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praying togetherThe Christian journey is exciting but hard, that’s why Jesus wisely sent the disciples out in two-s.  We aren’t meant to do this alone!

Taketimeforhim ministry is a place for you to find inspiration, encouragement, support, and the practical tips needed to not only grow in your faith, but to thrive in life.

Access weekly guided Scripture meditations, search topics, comment and share to help build a community of support as we all strive for transformation in Christ.

~Angela Jendro

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Tunnel Vision

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17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus’ parables illustrate the attitude of people who have discovered the treasure of life with God. To be a citizen in His kingdom, a son or daughter of this good Father, is worth trading everything for. Both the landowner and the merchant shrewdly went all-in for this investment, knowing it was a sure bet and incomparably more valuable than anything else that they owned.

Discovering the love of Jesus Christ, experiencing His liberating grace and forgiveness, is an incredible feeling. It overwhelms a person with joy. Yes, Jesus’ kingdom has laws. He says, if you love me then follow my commands. But His commands are the way of love and the way of living to the highest degree of your dignity and will lead you to the fullness of your development.

On the one hand, we hate rules in our culture. We balk at phrases like “submission to authority” and only like a monarchy for the glamorous magazine photos, not as a political system. Our democratic ideals, although a fruit of our Christian heritage, can also color our vision of faith in a negative way. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy because it’s not akin to a political system governing equals, but rather a family governed by our Heavenly Father who has appointed His Son as king. God has revealed the laws of His kingdom, both through the natural moral law, and the divinely revealed law through Moses and through Jesus. We may resist the faith as an imposition of rules to control us, but it would be to assume those rules were imposed arbitrarily by someone without the right authority and for their own personal interest or gain.  However, God’s laws are at the heart and foundation of creation. He revealed the ultimate science behind our human nature and the instructions for how to flourish. Our adolescent view of our Father’s rules changes when we mature in the faith and realize His wisdom and His benevolence.

So, what must we sell to buy this field or this pearl, this “treasury of truth” as St. Augustine called it? We must relinquish anything that would edge out Christ or drain our spiritual resources. If we delight in the law of the Lord, as the Psalms often repeat, how can we meditate on them if media edges out our time for prayer?  If we wish to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us, how can we see their needs and humbly serve them if our busy schedules consume our thoughts and actions? How can we enjoy the fruits of purity if we are stuck in the mud of lust?  How can we enjoy fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ if we can’t let go of being overly competitive, cynical, or unforgiving?

We must say no to lesser treasures, to possess the greatest treasure. Without love this seems too much, similar to a single person who can’t imagine being tied down to one person their whole life, until they meet that person and suddenly they can’t wait. St. Augustine famously observed:

“Two cities, then, have been created by two loves: that is, the earthly by love of self extending even to contempt of God, and the heavenly by love of God extending to contempt of self. The one, therefore, glories in itself, the other in the Lord; the one seeks glory from men, the other finds its highest glory in God, the Witness of our conscience.”

Praise be to God that Jesus has cast His net to the whole world, inviting every single person into His kingdom. He has no immigration caps or limits. In the end, those who want to enter may, and those who do not may not. Love is total and generous. As a couple approaches marriage, they move from individual lives to a shared life. In their marriage vows they don’t parse percentages; they vow a gift of their whole selves for their whole lives together.  Christ has offered us His perfect love, total and sacrificial. The only proper response is joy, gratitude, and a reciprocal gift of self. You see this joyful abandonment expressed in the life of every saint, beginning with the disciples who “left everything and followed Him” (Luke 5:11).

Consider:

  • When have you experienced the joy described in these parables? When have you experienced the value of faith in Christ?
  • What have you had to sacrifice to follow Christ and to love as He loves? Is there anything presently that competes with your discipleship?
  • Consider the difference between a democracy and a monarchy. How is God’s kingdom different than our own governments? How does it resemble family structure?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Tell one person about a time you experienced Christ and felt tremendous joy.
  • Make a list of your daily and weekly tasks and goals. Look over them and prioritize them in light of the Gospel.
  • Pray a Psalm each day. They are prayers filled with praise and trust.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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When Your Work for Christ Feels Sabotaged

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16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:24-43

weeds and wheatThese parables have been a rock of hope for me as a mother and teacher. I feel like I put so much time and effort into carefully forming my children and students in the faith only to be discouraged by the worldly attitudes that apparently pop up overnight like the weeds in Jesus’ first parable. Like the servants I exclaim with surprise, Lord did we not sow good seed in your field, where have the weeds come from?  One day we’re listening to Christian music in the car, and the next the kids are streaming explicit rap music on Spotify. Whereas before the kids couldn’t wait to read bible stories together, suddenly, they start dragging their feet and complaining. The values of prayer, service, and modesty now seem to be riddled with competing values of constant activity and entertainment – from sports to social media to video games, the goal of making lots of money, and popular clothing styles that degrade their God-given dignity.

For most people these weeds pop up as they near middle school and intensify in high school. Developmentally, kids sense their need to become independent and separate from mom and dad.  Unfortunately, the culture they reach out to for acceptance is riddled with weeds of atheism, hedonism, consumerism, a degraded definition of personhood, and individualism. The less Christian our culture has become, and the more virulently anti-Christian it has grown to be, the more it feels like our contribution as formators (whether as parents, teachers, aunts & uncles, youth ministers, counselors etc.) is as small as a mustard seed in comparison.

