Tag Archives: stress

The Luminous Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday was a challenging day. The beginning of the semester is always hectic, and I end up running on just four or five hours of sleep each day. Not even a Starbucks triple espresso could help me much this morning.

Driving to campus, my anger, fatigue, and frustration from work and other life events became too much. What to do?

I tried spontaneous prayer, but my heart just wasn’t in it. Someone told me once to recite the Our Father or Hail Mary prayer in such times. The key to recited prayers is to say it with all your heart, though — “say it like you mean it.”

So I prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. During rush-hour traffic, my mind and heart were taken away to a higher place, above the hustle and bustle of daily life. I no longer focused on being at a standstill on the highway and possibly arriving late for class. The holy power of the Rosary lifted me above all that.

I’d like to share with you some of the thoughts and meditations that I had while praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary this morning.

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1. The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River – Fruit of the Spirit: Openness to the Holy Spirit

This really set the tone for the Mysteries. It humbled me and caused me to examine my anger and frustration issues. Why was I letting petty things get the best of me? Don’t I have the Holy Spirit in me?

Even Jesus, the Son of God, is baptized. The Scriptures say that the Holy Spirit came down like a dove upon Him (Matthew 3:16). God was showing me that I had to let go of control; He is Lord and, until I surrender to Him, I will continue to be frustrated and angry at the little things in life — and everything is little in God’s eyes.

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2. The Wedding Feast at Cana – Fruit of the Spirit: Fidelity

I particularly love this Mystery because it shows Mary’s maternal bond with Jesus. The wedding feast at Cana is where Jesus performs His first miracle of His ministry; and, at first, He tells his mother that it isn’t time yet. But, how could he refuse his beloved mother? At her request, Jesus changes the water into wine so that the wedding party could continue (because what is a wedding reception without wine?).

Interestingly, Mary tells the attendants to “do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5) This opened my eyes and forced me to examine my heart. Are there any areas of my life in which sin still dominates? What do I need to do to get rid of it? Fidelity means being true to your spouse; Christ wants our full loyalty and not just part of it.

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3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God – Fruit of the Spirit: Desire for Holiness

For me, this is the high point of the Luminous Mysteries. Jesus’ ministry is in full swing, and it’s now time for Him to announce to the world that God’s Kingdom has come! What a glorious image.

One thing I love about the Rosary is that it is meditative: I can picture Jesus among the people, His dusty sandals leaving prints on the ground, the murmur of the townspeople as they marvel at His words, and the sun beating down on His flesh.

I’m reminded of the Good News of the Scriptures and how God has called me to be one of His children. I desire what The Lord desires, and we become one.

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4. The Transfiguration – Fruit of the Spirit: Spiritual Courage

This Mystery somehow reminds me of Jesus driving out the moneychangers from the temple (Matthew 21:12), displaying the fire of righteous anger and zeal for His Father. When Christ is transfigured before the eyes of three of His apostles, it is a dazzling and radiant event that they would never forget.

The fruit of the Spirit compels me to view my trials and tribulations in light of the transfiguration (no pun intended). When someone opposes me or sets out to cause me harm for whatever reason, I must remember that the Devil is at war with God, and that unseen warfare also plays out in the material world. Seeing the bigger picture is comforting and takes the focus off myself.

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5. The Institution of the Holy Eucharist – Fruit of the Spirit: Love of Our Eucharistic Lord

What would my faith be without the Holy Eucharist: the body and blood of Christ? If it weren’t for Jesus offering Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for me, then everything that I believe would be in vain; life would be meaningless.

Christ is always present in the Eucharist and desires to help us. However, we must allow him to do so. Revelation 3:20 essentially says that we must make the decision to let Jesus heal us.

By this point in the Mysteries, my batteries are fully charged and I’m ready to stop my “woe is me” whining. Jesus came to set the captives free. Prayer and meditation on these Mysteries allow me to let Him set me free.

Final Thoughts

Of course, prayer, whether it be vocal, meditative, or contemplative, isn’t the same as chanting a magic spell and seeing the immediate effect appear before your eyes. If God doesn’t answer, it doesn’t mean He is ignoring you or is indifferent to your problems and concerns. God has a reason for everything that He does.

So, if you’re feeling F.I.N.E.* (faithless, insecure, neurotic, emotional), stop for a moment and pray. If you can’t bring yourself to pray, then at least think about everything in your life that you’re thankful for. We should all count our blessings.

