Pope’s November Intention: Use the Language of Love

Pope Francis’ November intention is “In the Service of Peace: That the language of love and dialogue may always prevail over the language of conflict.”  Here’s a snippet of Deacon Ted Penton’s reflection on the pope’s message (the full article is found on Zenit).

Jesus didn’t allow Peter to defend him from an arrest by use of the sword. Nor did he call down legions of angels to save him from the Romans who tortured and executed him. Instead, he submitted to death on the cross. In some mysterious way, the Father used the death and resurrection of his Son for far greater purposes than any of his followers could have imagined. As Pope Francis eloquently stated, “In the silence of the cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken.”

This reflection ties in nicely with my previous post about the sin of pride and the virtue of humility.  I also called out Jesus’ Passion as a time of peaceful and humble acceptance of God’s plan for us.  Jesus showed us that humility is the language of love that Pope Francis refers to in his November intention.  Because when we are humble we let God speak through us.  His words are not filtered and drowned out by our pride.  They aren’t muddled by our limited human minds.  Even when our intentions are good, we still don’t possess the ability to see the “big picture” and construct the same language of love and dialogue that is as effective as God’s Word.

There’s another aspect of the November intention I want to discuss.  We can’t confuse peaceful dialogue with weakness.  All too often, we have this notion that love means letting others roll over us and do as they like.  But look at Jesus’ example.  He was all loving but He was certainly no pushover.  He was unrelenting in preaching God’s truth and never backed down.  He never told sinners that their actions were okay.  But He did teach them what God desired for them and forgave them.  He did this in a loving way that drew people closer, not further away.  We too should imitate Jesus.  We don’t shy away from preaching God’s truth but we must do it in a way that also shows God’s love.

Jesus forgives the adulteress.

When we pray the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom and Heaven and His Call to Conversion, let’s keep the pope’s November intention in our hearts.  Let’s remember to make an effort to convert any of our ways that create conflict into ways that create and foster God’s love.  It’s not an easy journey letting go of our almost instinctive nature to fight hostility with hostility.  But think about Jesus being scourged and how difficult it must have been for Him not to fight back in a hostile way.  Ultimately, Jesus “won” because humiliation, torture, and death was not the end.  He found the strength to endure all of that out of His love for us.  We pray the Rosary this month asking God for that same strength to see that it is love, not hate, that will ultimately win and convert souls.

Coping with the Church Scandal One Rosary Bead at a Time

Have you read the book or seen the movie, The Martian?  It’s a story that takes place in the future where a man is stranded on Mars after his crew leaves believing he is dead.  In this story, the stranded scientist, Mark Watney, overcomes all sorts of challenges to stay alive.  It’s one of those stories where everything that can go wrong does go wrong  — storms, failed equipment, communication issues, etc.  But he just works each problem as it came along to survive just one more day.

I think the Church is in a similar situation — everything that seems like it can go wrong is going wrong regarding the abuse scandal and accusations of coverups going up to the pope himself.  The Church is in uncharted territory right now.  We have a retired pope who may have known something about the Cardinals’ abuses who is silent on the matter.  We have a sitting pope who is remaining silent.  We have all sorts of insider leaks pointing to spiritual rot at high levels.  It’s enough to make the strongest of us doubt that the Church will come out of this in a better state.

As individuals, we can’t do much regarding the Church scandals inside the Vatican.  But like Mark Watney facing countless setbacks trying to survive on Mars, we will also face setbacks in the coming months as more news comes out.  The key is not to get overwhelmed and abandon those who need our prayers the most.  We can’t make this a “Vatican-only” issue.  It’s a problem that all the faithful need to do our part.  We just need to take each day in turn and live the best Christian example we can.