Woman praying by Barbara Jackson pixabay_comWhen I feel this surprise and frustration I’m encouraged by Jesus’ lack of surprise and calm confidence.  Jesus expected the weeds. He knows they didn’t come from us (well, maybe some of them – none of us are perfect yet!). He advises us to persevere with confidence because the mustard seed of our work, the hidden leaven of our efforts toward their formation, will grow with supernatural grace. In the end, Christ will be victorious, and the weeds will be separated out and tossed aside.  As St. Paul declared to the Philippians:

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6

St. Monica (331 AD – 387 AD) and St. Augustine (354 AD – 430 AD) provide the perfect example of this. St. Monica raised Augustine Catholic and prayed for him and her pagan husband diligently. Nevertheless, as Augustine got older, his experience at school and within the culture rooted weeds of pride and vain ambition. He abandoned the Catholic faith altogether deeming it unintelligent and unappealing. Instead he pursued the spiritual in a cult called Manichaeism and worked toward advancing his career as a rhetorician in Rome.

Monica, left behind at their home in North Africa, cried torrents of tears for her son’s conversion. At the time Augustine spent his workday developing a rich lifestyle, and his free time partying and living with a woman he wasn’t married to. Nevertheless, Monica persevered. When Augustine had still lived in North Africa, she had endeavored to connect him with any priest or bishop she could find who would be willing to speak with him about the faith and try to convince him of the errors of Manichaeism. When Augustine ran away from home (he snuck out on a boat for Rome and only told his mother after the fact) she increased her prayer and sacrifice.  Augustine credits his mother’s sacrificial prayers for his eventual conversion.

Augustine would eventually be intrigued and persuaded by the preaching of a bishop, but it would be St. Ambrose in Milan. Ambrose’s teaching was a turning point and God continued to lead Augustine toward the truth. He eventually saw the errors in Manichaeism and the falsehoods at its foundation. He also encountered stories of lives of the saints as well as the example of the conversion of one of his colleagues, both of which stung at his conscience to convert as well. Eventually he made the turn, was baptized, and lived a reformed life becoming a bishop and one of the greatest saints and doctors of the Church.

After pulling the weeds in Augustine, God harvested all that intelligence, passion, and skill for the building up of His kingdom. At the end of Monica’s life she even had a beautiful mystical experience in prayer together with Augustine.

Afterward, she expressed to Augustine the feeling St. Paul did in Philippians, that God had brought to completion the good work He had entrusted to her. Moved by her love and faith, her husband had been baptized before his death.  Once her son was secured in Christ, she felt at rest and died shortly after.

St. Augustine’s youth resembles that of our own youth today. Even though his Confessions (the book he wrote about his conversion) was written in the 5th century, it resembles our own age in a remarkable way. We can take heart, as Monica did, that God’s work won’t go unharvested and to persevere in prayer and sacrifice.

It reminds me of the classic scenario where a child has one parent who only promises what he or she can deliver on and provides for the seemingly small but daily sacrifices the child needs, while the other parent neglects the daily work and present needs but compensates with big promises that they never keep. At the time, the big talker overshadows the real gifts the child is receiving. However, in time, the truth gets revealed and the value of those real gifts outshines the shadow of the imagined gifts.

The Truth is true. Eventually, the world’s false promises come up empty and Christ’s promises prove real. Hopefully some of our kids and loved ones will trust in Christ and resist the weeds to begin with, and they will experience the peace of Christ permeate their life early on.  Some of our loved ones will be more lured by the weeds and may experiment with the glamour of the worldly values. Yet, even this may lead them back to Christ as they begin to feel the anxiety and degradation that it produces.

For your part, keep on planting good seed. Keep praying, teaching, role modeling, and working on your own conversion. Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) did just that, and shortly after her death her atheist husband became Catholic, and later a Dominican priest! In her journal, Elisabeth wrote,

“Whatever suffering this [isolation of faith] entails, I offer for the souls who are so dear to me. Nothing is lost, not one grief or one tear.”

She was right. Like St. Monica, God blessed her tears and sacrifice with a rich harvest of the seeds she had planted and the leaven of her charity. Jesus said that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Elisabeth’s husband Felix testified to this saying of her life, especially in her final years as she was bedridden from illness:

She did indeed uplift all who surrounded or approached her, and it was a strange thing to see this woman, so modest, so humble of heart, condemned to practical immobility, shedding around her far and wide the light of her great influence.

One friend of theirs (also an atheist) said of Elizabeth after her death:

Some beings are a light toward which all turn who need light to live by!

The culture may feel louder and stronger but persevere. Have hope in Christ and battle for your loved ones with prayer, sacrifice, and kindness. We already know the winning side and it’s Christ!

Consider:

  • How have you planted seeds of faith in others? How might you continue to do that in similar or new ways?
  • How can you add leaven to the dough through Christian acts of love? What are common situations in your daily life that offer opportunities for patience, gentleness, strength, or forgiveness?
  • Who has planted seeds of faith in you? Consider how they have grown over time and with age and experience.
  • What weeds of worldliness are growing alongside the wheat in you?
  • What are the present challenges against the faith in your family and friendships? How might you entrust them to Christ and battle with prayers and sacrifices?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • When confronted with frustration this week, turn to Christ with a prayer (such as Philippians 1:6), or battle by praying a rosary (St. Padre Pio called it his weapon because of its power against Satan and for conversion of souls), or asking the prayers of the guardian angels or a favorite saint.
  • Read about the lives of St. Augustine and St. Monica.
  • If you know someone who has made it to the other side of a struggle you are currently in, reach out to them and listen to their story to gain greater hope.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Share your thoughts or experiences in the comments to build each other up in hope!

Preparing the Soil: Spiritual Receptivity

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15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23

St. Paul tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). So why does the Word of Christ set some people’s hearts on fire while others pass it by with apathy or disdain? Does Jesus play favorites with who He invites to understand His message and who He lets go? How does He choose to whom “knowledge of the mysteries of heaven is granted”?

sowerJesus answers in a surprising way – He is the sower who offers Himself to everyone; whether it takes root depends on us. We are responsible for the extent to which we receive His Word.