~t

*title of an Aerosmith song


Pride Comes Before a Fall

Credit: David Lazar

The title of this post is a common saying. It’s so common that a lot of people don’t know that it’s from the Bible (Proverbs 16:18). For instance, this online dictionary doesn’t mention any biblical source: It’s merely referred to as an idiom in the English language.

All of the verses in the Book of Proverbs are awesome, and we need to apply them to our lives. However, verse 18 of chapter 16 (“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”) is one that I consider extremely important — a key in maintaining my faith and humility in order to stay close to God.

A minister at a certain Protestant-based church that I used to attend taught me the acronym KISS. No, the minister wasn’t a fan of the rock group of the same name (at least not that I knew of). It stands for “keep it simple, stupid.” Now, stupid isn’t a very polite word. We don’t let our kids say it. However, I’ve heard variations of it at work and even in my parish such as “keep it simple, silly” or “keep it short and simple.” (The latter sort of adds more meaning to it, so I don’t particularly like that one. But if you do, then that’s totally cool.)

I’m mentioning all this because “pride comes before a fall” is one of those wise sayings in the Bible that is in line with the KISS philosophy. And, wouldn’t you know it, those are the things that I tend to forget all about when push comes to shove in my spiritual life.

I’ve been doing well (i.e. abstaining from mortal sin, praying, going to Mass every Sunday, et cetera). So well that I actually thought that I was invincible against certain types of sin: lust, anger, and gossip to name a few.

I was under an illusion. The Evil One is always at work, scheming up ways to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8). Spiritual warfare rages on every day, every hour, every minute. Angels and demons are going head-to-head right now all around me as I type (and all around you as you’re reading). This Present Darkness is a good book that illustrates this biblical concept.

I’ve finished the first week of the fall semester at my job, and, while it was hectic, things went fairly well. I didn’t realize that my prayer time was going downhill. I had been praying a little less than usual, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was still in the mindset, though, that I was winning the battle against the darkness; never mind the fact that I was becoming more susceptible to temptation and outright sin.

If you’ve kept up with my posts, you’ll know that my wife is basically a non-practicing Buddhist/Shintoist (I’ll let you think on that for a second). She’s cool with my being Catholic. The only issue that we stay away from is abortion; although we agree to disagree on this subject, it still comes up from time to time. So, like the bumper sticker says, we “coexist.”

Anyway, we were driving to the park this morning, and my wife, Ayako, was telling me about a recent situation she had with a Christian friend named Molly. They were standing near a pond, and Molly told her son to get away from the edge because she didn’t want him to fall in. Her son said, “I won’t fall in.”

Ayako tried to remember what Molly said in reply. “She said something like ‘If you’re too confident, you’ll fall in too easily’ I think.”

After a moment, I said, “Oh, you mean ‘pride comes before a fall.'”

“Yes! How did you know?”

“Because it’s from the Bible. It’s really famous.” I changed the subject to something else, quickly forgetting about that verse from Proverbs.

Little did I know that God was giving me one last chance to repent before He would humble me.

Sure enough, later in the day, my house of cards collapsed. I found myself plunged into various types of sin that, just a week ago, thought that I was above and too good for.

Broken and troubled, I turned to prayer. Not the superficial kind that I had been practicing, but the real, honest, gut-check kind.

I heard God’s whisper in my heart almost immediately: Pride comes before a fall.

Boy, does it.

How could I have been so bone-headed?

Because you’re human. Now get back up and continue the race.

I felt like I had finally pulled my head out of the ground where it had been stuck for the past few weeks. What an amazing feeling.

It’s even more amazing to be reminded about God’s love for us. He was giving me signs that I thought didn’t pertain to me. He allowed me to fall in order for me to learn my lesson. When I came to my senses, God was waiting with open arms.

In the Parable of the Lost Son, Jesus tells how God will always forgive us, no matter how badly we mess up (Luke 15:11-32). After the son squanders his inheritance and reaches rock bottom, he decides to go back to his father:

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

~t


The Sorrowful Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Monday was the first day of classes at my college. The first week is usually chaotic as I try to get on top of my classes, serve on committees, get late students into correct classes, and so on. By the end of the day yesterday evening (only the second day!), I was exhausted, stressed, and reeling from sin and temptation.

Even though the fall semester has started, it’s still hot as blazes here in Texas, so a lot of students are still wearing as little as possible. Needless to say, it is not uncommon for me to encounter “spiritual landmines” throughout my day: lust and temptation.

