Tag Archives: Devotions

God’s Magnifying Glass

Last night I had a spiritual “Aha!” moment.  It was one of those times when so many things come together at once that it takes a while to let it all sink in.  It is still sinking in, but I can safely say that it is a pivotal point in my spiritual journey.  I have a fresh awareness of someone I have known all of my life.  I heard, for the first time, a verse of Scripture that has been read to me all of my life.  I don’t know why it took me so long to finally hear it with my heart and not just my ears.

 

I was watching The Journey Home television program on EWTN.  The show interviews people that have converted or reverted to Catholicism and allows them to tell their stories.  The guest was Marie Romine, an actress and former Presbyterian.  In the midst of telling her story, she suddenly said, “Mary is a magnifying glass.”  I slightly cocked my head like a confused dog and wondered for an instant, “What does she mean by that?”  In the next moment, she quoted Luke1:46, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  Then she said, “If you really want to know Jesus personally, look through Mary.  She magnifies her Son.”  Then, it hit me.

 

I suddenly realized that I had never heard that one, little verse explained so simply, so eloquently and so powerfully.  All of the technical, apologetic, theological explanations about Mary that were in my head suddenly captured my heart and embraced it.  Of course, I knew that Mary is all about Jesus, her Son.  I knew why we Catholics honor her as we do.  I knew how to argue the Protestant view and the Catholic view of Mary.  I knew the purpose of praying the Rosary.  Then Mary wrapped her arms around me, quieted my brain, and opened my heart to hers.  After all these years, my head and my heart finally connected.

 

I looked through the magnifying glass of Mary’s heart and saw Jesus, nothing else.  I was looking at The Master through the heart of the perfect disciple.  It was like looking through pure glass, free of dirt, dust, defects or deformities.  The glass magnified Jesus wherever it was aimed, and nothing could obstruct the view or distract from His beauty.  This magnifying glass was a heart full of grace, and it brought new focus to my faith.

 

Every question that my heart had ever asked about Mary was answered by, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  Every Catholic devotion, prayer and teaching about Mary could be summed up in her words.  I realized that the heart of every disciple is destined to be like her grace-filled heart.  Before John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, or any other disciple, Mary knew Jesus personally and loved Him perfectly.  Her soul, like ours, was created to magnify the Lord, yet she has always fulfilled her purpose to this day.  That is why, as we gaze through her soul’s magnifying glass, we can truly say,

 

Hail, Mary, full of grace!

The Lord is with you!

Blessed are you among women

And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

 

Holy Mary, mother of God,

Pray for us sinners,

Now, and at the hour of our death,

 

Amen.

From now on, I will see Mary in a wondrous, new way.

Oh, Grandma, Not The Rosary Again!

I have to admit that being raised Catholic did not instill in me an appreciation for the Rosary.  An overnight stay with my grandparents was fun, but it also included saying the Rosary before bed.  I remember being quite bored.  The main reason I counted the beads was to know how much more I needed to endure before it was over.  I never really caught on to the profound beauty of the Rosary and my view of it remained a childish one well into adulthood.  Hence, it was easy for non-Catholic Christians to convince me that it was just “vain repetition” and another part of “that Catholic religion” that needed to be discarded for a “real” relationship with Jesus.

I’m not sure if I lacked proper instruction, or if I just didn’t listen to what the Rosary is really about.  I see it much differently now.  In the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is a scene where Jesus is carrying the cross and his mother, Mary, watches him fall painfully to the ground.  She flashes back to a time when Jesus was a boy.  She sees her little boy fall and she runs to His aid.  Now He is carrying the cross to His death.  She wants desperately to help Him, but she also knows that she can’t.  Her little boy is suffering and dying for you and for me.  The sword has pierced Mary’s heart.  Jesus is suffering because of His “yes” to the will of His Father.  Mary is suffering due to her “yes” to God, too.  “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to thy will.”

