saints telling us what to do.  So how do we re-energize our spiritual zeal?  First, we need to admit when the miraculous blessings of our faith have become routine and resolve to re-ignite our passion.  Taking a cue from the Transfiguration, maybe we have to do something out of the ordinary.  Some ideas include:

  • Going to Mass on a weekday
  • Attending Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
  • Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • Joining a parish prayer group or organization
  • Finding new prayers to say
  • Reading a book or article either on a saint or written by a saint

It would be nice if Jesus personally invited us to something as wonderful as the Transfiguration.  And in a way, He does through prayer.  He offers Himself to us all the time but we have to be listening to Him in the silence of prayer and meditation (ehem… the Rosary!).  When we do listen, amazing things can happen whether it be a physical miracle or just a renewed zeal for living our faith.

Come to Jesus in the Eucharist Prepared

I came across an article about how to best prepare to receive the Eucharist at Mass.  I thought it was timely since the pope’s June intention revolves around the idea of fostering respect.  I mentioned in my last post how we not only have to respect each other but we also have to respect Jesus Christ.  And there is no better way to respect Jesus than receiving Him in the Eucharist in the fullest and most reverent manner possible.

The Catholic Exchange article breaks down Eucharistic preparation into ten items.  Please read the article for a full explanation.  For the TL;DR crowd, they are:

  1. Practice your faith
  2. Appreciate the gift of the Eucharist
  3. Confess your sins
  4. Do not arrive late to Mass
  5. Show reverence
  6. Have intentions
  7. Participate in the Mass
  8. Keep a Marian heart
  9. Show thanks
  10. Be a Eucharistic apostle

I liked how the CE article made comparisons to the Mass and Eucharist to attending a party or some other social event.  Typically, we try not to be late, we thank our hosts, we dress appropriately, and we respect the venue.  And yet, many times we don’t extend that same level of courtesy when it comes to receiving Christ in the Eucharist.  We sometimes come to Mass late, zone out during the readings and prayers, stand in line at Communion thinking about other things, and receive the Eucharist almost mechanically.

Being respectful isn’t easy.  If it were, we would be respectful more often.  Respect takes work often at the cost of personal convenience.  It’s hard to focus on prayers during Mass, to set aside time on a weekend to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to continue praying as you walk up the aisle for Communion, and to pray in thanksgiving when you come back to your seat.  But if we truly understood that there is literally nothing on Earth more valuable than the Eucharist, we would be horrified to even consider receiving Jesus without making our best effort to prepare ourselves.

Here’s my item #11 to add to the list of Eucharistic preparation.  Pray the Rosary regularly.  Ask Mary to help increase your faith and understanding of the great gift Her Son offers us.  Ask Her how you can most worthily accept Jesus during Communion.  Showing faith in the power of the Rosary prepares us for the faith we need to fully accept Jesus in the Eucharist.

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.

Become the Rock God can Sculpt into a Masterpiece

As we start a new year, many of us make resolutions.  You know the ones —  lose weight, make more money or get out of debt, spend more time with the family, etc.  And most of us will abandon these resolutions by February.  Maybe we need to take a look at something more solid and lasting.  Let’s look at scripture and see what inspiration we can draw from it about how to lead a better life in this new year.  At DisiringGod.org, senior writer Tony Reinke writes about Saint Paul’s many “don’t be” statements in his letters like:

  • Don’t be conformed to this age; be transformed by the renewing of your mind to know God’s will
  • Don’t be arrogant around others; associate with the lowly
  • Don’t be deceived about sexual sin; immorality damns souls
  • Don’t be deceived about the influence your friends have on you; circle yourself with wise friends

There’s actually 30 of them mentioned in the article that paint a good picture of the type of person God wants us NOT to be.  I  usually try to avoid the “don’t do this and don’t do that” posts because I think it perpetuates the myth that the Catholic Church is only a set of rules limiting one’s personal freedom.  This article shows you just how free you can be but you have to read between the lines.  More specifically, you need to recognize the opposite person in what Saint Paul is telling you not to be — a saint.

I wonder how many more letters Saint Paul would have written with a MacBook Pro?

What Saint Paul describes reminds me of a master sculptor starting with a piece of rough, unfinished stone.  While others see a piece of rock, the sculptor sees the final and complete work that he just needs to liberate.  He chips away at the rock discarding parts that don’t reveal his vision.  These discarded pieces are like the “don’ts” in Saint Paul’s writings.  They are the habits and attitudes that obscure God’s masterpiece in us that must be chipped away.  God’s full vision is realized when all the worldly imperfections are removed revealing the perfection that was in God’s plan for you.