I prefer to pray the Rosary at home in a quiet place, but I decided to play the CD during my commute home. I don’t listen to the Rosary on CD very often, especially while driving, but it was one of those days. What better way to cleanse the mind and refocus on God?

The calming background music and soft voice of the narrator immediately took the focus off myself. God knew exactly what I needed because yesterday happened to be the Sorrowful Mysteries. As I prayed along with the CD, the Mysteries and fruits of the Spirit totally matched my struggles. Not only did God put the idea on my heart to pray the Rosary, He also, in His glory, matched me up with exactly what I needed to hear and pray about.

I have listed each Sorrowful Mystery below, along with my thoughts and practical applications that I gleaned from my meditation.

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1. The Agony in the Garden – Fruit of the Spirit: Sorrow for Sin

Three words stood out to me on this one: agony, sorrow, and sin. As I mentioned, it was a day filled with temptation (which day isn’t?), so I was feeling really guilty and sorry for letting my mind dwell on forbidden thoughts throughout the day. Even before I started the CD, I was already asking God to forgive me for not avoiding everything that led me to sin.

Plus, the image of Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane puts everything into perspective: I’m the sinner, so I should have been the one crying out to God to “take this cup away from me.” (Luke 22:42) Instead, out of His love for me, Christ took my place.

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2. The Scourging at the Pillar – Fruit of the Spirit: Purity

There’s that word, purity. The Lord was speaking directly to me. That’s God: He always knows what we need and when we need it.

While I was letting my thoughts run loose, at one point Christ was being beaten within an inch of His life. He is the essence of purity yet was treated as a common criminal for my sake. Remember, He is God in the flesh, and He stooped down to this level for me.

That’s love. Not the warm-and-fuzzy sort of love that comes with infatuation; rather, it’s the self-sacrificing kind that a mother has for her child. I know that my mother would give her life for me, just as I would for my children.

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3. The Crowning of Thorns – Fruit of the Spirit: Courage

Of course, when the word courage was mentioned during the introduction of this Mystery, I said a special “thank you” prayer to God. He was allowing me to see the progression I was to take: be sorry for my sins, vow to be pure, and now He was showing me that I must have courage to “fight the good fight.” (1 Timothy 6:12)

Let me tell you, when you give your whole self over to God, he will rock your world. And it’s scary. On one hand, you know that God is with you — you can just feel it. And it feels awesome! However, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and you will periodically have doubts. For me, those doubts are crippling to me because I’m now doing something totally out of character like leading a men’s purity group or helping struggling Christians regain their faith.

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4. The Carrying of the Cross – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

Okay, so you’re feeling pretty fired up and are living out your faith. That’s wonderful. Now another hurdle is in your path: patience. Just as Jesus endured the long, arduous walk to the place where He was crucified, we must also carry our own crosses (Luke 14:27). There will be times that you stumble and drop your burdensome cross due to its enormous weight; those times call for patience, a fruit of the Spirit.

Actually, even when things are going well for me, just one unanswered prayer can sink my mood and discourage me like crazy. I need to remember that God has His own plan, and it’s usually different from mine!

There may have been a time when Jesus merely wanted everything to be finished. Imagine going through a hyped-up trial, a severe beating and torture, and then, half dead already, having to carry an instrument of your own execution for what seems like miles and miles.

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5. The Crucifixion – Fruit of the Spirit: Perseverance

Being a Christian isn’t a part-time job or hobby. It’s a lifetime commitment. So it’s not by accident that the last fruit of the Spirit of these Mysteries happens to be perseverance. God never said it would be an easy life. In fact, the Bible says to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

We must persevere and not give up because the cycle will repeat itself: commit sin, resolve to be pure, find courage, exercise patience, and not give up. Persevere because we will fall again. When (not if) that happens, we must get back up and keep trying our best.

I always thought that crucifixion was an immediate death, but it’s not. The Romans perfected this method of execution to prolong the suffering of the victim as long as possible. When criminals were crucified in the first century, they most likely died from asphyxiation after hours or even days of excruciating pain on the cross. (Actually, the word excruciating is derived from crucifixion).

Conclusion

I am so thankful to God for teaching me this lesson as I calmly fought rush-hour traffic on my way home yesterday. Just typing this out helps me to recall and meditate once more upon these Sorrowful Mysteries.

I pray that The Lord will inspire me to write reflections on the other Mysteries of the Rosary as well: the Joyful, the Luminous, and the Glorious. I’m in no hurry, though, because I will wait on God to inspire me. In the meantime, I’ll be putting into practice the five fruits of the Spirit from this post.

