The First Disciple of Christ Provides a Model for us All…Faith, Joy, and Love

by Angela Lambert

Visitation-Elizabeth-Joy.jpg

December 20th, 2015;  4th Sunday of Advent

Gospel of Luke 1:39-45

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Meditation Reflection:

Mary’s relationship with God offers a beautiful and powerful witness for all Christians of the path of discipleship. She begins by faithful adherence to the Covenant God had made with His people. She prays regularly, lives by God’s laws, and follows the requirements of the Jewish religion. Next God approaches her personally, offering her an opportunity and love beyond natural experience and imagination. Mary responds with belief of both mind and will. Christ becomes incarnate in her womb and she experiences a union with God she never could have anticipated had she not experienced it. Moreover, her loving yes to God makes possible the union of Christ with every human person when He takes on our nature.

Mary then travels “in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant in her old age. Union with Christ, the indwelling of the Trinity, produces what Fr. Dubay terms a “Fire Within” which always produces love of neighbor. Mary, the first disciple of Christ, begins her Christian walk through service to Christ and service toward others.

Upon meeting Elizabeth the Holy Spirit stirs in the hearts of both women and their unborn children. The gifts of knowledge and understanding were bestowed on them, even the unborn John the Baptist. Discipleship is accompanied by the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit which enable the Christian to live at a supernatural level which exceeds merely natural expectations. Moreover, upon receiving the Holy Spirt, disciples of Christ are given the infused virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love) at Baptism. Infused means they are given directly to the soul by God rather than acquired through habitual action like the moral virtues. Moreover, the theological virtues must be infused by God because they have as their end things beyond the limits of human nature.

The two women and their unborn children share a visible and overwhelming joy. John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, Elizabeth cries out in a loud voice, and we see next in the Gospel that Mary breaks into rejoicing as well with her famous Magnificat – testifying with faith, hope, love, and joy to truths about God’s goodness and mercy. Mary sings the deepest sentiments of every Christian who has experienced the love of God in his or her life:

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 Discipleship begins with receiving God’s love which then ignites a fire in us to love Him in return. St. John, the beloved disciple, writes in his first letter, “We love because he first loved us.” (1John 4:19).   That love then spreads to every human person because Christians see Christ and the love He has for each one of us in others. As a result, St. John writes next in verses 20-21, “If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

These last few days of Advent, let us prepare for the coming of Christ in our souls and the powerful transformation of love that it will effect. Let us take Mary as our example and cherish Christ within us in prayer, fellowship, and service.

Consider:

  • Where are you at in your Christian walk?
    • Consider how far you have come and reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.
    • Consider what the next step may be.
      • Do you struggle believing in the love and joy God has for you?
      • Is there something you are clinging to instead of God?
      • Has the joy of discipleship born fruits of service? How might you act on that?
      • Do you spend time in prayer praising and thanking God?
      • Is there a spiritual friend you could rejoice with and talk about God’s actions in your lives? Consider how Mary was not only a physical comfort to Elizabeth but also a spiritual comfort since they could relate to one another spiritually about God’s miraculous work in both of their lives.
    • Reflect on the Theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Reflect on one of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit for each day this week: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, Fear of the Lord.7 Gifts of the HS
  • Reflect on one of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit for each day this week: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.
  • Practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (see last week’s reflection).

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2015

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Prepare for the Coming of Christ’s Mercy by Giving Mercy

by Angela Lambert

pope francis mercy

December 13th, 2015; Third Sunday of Advent

Gospel Luke 3:10-18 NAB

The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.

Meditation Reflection:

Christ, the Image of God through which we were created came to restore that image which had been distorted by sin. St. Athanasius, an early Church Father, beautifully reflected:

What, then, must God do? or what else was it right to do, but to renew again the grace by which they had been made after His Image, so that through it men might be able once more to know Him? But how could this have been done except by the coming of the very Image Himself of God, our Savior Jesus Christ?

To prepare for His coming, John the Baptist offers practical advice. God is Justice and Mercy, therefore he instructs his followers to practice justice and mercy in their everyday life. In the same way, Pope Francis has instructed us to not only reflect on God’s mercy but to extend it in practical ways toward others in our everyday life. The Church summarizes the works of mercy under two categories – corporal and spiritual. Corporal works of mercy care for the physical needs of others and the spiritual works of mercy care for those of the soul. Pope Francis encourages us to renew our commitment to practicing them in concrete ways on a regular basis.