It reminds me of my kids’ proverbial complaint that I’m not fair. Each one is certain that they have more chores than the others, and that they receive less than the others. I remind them that it only appears that way because they see their work but don’t see the work their siblings do. Either, because sometimes it occurs when they are not around, or because they just refuse to acknowledge it.  Similarly, the appearance of others receiving more stems from ingratitude and envy rather than a material difference. It’s easy to fall into the same trap spiritually as God’s children. God treats us all fairly, it’s our perception that tends to need adjustment.

Jesus’ parable illustrates the affect that attitude has on our faith. For God’s Word to be sown in our hearts and transformative, we must be receptive. Receptivity requires an attitude of gratitude, humility, and love. Resistance undermines the work God can do within us, and the fruit it can bear in our lives.

The seed that falls on the path has no effect because it’s met with apathy or hostility. Consider the things that deaden our hearts or fuel them with anger towards God.  Certainly secular culture, infused with hedonistic consumerism, dulls our desire for God by distracting us with instant gratifications and claiming that God is irrelevant to society. When things go wrong or we suffer however, our faith in God’s existence suddenly appears but only to blame Him. Anger and apathy make relationship impossible with anyone. Relationships require investment, interest, and openness. Much like the futility of reasoning with someone who’s already discounted you, if we don’t care about God except to shake our fist at Him, nothing He says or does will be convincing.

The rocky soil illustrates faith rooted only in sentimentality and emotions. It resembles the infatuation stage of a relationship. During that time, the couple is enamored with one another and experience strong feelings that say their love will last forever. Those feelings however, do not, as C.S. Lewis puts it, deliver on their promises. Feelings, by nature, come and go. Lasting love is a decision not an emotion. The infatuation stage in our relationship with God may include powerful feelings of love for the Lord and the desire for holiness. When a person encounters suffering or confusion, that love will either wither from shallowness, or go deeper to root down further in the soil. Fair weather friends make for rocky relationships, and the same goes for our relationship with God.

For those who make it past luke-warmness, and deeper than mere emotions, thorns still threaten to choke out faith with worldly anxiety and desires. To live in the world but not of the world is no easy task. Worry about our comfort, security, and what others think about us can quickly turn our gaze from God back to earth, crowding out room for His grace. We sit down to pray but our phone buzzes with a notification. Worry or desire pulls us away from Scripture and back into our technology.  Social events fill up the calendar and we think we are too busy to go to Church.  We might tell ourselves that we just have to prioritize these worldly things for a time, and then we will be able to relax and give God our whole selves. It tends to only be a trick we play on ourselves, like the carrot at the end of the stick – the donkey keeps walking but the carrot keeps moving at the same time he does.

A person who has found Christ, realizes that in Him they have everything. A humble heart, open to the Lord, fills with gratitude as it receives grace upon grace.  Apathy turns to zeal, sentimentality to conviction, and the constant grasping after the next thing is replaced with spiritual fulfillment and peace. In this rich soil, the soul begins to bear fruits of faith, hope, and love, along with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).

When we find ourselves saying, “Why doesn’t God speak to me? I pray but don’t hear anything?,” or “I just don’t feel like praying or going to Church, I don’t get anything out of it,” or “My life always feels so out of control no matter what I do, why can’t I ever just find peace?”; we can take a step back and evaluate the soil in our souls.  The Word of God has come to us in the flesh and remains with us, what can we do to better receive Him?  Begin with asking for His help.

Consider:

  • When do you struggle with feelings of not caring about God or your faith? What or who fuels that hardening of heart, and what/who softens your heart toward God?
  • Despite my love for flowers and home-grown vegetables, I’m a terrible gardener because I’m not attentive enough about keeping things watered or clearing away weeds. How can you be more attentive to the garden of your soul? What does it need to be watered, and what weeds need clearing away?
  • Pray about how deeply your faith is rooted. Is it guided primarily by emotions or by principle? Consider how your relationship with God is similar to, or different than, your relationships with others.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the thorns in your spiritual life. Prayerfully consider what competes with your prayer time, Mass, your generosity with the Lord, or your openness to His teachings. Ask for Christ to remove the thorns and replace them with greater devotion.
  • Mary exemplifies perfect receptivity to the Lord, rooted in deep love and enduring the hardest tribulations. Ask for her intercession to soften your heart and to “open your eyes to see and your ears to hear” as she did.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Work on preparing the soil for Christ.
    • If you need more gratitude: each night list 10 things you are thankful for from the day.
    • If you need more humility and detachment: Pray the Humility Prayer each day.
    • If you need more openness: Read Scripture for 5 minutes each day. It could be the daily readings (which can be found at usccb.org), a devotional, or simply opening one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Finding Yourself

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13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 10:37-42

I would think of this passage often when my kids were little. After finally getting them tucked into bed, just as I would sit down to finally relax, I would hear a little voice call out “Mooooooooom. I’m thirsty.” Fighting the frustration in my thoughts and body, I would remind myself, “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink…”

Following Christ means loving Him above all things, including all people, and most importantly above ourselves. If He were only a man this directive would be ridiculous and arrogant. Jesus gives this command because He is God. St. Augustine famously wrote in The City of God:

“There can only be two basic loves… the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self, or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God.”

As much as we may try to avoid this decision, the limits imposed on us by time and space force a choice. Sometimes it means a clear fork in the road, while at other times it may mean small daily sacrifices.

