Don’t Lose Your Moral Bearings in the Darkness

Imagine you’re a pilot flying alone on a completely dark night with no instrumentation.  Envision how hard it would be to know your altitude, your level, and whether or not you’re about to crash into something.  In total darkness, with no visibility and landmarks for reference, there is a good chance the airplane will crash and burn.

Keep that airplane analogy in mind as you read this article about the Glamor of Evil by Dr. Gregory Popcak.  We all know about how we should avoid committing sin. That’s Catholicism 101; easy stuff. But you can also be seduced by sin without actively participating in it.  He writes:

Evil is glamorous, not only in the sense that it can be hard to resist being drawn into it, but also in the sense that it can be hard to look away from it. If you aren’t careful, it’s tremendously easy to stare at it, and stare at it, and stare at it, until you can’t see anything else. Until everything good, and godly, and righteous, and beautiful has been drained from view, and all that is left is outrage, and anger, and indignation, and disgust.

Like the pilot alone in the dark, when we fixate on all the evil, darkness, and problems in this world we lose our moral bearings.  We can become disoriented in the darkness and start to lose hope, joy, and our faith.  We can no longer see the differences between good and evil because we’ve lost our spirital point of reference.  Our actions no longer seem to matter because we don’t see any goal or point to them.  Does it really matter what I do if everything is falling apart around me?

Being lost and aimless doesn’t usually end well.

Dr. Popcak tells us that we can’t let negative thinking completely envelop us.  Our faith and relationship with Jesus Christ should act like a shining beacon, even in our darkest hours.  The beauty and goodness of our faith can provide all the guidance we need to find strength, peace, and maybe even happiness, even when our world looks nonredeemable.

When Good Things Turn Us Bad

I’m going to go one step further. It’s not just evil that can completely block us from whatever is good and godly. Neutral activities can also do the same. Consider social media and the 24/7 cable news cycle. On their own, there’s nothing sinful about them.  They allow us to stay updated on recent events and connect with each other. But for many of us, these seemingly harmless pastimes can consume 100% of our attention leaving room for nothing else. And when your world is completely consumed by Twitter, Facebook, Fox News, and MSNBC, you can stop seeing the genuine good in the world. You will either see a carefully curated goodness that isn’t real or you will just see everything as bad and hopeless and fall into despair.

As we enter the season of Advent and Christmas, it’s important to not allow ouselves to fixate on what is ultimately unimportant. I know we want to buy presents, decorate our homes, and participate in all the other traditions associated with Christmas. But we can’t let the commercial side of Christmas blind us to the true meaning behind it. Because when you obsess over what to buy and what you want to receive, you leave yourself open to the sins of greed, envy, and even wrath. Want an example?  Look no further than the annual chaos around Black Friday and how people lose their moral bearings fighting over TVs and toasters.

The Rosary Connection

Look at the Fourth Luminous Mystery, The Transfiguration.  I’m talking about darkness and the light in this article.  Well, in this mystery you see Jesus’ clothes literally become dazzling white (Mark 9:3).  And that, of course, got the apostles’ attention.  When you meditate on this Rosary mystery, ask yourself, is Jesus a dazzling beacon of love, hope, and goodness in your life?  Does He shine brighter through the darkness keeping you morally oriented toward His teachings?  If not, maybe you need to turn around or take off your blindfold.  Jesus is always present in our lives.  If you don’t see that “light” in the darkness, ask Mary for guidance when you pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery, Her Assumption.  She wants nothing more than to guide you through the darkness to Her son.

Also, when you pray the Third Joyful Mystery, think of the wise men traveling through the desert to pay homage to Jesus.  They would have been wondering around aimlessly and hopelessly if it weren’t for a star to guide them.  Again, you have a point of light, a referrence point, which guided the three wise men to Jesus. Are you following the signs in your life which lead you to Jesus?

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.

What the Rosary Teaches Us about Spiritual Complacency

Last Sunday’s Gospel was the Transfiguration of Christ which is also the theme of the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary.  This mystery has always been one of the more difficult ones for me to meditate on.  I think I have a hard time relating to it because I have a tendency to reduce it to just another one of Jesus’ miracles.

The impact of the Transfiguration is softened partly because it sits in the shadow of the even more miraculous events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as nearly 2000 years of Church teaching.  In a way, modern day Christians are like people watching a movie they’ve already seen a dozen times and already know the ending.  We read about Jesus in the Bible and his disciples and we know who will betray him, who will deny him, who will convert, who will become saints, etc.  Because we already start from the understanding that Jesus is God made man, all the events of the Bible come across almost normal or at least expected.

“Ugh, another rerun of that ‘Jesus Show.'”

When we meditate on the Transfiguration in the Fourth Luminous Mystery, we have to put ourselves into the role of St. Peter as he witnessed these events for the first time.  It is then that we truly start to appreciate the revolutionary nature of the Transfiguration.  I think we have to assume that the apostles still didn’t fully understand and appreciate Jesus’ truly divine nature as they traveled with Him.  Sure, they said they believed Jesus was the Messiah, but as their actions during Jesus’ death showed, they didn’t truly internalize it.

The Old Testament prophets did many miraculous deeds.  In a way, Jesus’ actions seemed to fall in line with earlier prophets.  In fact, many people believed that Jesus was one of the older prophets reborn.  The Transfiguration showed that Jesus was no mere prophet of human origin but was God’s own son.  Imagine the shock Peter, John, and James must have felt realizing that they had been in God’s presence the entire time they were with Jesus.

It’s not surprising then that Peter wants to erect tents to honor Jesus.  Like a star-struck fan, Peter probably couldn’t think of anything else to say or do.   I would imagine he might even have felt embarrassed knowing all the times he had acted foolishly in front of God’s son.

“Just be cool, don’t think about that dopey pun you made about ’12 Monkeys.'”

Now, Peter and the apostles could plead ignorance for not truly understanding Jesus’ true nature.  But what’s our excuse?  We’ve read and have been told the history of Jesus’ teachings dozens of times.  We have the benefit of thousands of years of theologians and the Magisterium interpreting and explaining Jesus to us in utmost detail.  And yet, we all so often casually ignore Jesus and take His teachings for granted.  Much like the disciples thousands of years ago, we sometimes think of Jesus more as a philosopher with some good advice and not as God.  Lent is our time to change that lackadaisical attitude.

When you meditate on the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary this Lent, try to capture that sense of awe the three apostles must have felt at the Transfiguration.  Try to look at your faith with fresh eyes, ears, and heart to truly take in the majesty and power of God’s grace.  Ask God to renew your conviction in following God’s command to listen to His son.  In other words, try to throw out any complacency you may have developed with your faith.  This will make the miracle and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter grander and more meaningful.