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.
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.
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.
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.
I am an avid reader of science and technology articles. I read Wired and Popular Science cover to cover within days of the magazine arriving in my mailbox and I read articles from numerous websites. I get super excited when I notice a link between my two passions — science and technology and prayer and spirituality.
I came across such an article that dived into the science behind fasting. A researcher has a theory that fasting obstructs a hormone responsible for cell growth and makes people more sensitive to insulin. He thinks that periodic fasting could reduce one’s chances of developing diabetes or cancer. The technical details are beyond the scope of this article but it’s an interesting read.
The article mentions that those who fast often feel sharper mentally because of a process called ketosis. It has something to do with a difference in body chemistry when you’re burning fat instead of carbohydrates. But that got me thinking about why the Church recommends fasting in addition to prayer. If fasting sharpens the mind and makes you physically healthier, could it also make you spiritually healthier as well?
The common idea behind fasting is that we give up something physical (such as food) and replace it with something spiritually nourishing. But this isn’t a trade of equal value. The spiritual benefit will always outweigh the physical loss. Think about that for a second. You give up a dessert or your ritual cup of coffee so you can instead better listen to God and form a deeper relationship with Him. Talk about giving up so little to gain so much! Seems like an easy deal right?
And yet, while we all know the tremendous benefit of fasting, it is probably one of the hardest disciplines to practice. I think many of us have no problem saying some extra prayers, reading the bible, or praying the rosary when we put our minds to it. But you might as well suggest amputating a limb at the idea of not having that slice of cheesecake, substituting that mouth watering bacon burger for soup, or cutting out that cup of afternoon coffee. But that’s the point isn’t it? The harder the sacrifice, the more you benefit. When you say, “Okay God, I’m giving this up for you!” the better you will be able to hear God respond with a “thank you” and His grace.
Fasting amplifies our prayers and our reception of God’s Word. Compare fasting/prayer to diet/exercise. Exercise is not as effective without a matching, healthy diet. All that you gain working out for an hour can be undone with a single cheesecake slice. Or your health can be further benefited by supplementing exercise with nutritious food. The same can be said for prayer. All the benefits of prayer can be undone by a moment of sin or it can be elevated when combined with fasting. Obviously, if we pray and then turn around and sin we really haven’t let God’s grace into our hearts. But when we pray and fast, we allow God more room in our hearts to truly transform us. St. Augustine once said, “Those who sing pray twice.” If that’s true then I say that those who fast must be praying five-fold.
How does fasting connect to the rosary? Think about one of the themes of the Third Luminous Mystery. Jesus calls us to focus on living for His Kingdom of Heaven. That focus manifests itself by active conversion of our ways. We change our earthly focus to a Heavenly one. And that is exactly what fasting is all about. We give up something worldly in exchange for something spiritual. We intentionally choose the Kingdom of Heaven over delights in this earthly kingdom. No one accidentally fasts. Nor do we accidentally live for Heaven. In the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus puts a choice before us. Will you live for His kingdom and convert your ways or will you remain chained to the pleasures of this life?
Time for a touchy subject — criticism. Have you noticed how intolerant everyone appears to get at the slightest hint of criticism? I understand that no one enjoys criticism, even constructive criticism. But in the last few years, how society views criticism has changed. Instead of it as something you either accept or ignore, criticising anyone has become tantamount to hate speech that warrants severe repercussions. Just look at some of these headlines about how people react when their views are challenged or someone says something that makes them feel uncomfortable:
What I think is going on is that many people infer that any type of criticism comes from a position of self righteousness or malice. Criticism is interpreted as a passive aggressive way of saying, “I’m better than you.” In today’s world, the greatest act of love and concern appears to be silence and the cardinal sin of secular society is saying or doing anything that might upset someone.
In short, the world of Fahrenheit 451, where books are burned because people may find the ideas in them offensive, has come true. Granted, we do not have firemen raiding homes looking for contraband books. But we do have a culture where people are shouted down and threatened at the slightest implication that someone disagrees with their views or lifestyle.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has this take on criticism and how it is born out of a genuine love for each other. While I encourage you to listen to the two minute audio meditation yourself, the tl;dl version (too long; didn’t listen) is that fraternal correction is a great act of love and mercy. Others often see aspects of us we don’t see ourselves and hence the cycle of continuous and mutual improvement completes us and our relationships with others. He emphasizes that correction must come from a humble heart desiring only what is best for one another, not from thinking of yourself as better than others.
