Jesus Demostrated that He is the Messiah

Wednesday, 9/1/10

Yesterday and today’s Gospel readings from Chapter Four of Luke’s Gospel took us to the synagogue at Capernaum on the Sabbath when Jesus began his public life. We can see these incidents at Capernaum's synagogue as the beginning of an account that will run through five chapter's of Luke’s Gospel. It will culminate in Jesus asking the disciples who they take him to be, and they will say they have come to see that he is the Messiah.

In this account from Chapter Four and the following chapters of Luke's Gospel we see  all the evidence that led the disciples to conclude that Jesus was the Messiah. In yesterday’s account the evil spirits called him the “Holy One of God.” He drove them out with a single word. And, the people marveled at his speaking authoritatively about heaven. In today’s Gospel Jesus cured everyone of the sick people brought to him. 

Just as all these demonstrations of  his divine power convinced the disciples, so they should bring us to recognize Jesus as our Lord and Savior.



Only The The Spirit of God Knows God

Tuesday, 8/31/10

In the first reading Paul spoke of the Spirit of God. And, he confuses me. I am also frequently confused when St. Luke writes about the Spirit.

Look at the way Paul explains the role of the Spirit. He compares it to the role of a human’s soul when he says, “Who knows what pertains to the man except his spirit that is within?” There he is saying only your own soul knows your deep thoughts.   We agree with that. 

But what are we to make of what he said next: “Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.” There he is picturing God as having a Spirit apart from his overall being. But, that seems wrong. Isn’t God pure Spirit?

I began by saying both Paul and Luke confuse me with the way they speak of the Spirit. St. John simply speaks of the Father and Son coming to us, not just their Spirit: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

I like thinking of living in God’s presence, and of having him within me; not just having his Spirit within me.
Monday, 8.30/10

Before leaving his home in Nazareth Jesus had been seen simply as a quiet, wonderful young man, but since then he had been witnessed to by John the Baptist, and he had acquired disciples who were calling him master. This caused excitement at home, and his townsmen were anxious to see this celebrity they had overlooked. They did him the honor of asking him to do the synagogue reading and to comment on the text.

When they handed him the scroll for the Prophet Isaiah he unrolled it to Chapter 61, where he read the passage stating that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, sending him to preach. It was a passage that the people recognized as referring to the Messiah, and when Jesus said the passage was fulfilled in him, the people began to think Jesus had gone too far. They had delighted in having a local boy make good, but they were not willing to see him as head and shoulder above their own sons.

This Gospel story challenges us. We must not stop short in honoring Jesus the way his towns people did. We must accept him for what he declared himself to be: the most important person in our lives, sent from God the Father.

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Fifteenth Mystery on Christian Behavior. . . “His delight is in fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah, 11:3"

One who delights in spending every minute in God’s presence does not feel constrained by the thought of always having God there watching. Rather, he or she likes nothing better than having God’s loving attention following all his or her movements.

So, for your final mystery you will do well to delight in living in God’s presence. You can join Mary in saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

There is nothing better for you than that your rosary should prepare you for consciously spending your day in God’s presence.

Humility is Remembering that We are Dust

Sunday, 8/29/10

The readings today urge us to be humble. On Ash Wednesday the priest says, “Remember man, thou art dust, and to dust you shall return.” He is actually asking us to be humble, for the word humility comes from humus, Latin for dirt.

While we need to be aware that we are but dust, we also need to remember the dignity that is ours as children of God.  At time our awareness of our earthiness and of our high dignity come in conflict with each other. We can see this with the dignitaries of our church.  If we go back to the year 500 A.D. we can see how this conflict was brought to a head for them.

In the fifth century the Roman emperors became followers of the Arian heresy that considered Jesus to be no more than a fine human. Adding to the difficulty for Christianity, the Germanic tribes entering Europe also went over to Arianism. True Christianity was in danger of being wiped out. The popes had their backs against the wall. Then, hope was restored to us when the king of a powerful new nation married a Catholic girl. Clovis, king of the Francs, along with his nobles, was baptized in Rheims at Christmas of 496. We were saved, but the priests and bishops were compromised.

The nation of the Francs had a primitive social structure that allowed for only two classes of people. The nobles who had inheritances were seen as fully human, but the peasants who lacked inheritances were considered as little better than the pigs. Since the bishops and priests lacked inheritances they were not free men who could move about doing their work. Then, they thought up a tricky way of guaranteeing their freedom. 

The priests and bishops presented themselves one at a time before the nobles, and each of them declared, “I have an in heritance. My inheritance is the Lord.” Now, in the half-German, half-Latin language they were using the word for an inheritance was “clerc.” From that the priest and bishops came to be called clerics, and the clerical state was granted a permanent place in feudalism.

With the clerics being elevated to the level of the nobles, the nobles insisted that clerics dress like nobles, that they carry themselves proudly like nobles. This introduced a permanent conflict into the souls of all clerics. They came to be called “Reverend,” and “Very Reverend,” and “Most Reverend.” Somehow, while strutting like nobles, they still needed to be true to Jesus who told them, “You know how the rulers among the nations make their importance felt, but it cannot be that way with you.”
For remaining humble the pope asks to be addressed as “The servant of the servants of God;” but mindful of his dignity he will not let anyone else be addressed that way.