Discipleship applies to every vocation – priest, religious, married, and single. Priests and religious give a clear witness of total gift of self to God. Their remarkable vows and their counter-cultural lives attest to their faith in eternal life since they must sacrifice worldly goods for heavenly.  For example, a friend of mine who’s a nun, came by with three sisters to take some furniture I was giving away. That same day two workmen were at the house working on taping and mudding the basement that was being finished. As they came upstairs to take a break, they saw three nuns in full habit and me carrying a large bookshelf out of the house.  Imagine their surprise! One offered to help when he saw us struggle to lift it to the truck. Later one of the sisters asked him to help us tie down the furniture and he generously assisted. I have no doubts that will be a sight they remember forever, and a story they will tell for some time.

Married and single persons blend into society more since even non-believers marry or remain single.  However, it doesn’t take long for Christians to stand out even in these vocations. The disciple of Christ remains faithful to marriage vows even when the culture dismisses them.  Catholic families notoriously stand out as they tend to (though are not required to) exceed the usual one girl and one boy trend. Every mother I know who has more than three kids, has recounted to me rude comments made to them about the number of children they have.  These comments come from family members as well as complete strangers in places as random as the grocery store.  Openness to life necessitates losing your “life” to receive it back from Christ. It affects your body, your sleep, your emotions, your free time, your career choices, your travel, your finances, and so on. Once when I was congratulating a couple I know who were pregnant with their sixth child, the father conveyed his struggle that now they would have to get a 12-passenger van. Many a parent has lamented the min-van transition, but this step was tough for him to swallow. That is sacrifice. However, any mother or father will tell you, when you hold that baby in your arms you realize it’s completely worth it.

Finally, single persons stand out in their discipleship too. The Christian who lives chastely and temperately, puts others before themselves, and makes decisions prayerfully, shines a bright light in a culture that glamorizes promiscuity, partying, and self-advancement. They use their freedom to give of their time generously rather than selfishly. A single woman I know put it this way to me – she said that she was totally free for the Lord to call at any moment. Whereas others served God through their obligations to their family or religious order, she said, God needs some people who can be available any time anywhere.  I hadn’t thought of it like that before.  Of course she had to go to work and take care of her home, but she recognized that she had tremendously more “free” time and flexibility than the other vocations and intentionally chose to consecrate that time and freedom to God.

Discipleship comes at a cost but it’s a solid investment. Things of this world will always be insecure. Jobs can be lost, stock markets dive, beauty and health get marred by illness, and so on. Every investment we make in the Lord however will merit glory in heaven forever.  When I drag my tired body off the couch to give my thirsty daughter a cup of water at night, it remains treasured by God forever along with every sacrifice of love that we make.

We can’t be in two places at once and there will always be only 24 hours in a day. We must make choices. Jesus encourages us to be strong against temptations no matter where, or from whom, they come. He also sent the Holy Spirit to provide the gifts of fortitude and counsel we will need to make those decisions prayerfully and follow through on them courageously. He also gave us the gift of the Church to guide us and inspire us.

Jesus pointed out that you can tell a tree by its fruits. Even though self-love appears prudent, in our culture it has produced the highest levels of depression, “anger issues”, and suicide in history. Love of God above all things is only prudent from an eternal perspective, it requires faith. However it has produced thousands upon thousands of saints, the first mark of which is Joy.

Consider:

  • When have you chosen yourself over God? How did you rationalize it? How did you feel afterward?
  • When have you chosen God over yourself? How did God provide for you in that decision and bless you afterward?
  • Reflect on Jesus’ paradoxical words that we find ourselves in losing ourselves. Pope St. John Paul II expressed the same idea saying that we find self- fulfillment through self-gift. Others have expressed this phenomenon by saying that when they volunteered somewhere, they received more than they gave.
  • Who has been a witness to you by their Christian discipleship?  What struck you about them?
  • In what ways do you witness to Christ in your life? What makes it difficult? What makes it rewarding?
  • How can you practice works of mercy in your everyday life and your vocation?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for an increase in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, and Fear of the Lord), and the grace needed to follow Christ
  • Intentionally practice one work of mercy each day this week. Do small things with great love for your family members, coworkers, friends, or neighbors.

 

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Because of Your Name…

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12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 10:26-33

Because of Christ’ Name, we suffer.  But by His Holy Name, we are saved.

If you remain lukewarm in your faith, keep it private, and compartmentalize it from the rest of your life, you will likely enjoy peace with the world.  If you proclaim Jesus to be a great teacher like Buddha, but refrain from calling Him God, people will respect you and your “spirituality.” If you acknowledge Christ as one way and not The Way, most people will put up with your belief, since they afford everyone a little bit of foolishness.

One problem…to proclaim a nice moral teacher who isn’t God and isn’t the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is not to proclaim Jesus Christ. As C.S. Lewis famously put it: Jesus claimed to be God, that means He is either a Liar (He knew He wasn’t God but said He was), a Lunatic (He wasn’t God but really believed He was), or Lord (He is God). The first two do not make for good moral teachers, the third deserves our worship and obedience.

Fra_Angelico_-_Christ_the_Judge_-_WGA00679Jesus promises that “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” To do that however, we must proclaim the God Who became Man, that He is the fullness of Revelation – Divine Truth, the Savior of all mankind, and Love incarnate. To proclaim a myth of our own making, and worse to belittle Christ by using a weakened, distorted, version of Him as our inspiration, is to deny Christ. Jesus warns “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

 To proclaim Christ takes serious guts, and I don’t’ just mean speaking about Christ. Simply living your faith in everyday life will incite criticism and even personal attacks by others.

If you go to Church every Sunday despite competing demands for your time, you may be accused of being too rigid or too zealous. Those who would prefer you prioritize them over God will accuse you of being uncharitable or having an unhealthy scrupulosity. Those whose own church attendance looks lackluster in comparison will more likely try to find fault with your devotion rather than to imitate it.