Charlie Johnston puts it well in his blog, A Sign of Hope, when he talked about the need to deal with reality before us, not how we want or expect it to be:

You are going to fail at some things, you are going to be wrong about some things, some of your cherished certainties are going to fall. Your faith is dependent on none of these things and your duty is not suspended because of your errors. If your faith is dependent on your certainty that you have it all figured out, it is just a subtle form of pride – and you know what pride goeth before. Follow the example of King David who, after he sinned grievously of his own fault, got up again at the behest of the prophet and lived his duty, even so. You will fail, you will err, you will sin of your own fault. God knows all of this. He waits to see whether, after each failure, you will get up and start again, humbly living your duty with steadfast resolve even though your fault is ever before you – thus trusting to Him, and not to your own virtue.

Charlie’s words remind me of the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, Jesus Carries His Cross.  Jesus fell multiple times under the cross.  Each time He resolved to get back up again and do God’s Will.  He fell under the weight of sin too, our sins.  But Jesus found the strength to not get discouraged about the seemingly hopeless situation He was in and did not give up.  His will to follow through with God’s plan was greater than the pain He felt.  Jesus got back up and completed God’s work one painful step at a time.

And so we too, are called to keep going and live our Catholic faith.  It will be difficult at times when we hear about what is happening inside the Vatican.  But, like I said in my previous article, our faith isn’t dependent on the virtue of men.  It lies on the power and virtue of God Himself.  Pray the Rosary and imagine each bead being one slow (sometimes painful) step out of the darkness and into God’s grace.

The Archbishop of San Francisco wrote a letter about the Church scandal.  In it, he outlines a 3-step plan to keep us moving forward and repair the damage caused by the Church hierarchy.  He asks for:

  1. Praying the rosary daily – and for families, to pray the rosary as a family at least once a week;
  2. Practicing Friday penance by abstaining from eating meat and one other additional act of fasting (e.g., another form of food or drink, or skipping a meal);
  3. Spending one hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament at least once a week

The Power of the Pompeii Rosary Novena Part 2

In my first article about the Pompeii Rosary Novena, I discussed what I learned about Rosary prayer from a tactical standpoint.  I discussed my strategies for finding time to pray 15 mysteries every day and its benefits.  In this article, I’m going to discuss whether Mary responded to my 54 days of Rosary prayer.  I prayed this novena asking Mary to intercede on behalf of people in my life who have chronic illnesses.

The big question is, were the people whom I prayed for cured?  Yes, but not in the way you may imagine.  I learned that there are more ways to cure the sick than just physically.  The people I prayed for have gotten marginally better, but not miraculously cured of their physical ailments.  Naturally, I hoped that they would be in that select group of people who experienced a miraculous physical cure as a result of the Pompeii novena.  But that was not God’s plan, at least not yet.

I’ve come to realize that a physical healing is not necessarily the point of a novena.  I know that Mary heard my petition and that Jesus is comforting them in His grace.  The physical illnesses may still be there but so is the increased strength and courage to endure.  God, in His infinite wisdom, decided that a miraculous physical healing is not what is needed in this case.  And while that would have been great and I still hope and pray for one, I also understand that God applies His grace uniquely to every situation.

Now the cynic would claim that I’m just rationalizing God’s inaction and that I really just wasted my time over the last 54 days.  But I’m sure many people would be cynical of the Pompeii novena even if there was a physical cure.  They would say it was good science and medicine and prayer played no part.  There are some people with such a hardened heart that even the greatest miracles wouldn’t change them, let alone the more subtle ones.  That is why we must keep the hardened-hearted cynics in our prayers too; for they benefit from them whether they admit it or not.

God’s response to my novena reminds me of Jesus’ crucifixion (Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary) where the criminal asks Jesus to remember Him.  Jesus’ response was that that criminal would join Him in paradise (Luke 24:43).  Here you have the criminal in a terrible situation reaching out to Jesus similar to how we reach out to Him in prayer.  Jesus didn’t miraculously bring the criminal down from the cross.  But that doesn’t mean Jesus did not respond to the man’s plea.