In that short movie scene we can see a “little Rosary.”  It is a glimpse of Jesus through His mother’s eyes.  Of all the people who will ever live, no one knows and loves Jesus like Mary.  The Rosary is a journey through pivotal events in the life of Christ through the eyes of Mary.  She is the greatest, most obedient disciple of Christ.  Thus, she always points us to her Son.  Like she told the servants at the wedding of Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.”  Mary exemplifies the essence of Catholic teaching.  She is all about Jesus, not herself.

The Rosary can certainly become a series of vain repetitions if it is approached that way.  But, like me at my grandparents’ house, that is a childish perspective.  When properly meditated upon, the prayers of the Rosary unite our hearts with Christ and inspire our discipleship.  The mother of my Brother is my mother, too.  For the Christian, God is Father, Christ is Brother, and Mary is mother.  That’s why Jesus gave Mary to John, “the disciple who loved Him,” from the cross.  John represents all Christians in that exchange.  The Rosary is quality prayer time together with the family of God and it includes meditation on our mother’s unique perspective.  There’s nothing vain about that.  It’s all about knowing Jesus better.

No Longer Afraid of Mary: Becoming A Momma’s Boy

I am now 12 days into a do-it-yourself, 33 day retreat called, 33 Days To Morning Glory.  The focus is on Mary’s unique spousal relationship with the Holy Spirit and how that relationship applies to and includes us.  Much of the retreat is presented through the perspectives of four Saints of the Church, St. Louis de Monfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Theresa and Blessed John Paul II.

My appreciation for Mary has been growing, even before beginning this retreat.  One resource I have found helpful is the phone app created by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.  The app is good at explaining a balanced approach to Marian doctrine.  In my spiritual journey through various forms of Protestantism and Catholicism, I have experienced what the Marian Fathers call the two extremes of understanding Mary: Marian excess and Marian defect.  Marian excess is “to think of Mary as if she were God.  She is not God.  She is a creature, and to think otherwise is to fall into idolatry.”  I’ve noticed this approach in some Catholics.  Marian defect “means to think of Mary as being ‘just like the rest of us,’ having no particularly special significance.”  This is what I experienced in most Protestant circles where the regard Mary is given is perhaps a nod of affirmation during a Christmas play, if any.

My 20+ years in Protestantism made me skittish about having a relationship with Mary.  I now understand that Mary is all about a relationship with Jesus (as is the rest of Catholic doctrine).  Her singular goal is to bring souls to her son.  She was and is the perfect disciple.  She was the first person to accept Jesus into her heart and into her body.  Knowing Mary and becoming close to Mary is not an obstacle or a distraction from a relationship with Christ.  The opposite is true.  The role of every Christian disciple is to bring people to Christ, not just by preaching or teaching, but through relationship.  No one had a closer relationship to Jesus than His mother.  To really know Mary and have a relationship with her is to know Jesus.  (Incidentally, that’s what the Rosary is all about.  It is not just a series of vain, repetitious prayers or some kind of superstitious incantation.  It is a spiritual meditation on the life and ministry of Christ through the eyes of His mother).

Some folks will claim that Jesus was dismissive of His mother and actually put her down and/or minimized her.  Don’t let such doctrines fool you.  The Scriptures they use to support such ideas are easily shown to be misapplied.  Imagine the sinless Jesus Christ going against one of the Ten Commandments to “honor thy father and mother” and you can begin to see how misled such claims against Mary are.  Catholic doctrines reveal the true and perfect honor that Jesus Christ, the sinless, obedient God-man bestows on His mother and Father.

I’m not afraid of Mary anymore.  I’m not the least bit scared that God will be offended if I love her and embrace her.  God loves and embraces her.  She is the chosen daughter of the Father, the spouse of the Holy Spirit and the mother of Jesus Christ.  If the Holy Trinity honors and loves her so completely and perfectly, how can I go wrong by honoring and loving her, too?  It’s not idolatry, it’s being godly.  I’m looking forward to the rest of this retreat.  I love getting to know my mother and her Son, my Brother.  Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “Real men love Jesus?”  I would add, “…and real men are momma’s boys.”