St. Ambrose Persuaded Augustine to Believe

Saturday, 8/28/10

Today is the feast of St. Augustine, and the Gospel’s parable about making the best of our talents applies well to him. Augustine made the best of his gifts. To start with, his father, impressed with his son’s great cleverness, put him into a line of studies that would bring money into the family. He had him trained in Rhetoric, which is the art of persuasive speaking. His skills would now be valuable in advertising; but back then what Augustine turned to was writing speeches for senators. He was successful with that in Rome; but then he saw the real money was to be made in Milan, where men pleaded their cases before the emperor.

Augustine’s mother, Monica, followed him to Milan; and there she persuaded him to listen to the superb rhetoric of Ambrose, Milan’s bishop. Ambrose, and God’s grace, were persuasive enough to bring Augustine to drop his pagan ways, and ask for Baptism. After that he used his talents in ways that are benefiting us still.

13th Rosary Mystery: the Gift of Knowledge

The gift of knowledge directs us to act in accord with the facts. A hazy notion of matters leads to our making wrong and hurtful decisions. You will hear people saying, “If I had only known the truth of the matter I wouldn’t have acted that way.” The gift of Knowledge prevents you from ending up in that sad situation.

There is a saying that goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The truth of that can be observed in the talk you hear around you in restaurants. Someone might say, “Listen to me, all them ragheads over there are terrorists. We ought to nuke them all.” Or, “You know what caused that earthquake down in Chile? It was those people two hundred years ago failing to consecrate their nation to the Heart of Mary. I’m telling you, it’s true.” 

By the Gift of Knowledge that you pray for in your rosary will have you turning to God, asking him to guide you to the truth in one matter after another.

St. Monica's Prayers Lifted her Son to Great Sanctity

Friday,8/27/10


Paul in the first reading insists he saw no need to preach anything beyond Christ crucified. He was moved to that protestation on hearing that a high  sounding Christian philosopher had followed him at Corinth. He was unhappy over having a rival.

Today we honor St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. She too had a rival. It was her husband. He was a Roman official in the city of Tagaste in North Africa. Augustine was the oldest of their three children. With ambitions for Augustine, Monica’s husband Patritius would not permit the boy to be baptized. He set seventeen-year-old Augustine up as a student of Rhetoric in Carthage, and he installed a servant girl with him.

With leanings towards both spirituality and sensuality, Augustine joined the Manichaean Religion that honored both a god of the spirit and a god of the flesh. It had Augustine worshiping both gods.

Monica followed Augustine everywhere for seventeen years, at last having the joy of seeing him baptized by St. Ambrose in Milan. The finest pages in Augustine’s “Confessions” describe their final days before her death at Rome’s port of Ostia.

12 Rosary Mystery, The Gift of Fortitude

The thought of the gift of Fortitude sometimes has me humming the Brit’s World War One song: “Keep right on to the end of the road, keep right on to the end. What though the way be long, let your heart be strong. Keep right on round the bend.” Other days I am with the U. S. Navy, singing, “If you have to take a lickin, carry on and quit your kickin, don’t give u p the ship.” 

A funny old saying tells us, “Anything worth doing at all is worth doing badly.” You might not be the best of husbands or typists or friend in need; but in the long run being faithful, being reliable, might be of more value than being talented.

As a mystery of your rosary this gift has you asking God for the strength and patience to keep going, to put up with the annoyances.

Father Sullivan's Rosary Essays

Sorry to interrupt.  I'm impressed with Father Tom Sullivan's willingness to try new technology - always have been.    Look around the site.  He used to email the entries to me to publish to the web but he posts them now himself.
 Ask around - know many in his age group that maintain their own blogs?

What I love is that he's got something to say that so many of us can learn from.  Great teacher.  You should check out the new rosary meditation on the Writings page that appear under the heading Praying Your Own Mysteries of the Rosary.  And by all means, follow his homilies daily.  -kb 8/25/10  [c arr ; photo by k.bark.2010]

A Worthy Christian Community in a Sinful City

Thursday, 8/26/10

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of the role each of us must play in our family life and in our social life. He considers those roles not to be ours by right; rather, he sees us as stewards he has put temporarily in charge. He says we will need to give an account of our stewardship.

It is the first reading that claims our attention. With it we begin a three and a half week long stretch of readings from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. As we saw three days ago with Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians, it has a formal opening. In it Paul identifies himself and his companion Sosthenes; then, he speaks to the Corinthians of the good reputation they have everywhere.

That good reputation, however, belonged only to the Christian community. The city itself was notorious. It was built on a narrow isthmus between northern and southern Greece. That made it a double harbor. It had ships docking on the Aegean side and the Adriatic side. Catering to the constant influx of sailors, Corinth had so called temples employing thousands of women. Throughout the Mediterranean prostitutes were known as “Corinthian girls.”

Paul arrived at Corinth in the year 51 A.D., staying a year and a half. After his departure the Christians would write to him about every difficulty that arose. It was in the year 56 A.D. when Paul was at Ephesus that he wrote this letter. In it he pays attention to each of the problems the people had been having. In that way this letter gives the fullest picture we have of Christian life twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.    

11th Rosary Mystery: The Gift of Counsel

Counsel is God’s gift that inclines you to seek the advise of others. With me, many times when going in for a retreat lecture and looking for a place to sit, I have been thinking about how I knew as much as the speaker knew about the subject. But, then, in listening to the man, I was surprised and delighted with the new ideas he had for us.