Jesus gave the criminal something much more important than physical relief from his dire situation and that was His grace and the promise of Heaven.  While I’m sure the criminal would have been grateful if Jesus had physically rescued him from the cross, that physical saving would have paled in comparison to what Jesus actually gave the criminal.  Because no physical saving can compare to the promise of Heaven brought about by one’s faith in Jesus Christ.

Like the criminal on the cross, I have faith that Mary, Jesus, and God the Father heard my plea to remember those in my life who are ill.  While God didn’t bring them down from their “crosses” by physically healing them, I know that my prayers will help them obtain graces and spiritual healing.  And ultimately, that is more important than any temporary physical cure.  Because all physical cures are temporary because our lives in this world are temporary.  It’s our souls that live on for all eternity.  When it comes to tradeoffs, a healed soul always wins over a healed body.

Thus ends my Pompeii novena experience for this year.  But it won’t be my last.  I will turn back to it when I know people who are in dire need of some sort of healing.  Or, if my energy to pray the Rosary starts to wane, the Pompeii novena is a great way to jumpstart it again.  It’s like going through spiritual boot camp.  Remember, Mary does hear your petitions.  But you must be open to how she intercedes for you and how God responds.

Priests are People Too — Pope Francis’ July Intention

I don’t know if you’ve ever encountered this uncomfortable situation when you were young — running into your teacher outside of school at a restaurant, bank, or supermarket.  I was often confused on how I should act because there was a person who was an authority figure in one context but a “regular person” in another.  It was hard seeing my teacher as anyone other than my teacher.

As I  got older, I realized how isolating that must have made teachers feel if their encounters outside of school with students were so awkward.  To many of the people in their lives, they would only be that red pen using, sticker distributing, detention giving teacher.

The same goes for priests.  Growing up, I always viewed priests, not as regular people with hobbies and interests, but as men who spent all their time conducting Mass, teaching, visiting the sick, and praying.  In my mind, they didn’t watch sports, read non-religious books, play musical instruments, or browse the internet.  Nor did they have normal faults that I could relate to like impatience, selfishness, greed, laziness, etc.  Like teachers, my interaction with priests always felt awkward because I couldn’t figure out how I should act around them.  After all, how do you act normally around someone who has heard all your sins in the Sacrament of Confession?

Pope Francis’ July 2018 intention is for priests, who experience fatigue and loneliness in their pastoral work, may find help and comfort in their intimacy with the Lord and in their friendship with their brother priests.  It’s important to understand that priests lead hard lives.  In many instances, they are away from their friends and families and the area where they grew up.  They are always on call for emergencies like administering the Sacrament of Healing to the sick or need to counsel those who are having difficulties in life.  I’m sure that they would appreciate some normalcy in their lives.  It’s not that they want to get away from their vocation, but instead, not have people act awkwardly around them because of their vocation.

The Rosary Connection

Vocation is a central theme of the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.  In this mystery, God calls Mary to a very specific life.  And that’s what a vocation is — a calling.  Mary responds with a humble yes with an idea that her vocation would be difficult even without full knowledge of what she was accepting.  And so it is for priests who freely enter the priesthood with an understanding that it will be a difficult vocation but probably not fully realizing it until they’ve lived it for years.  The Annunciation should teach us to really discern our vocation and once we say yes to it, to work as hard as we can to make the most of it.  We should be mindful that priests, as learned and experienced as they are, are also discovering new aspects of their vocation and can benefit from the lay faithful’s support.

Moving on to the Fourth Joyful Mystery — the Presentation.  There are many vocations at play in this mystery.  We see Mary and Joseph living their vocation as husband and wife and parents to Jesus.  The presentation shows that they are committed to raising and teaching Jesus their faith.  It’s a model that all parents should imitate — that we are responsible for teaching our children the Catholic Faith.  This means setting a good example and actively practicing our faith.  In keeping with Pope Francis’ July intention, it also means educating our children on religious life and the important role priests play in our spiritual development.  Parents should be open to the idea that their sons may have a calling to the priesthood and help them explore that vocation.