Closing Thoughts: Holiness, Humilty and Apologetics

I find myself being challenged daily by The Litany of Humility.  Letting go of certain desires and fears is not easy.  A daily dose of God’s grace is a must.  The phrase in the prayer that struck me the most was, “That others may become holier than I, provided I become as holy as I should.”  It took a while for that idea to sink in.  As a Christian, I’m supposed to seek holiness.  Asking “that others become holier than I” felt like I might be slacking off on my own pursuit of holiness.  Then a thought occurred to me.  Perhaps this phrase is another way of saying, “Don’t let me become a ‘holier than thou’ Christian.”

Godly humility seeks the best for others.  This means that my motivation must be rooted in a desire for others to have the best of what God has to offer, in this life and in the next.  In other words, my desire must be for others to become saints.  Consider the Works of Mercy, for example.

The corporal works of mercy are:

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

The spiritual works of mercy are:

  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences      willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living      and the dead.

How easy it can be to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful or admonish sinners in ways that are not merciful or charitable.  Apologetics of the Faith, for instance, seeks to defend the Faith, yet can so often come across as uncharitable or arrogant.  If I speak the truth, but not in love, I am serving myself, not others.  Faith, hope and charity.  The greatest of these is charity (love) (1Cor 13).

I left Catholicism in my twenties after encountering Fundamentalists that used Scripture to show me all the things that were “wrong” with my Catholic faith.  When I finally realized the error of my ways and returned to Catholicism, I had to be careful not to have a chip on my shoulder.  It was easy for me to have an attitude of, “Now I’ll show them how wrong they were to pull me away from my Faith.”  I lacked humility on more than one occasion.  I had a “holier than thou” attitude that sought not the holiness of others, but the self satisfaction of “winning an argument.”  Many of those Fundamentalists were holy, loving people who knew Jesus and meant well.

I do believe that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Jesus Christ.  I believe that Catholicism contains the fullness of the Faith in her teachings, her authority and her sacraments.  There are lots of folks that attack Catholicism, from within and from without.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There are perhaps a few hundred people that actually hate Catholicism.  But there are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be Catholicism.”  I want to be able to defend my faith with Scripture, with Apostolic Sacred Tradition, with reason, with love and with humility (1Peter 3:15).  Most of all, I want to live my faith with humility.  If I’m not doing that, what good is my faith to anyone?

Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.

Part 5: The Fears

A recurring theme in Scripture is, “Be not afraid” or “Fear not.”  Yet, fear is often a powerful driving force in our lives.  Fear can often be traced to one or more of the desires the Litany of Humility asks deliverance from.  If any given desire does not have dominion over us, the fear of not meeting that desire will fade as well.

For example, consider my own experience mentioned earlier of being picked last to be on a team.  When my desire of being preferred was not satisfied, I felt humiliated.  The fear of humiliation and the desire of being preferred dovetail together.  If I am delivered of the desire, I am delivered of the fear and vice versa.  If I have no fear of being humiliated, I won’t have the desire of being one of the early picks for the team.  If I’m unconcerned about when I am chosen, I’ll have no fear of any humiliation by being picked last.

The fears mentioned in the litany, like the desires, place a focus on self interest.  Self preservation is human nature.  What the prayer seeks is a spirituality that transcends the natural human tendencies.  We are not simply animals motivated by natural drives and instincts.  We are both material and spiritual, a trait not shared by the animals (material beings) or the angels (spiritual beings).  We are created to bridge the gap between the natural and the spiritual (and will continue as such in the resurrection).  We are unique.  Therefore, it is not asking too much of us to seek a spiritual holiness that transcends mere natural drive and instinct.  In other words, we are designed to confront our natural fears with spiritual solutions.  This also means we can seek and find the ability to regard others over and above self rather than life being “all about me.”