I think Benedict’s statement, that true loving correction does not come from a place of self righteousness, is lost in today’s world. Any attempt to help someone is often immediately dismissed because the person offering the criticism has his own faults and is therefore seen as a hypocrite. It’s the whole, “Oh yeah! Well you’re a …” response. But by that logic, no one can offer advice or help each other because no one is perfect.
I wonder how much unhappiness in the world is born out of people being too afraid to help each other discover the good because doing so may present temporary anxiety or discomfort. If you are on the receiving end of loving criticism, Benedict asks us to consider that not all criticism is malicious but is instead maybe the Holy Spirit working through someone to bring out the best in us.
Turning to the rosary, meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion. Consider this passage taken from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary forces us to consider that Jesus Christ, and by extension His Church, calls us to see those aspects of our lives that are not moving us toward Heaven and to convert. Jesus’ ministry was marked with Him challenging people’s beliefs and wanting them to do better. In the Gospel, Jesus is criticizing the people for thinking that they, and only they, are called to God’s grace. At the idea that there are others in the world deserving of God’s love, the Jews were ready to throw Jesus over a cliff! Of course we shouldn’t forget that Jesus’ teachings so upset the status quo that He was eventually crucified because His truth made many feel uncomfortable or upset.
Ask yourself, how quickly do you make excuses to dismiss God’s plan for you? Or how often do you attack the messenger, who may be acting as an instrument of God’s loving guidance, because you do not like being told that you are doing something wrong or not in accordance with God’s plan? Look, I’m not saying that you should be all smiles and laughter when someone tries to correct your less than perfect ways. And not everyone acts out of love. But we all should ask God in prayer for patience and discernment and not immediately dismiss or attack someone who only wants the best for us.
I almost feel like I need to start a What Pope Francis Means is… section on RosaryMeds. It’s not that I think what Pope Francis says is wrong. In fact, both Pope Benedict and Saint John Paul II also said many things that, without looking through a well formed theological lens, one could interpret as going against Catholic doctrine. But because of Pope Francis’ off the cuff style, he opens more doors than his predecessors for incorrect justifications of uncatholic behavior for those who wish to take it.
“We all know in our communities, in our parishes, in our neighborhoods how much hurt they do the church, and give scandal, those persons that call themselves ‘Very Catholic,'” the pontiff said Sunday.
Francis was speaking Sunday in an off-the-cuff moment during his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square, which focused on one of Jesus’ teachings about the role of the proscribed laws of the faith of his time.
“The literal observance of the precepts is something sterile if it does not change the heart and is not translated into concrete attitudes,” he said, giving examples: “Opening yourself to the encounter with God and God’s word in prayer, searching for justice and peace, giving help to the poor, the weak and the oppressed.”
“The exterior attitudes are the consequence of what we have determined in the heart,” said the pope. “Not the opposite! With outside attitudes, if the heart does not change we are not true Christians.”
What Pope Francis Did NOT Say
Some people could take Pope Francis’ words to mean that it is okay to not embrace all the teachings of the Catholic Church. After all, you don’t want to be that goody-goody who is “very Catholic” or “too Catholic” as I’ve heard some refer to those who try to follow the precepts of the Church. Without proper reflection, the pope’s comments could be taken as an endorsement of “cafeteria Catholicism” where you can pick what part of the doctrine you want to follow. As long as you have a good heart or a just cause it’s alright to skip Mass on Sunday, support pro-choice causes, and not really buy into the “we are sinners in need of forgiveness” idea. After all, the pope says that being very Catholic can be a bad thing right?
Of course Pope Francis is not saying that you can embrace uncatholic behaviors and still be a Catholic in God’s grace. Nor is he telling practicing Catholics to butt out of the lives of those who have fallen away from the Church. Unfortunately, for those looking for excuses for their behavior and shortcomings, you can easily pick and choose the pope’s words to support your actions.
What is Pope Francis Saying?
In my view, Pope Francis’ comments come down to a single word: PRIDE. It’s not that trying to be a very good Catholic is a bad thing, but you start getting into sinful territory when you start to believe that you’ve achieved some state of heavenly perfection in this lifetime because you follow all the rules. You give scandal when you try to lord that false perception of perfection over others. The very act of believing you are a better person than others because you follow the rules prevents you from being a fully realized Catholic because you fail to acknowledge your sinful act of pride.
There is an old saying that I’m going to paraphrase — being wise means understanding that there is a lot you do not know. I think that’s important to meditate on when thinking about how good of a Catholic you are. Someone who is truly very Catholic understands that they have a lot of sins and shortcomings that they need to work on. No one can achieve perfect Catholicism in this world (Mary and Jesus excluded of course). That is a state reserved for the souls in Heaven. Even the saints acknowledged that they were poor sinners who had to battle various imperfections throughout their lives. Even those who were the most holy among us like Saint Pope John Paul II went to confession weekly because he had the humility to know he could still be a better Catholic.