Another important person in the Fourth Joyful Mystery is Saint Simeon.  In the Gospel, all that is really said about him is that he was a righteous man who spent most of his time praying in the temple after the Holy Spirit came to him with a promise.  Doesn’t that sound like the call to the priestly vocation?  Saint Simeon’s life revolved around prayer and he was one of the first to introduce the world to the Chosen One, Jesus Christ.  This parallels the role of priests — introducing the lay faithful to Jesus.  But Saint Simeon’s life must have been difficult; one of solitude and uncertainty.  When you pray this mystery, think of the solitude your parish priest may feel as he works on bringing Jesus to his congregation.

Finally, think of the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus carrying His cross.  Jesus was exhausted and close to death as he fell three times and could barely walk.  I think priests must feel the same way at times — exhausted by the years of living their vocation.  We need to be like Veronica; making an effort to comfort and support the priests we know in our lives.  It can be something as simple as inviting a priest you are close to (like the one who married you, baptized your children, etc.) out for coffee or breakfast; something “normal” and relaxing.

What will you do?  Stand on the side like so many people did when Jesus carried His cross?  Or make an effort to let priests in your life know how important they are and that you appreciate their sacrifices?

How God Enables Greatness in Us All

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What the Rosary Tells Us About Judas’ Betrayal

Because we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension on Sunday, many of us didn’t hear the regular readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles was particularly interesting to me. It highlighted the discussions among the apostles on how to fill the vacancy in the apostleship left behind by Judas.  This reading provides plenty of rosary meditation ideas.

Here’s a clip from the first reading.  You can read it in full here or listen to the audio here.

Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers
—there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons
in the one place —.
He said, “My brothers,
the Scripture had to be fulfilled
which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand
through the mouth of David, concerning Judas,
who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.
He was numbered among us
and was allotted a share in this ministry.

“For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
May another take his office.

“Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men
who accompanied us the whole time
the Lord Jesus came and went among us,
beginning from the baptism of John
until the day on which he was taken up from us,
become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

The downfall of Judas is interesting to me for many reasons. Judas was someone who was as close to Jesus as anyone could have been. He was in the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples and had an understanding of Jesus teachings no one else had. Remember, the apostles understood Jesus on a different level than everyone else. In Mark 4:11, Jesus said He talked in parables to people because the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you [the apostles], but not to them [the people]. Judas had been given all these graces and yet he threw them away for 30 pieces of silver. Judas exemplifies the inherent weakness of the human spirit; that we willingly give away so much for so little.

We may not be one of the twelve apostles, but we know Jesus through the lens of history and Church teachings. We know the tremendous gifts God offers us and yet we so readily throw them away like Judas did. How?  Maybe we skip going to Sunday Mass because we would rather watch a football game or sleep in. We break fasts because that Snickers bar looks way too tempting. We skip prayers because there is something good on TV. We engage in sinful activities substituting happiness through God’s grace with empty pleasures. Whenever we sin, we are like Judas giving away so much in return for so little.

“At least at Mass I could have coffee and donuts afterwards.”

Judas’ story also shows us just how much freedom God gives us. Even as one of the twelve apostles, Judas freely left and betrayed Jesus.  We know from the Agony in the Garden how scared Jesus was of his crucifixion.  He had all the power to stop Judas if He wanted to.  But it was so important to Jesus to let people freely chose to follow or reject Him that He accepted Judas’ choice to betray Him. We never fault Jesus for Judas’ betrayal. And hence, we shouldn’t feel like we have failed when those closest to us turn away from their faith or fall into a life of sin. If Jesus could be betrayed, any one of us can also be.