Corporal Works of Mercy:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Ransom the captive (help prisoners)
  • Bury the dead

Spiritual Works of Mercy:

  • Instruct the ignorant (teaching people about the Christian faith)
  • Counsel the doubtful (encouraging someone struggling with the faith)
  • Admonish sinners (having the courage to tell someone what they are doing is wrong)
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive offenses willingly
  • Comfort the afflicted
  • Pray for the living and the dead

Each of these can be practiced in obvious ways of almsgiving, but they can also be practiced in some very ordinary ways if done with love and intentionality. Feeding the hungry can mean going to the grocery store despite being tired or wanting to do anything other than grocery shopping. Giving drink to the thirsty can be smiling when you really want to sigh in exasperation when your child asks for a cup of water or milk just as you are about to go to bed for the night. Admonishing the sinner can mean doing the work of disciplining your children to teach them virtue when you would rather ignore the behavior and avoid the conflict or being honest with your friend when they are doing something wrong. Burying the dead means making the time to attend a funeral even though you are busy. Forgiving offenses willing and bearing wrongs patiently can be the most difficult. This means avoiding anger or retaliation and instead offering patience and understanding. Apply this to driving in traffic, shopping in a busy store, or putting up with annoying traits of your co-workers. Theses things are much easier said then done. Christ offers the grace we need to be a more merciful person than we could on our own. He also teaches us in the Lord’s prayer that we will be forgiven insofar as we forgive others. The more we offer mercy the more we will receive and the more we will be like God.

Consider:

  • If John the Baptist were to offer you advice, what would it be?
    • Would he see an injustice that you could correct or an opportunity for mercy you could take?
  • Reflect on the mercy God and others have shown you. Offer God and those persons your gratitude.
  • Pray about the works of mercy and write a list of ways that you could incorporate them into your life.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

* Image at the top of the post: Pope Francis embraces a patient at St. Francis of Assisi Hospital, where the pontiff addressed a group of recovering drug addicts, offering them a message of compassion and hope on July 24, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro. CNS photo

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2015

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Making Straight the Path to Joy…Gospel Meditation for the Second Sunday of Advent

by Angela Lambert

john the baptist

December 6th, 2015; Second Sunday of Advent

Gospel of Luke 3:1-6 NAB

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert:“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Meditation Reflection:

John the Baptist, the last and possibly greatest of the prophets, receives the word from God to share with us regarding how to prepare for the coming of Christ – Repent. If we do not see our own sin, we do not recognize our need for a savior. In his book In the Beginning, Pope Benedict XVI makes the observation that our culture has replaced “sin” with terms like “non-standard” behavior. Moreover, personal responsibility often gets excused away by blaming anything other than the person. As a result, the task for evangelization today he concludes, is to be brave enough to talk about sin.

Don’t worry, this won’t be a throwback to fire and brimstone preaching. Recall the reason God asked for repentance – so we could receive healing and mercy. You probably know of someone who did not want to go to the doctor so he or she kept insisting they weren’t sick. Pretending to be healthy only causes their illness to worsen. Similarly, if we do not face our spiritual illnesses they grow in strength and deadliness. In The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, she relates this advice to her from Christ regarding examining our souls:

I do not wish the soul to consider her sins, either in general or in particular, without also remembering the Blood and the broadness of my Mercy.”

Christ also revealed to St. Faustina that His greatest pain is when a soul refuses His mercy due to a lack of faith in His love and forgiveness. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins so that we may turn to Christ for forgiveness and transformation. It would be false modesty and possibly even the sin of pride or despair to willfully believe that Christ cannot or will not forgive you. In the first reading for today from Baruch 5:1, God commands: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever.” We must mourn our sins sincerely, then we must also accept the forgiveness and joy of God.

The Catechism defines sin in this way:

Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” Paragraph 1849

Sin usually means putting a lower good above a higher good – the order being God, Humans, Animals, Plants, Inanimate objects. When we put objects before people, people before God, animals before people, or things before animals, we act in a “disordered” way. In modern terms, our priorities are mixed up. When examining your life consider your priorities not merely as standard or non-standard, but as faithful to God or sinful.

The Church identifies seven capital sins, or those sins that encompass most of the sins or vices we commit. They include Pride, Avarice (Greed), Gluttony (Overindulgence), Envy, Wrath (Anger), Lust, and Sloth. Reading about each of these sins can be eye-opening. Every time I teach on this subject, I find more ways they apply to me and have to go to Confession. Self-knowledge however is the first step in the spiritual life. Jesus begins the beatitudes with “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, meaning those who recognize their poverty before God and need for Him. Then He says, “Blessed are those who mourn” meaning those who in seeing their sinful state grieve over their sins. This is followed up by the promise that one day they will rejoice (just as God prophesied through Baruch). The beatitudes continue to build from there to purity of heart wherein one may see God and finally a state of peace wherein one enjoys living as God’s child. Christ urges us to have the courage and humility to examine our consciences and our lives, to endure the unpleasant feelings so as to make it to the other side where we will have joy and peace.

Consider:

  • Reflect on Christ’s mercy and His mercy toward you in particular.
  • Read about and reflect on the seven capital sins. Here are some links to interesting reads about them:
  • Read and reflect on the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:3-12)
    • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    • Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
    • Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
    • Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
    • Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
    • Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
    • Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
    • Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Actively try to overcome a sin through prayer and practicing the opposite virtue.
    • (for example, to oppose gluttony intentionally fast from something you like; or to oppose sloth, get up 30 minutes earlier than usual)
  • Reflect on one beatitude a day.
  • Extend mercy to someone in gratitude for Christ’s mercy toward you.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2015

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