When I think about stripping away our worldly selves to reveal our saintly selves, the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary comes to mind.  In this mystery, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven and calls us all to a life of conversion.  And what is conversion but the stripping away of the worldly behaviors Saint Paul outlines in his many letters in the New Testament?

Some clarification is needed between the theme of conversion in the Third Luminous Mystery and my analogy of the sculpture.  You might infer that we are merely passive pieces of rock and that it’s God’s responsibility to chip away at us until we are saints.  But we do have a very active part to play.  We must be open to God’s influence and act on what God tells us through prayer.  In other words, we must become like stone suitable for sculpting if God’s vision is to ever be realized.  Otherwise, His plan for us will go unfulfilled.  When we are open to the Holy Spirit and work hard to lead a life of conversion, we allow God to more easily work His miracles in transforming us into saints.

If you’re looking for a true resolution this year, remember Jesus’ call to conversion when you pray the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary.  Ask God for help to be open to His plans.  Yes, giving up some worldly habits and ambitions may be difficult and painful.  You just have to put your faith in God that what you gain is far greater than what you lose.

And to end on a total tangent.  Did you know that two years of work had to be wiped clean when Mount Rushmore was created?  They discovered that the stone on the part of the mountain they were working on was unsuitable for carving and “erased” Jefferson’s image with dynamite and shifted the sculptures over.  The lesson is that good rock becomes a masterpiece while bad rock gets discarded.  Whether you want to be good or bad rock for God to work with is entirely up to you.

Abstaining from Communion: How the Rosary Teaches Humility

I really wanted to get this out Monday night but at least I’m publishing an article within the same week of the Gospel passage I’m referencing.  This is from Tuesday’s Gospel:

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

I’m going to tie this reading to the concept of humility which is one of the themes of the Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist. I think it is important to realize that when you receive the Eucharist, you are encountering Jesus as if he was present in human form. This is not a gift to be received lightly and yet so many of us (myself included) often receive this gift on auto-pilot without the sincere awe, thought, and gratitude Jesus deserves.

3rd quarter of 16th century
3rd quarter of 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I once heard a priest on EWTN radio remark on how short the lines to Confession are on Saturday and how long they are for Communion on Sunday. We either live in an age of saints or many of us are not showing the humility to abstain from receiving the Eucharist when we are not in a worthy state.  We have to remember that receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is not some sort given when you go to Mass but is something that you should put some thought into on whether to receive Him or not.

For those who need a refresher on the requirements to receive Communion, EWTN summarizes the Catechism nicely:

The prerequisites for the reception of Holy Communion are 1) being in the state of grace, 2) having fasted for one hour (for the sick 15 minutes if possible, no fast if fasting is not possible), and 3) devotion and attention.

I think a lot of people feel obliged to get into the Communion line because they feel like people will judge them and assume they did something horrible to fall out of a state of grace.  But that is only one condition for not receiving Communion.  You could just as easily abstain from Communion for non-grave reasons like not fasting or because you came late to Mass and just do not feel like you are in that spiritual zone.  But here’s the point many people miss when they feel like everyone will assume the worst for not receiving Communion.  NO ONE CARES!  I think the number of people that are observing who is not receiving Communion is so incredibly small.  And are they people who you even care what they think about you?  Is it really worth offending God to please a handful of Communion ombudsmen?

I suggest praying the Fifth Luminous Mystery during the presentation of the gifts and really examine your conscience about receiving Communion.  Really, it is okay to occasionally abstain as long as you also make an effort to correct the underlying reasons why you need to abstain from Communion in a timely manner.  Go to Confession, remember to fast, etc.  In short, be humble enough to know when you are not worthy to receive the Eucharist and motivated enough to do everything in your power to return to a state of grace.

Connecting back to the Gospel reading, what is one trait many young children have?  Children are genuine.  They aren’t self-conscious or fake.  They do not have this need to keep up a certain facade to please others.  I’m always amazed how unfiltered small children can be at times.  And maybe that’s what Jesus asks of us adults; to tear down those walls of pride or vanity and do what is right regardless of how others may perceive it.  Another way to think about it is that God is our Father and we are His children.  He sets the rules and expectations and He does it for very good reasons.  And while we may not always like or agree with them, maybe like a child, we need to swallow our pride, accept God’s teachings, and have faith that what He asks is for our ultimate benefit.