While mediating on this gift, it might help you to recall an occasion when a friend turned your foolish thinking around. As an ambitious young pastor I came into a gathering of older priests who were doing everything the old way, and getting the same poor results. I lit into them for their lack of ambition and for their lack of understanding of the people they were meant to serve.

Afterwards Father Neil Boyle, a quiet man, said he would like to have a word with me. He asked me if I knew the effect of what I had been saying. “Tom, those men were happy at having a young priest like you coming out to join in their work. It is particularly their high regard for you that made it so painful to have you turn on them like that.” That was good counsel.

Holding Mary's Hand

For readers who need want to see the entire series, we are repeating the rosaries I called Holding Mary's Hand.

In saying the rosary I have always found it hard to say the Hail Mary’s while I was meditating on the mysteries. But, then, a memory from when I was four years old came back, putting an end to my confusion.

When I was four my mother would take me in tow as she pushed her way through a department store’s bustle. While I was gaga over the sights and sounds, and seemed to be forgetting her, I was holding my mother’s hand tighter than ever. It’s the same now with the rosary. I give my attention to the mysteries while I cling to Mary’s hand with the Hail Mary’s.
My mother was happy with my just holding her hand, me only occasionally throwing a loving glance up at her.  So, Mary lets me mouth her Hail Mary’s while I am lost in the mysteries. It’s enough for her that I just now and then put my heart into praying a phrase like, “Hail, Mary,” or, “Pray for us sinners.” 






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I am writing these pages to urge people to make up their own rosary mysteries by stringing together their favorite Bible verses. I would not have recommended this ten years ago, but then, Pope John Paul II opened the way for it.


In 2001 he suggested we follow what he called his five Luminous Mysteries. He suggested we say a decade each on Christ’s Baptism, on his presence at the Marriage at Cana, on his sending out the disciples, and on his Transfiguration and on the Last Supper.

For myself, after seventy years of trying to meditate on the Presentation and the Crowning of Mary, it was a pleasure being creative over picturing Cana’s wedding banquet and the mountain where Jesus was transfigured. Still, while following the new mysteries on Sundays, I kept to staying the Joyful Mysteries on Mondays and Thursdays, the Sorrowful ones on Tuesdays and Fridays, the Glorious on Wednesdays and Saturday.
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I hadn’t felt easy about straying from what the Dominican Sisters in grade school taught me about the rosary’s heavenly origins. Robed in white, with long rosaries clacking down to the floor, the sisters told us that Mary herself had given the beads and mysteries to their St. Dominic. It seemed odd to me that even the pope would want to change what Mary had given us.

I started wondering if the pope had any justification for changing the way Mary wanted her rosary said. To find out I went to the 15 volume set of the Catholic Encyclopedias I bought forty years ago. There I found that none of the writings from St. Dominic’s lifetime made any mention of the rosary. As well, I found that the story of Mary giving Dominic  the rosary and its mysteries can only be traced back to sermons preached by a Dominican priest, Alan de la Roche, who lived  three hundred years after St. Dominic.

So, if the rosary cannot be traced back to St. Dominic, I set myself to finding where did it come from?

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A fine article on the rosary in the Catholic Encyclopedia gives credit for developing the rosary to the peasants of the Middle Ages. The only church buildings open to them were monastery chapels where they crowded in against the choir walls. As they huddled there, listening to the monks chanting the hundred and fifty Psalms, they felt a need to somehow join in the worship.

Without being able to read the psalms, they fell back on repeating the only prayer they knew, which was the Latin version of the Our Father. Using it, they set for themselves the goal of praying the Our Father a hundred and fifty times a week. The peasants at one monastery devised a way of keeping count, and over time the peasants at other monasteries followed them. What they did was fashion cords on which they strung a hundred and fifty beans. They called those primitive rosaries their “Paternosters,” and they called each bean a “bead,” which was their word for a prayer.

Sometimes when fingering their Paternosters and saying their Our Father’s, they fell behind. To catch up, and to finger the beads quicker, they improvised a shorter prayer. They took to calling out Gabriel and Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, and over time this new prayer, the Hail Mary, took shape, and found its way on to their beads.

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Next, the peasants came on another way of keeping pace with the monks. The monks, following a tradition that went a thousand years back to St. Anthony in the desert, were using the Psalms as the core of their prayer life; but as men of the New Testament they felt the need for a stronger Christian element in their rituals. For this they brought hymns to Jesus and Mary into each hour of prayer.

The peasants, wanting to copy the monks into bringing the Gospels into their ritual,  took to pausing after every ten beads to mention an event like the Annunciation, the Nativity, or the death of Jesus on the cross.

By the time Father Alan de la Roche began preaching his sermons in the Sixteenth Century the rosary had settled into the form it has today. It had fifteen mysteries, and it had Catholics pausing for an Our Father after every ten Hail Mary’s. All that has been introduced since then has been a change in emphasis. Saintly people have been elevating the rosary from being just a vocal prayer to becoming a vehicle for contemplative prayers.

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In his Luminous Mysteries Pope John Paul II made us aware of that contemplative aspect of the rosary. He was in agreement with his friend Father Karl Rahner who said, “Nothing benefits us as much as the contemplation of the mysteries of our religion.”

We all have our own approaches to prayer. Some people pray to praise and thank God, others to gain favors. I pray to bring myself to believe and behave in the right way. A thousand mornings in the major seminary gave me those priorities of believing and behaving as I should. After our meditation, our Mass, breakfast and duties, we went to our classrooms. There we always had an hour each of systematic Theology, of Moral Theology, and of Bible study.