If you believe that Jesus is the Truth – the Word of God, prepare to be accused of intolerance, close-mindedness, and archaic thinking. Even if you do not “push your beliefs on others”, your simple rejection of the religion of Relativism will offend its many followers (note: Relativism states that there is no objective truth – except, paradoxically, Relativism. It maintains that there’s no real right or wrong, just subjective beliefs). Moreover, no matter how hard persons try to rationalize sins, their God-given consciences sense the truth and can’t help but react at reminders. People who want to live in darkness hate the light. It happens at every age. Teens who don’t drink or engage in pre-marital sex, get left out of parties and certain social groups. Adults who put God and family first, get left out of some events or opportunities at work, or in neighborhood gatherings.

It’s hard to follow Christ, especially when it means staying up at night with a newborn, while colleagues or friends fly off to sunny vacations. It takes humility to make time for Mass and soccer games, knowing others will “get ahead” in their career because of their willingness to work all hours and days.

And what do you get for your sacrifice and virtue? Consider, how did Cain react toward Abel? How did Joseph’s brothers treat his piety? You will be honored by God and those who are Godly, but you will be scorned by those of the world.

Jesus is the Truth, and Satan is the father of lies. Those who live by Truth will threaten those lies. In retaliation, just as Satan spread lies to Adam and Eve about God, and just as he continues to spread lies about Jesus, Satan will spread lies about Jesus’ followers too. We can feel helpless in these situations because it’s hard to defend ourselves when the other person fights dirty. Jesus knows our struggle and has experienced our pain.  Thus, He assures us beforehand to “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed.” Jesus promises that the Truth will conquer in the end. It requires more patience, a lot of faith, and Holy Spirit courage though.

It’s hard to suffer unjust treatment and unwarranted animosity, especially when you are simply trying to live your own quiet Christian life.  Take heart however, people don’t get bothered by the lukewarm or the mediocre; whereas greatness is always challenged. The more you are treated like Christ (the real Christ, not the mythical nice guy in sandals), the more it means you are becoming Christ-like. So, as Pope St. John Paul II repeated again and again, “Be not afraid.” Let Christ’s love in you soften hearts, even if they scream at you first. Let the light of Christ radiate in you and cut through the darkness. As the prophet Jeremiah witnessed in today’s first reading (Jeremiah 20:11),

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:

my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.”

Consider:

  • When did Jesus experience the most criticism and rejection? Consider how His mighty works of healing and love, were met with envy and anger by some of the Jews.
  • Consider the mystery of the Cross. Christ suffered out of love for us and was rejected. Yet He rose again to new life and brought about our salvation. How might we offer our pain and suffering from others’ rejections for their salvation, like Christ has done for us?
  • Reflect on a time when you “preferred darkness to light.” How did you rationalize your sin or your way of thinking? How did you react toward someone whose life shined a light on it?
  • Reflect on a time when you preferred light to darkness. When have you experienced joy and freedom when the Truth in someone else’s life freed you from a lie in your own?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, pray an Our Father or a Hail Mary for someone who is persecuting you.
  • Each day this week, pray Psalm 69.
  • Offer this prayer each day:
    • Lord, I don’t want my light to be so dim as to not make a difference.

      I beg You to make Your Divine Light shine through me with such radiance,

      That it frees with Your Truth, those held captive by lies,

      Guides those who are lost back to You,

      And lifts lonely discouraged souls with Your Love.

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Putting Your Sweat and Blood Into It

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Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Readings for this Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of John 6:51-58

Today we celebrate Christ’s gift of His Body and Blood. Consider the meaning of giving your body to another. Husband and wife express the intimacy and totality of their love in physical unity.  Every new life enters the world through the sacrificial gift of a mother, who offers her body and blood to her child. Fathers invest their sweat and blood in their children as well in the myriad of ways they meet their children’s needs. How many dads have gone to bed after a day of working to provide for their family, playing with their kids, building out part of the house to make room for more kids, or helping to finish their adult child’s basement saying, “my whole-body hurts!”? Even friendship is demonstrated in physical sacrifice. If you’ve ever called on friends to help you move or been the friend who said yes to that call, you know what I mean!

Caravaggio ThomasThe Son of God became man, in every way. He invested His mind and heart, and His body and blood. He desires nearness to us in the most intimate of ways. Jesus spent thirty-three years living humbly, and bringing tangible, immanent love to those He encountered.  His sacrificial suffering and death of the Cross atoned for our sins, giving us new life as children of God for eternity.

grain of wheatJesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist for two reasons.  He established it as a memorial so that His sacrifice on the Cross would be made present again every time the Mass is celebrated so that we might be nourished by its graces. Secondly, because He wants to be as near to us as possible. When we receive the Eucharist at Communion, Jesus offers Himself in the most intimate and loving way, like that of a husband and wife. Through His Eucharistic presence, He continues to be with us in a tangible way.

Human beings need physical closeness, especially when we need comfort in sorrow or in expressions of love. Jesus Christ is, and will forever continue to be, both God and man. It’s easy to take His presence in the Eucharist for granted, especially when it requires the eyes and heart of faith. Today we take time to reflect as a Church on the beautiful and mysterious gift of Christ’s Body and Blood, to cherish our Lord, and to deepen our appreciation for the sweat and blood He puts into His love.

Consider:

  • Consider the many ways we express love physically. Why is physical love so important? How does it create intimacy in relationships?
  • Reflect on Christ’s physical expressions of love – during His hidden life, His public ministry, His sacrifice on the Cross, and His Eucharistic presence today.
  • This year the Solemnity of Christ’s Body and Blood falls the week before Father’s Day and some year’s it lands on Father’s Day. Consider the ways in which dad’s offer their bodies and blood for their family.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Visit Christ at Church this week. Spend time in prayer near the tabernacle, or at Eucharistic
  • Make a physical sacrifice of love for someone this week, in appreciation of Christ’s physical sacrifice.