Rome Sweet Home

There is a saying that to truly understand a city you have to have lived in it for twenty years or two weeks. The two weeks part of that saying means that someone with a fresh set of eyes sees aspects of a city that locals have overlooked or just grown used to. I think the same idea applies to Catholicism. To truly understand the Catholic faith you have to have faithfully studied and practiced it for decades or be a recent convert. Recent converts usually see the beauty and understand the theological framework of the Church that cradle Catholics may overlook or take for granted.  For this article, I am going to write about a book I just finished which focuses on Catholicism through the eyes of recent converts.

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Want the book? Click on the image for purchasing options.

I just finished reading Rome Sweet Home which is the story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn.  Many of you may recognize those names because Scott often speaks on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) about he and his wife’s conversion to Catholicism.  The book is a good read that takes you through their lives at devout and well educated Presbyterians to Scott’s conversion (to Kimberly’s anguish), and then Kimberly’s conversion.  It’s a fascinating read where each chapter first tells Scott’s story and ends with Kimberly’s take on the same events.  It almost reads like a mystery where Scott’s story often ends with some sort of cliffhanger which is later filled in by Kimberly’s story.

There are two aspects of the book that I’m going to touch on briefly.  First, I was amazed by the intellectual honesty Scott and Kimberly showed in their conversion process.  When confronted with information about the Catholic Church’s teaching on various subjects, Scott couldn’t escape how well reasoned they were and how much he agreed with them.  It would have been very easy for Scott to turn a blind eye to the Church’s teachings and return to the comfort of his protestant lifestyle.  But instead he kept digging; wanting to find the truth regardless of where it led him.  The more he read and discussed Catholicism to find that large logic gap to disprove it, the more he fell in love with it.

You have to admire that dedication to the finding truth.  Scott and Kimberly’s story should serve as an inspiration to us all in this season of Lent as we fast, pray, and meditate on finding truth in our lives.  Are you dedicated to finding and then living the truth?  Or will you turn a blind eye to the Church’s teaching when it throws up challenges or conflicts with societal norms?  When you pray the rosary, meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries and think about the giant price Jesus paid by not bending to the expectations of others.  Ask yourself whether you have truly dedicated yourself to the truth and the way Jesus is asking you to live.  That’s okay if you do not meet that high bar.  It is why we pray in the first place — to ask God for the strength to seek out and live according to His Will, not ours.

The second aspect of the book which touched me was how deeply the Hahn’s longed for Eucharist after their conversation.  They appreciate the power of this great gift from God.  They were dismayed about how casually many Catholics receive Communion.  They reasoned that many people truly do not understand who they are receiving in the Eucharist.  Otherwise they would approach it with far more reverence and also a profound joy.  I guess it takes a lifetime as a protestant with the host being just a wafer to truly stand in awe of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.

Girl receiving first Holy Communion, Sicily
Girl receiving first Holy Communion, Sicily (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we continue our Lenten prayers and fasting, meditate on the Fifth Luminous Mystery, The Institution of the Eucharist.  Ask God for the faith to see the Eucharist like someone receiving Him for the first time.  Imagine being a recent convert where you have gone your entire life denying your soul of that spiritual banquet of the Eucharist and now you are finally able to celebrate.  So deep should our joy of the Eucharist be whether we have received it a few times or thousands of times.  We pray for those going through RCIA as we lead up to their full membership in the Catholic Church this Easter.  And finally, pray for those who receive communion without truly understanding what it is, especially if they receive it with mortal sins on their souls.

God Must Come First!

Love
Love (Photo credits: PB Teen)

What’s more important, serving God or serving each other?   points out in his article on The Remnant that over the last few decades the Church’s focus has shifted from loving God first to primarily loving our fellow brothers and sisters.  It’s not that we have to choose one or the other.  We are called to do both.  But it is a matter of priority and focus.  If you accept the premise that Catholic Church has shifted its priorities in the last few generations, ask yourself whether that has strengthened or weakened the Church.  Have we veered from what Jesus taught and what has made the Church strong over the centuries?  Patrick Archbold thinks so and believes much of the weakness of faith within the Church has to do with this shift.  I encourage you to read his article in full.  The focus of this article will be on the rosary (naturally).  Let’s look at what some of the rosary mysteries teach us about loving God vs. loving our fellow humans.

Look at the order of the first and second Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.  In the Annunciation, we see Mary putting God first by accepting his plan for her.  We then see in the Visitation Mary going out and helping her cousin Elizabeth.  Notice the order?  Okay, there is the fact that chronologically, the Annunciation did precede the Visitation.  But there is also a spiritual significance in the order as well.  When we pray the rosary we meditate first on the love of God as seen in the Annunciation and then the love for our fellow brothers and sisters as represented in the Visitation.  In putting our love for God first, we receive his grace and can therefore more fully serve each other just as Mary does in the Joyful Mysteries.