That routine shaped my favorite way of praying the rosary, using it to work on my beliefs and my behavior. As the Bible source for meditating on what my beliefs should be, three days a week I devise my mysteries from verses in Chapter One of John’s Gospel. On the alternate days, when I work at bringing my behavior into line with what God wants, I make up fifteen rosary mysteries by combining the eight Beatitudes with the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

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Let me bring up something they drum into young people during their novitiate. There is a difference between meditation and contemplation. Meditating is constructive thinking about the message for us in Bible passages. Contemplation is different. It is responding to God the way a fish responds to the currents of the ocean. Meditating on our mysteries gets us started, but hopefully contemplation will take over as we subject ourselves to God’s wishes.

My plan for the following pages is to set before you sample meditations for two different sets of fifteen mysteries each. First, for summarizing our beliefs I will give you one by one my fifteen mysteries from Chapter One of John’s Gospel. Then, for putting our behavior in order, I will lay out fifteen mysteries based on the Bestitudes and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But, since I have suggested that you make up your own mysteries going elsewhere in the Bible, at the end I will show how you might line up the Bible verses for two other sets of mysteries. One set gives references for fifteen mysteries on Our Lord’s activities in Holy Week, the other set gives fifteen references for meditating on Mary’s role in our lives.

Mysteries Based on Chapter One of John's Gospel

15 Rosary Mysteries Based on Chapter One of John's Gospel


First Mystery of God . . . “In the beginning . . .” 1:1

Those opening words of John’s Gospel put us back with God when there was nothing but God. Books touting atheism have been prominent in 2009 and 2010, but 2010 has also seen a fine anthology with the title “Belief.” In it Francis S. Collins puts before us the God experiences of Plato, St. Anselm, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonheoffer, and G. K. Chesterton, and other notables.
Collins, a microbiologist who was chairman of the group that mapped the genome, recently wrote to the New York Times, differing with a recent book on their Best Seller list. In it the author had asserted that only the laws of nature were eternal. Collins, who was well acquainted with those laws, could not agree. He said he could not believe that those laws could have assembled themselves into the world’s smoothly operating mechanism. The way I see it, that would be like dumping the 99 letter tiles of a Scrabble game on to a table, and having them arrange themselves to spell out the Gettysburg Address.

You might use thoughts like these while praying over the mystery of God as he was alone in the beginning. Or you might pray, saying, “Dear Lord, John has told us that you are love. I believe that everything I have loved in my short life was with you from that beginning.”

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Second Mystery of God . . . “was the Word. . .” 1:1

The Word is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, but John had a good reason for calling him the Word, or in Greek, the Logos. He did that because the Greeks called our Mother Nature the “Logos.” In John’s time most of the Greeks had given up on honoring the old Greek gods. They took their popular religion from people called the Stoics, who were followers of third century B.C. philosopher Zeno. They recognized no god other than the Logos, whom they conceived of as a divine spirit pervading all of nature.

John opened his Gospel by surprising his Greek audience with the news that their Logos, which they took to be just the soul of all living things, was also a person who always had a separate existence outside of nature.

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Third Mystery of God . . . “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God”  1:1

A true poet bends meanings to express the inexpressible, and that is what St. John did here in saying the Word is with God at the same time he is God. He is speaking of the Second Person of the Trinity of whom St. Paul writing to the Colossians said, “He is the image of the invisible God,” (Col. 1:15) and of whom the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said, “He is the very imprint of the Father’s being.” (Heb. 1:3)

St. Thomas Aquinas humbly offered us a possible explanation of those verses from John, Paul and the Letter to the Hebrews. He told us that God, as an intelligent being, needed to be thinking of something. And, since there was nothing outside himself, he thought of himself. And, while our ideas of ourselves are incomplete, God’s idea of himself was his very imprint. Then, where no idea of ours is pleasing enough for us to hang on to it, God’s idea of himself was so completely satisfying, that it was a permanent reality. Using a cliché, we might see the Word as “God’s brain child.”

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Fourth Mystery of God. . . .“All things came to be through him. Without him nothing came to be.” (John, 1:3)

The Scriptures hint at various ways in which the Word has influenced creation. To get at those ways requires us to parse the prepositions the sacred writers used. John said, “All things came to be through him.” Paul in Colossians said, “For in him were created all things. All things were created through him and for him.” Paul there went on to say, “In him all things hold together.”

In attempting to get some of that across to the Eighth Grade I drew a tall, elongated oval on the board, saying it stood for God the Father. To represent God’s inner make up I drew a few squiggly line in the oval. Next, opposite the Father’s oval I drew an oval representing the Son. He is the mirror image of the Father, even having the same squiggles.

Then, to represent all creation I drew a flat oval across the board below the Father and Son. I put in the same squiggles, but I improved on them, making them resemble hills, lakes and trees.

Finishing off the demonstration, I drew a big angel over to the side. He points one wing at God, and the other at creation, and he says, “Samo-samo.”

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Fifth Mystery of God. . . “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.” (John, 1:3)

This verse goes further than the one that said all things were made through him. That verse said the Father saw in the Son the model for everything he created. This verse says that the life of God the Son gave the spark for the energy for all functions of the world. To say he is the wind beneath our sails is a gross understatement.