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Finding Fulfillment in Self-Gift

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Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Readings for this Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection:

Trinity Consider for a moment this incredible fact: we are made in the image and likeness of the Trinitarian God. Although God’s essence exceeds our understanding, He has nevertheless chosen to reveal His nature to us and even given us an experience of it imprinted on our own human nature.

So what did God reveal about Himself?

God has revealed that He is Love (1 John 4:8) and that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).  From the Father, we observe that God is creative. From the Holy Spirit, we observe His immanent might and love operative in our souls.  And from the Son, we learn that God’s creative, mighty, love, is sacrificial.

What does this mean for you and me?

We live in a culture that forms us to be autonomous, independent, and self-seeking.  Humanitarian works and acts of kindness may be valued to the extent that they make life more pleasant in general, but not to the extent that it requires personal sacrifice – a real loss of some kind.

Human happiness does come through self-realization and self-fulfillment, but not in the way our culture defines those terms. The Trinity is a relationship of three divine Persons in mutual self-gift and love.  This means that, as creatures made in the image of the Trinity, we achieve self-fulfillment through self-giving love. It’s a paradox, but one that Christ emphasized over and over in both His teachings and His life.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.”  (Matthew 16:25 RSV)

Christian discipleship means living and being as Christ. In his book, Introduction to Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI described Jesus’ mission as being from the Father, for us. In other words, he says, Jesus’ whole “being itself is service”. Avoid imagining Jesus as just a nice guy, however. Pope Benedict isn’t referring to volunteering more. He means that Jesus’ whole existence is one of relationship, and a relationship of service. Thus, Christian discipleship transforms us from self- centered lives, to God and others-centered lives.

To be God-centered, from God and for others as Christ was, requires a radically different worldview than our secular culture. Pope St. John Paul II, as he examined God’s words in Genesis asserted that this relational character lies at the heart of our nature and our happiness.  He wrote:

When God-Yahweh said, It is not good that the man should be alone,” (Genesis 2:18) he affirmed that “alone,” man does not completely realize this essence.  He realizes it only by existing “with someone”– and even more deeply and completely – by existing “for someone.”     (Pope St. John Paul II. “General Audience of January 9, 1980.” The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan. Pauline Books and Media, 1997)

He’s not saying that we must become slaves with no individual identity. Rather, he’s saying that men and women find self-fulfillment through self-gift. Self-gift, by definition, means giving yourself to someone. It means we find happiness in loving sacrifice.

St. Mother Teresa said that everyone has an opportunity to love as Christ did, and therein find happiness. To find that someone we simply need to look around us.  As we celebrate the Blessed Trinity today, let us celebrate the gift of relational love. Mary always perceived the needs of others around her, let us pray for her intercession to see opportunities for self-gift around us as well, even when it requires personal sacrifice.

Consider:

  • Consider the eternal relationship of love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • Imagine the joy of heaven, where the saints share in that relationship of love.
  • Reflect in a prayer of gratitude for each experience of loving relationship God has gifted you with.
  • Pray for reconciliation in relationships that need healing.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, find one way to concretely show love to another person.  Ask for Mary’s intercession.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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The Ascension of Christ & the Surprising Nature of the Kingdom of God

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The Ascension of the Lord

Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 and the Sunday Readings

Meditation Reflection

Christ is so humble in His Incarnation that we, like the apostles in today’s passage, can forget the awesome reality of His divinity.  For most of His earthly life, Jesus chose to veil His divinity.  He humbly lived among us as one of us, choosing a life of poverty and sacrifice. Even when condemned to crucifixion, He told Pilate that He was not powerless in the situation (cf. John 18:36). Jesus chose to be sacrificed to save us. He could have saved Himself, as those taunting Him urged, or defended Himself as Pilate suggested, but love kept Him on the Cross. Christ came down from heaven to be a ransom for our sins. Ascension of Christ_ Getty ImagesAt the completion of His mission however, He ascended back to heaven to reign in glory as the Son of God. Because of His humility during His earthly life, we overlook at times His divine dignity and His rightful place in Heaven. Beyond anything we could have imagined, He promised to prepare a place for us there as well!

Jesus kept surprising His apostles and He continues to surprise us. They imagined the savior as someone who would overpower their persecutors and restore things to how they used to be during the best time in Jewish history. It took a while for them to accept that He would die and rise again.

Confused and scattered at His crucifixion, they rejoiced in awe at His resurrection. Overwhelmed with joy that Christ was alive, and excited by His show of power they still imagined that they would enjoy the booty of His victory in an earthly kingdom. “Finally”, they must have thought, “now He will bring to fruition all our hopes and desires.” Thus, they ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 Jesus did not come to stay on earth however, but to bring us back to Heaven. He does not put new wine into old wine skins (Matthew 9:14-17). His kingdom exceeds our imagination. The experience the Jews had under King David provided a foretaste and glimpse of the kingdom of God. Jesus reveals that God has much more in store for us.

In order to receive the Holy Spirit and begin their new life in Christ, they had to let go of their previous hopes and plans. To rule in the Kingdom of God meant to surrender worldly power for the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms lives with saving grace, Truth, peace, and love.  No other nation or religion has had the same universal, enduring, transformative effect, of the Christian faith. The only explanation for this miracle is the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). As we celebrate the Ascension of Christ into heaven, we let go of our desires for Jesus to make things how they used to be, or how we wish them to be. Christ’s physical absence grieved the apostles and we too can be grieved by the absence of tangible comfort and security. However, by letting Jesus ascend to Heaven, they received Him back even more intimately and powerfully in their very souls on Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit.