The Rosary Connection
The rosary relates to Pope Francis’ comments in two ways. First, we pray it so that we can more humbly approach our faith. When I meditate on the various mysteries and think about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, I understand the long road I have before me in areas of my life where I need to improve. I don’t think anyone who earnestly prays the rosary can believe they are very Catholic when compared to the lives of Mary and Jesus or even the martyrs, apostles, and saints. If I ever do start to feel prideful and that there isn’t any more I can do to be a great Catholic, meditating on the rosary brings me back to reality.
The rosary also helps me become very Catholic, but very Catholic in the right way. As Pope Francis said, we should focus on changing our hearts, not just our exterior attitudes. Think about the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary. Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven and calls us to a life of conversion. This conversion is a conversion of heart, not actions. Because when we do have a true conversion of heart and orient ourselves towards God, the actions will naturally follow.
Think of it like this, you aren’t very Catholic because you go to Mass on Sunday. You are very Catholic because you love God with all your heart and want to embrace Him by listening to His Word and celebrating the Eucharist at Mass. True conversion and becoming very Catholic starts from within with regular prayer and reflecting on what areas of your life need improvement. The rosary is a great tool that leads you to true Catholicism, not a false, prideful one.
Need more help getting the most out of the rosary? Download my free ebook chock full of rosary intentions to meditate on.
One of my favorite self improvement blogs is LifeHacker. For those who don’t know, LifeHacker has interesting tips and tricks in all areas of life whether it be career, digital, health, finances, play, or family. They posted a link to a podcast featuring General Stanley McChrystal and his philosophy for success. He said that you have to continuously raise your standards every day. The LifeHacker article states:
You can almost always find something you’re able to improve about your life or your work. The important thing is that concept of eschewing comfort. Success doesn’t consist in finding the right routine to stick with for your whole life. Success comes from changing that routine constantly until your life is better.
This piece of military wisdom applies to so many areas of life. Let’s focus on using it to achieve success with rosary prayer and meditation. In my rosary SEAL post I wrote about how we grow spiritually when we accept the discomforts of rosary prayer and push ourselves to block out easier, but less effective, alternatives. From my experiences with software development I learned that routines lead to optimization. In other words, the more we do the same action over and over again, the faster and more efficient we become at it. That’s great when you want to blast through mundane tasks at work but not so great when it comes to rosary meditation. Becoming comfortable with the rosary is what leads to meditation autopilot, distractions, and less effective prayer.
Rosary meditation is not about speed. It’s about fostering your friendship with Jesus Christ. Are your best experiences with your friends the times when you are distracted and race through interactions with them? Probably not. My most cherished memories in my friendships involved long and deep conversations where I was actively engaged. The same goes for the time we spend in prayer with our friend, Jesus Christ. Our friendship with Jesus isn’t something static, but one that we should always be improving. That means treating each rosary prayer as something new and distinct from the previous rosaries. Yes, the actual prayers may be the same, but the dialogue with Jesus should be something unique because the circumstances you’re prayer under will be unique.
Here is an excerpt from John’s Gospel that should sound familiar since we read it a few weeks ago on May 10th:
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
Always remember that Jesus considers us his friend. It’s important that friendship is never a one way street. Jesus has reached out to us but we need to reach out to him. And that means never taking the power of prayer for granted.
The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary focuses on conversion and communicates a similar idea about never getting comfortable with a routine. What is conversion other than changing our routines until our life is better? Unfortunately, in our broken human state we never achieve a lasting success of living in God’s grace. It’s a process of falling to sin, receiving forgiveness, and striving to be better. No one on earth has ever obtained a lasting perfection in our human form and isn’t in need of some conversion (our Mother Mary excluded of course). When we meditate on this rosary mystery, let’s remember that there is always something more we can do to improve our friendship with Jesus whether it be praying longer, being more aware of the factors that lead us to sin, attending Adoration, receiving the sacraments more often, being more charitable, or just consciously centering more of our lives around Christ.
What are your comfort points with rosary prayer? What can you do to break through them?
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.
In business there is a saying — work the job you want, not the job you have. In other words, if you want to receive a promotion or have greater responsibilities at work, then take the initiative to display your skills now in your current role. Otherwise, you’ll always stay where you are because no one will see that you have the abilities or desire for anything greater.