Biologists tell us that every human body is made up of ten trillion cells, and each of them has a life of its own. John was here saying that life is sparked by the Word.

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The Five Jesus Mysteries

First Jesus Mystery . . . “And the Word became flesh” (John, 1:14)

When you have been meditating on the Word as the image of the invisible God, who is the Father’s model for everything in our limitless universe, who sparks all the energy in this limitless universe – when you have been trying to imagine that unimaginable greatness; then, to be suddenly told that the Word became flesh – that he is that baby whom  Mary held on her lap -- well, it’s astounding!

What a come-down! What immense consideration God was showing to us imperfect beings! In his sharing of our human nature our human nature came to share in his divine nature.

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Second Jesus Mystery . . . “and dwelt amongst us” (John, 1:14)

The Greek word John wrote, and which we translate as “dwelt,” was eskenaison.  It means “set up his tent.” In the Book of Exodus we read that the Israelites set up tents for themselves at every stop on their journey through the desert. What is more interesting, God had them set up a separate tent for him. It was the Meeting Tent.  Moses and others could go there to discuss things with God. In this verse John tells us that the human personality taken on by the Word is a tent. We are meant to  make private there to discuss the things that matter to us and that trouble us.

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Third Jesus Mystery . . .“We saw his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son.” (John, 1:14)

In Chapter Forty of the Book of Exodus when Moses set up God’s Meeting Tent it was immediately filled with God’s glory. That glory, called the shekina, was the mysterious cloud of God’s presence. The Bible says at night “fire was seen in the cloud.” You might picture it as giving a rosy glow to the walls of the tent.

But what was the comparable glory that St. John and the others saw in Jesus? People might think of his glory as being the wonderful miracles he worked, but was not his real glory his generosity? In giving his young life for us he said, “If it is possible let this chalice pass from me.” But then he gave himself away, saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

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Fourth Jesus Mystery . . . “While the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through  Jesus Christ.” John, 1:17

Here John initiates his major theme. Everything that the Father did in a physical way leading the Chosen People to the Promise Land, Jesus does in a spiritual way, leading us to heaven. Reading through the chapters of John’s Gospel we will come across a dozen instances describing how what Jesus did was a spiritual echo of a physical occurrence in the desert years, as when Jesus gave us the true bread from heaven

In evoking a comparison between Moses and Jesus Christ, John was pointing out the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old. All the Old Covenant could offer was the Commandments, but Jesus in the New Covenant gives us the grace to do what is right, and he lets us see the big picture. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is about. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.

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Fifth Jesus Mystery . . . John said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” (John 1:36)

We wonder what John had in mind in not calling Our Lord by his given name of Jesus, but calling him the Lamb. Steeped in the Old Testament, John might have been thinking of the Lamb of Isaiah that would go meekly to his slaughter. He might have been remembering how  Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the Lamb for the sacrifice. It is noteworthy that in the final scenes of the Book of Revelation John sees the Lamb in the New Jerusalem.  

John the Baptist was to say he had not at first recognized Jesus, but the one who sent him baptizing said he would recognize him when he saw the Spirit come down and remain on him. Now, I wonder how was that message conveyed to John the Baptist? Do you imagine that he heard a voice from heaven speaking to him? 

I like to fantasize about this. I can imagine a young John the Baptist’s attention caught by a solitary white lamb. Then as he gazed at the lamb he saw a dove come down and rest on it. And, he took that as his sign for recognizing the Messiah.

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The Five Mysteries for Our Lives

First Mystery for Our Lives . . . “Jesus turned and saw them (Andrew and John) following him and asked, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)

If Jesus were to turn to you, asking, “What are you looking for?’ what answer would you give?

I met with a man who faced that big question on a Saturday in 1982. I was at a tennis match between Crissy Evert and Martina Navratilova, and I had slipped out to my car to give thought to Sunday’s homily. Hearing my name paged over the P.A, I went back to the stadium where I found the play halted by one of the patron’s having had a heart attack. Kneeling next to the slobbering guy I felt sorry for his embarrassment. His daughter and her new husband dressed so nicely were standing over him.

I later heard that the man was doing alright in the hospital, but I imagined he was very ashamed over the ugly display he had made of himself. When I went to the man’s hospital room three days later he surprised me with a different reaction. He said, “Father, that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had been lost in my schemes for getting ahead at my business and my club, and years had gone by since I gave a thought to what I should really be looking for.”

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Second Mystery of Our Lives. . . “They stayed with him that day.” (John, 1:39)

In his Gospel St. John uses the verb “to stay” or “to remain” over fifty times, usually in the context of remaining with Jesus or Jesus remaining with his followers. Thus, remaining in Jesus and his remaining in us become the core religious idea in St. John’s Gospel.

From September into December of 1950 my seminary class had an hour a day studying the Grace Tract. When I got home in January I asked my Dad what his understanding of God’s grace was. He said, “It’s something like a spiritual vitamin pill to help you do what you’ve got to do.” That answer of his condemned him to listening to my explanation of the Catholic teaching on Grace.

We feel there are two distinct types of Grace, Actual and Sanctifying. My Dad was getting at Actual Grace , which is a momentary assistance from God helping us to understand things and to do what we must do. 

Sanctifying Grace, the central theme of John’s Gospel, has two parts to it. It is first of all God dwelling in us and we in him. It is what Catholics mean by being in the State of Grace. Secondly, Sanctifying Grace is the divine life God within us communicates to us. While meditating on this mystery of the rosary we treasure our oneness with God.