Christian discipleship means sharing in Christ’s death that we might also share in His resurrection. But it doesn’t stop there. Discipleship means accepting the unanticipated, unimaginable “new” that Jesus has for us. He wants so much more for us than we can plan and blesses us with so much more than we deserve. By surrendering our grip on control in our Christian walk, we get to live in the freedom of gift. There are no words to describe this freedom and joy other than surprise; or as John puts it: “From his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16 RSV).

Consider:

  • When has God surprised you? How have His plans for your life exceeded your own expectations?
  • In what areas of your life do you struggle to surrender control? Consider what underlies your resistance.  Is it fear of the unknown or of change, distrust, lack of faith, perfectionism, pride and the desire to accomplish things yourself, or vanity and concern for what others will think?
  • Reflect on your life from the point of view of the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of earth. Re- value wealth and status from this perspective. What is truly valuable? What is true greatness?
  • Consider God’s love for you. He has prepared a place for you, provided the Way, opened the gates, and given you the Holy Spirit and the Church to guide you and empower you. He has done everything in His mighty power to be with you and shower His love upon you. What can you do to be with Him and love Him in return?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, be open to God’s surprises. In the morning, offer your day to God and surrender control to Him. In the evening, reflect back on the day and recount when you were resistant or when He surprised you.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Finding True Love

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6th Sunday of Easter

Gospel of John 14:15-21 and the Sunday readings

Meditation Reflection:

Every human person yearns for love, intimacy, and understanding. We may not need to be loved or understood by everyone, but we desire that connection with at least one person and preferably a whole community. Without it, we suffer an oppressive loneliness leading to depression, anxiety, and confusion.

Given the rapid advances in communication, it would seem we should feel more connected than ever and therefore happier than ever. Yet, consider the high rate of depression and suicide in our culture, despite the unprecedented wealth and physical well-being compared to any other time in history. So, if we are relatively wealthy, healthy, and connected, why aren’t we happy?

Jesus reveals the answer in today’s Gospel passage.  The world offers superficial connection, defining love as self- gratification rather than self-gift. Self-centered love uses others to make oneself feel good or to advance one toward a personal goal. It might demonstrate a modicum of virtue, but only insofar as it provides personal reward. Intimate married love has been replaced with casual sex and pornography. Intimate family love through the gift of children has been replaced with pets (not that pets are bad, just that they are not kids). Intimacy of friendship or shared work carry some comradery, but disillusionment ensues when they are quickly exchanged for a personal advancement. All these experiences leave people feeling used and alone, rather than loved.

Pope Francis shed light on our pain by identifying the source of our wounds. He connected our pain with our disconnect from Truth and the experience of mercy. In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, he wrote,

“…humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them. And it’s not just a question of social ills or people wounded by poverty, social exclusion, or one of the many slaveries of the third millennium.  Relativism wounds people too:  all things seem equal, all things appear the same…

Pope Francis identified relativism as a wound because it disables our ability to determine right from wrong and truth from error. Christ forbids us from judging other people because only He knows what is in their hearts. However, we must be able to make moral judgements about actions and choices.  It’s just as important to know the dangers of sin to the spiritual life, as it is to know the dangers of gravity when leaping from high places.  I tell my boys all the time, especially in the summer when they are careening down the hill on their bikes or scooters, “Force = Mass times Acceleration – think about how fast you are going, because you could get hurt badly!”  The same truth becomes even more important as they get older. Now that my oldest has his driving permit and is nearing his license, I try to curb the teenage boy’s “need for speed” with the same physics lesson. I’m not being judgmental; I’m being loving by teaching him the truth. The same applies to the spiritual life. Sin wounds, hurts, and can even kill.  The Truth of Christ is a saving gift.

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches that Truth, Goodness, and Love are inseparable. Without truth and without virtue, we will miss out on love. Jesus said that He is the Truth (John 14:6), and those who love Him follow His commands. God is a relationship of three distinct Persons in one divine nature.

The three Persons of the Trinity share a unity that exceeds our understanding, but Jesus unveiled a glimpse of its experience. He speaks on numerous occasions of the unity of He and the Father. That unity comes from a relationship of love and obedience through an eternal self-gift. The Holy Spirit is described as the Love between the Father and the Son. For us to share in the intimate relationship of the Trinity, we must share in God’s love through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In-the-World-Not-of-the-World-DESKTOPWhen we place our faith in Christ, He sends the Holy Spirit that we may live by His Truth, following His commands, and thereby grow in intimate love.  Jesus told the apostles,

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

In other words, we must not only love in general but love like Christ – sacrificial, unconditional, and merciful. Merciful love means forgiveness, and it also means speaking the Truth instead of enabling someone in their self-deception or rationalization. It means never helping someone sin, but always helping them when they try to leave their sin.

To love in this way, we need supernatural grace which flows from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. AD 375 – 444), a bishop and Doctor of the Church, describes the Spirit’s transformative power in a beautiful way in a commentary he wrote on the Gospel of John:

“After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word. We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we would begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. This was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit…

Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, Abba, Father, make it easy for us to grow in holiness and, through our possession of the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us invincibly against the wiles of the devil and the assaults of men.

It can easily be shown from examples both in the Old Testament and the New that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell; he so transforms them that they begin to live a completely new kind of life…

Does this not show that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell and alters the whole pattern of their lives? With the Spirit within them it is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become men of great courage.”