I think Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer is the spiritual equivalent of that business philosophy. Act like you’re already one of the saints at peace in God’s Kingdom. After all, Heaven is our ultimate goal (or at least it should be) where we will realize how inconsequential and petty many of our problems really are. Why focus so much time and energy on the problems of this life? This life is temporary and fleeting and is not where God calls us. God calls us to look past our earthly selves and look towards raising to new life with Him in Heaven. If you want your soul to live in Heaven, then act heavenly while on earth.
This prayer’s message is echoed in the First Glorious Mystery, Jesus’ Resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead He showed us that our earthly death is not the end, but only a transition. In His resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of Heaven and provided a place for us. Our souls are not temporary and bound only to this life but will live on for eternity. But how do we want to live that eternity? In the grace and joy of Heaven or in the despair and anguish of Hell? When we pray this rosary mystery, we should meditate and examine how much we are truly living for the place in Heaven Jesus prepared for us in His resurrection.
Blessed Elizabeth’s prayer also recalls themes from the Third Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion. She talks about how our journey into God’s grace is achieved “each minute.” In other words, grace is achieved in small steps, not in one fell swoop. It’s not like we fall asleep one night wallowing in sin and wake up the next day a saint. Conversion is a process made up of a lifetime of small steps into God’s grace. We should take that to heart when we pray this mystery because it can be so easy to become discouraged when it seems like no matter how hard we try we don’t find that peace we so desperately crave. Remember, Jesus didn’t find peace here on earth either. True peace is found only in Heaven. And you find Heaven only when you convert your earthly ways into heavenly ones.
If you want peace and you want Heaven, work towards it now. Pray, confess, fast, receive the sacraments, and learn and follow Jesus’ teachings. You don’t have to be officially recognized a saint to act like one.
I could not come up with a decent rosary meditation at the end of my earlier article on comprehensive immigration reform and the Catholic Church. That’s been tearing me up a little because it’s the challenging issues like this one that need the most prayer and meditation. It is much easier to pray for the issues where I already agree with the Catholic Church like the intrinsic evilness of abortion. I even find it easy to meditate on the theological and moral foundation of immigration reform of how we should treat our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of their immigration status. But I’m having a hard time swallowing the Church’s enthusiasm over the latest comprehensive immigration bill that recently passed through the senate. But I think I found a mystery of the rosary that helps address my current doubt and worry over the Church’s stance on this bill.
The rosary mystery that comes to mind when I think about the immigration reform bill is the Third Luminous Mystery — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ Call to Conversion. We should meditate on the first part of the title — the proclamation of the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus came into the world to proclaim that there is something greater to live for than what we see around us in our lives. He prepared a place for us in Heaven. Jesus told us what we need to do to live for His Kingdom:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). ” Immediately following, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to point out that everyone is our neighbor.
Jesus didn’t attach conditions to His call to love one another. He didn’t instruct us to love our neighbor, but only if doing so wouldn’t have a negative impact on the economy. He didn’t say love your neighbor, but not if they broke the law. He didn’t instruct his disciples to secure the border before they could start loving and showing compassion to those around them. And so when it comes to the immigration reform issue, I think the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is trying to echo a similar sentiment as Jesus in the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary. They want to show us that it is far more important to live for Jesus’ Kingdom and follow His laws regardless of the social, economic, and political impact in this world.
Loving our neighbor unconditionally is difficult particularly when it might have an adverse affect on our social or economic well-being. Or maybe it is hard to swallow teachings that conflict with our political ideology. We only know this world and this life and we try our best to find as much comfort and happiness in it. But God does not want us to constrain our thinking to the here and now but remember that there is a larger picture involved. He calls us to spend eternity in the happiness of Heaven. So even if our economy and society collapses and we lose our comforts in this world, if that happens because we loved our neighbor, we will gain infinitely more. But seeing our laws through that lens is tremendously difficult.
But the Third Luminous Mystery doesn’t end with the proclamation of the kingdom of Heaven. It ends with Jesus calling us to a life of conversion. Jesus understands that almost everyone will have a hard time letting go of the comforts of this world and embrace living for His heavenly kingdom. He knows that all of us need to undergo conversion in one form or another. And so this mystery doesn’t end with Jesus giving us an ultimatum that we must immediately accept leaving no room for error. Instead, Jesus acknowledges that we may not be 100% on board with His teaching, but that’s alright. He wants us to make an effort to align our ways with His ways. He knows that it will be challenging to follow Him and we will stumble, but He gives us all the tools through the magisterium of the Catholic Church that we need to stay on that path.