The Rosary Connection

Think of the Fifth Joyful Mystery and how Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple after they had lost him. We lose Jesus whenever we sin but we return to His grace when we look for and find Him in the Sacrament of Confession. Jesus is always willing to welcome us back. Even Judas could have received forgiveness if he had only looked for it. After all, Peter denied knowing Jesus but returned and was strengthened because he understood Jesus’ ability to forgive him. The Fifth Joyful Mystery should remind us that the choice is always ours on how we want to deal with our sin. Do we want to wallow in it and have it ultimately consume us like it did Judas? Or do we choose to seek God’s forgiveness and return to His grace?

Finding Jesus in “His Father’s House”

We should also think about those who have their own Judas in their lives — those who have loved ones who chose a life of sin. Think about them when you pray the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery. They have heavy crosses to bear that may not be entirely of their own doing. But it weighs them down all the same. We pray that those who are rejected in favor of sin have the strength to carry on whether that means continuing to reach out and help those who have turned away from God’s path or accepting that sometimes we can’t bring people back from their sinful ways through physical actions. And when I say accept, I don’t mean give up. We should always continue to pray for lost souls because while we may not be able to change their hearts, the Holy Spirit can.

We Pray…

Lord, please forgive us for the times we’ve acted like Judas. Provide strength to those who feel betrayed by those closest to them. Help those who wallow in sin and let them know that they can always choose to return to you through your sacraments.  Amen.

How the Rosary Increases Our Patience with God and Others

The Rosary is a prayer that requires an above-average level of patience.  It’s long, repetitive, and doesn’t have a narrative like reading Bible passages.  Admit it, you’ve zoned out more than a few times praying the Rosary haven’t you?  I know I certainly have.  The motivation for the RosaryMeds website and my books is to make the Rosary a more engaging and less monotonous prayer.  But when it comes down to it, you just have to work up the motivation and put effort into praying it effectively.  No amount of websites, books, and videos can substitute for the will to pray the Rosary and the patience to allow it to transform you.

In this post, I want to focus on the value of patience and how it relates to the Rosary.  There are two ways the Rosary helps us grow in patience.  First, there are many Rosary mysteries that teach patience as a core value.  When you meditate on these mysteries, ask Mary to help you grow in patience.

  1. First Joyful Mystery: Saint Joseph‘s patience with God’s plan for his wife, our mother, Mary.  Imagine learning that God has a completely different life prepared for you that will be much more difficult and confusing.  It takes a lot of patience to accept God’s Will when it conflicts with your desires or expectations.
  2. Fourth Joyful Mystery: Saint Simeon‘s patience with God’s promise that he would one day see the Chosen One.  He did, but only at the end of his life.  Talk about needing patience for God’s plan to come to fruition.
  3. Second and Fifth Sorrowful Mysteries: Jesus enduring the scourging and insults during His Passion and Crucifixion.  He kept silent while soldiers beat Him and the authorities interrogated Him because He knew it had to be done to bring about our redemption and salvation.  He was patient onto death because it was God’s Will.
Jesus in Pray
Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second way the Rosary helps us grow in patience is the act of praying the Rosary itself.  It’s not an easy prayer and takes time and energy to pray correctly.  But that focus and perseverance you practice in Rosary prayer translate into increased focus and perseverance in other aspects of your life.  It is practice for dealing with annoying coworkers, parents, or uncooperative children (parents, you know what I’m talking about right?).

But what’s so important about patience?  Patience is often referred to as a virtue.  But why?  In other words, what’s so bad about impatience?  Why is it bad if you have a low tolerance for people making mistakes or not giving everything their 100% best effort?  This Catholic Exchange article frames patience as a reflection of our relationship with Jesus:

Simply by reminding ourselves that we’re being patient not primarily for the sake of the person who is irritating us, but as an expression of our love for Jesus. Following Him often means putting up with people, events, and situations we’d prefer to avoid entirely.  This effort is very valuable, for, as St. Katherine Drexel noted, “The patient endurance of the Cross — whatever nature it may be — is the highest work we have to do.”