Rather than address each fear in the prayer one-by-one, suffice it to say that fear is an obstacle to humility.  Fear prevents us from truly knowing God and placing complete trust in Christ.  Some fear is good and healthy, like the kind of fear that prevents one from stepping in front of a moving bus.  However, much of our fear gets in the way of knowing God and knowing each other as God would have us.  Our fear prevents true humility and godly love.

So, what fears are keeping me from true humility?  Deliver me from the fears, Jesus.  You who intimately knows both our material and our spiritual being, deliver us.

Part 4: The Desire To Be Preferred, Consulted and Approved

Pick me!  Pick me!  Don’t pick them!  Don’t pick them!  The desire of being preferred means that others must be passed over to make room for me, and I’m happy about it.  It is the competitive streak of the sore loser.  It manifests itself in poor sportsmanship and arrogance.  It is quite possible, however, for an accomplished athlete to be competitively successful while simultaneously exhibiting humility.  Pride and arrogance must not be confused with confidence.

There have been times in my life when being picked last to be on a team was disappointing and humiliating.  But it was the wrong kind of humility I was experiencing.  I was experiencing a self-defilement of sorts, feeling sorry for myself and placing my worth in the hands of other people rather than in God’s hands.  In other words, being picked last hurt my pride, and I thought I needed that pride to be worth something.  Additionally, focusing on my wounded pride caused my performance in the game to suffer.  It was a kind of self fulfilling prophecy.  But even if I wasn’t at all skilled in that game it had nothing to do with my worth in God’s eyes.

The desire to be consulted is another challenge.  I’m a therapist.  I’m supposed to want people to come to me for consultation.  I’m supposed to be good at what I do and take pride in my work.  So, why get rid of my desire to be consulted?  I think it has more to do with wanting to be a know-it-all.  No one knows everything.  Even consultants need to consult with others for information and continuing education.  I may have lots of answers, but only God has all the answers.  An unhealthy desire to be consulted makes it hard to say, “I don’t know.”  The person who knows it all has nothing to learn, and that can be very dangerous.

The desire to be approved is another attempt at stroking the ego.  Like the other pitfalls in the prayer, approval can be just another way of focusing on self at the expense of others.  There have been occasions when people approved of me just to be manipulative.  “Buttering people up” is a great way to influence them.  Be wary of people’s approval.  Sometimes they just want something from you.  The desire for approval can backfire very quickly.  It can also become addictive.  Know that you are loved by God regardless of other people’s approval.  There will always be people that disapprove of you.  God may disapprove of some of our actions, but God never disapproves of us.  God is our biggest cheerleader.

From the desire to be preferred, consulted or approved, deliver me, Jesus!

Part 3: The Desire To Be Extolled, Honored or Praised

In other words, deliver me from the desire for lots of attention, even posthumously.  In the movie Troy, Achilles (Brad Pitt) wants nothing more than for his name to be remembered for eternity.  He is the ultimate fighter.  He fears no one and nothing…except being forgotten.  Prior to facing an opponent twice his size, Achilles is told by a young boy, “I wouldn’t want to fight him!”  Achilles says to the boy, “That is why no one will remember your name.”  Theologians call it the fear of non-being.

We desire recognition because it validates our very existence.  What good are we unless someone else believes we are good for something?  We often feel we need an audience to offer some applause for who we are.  Such validation can become addictive.  It can also replace an awareness that our true goodness resides in having been created by God, not in our accomplishments.

Accomplishments are good, of course.  They are only possible because of the gifts and talents God provides.  Humility is not about pretending we have no gifts.  We’re allowed to recognize and appreciate the talents and gifts God gives us.  We can use them in constructive, loving ways.  That’s gratitude.  However, if the praise we receive becomes the primary motivation for using our gifts and talents, we are off track.  We have constructed a golden calf with which to replace God as our soul reason for being.  Rather than trusting in God, we have given in to the fear of non-being.  This robs us of true joy and replaces it with fleeting emotions.

From the desire of being extolled, honored or praised, deliver me, Jesus.