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Third Mystery of Our Lives “You are Simon, son of John; you will be called Peter.” (John 1:42)

When you think of Jesus calling Simon by the name Peter, or the rock, you might think of how authority is needed for the smooth running of all organizations, even Christ’s church. I think of God’s first comment on us humans. He said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” If we are not to live alone we need rules like America needs its Constitution. It needs its courts to interpret it, and its executives to enforce it.

We should look closely at the image of a shepherd that Jesus most often used to explain the role of church leaders. The principal role of Our Lord’s shepherd would be to keep the flock together. This involved policing both the sheep in front and those behind. The young ones in front needed to be kept from running off ahead, letting themselves become prey to wolves. The old ones in back had to be prodded to keep apace less they fall prey to wolves. The pace the flock moves at would not be what any of them wanted, but it kept them together.

Many church rulings are not the ones I would make, but to fulfill Christ’s wish that we remain one I go along with them, honoring church authority.

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Fourth Mystery of Our Lives “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” (John, 1:47)

The first disciples brought a man named Nathaniel to meet Jesus, and Jesus greeted him by saying he was a true Israelite, there was no guile in him.

Jesus was there alluding to the Old Testament’s Jacob who was later given the name Israel. He had been a tricky man, and Jesus was saying this man Nathaniel had a better right to the name of Israel, because there was no deceit in him.

Anyway, in using this as a mystery of your rosary, you could use it to check yourself on honesty. Is there any hypocrisy that is sickening your  role as a disciple of Christ? 

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Fifth Mystery of Our Lives. “Jesus and his disciples were invited to the wedding.” (John, 2:2)

Close readers have noted that St. John has intentionally made a comparison between the first chapter of his Gospel and the first chapter of Genesis. Both open with the phrase “In the beginning.” Then, where the first chapter of Genesis describes six days of creation, the first chapter of John’s Gospel narrates Our Lord’s doings on the first six days of his public ministry. Finally, where Chapter Two of Genesis opens with  the Father resting in heaven on the seventh day, Chapter Two of John’s Gospel has Jesus resting on the seventh day at a banquet, which is a Biblical mage for heaven.

In meditating on this mystery you might urge yourself to increase your belief in the reward Jesus says there is waiting for the just. You would resolve to amass treasures for yourself in heaven rather than on earth where rust and moths consume. 


Mysteries on the Beatitudes and Gifts of the Holy Spirit

MYSTERIES ON THE BEATITUDES AND GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

My fifteen Mediations on the Chapter One of John’s Gospel reflected what we learned in the first hour of class in our major seminary. Every morning we started with a fifty-five minute class in the Dogmatic Theology that covered our beliefs. We followed that with fifty-five minutes of Moral Theology that covered our proper Christian behavior.

In those meditations on the John mysteries my approach was similar to the one we took in our Dogmatic Theology and Scripture classes.

But for my next fifteen meditations that deal with Christian morality our approach will be quite different from the one we followed in those  Moral Theology classes back in 1950.

Moral Theology classes became a key part of the training for priests back in 1215. It was then that a council of the Church made it a rule that every Catholic had to go to confession once a year. That rule set the church to composing manuals to help priests recognize and deal with the kinds of sins people confess.  For the next seven hundred and fifty years our Moral Theology focused on what we should and shouldn’t do. Our texts books brought us one at a time through Ten Commandments and the Seven Commandments of the Church.

Of course we cannot put all of those principles aside, but in the fifteen rosary mysteries I suggest to you, instead of concentrating on what we should and shouldn’t do, we will focus on what we should and shouldn’t be. We will make up our fifteen mysteries by one at a time take up the eight Beatitudes and the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus gave us the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel 5:2-10. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are first mentioned in Chapter Eleven of the Book of the prophet Isaiah. Speaking of God’s Servant, Isaiah said this.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest jupon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a sprit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be fear of the Lord.” Isaiah, 11: 2-3

Fifteen Rosary Mysteries for Christian Behavior

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First Mystery for Christian Behavior. . . Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Matthew, 5:3)

A chorus in Gilbert and Sullivan tells us, “If your soul isn’t fettered to an office stool be careful to be guided by this golden rule.” I bring up that silly line because its notion of your soul being fettered to something is what the first of the Beatitudes is concerned with. A person whose soul is not fettered to anything here below is free to fly up to God. What do you treasure? Is it wealth or popularity, or is it God’s goodness? Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be.” (Luke 12:34)

In St. Luke’s Gospel quotes Jesus as saying, “Blessed are the poor,” but Matthew’s version is better. We have rich people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates who give everything away, and poor people who are greedy. We had an old woman in Korea who sat in the dust at our bus stop, selling cookies she made with fake flour and fake sugar. It only brought in pennies, but those pennies meant everything to her.  “I’ve got to sell my cookies,” was her reason for missing Mass till the day she died, and we buried her. Our Lord’s blessed individuals are those who treasure what has lasting value.

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Second Mystery on Christian Behavior.  “ Blessed are they who mourn.” (Matthew, 5:4)  

Mourning here does not describe grieving over deaths. It rather extols people whose hearts go out to those who are suffering. As a mystery of the rosary it alerts us to the need to drop our own concerns, and to look around for those who are hurting. That number would take in those who were old and lonely, as well as the young who need direction, and all the people in between who are suffering over making ends meet.