On to the First Sorrowful Mystery.  Jesus fears his upcoming arrest and crucifixion.  But he prays to God asking God to first find another way he could redeem the world but also submits to God’s Will.  Jesus shows his primary love for God by acknowledging God’s authority and humbly submitting to his plan.  Later, when he’s arrested, Jesus tells his apostles, who were ready to defend him, to stand down.  While Jesus loved his apostles and his apostles loved him, Jesus puts his life not in their hands, but into God’s hands.  Again, we see the model Jesus asks us to follow — serve according to God’s Will first.

Finally, take a look at the Third Luminous Mystery.  Jesus preaches that we should all convert our ways to God’s ways.  We are called to live first for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Note that Jesus did not tell us to solely live for the Kingdom of Heaven and forsake our responsibilities and others in this world.  But it is a matter of priority — desiring God’s kingdom must come first.  And from that desire, not only for ourselves but for others, we better help our fellow brothers and sisters to also come to live in God’s grace.

I will leave you with a quotation from the Council of Trent that Patrick Archbold cites in his article as I think it sums up nicely why the love of God needs to come before our love for our fellow humans.

“Moreover, no honor, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength. The love of our neighbor, on the contrary, has its limits, for the Lord commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To outstep these limits by loving our neighbor as we love God would be an enormous crime.” —Catechism of Trent, Part 3, Chapter 5, Question 5

God the Parent

Labor Day weekend came and went here in the US. For many, it’s an extended weekend full of fun and relaxation. For me, it was also an extra day of family time which was exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my family. But I have a quota of how many times I can tell my boys “no!” and “stop!” and still keep up my cheerful disposition. As any parent knows, it is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining to fight the same battles day after day over eating, sleeping, sharing, and teaching general manners to kids.

No matter how many times I have to say “no” or “stop!” or “wait,” I of course will always love my family. Yes, I wish one of my boys would sit at the table for breakfast and eat without me constantly reminding him to take a bite (I also think he would love to actually experience his food warm for a change). I would also love my other son to not cry when my wife has to put him down so I could give her a break now and then. But my love for them overwhelmingly dwarfs the day-to-day challenges they present.

That just about sums up how my youngest son sees me.

My experience as a husband and father teaches me a lot about God’s nature. God must be like a parent who at times is frustrated with our lack of cooperation.  He is constantly repeating himself in trying to raise us well.  He teaches the same lessons of love and compassion through Scripture, Mary, the saints, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.  But because of our human nature, we often just don’t get it and repeatedly commit the same sins.  Spiritually, many of us our like toddlers who just don’t see the big picture as God sees it.  But God is the always patient father who understands that our hearts and minds aren’t mature enough to fully grasp the goodness he has prepared for us.  But he always waits, calmly repeats himself, and gives us many chances to “get it.”

I often tell my older son not to play too rough with his younger brother, not because I want to kill his fun, but because I know that my older son doesn’t yet have the maturity to understand that he can hurt his brother.  Likewise, God tries to set some ground rules through his Church by identifying what is sinful and evil and what is good.  He doesn’t do this to prevent us from having any fun, but instead he knows what will bring true happiness and what will bring ultimate despair.  Like a toddler, without developing our spiritual maturity, we often cannot understand why God does what he does and become frustrated with him.  But it is through regular prayer that we develop that level of understanding and faith.  We may not understand God’s reasons for his laws, but we take it on faith that following them will bring about the greatest good.

The Rosary Connection

Speaking of faith, let’s turn to the Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist.  I think one of the greatest acts of faith Catholics show is accepting that Jesus is present in the Eucharist.  I think this is pretty hard to swallow at times.  After all, the Eucharist looks and tastes like bread and wine.  You wouldn’t be able to identify a consecrated host from a non consecrated host in a blind taste test.  But the Eucharist is the cornerstone of the Catholic faith.  Hence faith, the unquestioning belief in truth, needs to be a fundamental part of our spirituality.  We must accept that God’s laws cannot be fully quantized and explained; that there will always be aspects of his nature that our beyond our understanding.  We also must take it on faith that the Church’s rules and teachings will lead us to everlasting joy.

The other part of faith is humility.  I don’t think you can have true faith without also showing humbleness.  Because you must humble yourself to accept that there are truths beyond your understanding.  We pray the Fifth Luminous Mystery for those who do not show humility and hence cannot fully form their faith.  We also pray for those times when we have shown pride and not humility and closed ourselves off from receiving God’s grace.  But remember, even when we are stubborn, prideful, and close ourselves off to God, he will be the always patient parent waiting for us and sending small hints to help us come around.