The Holy Spirit infuses us with Divine Love which bears fruit in our lives. This love is so exceptional, that Jesus tells His disciples it will be evident to the world that they are His followers. The fruit of worldly love is loneliness, anxiety, and depression. The fruit of Christian love is intimacy with God and His followers, peace, and joy. Worldly wisdom wounds, but Christian wisdom heals. The great paradox of happiness, which Pope St. John Paul II re-iterated time and again, is that self-fulfillment can only be found in self-gift. Christians experience the intimacy of friendship in their shared vision of the Truth, the intimacy of true love in living their vocational call to sacramental married love, Holy Orders, vows of religious life, or the single vocation, and above all – the deepest, most intimate, abiding love of our Trinitarian God dwelling in our soul as His very own Temple. Happiness is loving and being loved, Truly.

Consider:

  • Consider the relationship between Truth and Love. Why is honesty necessary for relationship? How does honesty deepen intimacy?
  • Have you ever had to make a decision that required you to choose between worldly wisdom and Christian wisdom? Which did you follow and why? What were the results?
  • Consider the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us. Have you experienced spiritual healing, transformation, or love through the Holy Spirit? Have you witnessed it at work in another person?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Grow in your relationship with Christ who is the Truth, by studying Scripture or studying the faith. Read a spiritual book, join a bible study, listen to Christian talk radio or podcasts, or visit with someone advanced in the faith who can teach you.
  • Invite the Holy Spirit to bear more fruits of love within you by connecting with Him in prayer and/or the sacraments. Add just 5-10 minutes of prayer to your day (or if possible, I highly recommend adding a daily Mass), and note the change in your reactions to others and to situations, or to the level of peace you feel amidst whatever is happening around

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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We All Need a Loving Gatekeeper and Filter: Christ Our Good Shepherd

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4th Sunday of Easter

Gospel of John 10:1-10 and the Sunday readings

Meditation Reflection:

Quite often as a mom I feel like a gatekeeper. When my kids ask to go somewhere, I need to know where, with whom, and for how long before I approve. Technology plagues me with even more gate-keeping work: parent controls, ratings evaluations, and download or streaming restrictions. The ever-multiplying accounts, passwords, devices, programs, and updates can feel like an interminable game of whack-a-mole. Christmas and birthdays used to be fun, now they feel like a migraine-inducing tidal wave of gate-keeping duties while excited, impatient children complain as I set the perimeters that I am being too slow, and of course too controlling. I’ve at least developed a one-line response to save my overtaxed brain from responding to the myriad of “logical” arguments and pleas of trust from my young teens. “It’s as simple as this,” I say, “You shall not have unfiltered access to the internet.” The Church could consider adding that as the 11th Commandment for the modern era.

Let’s face it, even adults, as children of God, need filters. We too can be easily allured by promises of pleasure, freedom, status, or adventure from false advertisers; and I don’t just mean commercially.    Despite having everything, Adam and Eve fell prey to Satan’s proposition that God’s single rule (not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) was controlling and denying them fun out of selfish motivations. Satan continues to deceive us through similar false promises.

Christ the shepeherdJust as predators try to find ways to get around parents to manipulate children, spiritual “thieves and robbers” try to get around Christ to attack us, God’s children. First, they try to separate us from His influence by undermining our trust in Him, His Word, or His Church. Common attempts sound something like: “Christ’s teachings hold you back. If you want to get ahead in life you have to be willing to get your hands dirty”, or “It’s not that you are going against Christ’s teachings, you are just modernizing them.” In regards to those difficult passages in Scripture, the ones that really strike at your conscience, you will be urged to simply pass over them or interpret them in a more relaxed way – “Forgive others, yes, but forgive her?, I don’t think He meant that…” Jesus stresses that we must die to ourselves in this life and deny ourselves. Instead we rationalize that He only meant that symbolically, or at least in a modest way – like going on a diet or not aiming too high. Finally, the Church, Christ’s living voice of authority, is the clearest voice of our Shepherd and therefore the harshest recipient of worldly criticism.

We are children of God, in need of a loving gatekeeper. Christ’s commands, given through Scripture and the Church, can seem restrictive and controlling if we have an adolescent view. However, as we develop in spiritual maturity, we begin to appreciate the wisdom and the love underlying them.

When I’m tempted to brush off a Church teaching or a little pull at my conscience, I stop and recall that Christ loves me more than I love myself, and He is far wiser than me. Who am I going to trust? Any other false shepherd – whether secular culture, another person, or my own impulses – eventually drains rather than fills and proves a destructive, rather than uplifting force.

Christ, our Good Shepherd, leads to green pasture. He refreshes our souls and leads us beside peaceful waters (Psalm 23). Jesus lamented to St. Faustina that distrust on the part of souls causes Him the greatest pain.  As a mom of teens, I know what He means.   I want my kids to trust me too, and so I repeat the prayer He gave to St. Faustina, “Jesus I trust in You.”

Consider:

  • When have you been steered wrong – by others, by cultural norms, or by your own impulses? What was the reason? What did you learn?
  • When have you been steered right by Christ? How has His wisdom brought deeper joy and fullness of life, even amidst suffering, than these other voices?
    • Have you ever had to be the gatekeeper for loved ones? Consider the love it takes to be strong and the need for them to trust you.
  • How can you trust Christ more and listen to His voice more often? Could you attend Church more regularly? Could you invest more time into Christian friendships? Do you make time to study your Bible, read quality devotionals, or learn more about your faith?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way to listen more to the voice of Christ this week.
    • Ideas: Add 10 minutes to your prayer time, pray the rosary in the car, listen to Christian radio, listen to Christian podcasts, read the daily Scriptures (these can be found at usccb.org), post inspirational Scripture quotes in places you will see them often, meet with a Christian friend.
  • Consider adding a filter, rating restrictions, or accountability software to your personal technology.

 

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