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Third Mystery of Christian Behavior . . . “Blessed are the meek.”  (Matthew, 5:5)

Being meek means letting someone else hold the television’s remote. Meekness means not valuing yourself too highly, and it is a balancing act. Jesus tells you to love your neighbor as yourself, not more than yourself. Since you are made in God’s image, it would be wrong of you not to love yourself. It would be sinful for you to stop caring for yourself. But meekness lets you see that everyone around you is also made in God’s image, and as such deserves to be catered to.

In our seminary days we were campused except during Easter week. Those days we could go out and buy ice cream, but not from shops within five miles of the seminary. So one morning in Easter week sixty years ago I finished up some work in my cubicle, then after lunch I went out looking for another seminarian to make the five mile hike out and back with me.

 I ran into Malachy Hanratty, but before I could say what was on my mind, Malachy said, “Sully, I walked the ten miles for ice cream this morning, and I’m dead tired.” I said, “I’m glad you told me that, because I was just going to ask you to go with me.” To that Malachy replied, “Oh, Sully, if you want me to go with you, I’ll go then.”  If you are capable of that kind of meekness you’ll be remembered for it sixty years from now. (Malachy has been a fine priest.)

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Fourth Mystery on Christian Behavior. . . “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after justice.” (Matthew, 5:6)

There are six billion people in the world, all of whom need food and shelter every day. For meeting those needs through an equitable distribution of what the world has to offer people rely on what we call “rights.” They are invisible tickets that give their holders a claim what they need. They are gained by work, gift or inheritance.  Our claim on our rights is guaranteed by the rule of justice which states that everyone can lay claim to what he has a right.

In addition to the justice that honors the acquired rights of individuals there is also a distributive justice which  guarantees everyone in the world his or her minimal share of what is needed for life. Out of distributive justice Bill Gates and Warren Buffett felt obliged to give to the needy ninety percent of what they had acquired right to. Out of distributive just the church recognized the right of all people to a living wage and a decent education.

For us to qualify as hungering and thirsting for justice we need to take an active interest in the needs of  people everywhere, and we need to distribute to the needy from our abundance.

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Fifth Mystery on Christian Behavior. . . “Blessed are the merciful.” (Matthew, 5:7)

Being merciful has us forgiving even those who are not sorry. It has us making allowance for those who don’t deserve it.  Some days the priest at Mass leads us into the Our Father by asking God to “bring us to forgive those who sin against us.” With not paying enough attention, I always thought we were offering forgiveness to those who had sinned against us in the past. Then, one morning, listening closely, it came through to me that we were asking to be forgiving of people who go right on sinning against us.

The high school seminary I attended in St. Louis was so strict that they expelled you for a failing grade. In second year my mind went blank as to the theorems for three of the five questions in a geometry exam. Our teacher was a merciless grader, and I had no right to anything more than a grade of forty. I was looking for an easier school to transfer to when the teacher came across with a grade of eighty for me. That act of mercy saved me, and it left me feeling there would be times when I would need to be kind to people who just didn‘t deserve it.


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Sixth Mystery on Christian Behavior. . . “Blessed are the Clean of Heart” (Matthew, 5:8)

While Catholics take this Beatitude to be an admonition against lustful thoughts, the scholars tell us that it is a criticism of a notion of the Pharisees: that notion that saw purity as consisting in the outward avoidance of what is not kosher.

Jesus saw purity to be a matter of the heart. We keep our hearts clean from lustful, greedy and proud thoughts.

Another line of meditation we can take on it is that of encouraging ourselves to be single minded in following our vocation in life, as parents, children, teachers, priests, or whatever. All that being said, there is still merit in the old Catholic notion that we need to keep our hearts free from lustful thoughts: especially those that show disregard for the rights of others: their marital rights, and their right to privacy.

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Seventh Mystery on Christian Behavior. . . “Blessed are the Peacemakers”  (Matthew, 5:9)

We need to work for three kinds of peace: for peace with ourselves, with those we deal with, and with the world.

As for peace with ourselves, St. John of the Cross, in his “Ascent of Mt. Carmel,” said that all personal disquiet comes from unmet desires. That belief of his had him advising us to train ourselves not to wish for anything. If we can keep from wanting riches, popularity, freedom from pain, a long life, or whatever, then we will be at peace with ourselves.

For peace with the others we must either do away with our desires that are in conflict with theirs, or we must come to see how they are acting in good faith hen they are supporting causes of which we disapprove. We can peacefully agree to differ.

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Eighth Mystery on Christian Behavior. . . “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.”
 (Matt. 5:9)

This Beatitude probably would not apply directly to any of us. We haven’t been subjected to full blown persecutions. Still, which of us has not been put in a bad light? There were two times when my bishop confronted me with unfavorable things people were saying against me. In my mind it didn’t seem fair, but I could not completely convince the bishop of that. I suppose we all run into such situations.

Putting up with false accusations the way Jesus did must be part of God’s training schedule for us.

(We now begin meditating on then Gifts of the Holy Spirit as mysteries for our rosary. In their preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation when teenagers are told they will receive these gifts they should not think of them as nicely rapped gifts from God. No, the kids welcome God into their hearts. They become aware of his presence, and they they are moved to call on him for wisdom, understanding, and the rest. )

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Ninth Mystery on Christian behavior. . . The Gift of Wisdom

When you make the gift of wisdom a mystery of your rosary you pray for help at avoiding foolishness. Being wise has nothing to do with reading many books and delivering weighty opinions. It is more a matter of forming habits that will leave us happy in the long run.