We pray and meditate on the rosary, particularly the Third Luminous Mystery, that we orient our lives toward God’s heavenly kingdom and make whatever course corrections we need to get there. I’m certainly not there yet on issues like the comprehensive immigration reform bill. And I think there are other ways we can love our neighbor and reform our immigration policies without implementing yet more massive government programs. But at least I understand where our US bishops and Church leaders are coming from. They are trying to offer a glimpse of how God views these issues which is very different from how many of us might see them. Much like how we have faith that there is a heavenly kingdom that awaits us after this life, maybe we also should show a little faith in our Church leaders. It’s easy to have faith in people when you completely agree with them. But real faith is believing even when you have doubts. But with the help of Mary, the saints, and the Holy Spirit, maybe we’ll be able to conquer that doubt and not fear what we have to lose in this life but rejoice in all that we will gain in the next.
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.
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.
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?
A little over a week ago, my family went to Easter Sunday Mass. Because we have a small baby in tow, we usually don’t get to the church until right when Mass is about to begin. On most Sundays, that works just fine since we can usually find plenty of parking and seats in the pews. But on Easter we knew we had mistimed our arrival when we saw a full parish parking lot and the closest parking spot we found was many blocks away from the church. We still made it on time, but it was standing room only. There were so many people that many families stood out in the vestibule and outside the church during Mass.
Flash forward a week. We arrived at Mass at the same time we did on Easter Sunday. But this time we did not have to park several blocks away and we had our choice of entire rows of pews upon entering the church. The church was actually abnormally sparse for a Sunday as if everyone suffered a post-Easter hangover. And while I liked parking close to the church and easily finding a seat, I do find the Divine Mercy Sunday attendance drop off both sad and concerning.
I try not to make too many assumptions about the drop in Mass attendance. Perhaps many people who attended morning Mass on Easter usually attend afternoon Mass on Sundays. But since there wasn’t any afternoon Masses, the morning ones had to accommodate more people than usual. Or maybe many people from other parishes attended our Mass with their extended families. But I’m pretty confident that many people were C&E Catholics (Christmas and Easter) and won’t step foot into a church for another eight months.
As much as I hated parking blocks away from the church and standing during Easter Mass, I really wish the church was as full every Sunday as it was on Easter. Imagine the beacon of God‘s glory the Catholic Church could be if the world saw overflowing churches every Sunday. Imagine how much love and happiness there would be in our world if more people got more regular doses of prayer, grace, instruction, and forgiveness through the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Imagine the peace that would spread if more people heard the Word of God and homilies teaching the Truths of the Catholic faith on a weekly basis. I would gladly give up my close parking space and my seat (or just strive to arrive earlier) for that Catholic Church.
What RosaryMeds do I Need?
Many Catholics have an acute case of sin hoarding. This is a particularly dangerous disease because most people aren’t even aware that they have it. They can go their entire lives thinking they are fine. And by all earthly accounts, they are fine. But they do not see the potentially unhealthy state of their soul that may be clogged up by unconfessed sins. And even if they don’t have any serious, mortal sins on their soul, they do not understand how much better they would feel if they did a little spiritual housecleaning. The C&E Catholics’ souls are like the homes you see on the television show, Hoarders. They just don’t recognize the disorderly state of their souls where they have left no room for God’s Word and love.
We need to reach out to these spiritual hoarders by praying the Third Luminous Mystery, The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion. Meditate on this rosary mystery and think about how Jesus came into this world and taught God’s Word. He taught the truth which many people ignored or criticised because they refused to make room in their hearts to take a deep look at themselves and align their ways with Christ’s. Similarly, many Catholics today may not like hearing that Jesus asks them to go to Mass every week, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and develop a humble heart open to the Word of God even when it may conflict with popular, cultural sentiment. Like physical hoarders, many times sin hoarders become very defensive, if not downright abusive, when you try to help them clean up their lives.
And I think that’s where the meditation on the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary comes in. Think of friends or family members who fall into the Christmas and Easter crowd. Or maybe they do attend Mass on Sunday, but only grudgingly and mostly just sit in silence and zone out for an hour. How can you help them convert and better live for God’s Heavenly Kingdom? Maybe you can buy them a book on Catholic teaching. Maybe you can invite them to attend Mass with you. Maybe you just need to let them know that it’s okay to say small prayers throughout the day. Pray the rosary for the right tactics to bring back those who have fallen away. The Holy Spirit will let you know how much spiritual force to use. Some people need a little push while others need to really be hit over the head (figuratively) regarding their spiritual situation.
Easter Sunday was just the beginning. The Easter season lasts 50 days and it’s a time to celebrate and rejoice. And like any good party, the more the merrier. Who do you know that may have left the party early and what will you do to bring them back?