Patience is tied to humility.  What is impatience but a lack of humility for God’s plan and our desire to change our circumstances immediately?  Patience is admitting that we cannot change everything to suit our desires but instead we must let God’s plan for us and others play out.  Patience means telling God, “I may not like this situation but I will put forth the effort to endure it because it is Your Will.”  Patience is an admission that our lives and circumstances are in God’s hands.  Instead of wishing that they be different, it is our opportunity to respond to our circumstances as Jesus taught us.

The next time you feel like putting down the Rosary because you feel like you aren’t getting anything out of it, take a small pause and tell Mary you will be patient with Her and her gift and then continue praying the Rosary.  She promises miraculous things through the Rosary which we often lose sight of in our impatience of repeating Hail Marys and Our Fathers.  Don’t let impatience prevent you from obtaining all that God desires for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask God for Strength, Not an Outcome

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

The LifeHacker article quotes Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

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

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

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

The Rosary Connection

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

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

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

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

The Power of Regular Rosary Prayer

In my work as a software developer, I often run into “walls” when trying to solve difficult problems. Most of the time I get through these blockages by just writing snippets of code no matter how ugly they may seem. But it helps me see the problem and the solution more clearly and provides me something I can shape into a beautiful, optimized solution. Getting to the desired solution is not a straight shot where I code everything perfectly the first time. It is a series of making wrong decisions and correcting them. I call it thinking with my keyboard.

Remember, no one sees your first draft (unless you started the day before the deadline)

Our happiness in life is a lot like the challenges I face when writing software. It’s not always easy to find happiness. It almost seems like life is a rigged game where being happy is something that is always just out of reach at best and an impossibility at worst.  In his article, When you Can’t Hear God, Keep Talking to Him, Dave Zuleger sums up the futility we often feel when we try to find happiness:

We know that our trials will produce a faith that is tested, refined, and full of glorified joy (1 Peter 1:6–7). We know deep realities that can create deep hope beneath even the deepest pain. Except sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we preach these truths to ourselves and our hearts aren’t moved at all. We groan, and wish that life was so different than it is (Romans 8:23). We pray and pray and pray, and things only seem to get more overwhelming and more difficult. Sometimes our hearts simply ache with the pain of broken dreams, broken relationships, broken bodies, and broken sinfulness.

Have you had that experience? Hope doesn’t come. Happiness doesn’t flood your heart. The clouds of depression don’t blow away. Overwhelming struggles simply overwhelm you more. Relationships are not restored.

He concludes that we need to continue to pray and lay out concerns and worries in front of God.  It is in continual prayer that we often hear God.  Like a software engineer needing to just write code to figure out the solution, we often need to just pray and meditate on different things to eventually hear what God is trying to tell us.

This is why praying rosary mysteries daily is such a great form of meditation.  Every day is an opportunity to reflect on the life of Jesus and the Catholic faith through the rosary mysteries and ask for Mary’s help in making sense of it all.  We have to explore our faith through prayer so that we can better understand God’s response.

It may seem doubly painful to dwell on our problems in prayer.  After all, who wants to recall their pain and suffering on a regular basis?  But through the rosary mysteries, we can see that pain through the lens of our faith, not through the lens of our secular world which offers very little in terms of answers and solutions.  You can’t find the true solution to your problems by avoiding laying them before God in prayer.

Look at Jesus in the First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary in the garden of Gesthemene.  He was going through immense agony over his upcoming arrest and crucifixion.  But Jesus did not hide that pain away in an attempt to appear tough or unphased.  He had no issue bringing his concerns and fears before God in prayer saying “Father if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  The agony in the garden of Gesthemene perfectly highlights what we are to do when life has is down — pray, pray, pray, and pray some more!

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

To end on a lighter note, here’s a quotation attributed to St. Francis de Sales for you to you think about.  You could easily substitute the word busy with sad, worried, or any other word that describes your situation:

Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.