I feel sorry for people who cannot take long walks. It’s such a pleasure to wander along, saying the rosary on your fingers. You check yourself on your eating habits, on your TV watching, on your visiting people you should call on, on serious reading. You check yourself on wise sayings such as “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” or, “Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor the last to lay the old aside.” 
Wisdom,  which consists in avoiding foolish behavior will often come with age, because when foolish behavior has burned someone often enough they will sometimes catch on, and wisely avoid what causes pain.

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Tenth Mystery on Human Behavior. . . Understanding

This is the second Gift of the Holy Spirit. Your meditation on it can begin with your taking the word apart. You pray for insight in knowing: “What is standing under the appearance of things? What is standing under someone’s odd behavior?”

 Or, perhaps being an understanding person should begin before you question about those appearances. It should begin with your giving yourself to a careful observance of appearances. It begins with your being aware. Back in the seminary Dan McGinn used to say, “You wouldn’t worry about what people thought of you if you knew how seldom they actually thought of you.”

The philosophers speak of a law of behavior that is as consistent as the law of gravity that has things dropping when you let them go. That law of behavior states that individuals always act to achieve what seems to be right and good to them at the time. When you are confronted with someone who is behaving in a way you object to, your task is to search out what in that person’s background or physical or emotional state caused them to act that way. That understanding of their motives might not show you a way for straightening them, but it will lead to your forgiving them.

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Eleventh Mystery On Human Behavior. . .  The Gift of Counsel

Counsel is God’s gift that inclines you to seek the advise of others. With me, many times when going in for a retreat lecture and finding a place to sit, I have been thinking about how I knew as much as the speaker knew about the subject. But, then, in listening to the man, I was surprised and delighted with the new ideas he had for us.

While mediating on this gift it might help you to recall an occasion when a friend turned your foolish thinking around. As an ambitious young pastor I came into a gathering of older priests who were doing everything the old way, and getting the same poor results. I lit into them for their lack of ambition and for their lack of understanding of the people they were meant to serve.

Afterwards Father Neil Boyle, a quiet man, asked to have a word with me. He asked me if I knew the effect of what I had been saying. “Tom, those men were happy at having a young priest like you coming out to join in their work. It is particularly their high regard for you that made it so painful to have you turn on them like that.” That was a help for me.

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Twelfth Mystery on Christian Behavior. . .  The Gift of Fortitude

When I think of the gift of fortitude I sometime find myself humming the Brit’s World War One song: “Keep right on to the end of the road, keep right on to the end. What though the way be long, let your heart be strong. Keep right on round the bend.”

Other days I am on a patriotic U.S.A. kick that has me singing our Navy song, and I burst out singing, “If you have to take a lickin, carry on and quit your kickin, don’t give u p the ship.” 

A funny old saying tells us, “Anything worth doing at all is worth doing badly.” You might not be the best of husbands or typists or friend in need; but in the long run being faithful, being reliable, might be of more value than being talented.

As a mystery of your rosary this gift has you asking God for the strength and patience to keep going, to put up with the annoyances.



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Thirteenth Mystery on Christian Behavior. . . The gift of Knowledge

The gift of knowledge directs us to act in accord with the facts. A hazy notion of matters leads to our making wrong, sometimes hurtful decisions. You will hear people saying, “If I had only known then truth of the matter I wouldn’t have acted that way.” The gift of Knowledge prevents you from ending up in that sad situation.

There is a saying that goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The truth of that can be observed in the talk you hear around you in restaurants. Someone might say, “Listen to me, all them ragheads over there are terrorists. We ought to nuke them all.” Or, “You know what caused that earthquake down in Chile? It was those people two hundred years ago failing to consecrate their nation to the Heart of Mary. I’m telling you, it’s true.” 

By the Gift of Knowledge that you pray for in your rosary has you following the urging from God to not act or talk before you have the facts.

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Fourteenth Mystery on Christian Behavior. . . The Gift of Fear of the Lord

The Prophet Isaiah, in giving us the gifts of the Spirit listed only six of them, but the Catholic Church inserted the gift of Piety in the second last position. While the word Piety makes us think of someone who says twice the usual amount of prayers, the word actually means being loyal to one’s elders.

The church in the old days got into the practice of listing seven of everything. We counted seven Sacraments, seven Spiritual Works of Mercy, seven corporal works of mercy, seven archangels. The church’s putting Piety into Isaiah’s list could remind one of Cinderella’s sisters  forcing their feet to fit the beautiful slippers. I think we will be more in line with Isaiah’s listing of the gifts if we see fearing the Lord as the sixth gift, then, go one to take delighting in the Lord as the seventh gift.

To fear the Lord means to take care not to offend him. In the same way that we behave ourselves when the teacher is in the room, we also behave ourselves when we are in the Lord’s presence (which is always.).

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Fifteenth Mystery on Christian Behavior. . . “His delight is in fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah, 11:3)

One who delights in spending every minute in God’s presence does not feel constrained by always having God there watching. Rather, he or she likes nothing better than having God’s loving attention following all his or her movements.

 So, for your final mystery you will do well to delight in living in God’s presence. You can join Mary in saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

There is nothing better for you than that your rosary should prepare you for consciously spending your day in God’s presence.