New and Improved: This Upgrade is Worth the Price!…Gospel Meditation for John 13:31-35

by Angela Lambert

new-improved

March 24th, 2016; 5th Sunday in Easter

Gospel of John 13: 31-33A; 34-35

When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. 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.”

 Meditation Reflection:

As consumers we regularly hear the pitch “new and improved” for every product from toothpaste to vehicles. Oftentimes we consider this prospective as something positive.  Every time Apple comes out with a new iPhone my kids work to convince me of its superiority over the one I already own.  However, though a new car, new appliances, or new clothes seems appealing, learning a new technology seems more work than its worth unless the benefits are considerable.  This attitude spills over into my spiritual life as well.  I appreciate when God simply keeps things running smoothly as they are.  When offered something new, though it sounds exciting, it also sounds like a lot of work.  “New” has the allure of surprise and opportunity, but it also has the anxiety of unfamiliarity, making mistakes during the learning process, discomfort of discerning how to act in new situations, and the fear of the unknown.  Today’s Gospel recounts the inauguration of the “New” Covenant.  A savvy consumer would ask “how is it new” and “is it worth the price”?

During the Last Supper, Christ’s Passion begins with the betrayal by Judas.  Thus, when Judas leaves to execute his plans, Jesus speaks to the other disciples about the New Covenant being inaugurated that night. A covenant refers to a solemn agreement between God and man.  God had made these types of agreements in the past with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.  His New Covenant differs in that God does not make a covenant with Jesus, but rather Jesus is God who makes the covenant with us.  His covenant with Abraham extended to Abraham’s family, the covenant with Moses extended to a nation, and the covenant with David extended to a kingdom.  Now the covenant with the apostles extends to all of humanity.

A marketing executive might take issue with Christ’s assertion that He gives a “new” commandment however when He instructs us to love one another.  Jews treasured a passage in Deuteronomy as the heart of the Old Covenant.  It’s called the Shema (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9).  Jesus Himself referenced it in His teaching:

Mark 12:28–30
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

Jesus’ “new” commandment sounds very similar – to love.  Is this false advertising?  The difference may seem slight on the surface but upon closer investigation it transcends the old model to a remarkable degree.  Jesus doesn’t eliminate the old, but he does present a new and improved model.  In the new version Christ adds the stipulation, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  Christ sets a new standard as His love will be demonstrated in humble service marked by suffering, sacrifice, and agony.  Put that on a billboard.  Any buyers?

A faith that’s merely a get rich quick scheme – prosperity, reward, and status at no cost – is not the Gospel.

“[Paul and Barnabas] strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

Why does it have to be so hard?  Human nature.  As much as we idolize change in our culture, in practice we avoid it.  Change as simple as healthy living often gets abandoned because of the sacrifice and discomfort one experiences in the beginning.  Those who have made the change can attest that they feel more energetic, more happy, and it would be painful to go back to their bad habits.  However one only experiences this feeling if one perseveres through the initial pain of re-habituating one’s body and one’s lifestyle.  Similarly, to love as Christ loved will feel uncomfortable and painful in the beginning.  It means re-habituating one’s whole lifestyle – the measuring standard must be readjusted and priorities re-evaluated.  Many give up after a short while.  However, those who persevere can attest that this new lifestyle makes one feel deeper joy, peace, and energy than before and it would be painful to return to their former habits.

At the present human free will presents a tension between sin and grace which means we suffer – both interiorly as we wrestle between love of self and love of God, and exteriorly as we suffer from the sinful choices of ourselves and others.

Christ’s Paschal Mystery offers hope in that it did not end on the Cross but rather at the Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven.  Eventually, our conversion will be complete and we will have interior peace.  At some point this world will come to an end and those who choose love will spend eternity together with each other and with God.

Oftentimes I just want God to restore things to how they used to be.  Much like the Jews, who expected God would save them by restoring Israel to its former glory as a kingdom under David’s reign.  God’s love exceeds our imagination though and most of the time His answer is not to go back but to offer something new and improved.  St. John recounts in the book of Revelation:

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away…I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”  (see Revelation 21:1-5)

We can be confident that the time, discomfort, and sacrifice will be worth it for this upgrade and Christ will be there to help.

Consider:

  • Recall a time when you kicked a bad habit or developed a healthy habit. How long did it take?  How did it feel afterward?
  • What healthy spiritual habits have you developed? Consider the work it took to establish them and the fruits you enjoy as a result.
  • What spiritual habits do you need to develop? How might you begin work on one today?
  • Consider what it means to love as Christ loved. In each circumstance below, can you think of a time that you either extended that kind of love to another or received that kind of love from someone else?
    • Humble service
    • Self-sacrifice
    • Suffering for someone’s good
    • Rejoicing at elevating someone else
    • Forgiveness and mercy, even toward an enemy

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Exchange a bad spiritual habit for a good spiritual habit.  Make a plan: decide which habit to address and how to develop it.  When, where, and how will you achieve it?  Remember to pray for grace as you do!
  • Opportunities to love as Christ loved are present every day in family life.
    • Intentionally practice Christ-like love toward family members today.
    • Spend some time each day reading a little bit of Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love”, especially the chapters pertaining to family life.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Love and Mercy in Superabundance

by Angela Lambert

Raphael,_The_Miraculous_Draught_of_Fishes_(1515)

Gospel John 21:1-19 (April 10th, 2016; 3rd Sunday in Easter)

At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

 Meditation Reflection:

I was recently presented with the question, “How can we know that the Christian religion is the true one as opposed to others?”  I responded that ours is the only one whose founder has risen from the dead.

