Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

The following is the eighteenth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

          “You are grounded!” These familiar words were heard by many of us during our childhoods when our behavior was not exactly where it was supposed to be. Losing privileges like going to a friend’s house, watching television, or playing with a toy were hard lessons when we did not live up to our family’s expectations and values. Of course, those punishments pale in comparison to the ultimate form of discipline for many of today’s teenagers: the loss of mobile phone privileges. No matter how we experienced discipline as children, the ultimate aim was to help us reorient our behavior towards a moral end and to help us choose and love what is right. However, sometimes the fear of getting in trouble was a much stronger motivator than anything else!
          In the case of childhood, punishment is usually justified by poor or sinful behavior, but in this month’s Rosary mystery, we have a situation of an innocent man being punished. Jesus is there, having done nothing wrong, and yet he endures some of the cruelest punishment imaginable for our sake. It is amazing to consider the strength of his will to go through with something as painful as a scourging, knowing that all these events would eventually lead to his bodily death.
          What is our response to the realization of such self-sacrificial love? We can only consider the enormity of Christ’s gift every so often, and it can become easy to take it for granted. Even the words that we use to describe Jesus’ punishment and death do not really do justice to the reality of what they were. The Romans had nearly perfected methods of torture meant to produce tremendous pain while leaving subjects alive for prolonged periods. A medical description of what actually happened during a scourging or crucifixion like Jesus’ is not for the faint of heart. No matter what, to prayerfully meditate upon the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice is a fruitful exercise for all of us.
          When we do consider this well and come to a place of gratitude, another curious thing happens in our relationship with God. Instead of living in fear of a punishing God, we begin to flee from our sinful past and inclinations and become motivated by love to do what is right. It is actually a sign of a somewhat immature faith when we only act out of fear. Our goal is to see our sins as violations of a relationship more sacred than any other. We are disappointed with ourselves when we fail in that regard, and we become quick to seek reconciliation when we have done wrong.
          A similar transformation happens during childhood as we mature in our relationship with our parents. Those experiences and lessons can guide the healthy transition in our lives of faith. Grateful for the love of God as shown by Jesus in his suffering and death, we find ourselves seeking to show that love in return by offering ourselves in sacrificial love to others. Rather than being afraid to make a wrong move, we live in the freedom of a life infused by God’s will and guidance.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension

The following is the sixteenth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

          As summer approaches, so do the opportunities to view fireworks. We seem never to tire of the marvelous displays of light and color, often set to music, as they grab our attention and stir our emotions. When I was a young boy, no Fourth of July would be complete without having a chance to view the fireworks, and even with many years and memories in between, I still have vivid recollections of seeing such displays with my family. However, even with all that fun and fanfare, I have found that, as a parent, I now enjoy fireworks from an entirely new perspective.
          Instead of watching the fireworks themselves, I often find myself turning around and watching their reflection in the eyes of my children. The sparks of light and flashes of color have a unique and distinct beauty when seen in those dilated pupils. I do not even miss witnessing the original show as I get to see the joy and wonder in those angelic faces, transfixed by the sights in the sky above them.
          I imagine a similar scene in this month’s Rosary mystery, the Ascension. Described in Acts 1:6-12, Jesus’ followers have been reveling in his resurrected return as he has repeatedly proven the reality of his new life. And then, rather suddenly, he is taken from them. I see them there in my mind’s eye, with their gaze fixed on the heavens that have just received the Lord. Perhaps they are imagining all that had taken place in the recent past and still trying to make sense of it. With Jesus’ second departure, the first being his death, they are probably feeling once again the uncertainty of what to do or where to go next. Jesus, in his life, teachings, miracles, and passion, has held their attention for so long, they do not yet know where to look now.
          It is during this time of introspection and immobility that “two men dressed in white,” presumably angels, inquire as to why the group is staring at the sky. The messengers assure those gathered that Jesus will someday return to Earth in a comparable manner. It is a message of hope in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirt.
          This whole story prompts certain questions for me. Most prominently, what holds our attention in such a way now? We often seem preoccupied with our smartphones, social media, work, material possessions, and the like. Though advances in technology and work are supposed to have made life easier, we cannot often find a way to give our time to worthier endeavors such as quality time with family and friends, silent prayer or adoration, and scriptural or spiritual reading. We give our attention to what holds the most value for us, and taking time to reassess is always a worthwhile endeavor.
          The Ascension is a good reminder of what is actually of great value and of where we hope to join Jesus someday. Reaffirming our commitment to our faith will ensure that we are ready for our own moment of transition from this world to the next. As the men in white reminded the Apostles, Jesus will come again. Will we be watching for him?