Pope Asks Catholics to be “Annoying”

I took a lot of acting classes and performed in many plays throughout high school and college. Looking back on my teenage and early adult years, acting was one of the greatest experiences of my life. One skill that was difficult to learn initially was leaving the familiar and comfortable to take chances discovering the character. In order to be successful on stage I had to embrace my character and all his quirks, mannerisms, and eccentricities and push aside any sense of self-consciousness or embarrassment.  My best performances resulted from breaking out of my comfort zone and doing things I would never regularly do but my character would.

Performance
Actors must give it everything they got for truly remarkable performances

Much like how I had to leave my comfort zone in acting, Pope Francis challenges all Catholics to leave their comfort zone in their spiritual life. The Catholic News Agency reported that in a homily, Pope Francis said:

“We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church,” he said at the chapel of the Saint Martha residence, where he lives.

The Pope preached on today’s first reading from Acts 22 and contrasted “backseat Christians” with those who have apostolic zeal.

“There are those who are well-mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and apostolic zeal,” he stated.

The pontiff said apostolic zeal “implies an element of madness,” which he labeled as “healthy” and “spiritual.”

He added that it “can only be understood in an atmosphere of love” and that it is not an “enthusiasm for power and possession.”

The pope’s reference to “well-mannered” and “backseat” Christians echoed my thoughts about how we too often do the bare minimum our faith requires. And looking at the dramatic drop off in Mass attendance between Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, many people aren’t even meeting the minimal requirements. I noted how great of a statement Catholics could make to the world if people driving by a church on Sunday saw it filled to the brim with faithful Christians. What if the billion+ Catholics in the world expressed a loving enthusiasm for our faith every day in everything we do?

And yet, many of us (myself included) fall back into our pattern of living as “well-mannered” Catholics. Sure, we may go to Mass on Sunday and pray regularly but it’s in a very detached way from our regular lives. We don’t want to stir up controversy by proclaiming our faith in public. Raise your hand if you read a really interesting online article expressing a Catholic viewpoint but didn’t post it on your Facebook profile out of fear of causing trouble. Do you remain silent in a conversation when someone starts spouting off falsehoods or exaggerations of Church doctrine because you want to avoid conflict? Come on, be honest. I know I do that all the time, even with my own RosaryMeds articles. I sometimes refrain from sharing my own RosaryMeds articles on my personal timeline because I don’t want the headaches of defending my faith.

We all need role models and examples who we can teach us how to break the mold of the “comfortable Catholic.” Who in my life is an example of “apostolic zeal?” My mother-in-law comes to mind. She does not have two lives — a public one and a spiritual one. They are the same for her. For example, when something bad or good happens in her life, her immediate instinct is to say a prayer. And she doesn’t wait to be alone and pray silently, but will ask others to pray with her when the situation calls for it. That’s the sort of apostolic zeal the pope wants in all of us — to have that immediate gut instinct to publicly live as people of faith. It doesn’t need to be loud or bossy. It just needs to be ever-present in everything you do.

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

Christ teaching in the Temple

When I meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery of the holy rosary — Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion, I often ponder my own personal conversion. I think about ways I can live as a better Catholic and more faithfully follow Jesus’ teachings. But Pope Francis’ homily on living with “apostolic zeal” provides another way to view this mystery. In addition to your personal conversion, how about focusing on converting others? How can you help bring others closer to God’s loving grace? For those “backseat” Christians, maybe you can give them that little “push” whether it be inviting them to Mass (and not letting them hide in the back of the church), saying grace with them before meals, and just working in a little Catholic catechesis in conversations. It might be something as simple as, “I read this interesting article on RosaryMeds today that said…”

As for dealing with those openly hostile to the Catholic Faith, I understand that we all can’t be like St. Paul and stir up riots proclaiming God’s Word. But as I said before, pray for those who hate the Church. You will probably not be able to convert someone’s heart and mind through idle conversation regardless of how many facts or well-reasoned arguments you present. But the Holy Spirit can work miracles and touch people in ways words cannot. But you need to condition yourself to pray for people like this because praying for those who hate you doesn’t come naturally to many of us.

I will leave you with this to ponder.  If you think the Catholic Church and this world is perfect as-is, then there is no need for us behave differently.  But if you think this would could use a little improvement then it needs to start with each one of us making little changes in our lives.  Are you ready to break out of your spiritual comfort zone to make those changes a reality?

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