~t


I Have Nowhere Else to Go

Photo: Amanda Slater via Wylio

I went to confession this past weekend. I try to go as often as I can; that is, when it doesn’t interfere with my family’s plans. I used to arrive about 10 minutes late. When I did, the line was like Walmart on a Saturday afternoon.

Sure enough, when I show up 10 minutes early, I still have to wait because, wouldn’t you know it, there is absolutely no line, and the priest is still getting ready. So this weekend I decided to arrive right on time. Like a game of roulette, I had to wait and see; I wasn’t able to let my wife know when I would be back.

It turned out there was only one person in line when I arrived. I noticed a man in his 30s who had just walked out of the confessional. He was looking around as if he wasn’t sure of the way out. He asked me if I knew which door led to the west parking lot. I told him and expected him to go on. No one usually speaks when they’re in the confessional line. It’s much too somber. Plus, I was feeling awkward as usual. Anytime that I’m outside of my home I feel awkward and self-conscious, as if everyone is staring at me, gazing at all my faults.

But the man didn’t go. Instead, he spoke to me. My heart sank; I knew what was coming. Those two dreaded words: small talk.

I was wearing my Knights of Columbus T-shirt, so I didn’t want to appear rude or odd. Like the vehicles that have the fish logo on the back: If they don’t drive like Christians, it would make them look bad.

Luckily he opened. “So, you’re a Knight?” he said, nodding toward the logo on the left breast of my shirt. Thank goodness. Something I could talk about with some degree of ease. He said he was also a Knight, but he wasn’t active. His council was located on the other side of Dallas, a very spread-out metropolis, so he was definitely far from home. His name, he told me, was Jim. Jim had just started a new job in the vicinity and was interested in joining my parish. I told him a little about my council and the parish in general. The confessional door opened, and suddenly it was my turn. We exchanged pleasantries and then parted ways.

The whole time my conscience was screaming at me inside my head. Invite him to the next council meeting! Tell him about the next pancake breakfast!

But, like so many times, I had blown my chance of helping someone. All because of my timidity.

I won’t even blame it on my illness. My awkwardness appeared worse than usual, probably because I was too focused on something that never materialized anyway: gaining the nerve to invite Jim to check out our council. I mean, the man could have been single and alone in this new phase of his life. He could also have been married or even widowed. I have no idea because I didn’t ask.

I could have stepped aside to speak with Jim some more. It’s not like the priests expect the line to always be full. Then I started thinking about other guys in my council and how they would have “made the most of every opportunity,” like those motivational posters declare.

When I was younger, I was a member of a church that many people, ex-members and others, described as cultish. We were required to “reach out,” meaning evangelize, every Monday. The other days were filled up with meetings, “discipling” groups, and two services per week.

I was forced to walk up to complete strangers in supermarkets, go door-to-door, and stop students on campuses with the pressure of getting a name and phone number. Every Friday we had to report our “numbers” to our superior, the dreaded “family group leader.” I hated this so much. Of course I never got many names and numbers because I felt so out of my element with those particular approaches.

Maybe those difficult years are still ingrained in my head. Maybe that’s why I avoid opportunities to meet new people or to suggest a church activity to interested people like Jim.

Yes, I’m expected to share my faith and evangelize because I’m a Christian. The Church recognizes this and has called for the New Evangelization. In the Bible, Jesus calls all believers to go forth and make disciples. But there’s a way to do it, and there’s a way not to do it.

I want to help people. I know what it means to suffer from mental illness and to start my life over after returning from the brink of death. We’re human; we all long for love and fellowship with one another. Atheists are starting to form their own “churches” on Sunday mornings because they realize their need to be loved, strengthened, and encouraged by others, even if they don’t believe in a Creator.

A lot of times it seems so hard to be a Christian. A lot of days I want to give up in order to ease the stress. But I have nowhere else to go. I’ve tried making my way in the world without God. I always ended up in my own hell. I am reminded of someone I heard on Catholic radio recently who said, “Atheists say we use God as a crutch. Why not use God as a crutch? People who are hurt and injured need crutches.”

Yes, I let Jim wander back outside into an unfamiliar and uncertain new life without offering anything. I pray that our paths will cross again soon. If they don’t, I pray that someone else won’t be too scared to offer a hand to him.

There are so many people in the world who are hurting. I am one of them. However, I’ve found that by taking the focus off myself, I can better help others. I mess up a lot, but I’ll keep at it. I have to. I have nowhere else to go.

~t