Monday, April 17, 2017

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

The following is the sixteenth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

          A few weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Mass of Dedication for our new church building. Though I had heard stories of church dedications, it was my first chance to attend such an event. It was a momentous one, filled with many lasting occasions of joy and celebration, many things which I hope never to forget. Of all the rich symbolism that marked the day, there was one moment that stood out to me above all the rest, and it stayed with me even as I considered this month’s rosary mystery.
          A short while after Bishop Kevin Rhoades anointed the altar with, as advertised, copious amounts of sacred chrism, several women of our parish approached the newly sacred table with white cloths to dry it before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I found myself mesmerized by their actions, made with such grace, gentleness, reverence, and care. It reminded me of family preparing for a most important banquet or a mother tenderly wiping the forehead of a feverish child. All movements were filled with purpose and fueled by love. It was a sight that summoned emotion and memory for me more than any other that day.
          As we just concluded Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum, many similar scenes played out in our minds while we listened to the scriptures and walked the Way of the Cross. We heard of Mary, sister of Lazarus, anointing Jesus at Bethany as if preparing him for burial. We remembered Veronica’s and Simon’s humble service and the compassionate weeping of Jerusalem’s women. We visualized our Blessed Mother and the beloved disciple as they stood at the foot of the cross during Christ’s final breaths. In all these instances, there was a tenderness and grace present to the Lord during a time of great need.
          However, in another moment of this most sacred story, there was no human tenderness to assist Jesus, and that is during the Agony in the Garden. Jesus implored Peter, James, and John to watch and pray, and he went off to pray with astounding humanity and intensity. Instead of heeding Jesus’ instructions or caring for a clearly distressed man, the disciples fell asleep. It is a time where Jesus could have clearly used some human support, but instead, he begins to feel the abandonment that would reoccur in the coming final hours.
          While we hope to have many people around us in our families and friends to support us, each one of us goes through our own agonies in life, times when we feel abandoned by those who love us, times when we long for help and find little. When these happen, we find ourselves distressed and wearied in the same way that the human Jesus was, but we also find inspiration in his perseverance. He did not abandon his vocation and calling, and he eventually found some human compassion as the road to Calvary continued.
          Even after Jesus’ death, people cared for him enough to take his body down from the cross and prepare it for burial. I imagine a group of people surrounding him, just as the women of our parish surrounded our new altar, gently wiping and cleaning something so sacred. May we be inspired to perform such small acts of kindness for others as well. Though they may seem insignificant in the whole of life, they might be the exact thing that someone needs in a trying time and can remind people that we ultimately are a people of Easter hope. After all, of all the important people and happenings of the Dedication Mass, it was the humble service of holy women with what could have seemed an insignificant task that most helped my heart soar with gratitude for our new church and the people of our parish.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation

The following is the fourteenth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

          I remember well where I was when I heard the news: we are going to build a new church. Being a member of the parish and on staff at the time, I knew the challenges we faced with space. However, an entirely new church was still a sobering proposition, one that came with many questions. Before I considered the architectural plans, the timing of such a project, or the status of our current church, one central question loomed the largest in my mind. While you may think it was where the choir would be sitting, it was actually more financial in nature, namely, how much is this going to cost?
          Since we are soon to celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation, I thought it was a perfect fit for our rosary mystery this month, and it holds a great deal of meaning for the building of our new church at St. Pius X. So much of this story is instructive. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary, a young, betrothed virgin, and proclaims that she is to have a child. Bewildered, her first question is, “How can this be?” Gabriel gives the explanation of the Holy Spirit’s involvement, which, quite frankly, would have produced some follow-up questions for me! But Mary, model of faith in God, does not ask more questions. Instead, she gives one of the most profound statements in all of Scripture and even human history, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
          Notice that she does not ask, “How much will this cost me?” In truth, it was going to cost her a great deal, probably more than she could have ever imagined as a young maiden. Her heart would be pierced with sorrows throughout her days, and yet she always trusted that God’s grace was working through her to produce something greater than she could have ever done alone.
          We have such moments in life where we have a decision of great significance before us. I think of my wedding day where my wife and I made vows to each other and to God without knowing at all what those promises would truly ask of us as it came to living our married life. It may have scared us away to know everything all at once! Or each time that we have been open to life and accepted children into our family, we had no idea the total cost or what the future would hold. Finally, I think of our parish family, as we stand upon the precipice of opening a new church building that is an answer to the Holy Spirit’s movement in our community. While we can put a dollar amount on the project, behind that are tremendous examples of generosity and sacrifice, even beyond the financial, that were put forth without knowing exactly how this would turn out.
          Like Mary, we strive to get the point of praying that God’s will be done. This does not, of course, mean that we do not exercise prudence in taking vows, having children, or building churches. It is indeed very biblical to plan to ensure that enough resources exist to accomplish any of these undertakings. But if we get hung up on the cost, we would never have the courage and conviction to do anything worthwhile.
          Here is the amazing thing. It is our “yes,” mingled with God’s transformative grace, that produces things exceeding our wildest dreams. Marriages that last 50 years or more, children bringing tremendous joy despite their many needs, and churches rising from the ground in the face of significant secular headwinds do not simply happen by chance. These are labors of love that have cooperated with and placed complete reliance on God’s most holy will. They are examples of great witness that will last for many, many years to come. They boldly proclaim that this was a group of people who served God and neighbor, who trusted that their sacrifices placed at God’s altar could grow to unimaginable heights. This a was family, who, when faced with a substantial challenge and stood at a crossroads, followed the example of the Blessed Virgin and said, “Let your will be done!”

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation in the Temple

The following is the thirteenth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

            When a baby is born, there are various presentations that take place.  One of my favorites as a father has been presenting my newborn children to their mother Stephanie for the first time.  She has, after all, been doing all the work!  But when I have placed our babies cheek to cheek with their mother, any difficulty has been momentarily forgotten, and I have had one of the rare chances in life to witness pure, uninterrupted joy.  However, the presentation I most closely associate with this month’s rosary mystery is when my wife and I have brought our children to baptism.  Like Joseph and Mary, we have fulfilled a hope and expectation of the religious heritage we wish to pass along as a precious gift to our children.  Whenever we have done so, my mind has inevitably drifted to my children’s and my future as well.  How will we shape them to be holy people?  Will we be as proud to present them to God in eternal life as we were on their baptismal day?  And finally, am I directing my own life in a way that others would happily present on the day of salvation?
            There are many moments in life when we prepare each other or ourselves for presentations of some sort.  I think of a parent talking with a son or daughter about how to act on a first date, a friend or counselor putting someone through a mock interview before the real one, or the small army of assistants a bride sometimes has in preparation for a wedding!  All of these presentations are for pivotal moments in life, but we do run the risk of only concerning ourselves with passing things such as what clothes we are wearing, our physical appearance, or our social or career status should we be successful.
            Our sacred imagination leads us to ponder a different sort of principles in considering life’s presentations.  We think about treating a first date with respect, if a certain career move will enable us to glorify God with our talents, or if we have sufficiently prepared to honor the marriage vows our whole lives.  In short, we begin to view things from a divine rather than human lens.
            I can only wonder at Mary and Joseph’s thoughts as they spoke with Simeon at Jesus’ presentation.  They had already been through a great many remarkable things surrounding Jesus’ birth: the angelic announcement, the pre-marital crisis, the journey to Bethlehem, the stable, and the extraordinary visitors.  Now they were in front of a man who had prayed for preservation from death until he would meet their child.  Many of Simeon’s words would inspire excitement about Jesus’ potential, but they were also laced with a sense of foreboding. Talk of Jesus being a sign of contraction and his life a source of sorrows for Mary are not typical things a person would say about an infant.  Yet, here again we have someone viewing things as God does instead of how human beings might.
            This story inspires us to change our perspective.  Instead of being overly concerned with the minor presentations that will be a part of our lives, we take a longer look and consider everything in light of our final presentation before God at the end of our lives.  And when we are at our best and most loving, we help others to do the same instead of sidetracking them with trivial matters.  As St. Paul suggests in his Letter to the Philippians, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Monday, January 30, 2017

The First Luminous Mystery: The Baptism in the Jordan

The following is the twelfth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

            My wife Stephanie and I have a running joke between us.  I ask her if there is anywhere she would like to go on vacation, and she quickly answers, “Somewhere with a beach.”  Of course, we have found that there is a difference between the idyllic beach scene in her mind and the reality of being by water with young kids in tow.  Usually, it means that Stephanie is managing “the bag,” filled with enough supplies to guide us through any number of misadventures that could be in store, and while she covers home base on the beach, I am out in the water with my aspiring but not yet functioning swimmers.  Whenever someone approaches the water and is uncertain about swimming ability or the unseen terrain, our instinctive reaction is to hold out our hands in support, and this image came to me as I reflected on our rosary mystery this month.
             I do not know exactly what the physical interaction between John the Baptist and Jesus looked like at Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River.  We have record in the various gospel accounts of the words and happenings, but we must imagine ourselves the details of the larger scene.  I imagine John, already standing in the water, reaching his hands out to Jesus as he approached.  It is a reassuring gesture to prepare for the coming event, and the dialogue between the two men show how it is curious that this interplay is happening at all.  After all, Jesus is certainly not in need of a baptism of repentance, and we often hear John admit that Jesus is the far greater of the two.  What exactly is Jesus doing going into this water?
            A myriad of reasons has emerged over the millennia as each generation considers this event, but I would like to highlight two.  The first is that Jesus is showing us the way to follow.  After he emerges from the baptismal waters, we can imagine that Jesus has figuratively invited each of us to follow suit, holding out his hands as we enter the water ourselves and become members of the Body of Christ.  It helps to follow someone who has gone before us.
            The second reason that I find important is that Jesus is already prefiguring his death on the cross.  The interplay of water as both a cleansing agent and source of danger and death is present here.  Baptism not only washes away our sins but also asks us to die to our former selves.  Those hands of support are essential to keep the fear of drowning at bay, but the interesting thing about Jesus is that he invites us down into the water to, in a way, drown our old selves and emerge as a new person, freed from sin.  The reason that baptism is effective in this way is because of Christ’s death on the cross.  By submitting to baptism in the Jordan, Jesus shows that he is willing to die for us and will soon enough do so.
Just as Jesus’ life does not end with death but resurrection, our baptism does not end with death but moves to rebirth and adoption.  Because Jesus first shows us the way, we have the courage to enter the water ourselves, knowing that we will never be the same and changed for the better.  Even if we cannot remember the event of our baptism, we continue to affirm its meaning as we sign ourselves with holy water, renew our baptismal promises during Easter, and continue to follow Jesus in the way that we live our lives.  Let us then again reach out and take Jesus’ hands.  We know that in following him, we will end up where our hearts most desire to go.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity of our Lord

The following is the eleventh of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

            This particular Advent is memorable to me as we wait for the Christ Child because my wife Stephanie and I also await the birth of our fourth child this spring.  It is something that our other children greatly anticipate as well and talk about frequently.  Recently, we braved a local restaurant for a public meal with our crew, and my five-year-old Benjamin said something that caught me by surprise.  As we sat at the table, he announced without discussion or prompting, “We have six people at our table now.”  We questioned him further about what he meant, and he explained, “There is Nicholas, Mark, Benjamin, Daddy, Mommy, and the new baby.”  I marveled at the beauty and simplicity of his statement and remarked to my wife that it is amazing what children could sometimes teach the world.  I certainly have learned a great deal from each of my children and have no doubt that our newest addition will do the same.  It gives me pause as I reflect on our mystery this month of Jesus’ birth.  As we celebrate his coming this year, what will this child teach us?
            First, many elements of his birth are instructive for our meditation.  The humility of the arrival of the King of Kings is remarkable in many ways.  He comes as a little baby, seemingly insignificant enough to be born in a stable and to have a manger as his first resting place.  Any baby seems to draw in other people, and a baby born in this manner would certainly have no barriers, social or otherwise, to a breadth of human visitors.  This is confirmed as both common shepherds and educated, wealthy astronomers approach him.  This baby comes to all people, of every heritage and way of life, offering us all what no other child could.
            A second important aspect of the Lord’s Nativity is that he comes to share in our hardships.  Think of the many challenging events of Jesus’ early life: a crisis pregnancy, temporarily homelessness, and forced emigration due to violence.  This is not the sort of peaceful arrival we would expect for a divine being coming to visit his people and to actually become one of them.  Again, God defies conventional wisdom and makes a clear point here.  Even in his birth, Christ begins to bear the weight of our humanity and the cost of our sinfulness.
            This leads us to our final lesson from Christ’s birth: Jesus comes with a purpose.  It is tempting to sit with the peace of Christmas and compartmentalize it from the rest of Jesus’ life.  However, we know that Bethlehem and Calvary are inextricably linked, and the cross and empty tomb are the culmination of this little baby’s story.  We celebrate his birth not only because of the events that immediately surround it but also because of what will follow.  This child will eventually grow to become the savior of all humanity, and his birth is an essential event as God’s salvific plan comes to fruition.
            As we gather with family and friends this season in our homes and churches, we do well to remember the true importance and meaning of our celebration. Our hearts must be open to the lessons Christ comes to teach us, and we will then be like those who celebrated and told a weary world of this sign of hope. With gratitude and acceptance we joyfully pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”