The miracle of Christ’s resurrection affirms the truth of His teachings and the divinity of His truths.  The apostles evangelized by bearing witness to this event, one that they experienced with their own eyes. Many struggle to trust in Jesus because we cannot see Him.  However, the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and numerous Epistles all testify that our faith does not rely on mere ideology but rather the physical resurrection of our Lord witnessed by reputable persons who all suffered for their testimony.  Not a single apostle recanted his position to avoid martyrdom.  All of them endured severe trials and difficulties with no monetary or physical reward.  They had no ulterior motive.  They did not say they “believed” Jesus had risen from the dead, but rather that they had all “seen” the risen Lord.

God knows we struggle to believe without seeing.  Despite our weak faith, He mercifully became incarnate that we might see Him when He redeemed us.  Moreover, He exceeded all expectations of the imagination by liberating us Himself rather than sending someone in his place.

We have all heard stories of backpackers or journalists who cross an enemy line and become imprisoned in a dangerous or violent country.  Imagine if you were that person, afraid in your cell as to what will come of you, praying that your president will learn of your state and send someone to save you.  You might hope for a diplomatic solution or even military special ops to heroically liberate you.  Consider your surprise however if the president himself were to show up in military gear and break you out of prison at his own personal risk.

Christ reveals the love of God that exceeds any possible expectation or imagination.  He condescends to our limitations even though He deserves better.  He liberates us at His own painful expense.  Moreover, He gives us a share in His resurrection and a chance at new life.

The Christian life is a response to the love and mercy we have first received from our Lord.  Peter fed the Lord’s sheep because of his love and gratitude for His mercy.  Jesus did not throw away their friendship after Peter’s betrayal.  Instead He gave Peter a second chance, an opportunity for contrition, forgiveness, and conversion.

Jesus gives each of us this same opportunity.  He comes to wherever we are, offering us something to eat and an outstretched hand of friendship.  He asks each of us the same question: “Do you love Me?”  If the answer is yes, then He insists we respond in kind by extending a hand up to others and accompany them toward their conversion.

Pope Francis just released his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love” on Friday.  It’s a beautiful, rich document of encouragement based on the proceedings of the synod on the family.  Although it’s quite lengthy Pope Francis encourages us in the opening pages to take our time reading it.  He addresses in a comprehensive way the joy of love in families – both the ideal as the gift God has given to us, and the painful “irregularities” that need careful healing.  The love of Christ and the call to feed His sheep begins in our families.   Jesus asks that if we love Him, we ought to give generously and tenderly to those placed by Him in our daily lives, beginning with our families and reaching out from there.

Consider:

  •  It’s easy to be discouraged by our failures.  Consider the encounter of Peter with Christ.  What failure would weigh heavy on your heart if you faced the Lord?  How would you respond to His hand up and His offer of mercy?
  • Who in your life needs your mercy? How might you offer him or her a hand up?
  • Consider how Christ can be recognized by His superabundance. When the apostles pulled in such a large catch, John knew immediately it was the Lord.
    • When has Christ surprised you by exceeding your expectations?
    • Ask for the gift of surrender and openness. Rather than giving Christ a list of tasks you would like Him to help accomplish, surrender the logistics to Him and do the tasks He sets before

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Offer mercy toward someone each day this week. (See this link for a list of the corporal and spiritual Works of Mercy)
  • Offer Christ your work week. Give him one week of being in charge and trust Him to accomplish His will.  Just do the tasks He sets before you and let Him bring things together.
  • Begin reading Pope Francis “The Joy of Love”

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Divine Mercy…Can you believe it?

by Angela Lambert

Divine Mercy

April 3rd, 2016; 2nd Sunday of Easter/ Divine Mercy Sunday

 Gospel John 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Meditation Reflection:

We spend so much time and money distracting and soothing ourselves from regret for our mistakes and fear of our mortality.  Christ’s victory over sin and death opens the possibilities of a new beginning during this life and life eternal in the next.  The Risen Christ finds the apostles in fear and brings them Peace.  Thomas misses the opportunity for peace however because he refuses to believe his fellow apostles’ unanimous witness.  Despite his own witness of Jesus’ many miracles and the reliability of the disciples’ account, he refuses to receive Christ’s peace without seeing the healed wounds of the Lord for himself.  Christ would have been in His right to refuse such a demand but in His mercy He appears directly to Thomas so that his faith could be strengthened and he could receive the riches Christ had suffered to give to him.

Imagine the joy Jesus must have felt, having earned our salvation through such intense suffering, when He could then bestow upon His apostles the administration of His Kingdom which is none other than the forgiveness of sins.  Every mother knows the relief of holding her newborn in her arms after a long pregnancy and birth.  Jesus must have experienced a similar relief when He enjoyed our new life given through His loving sacrifice.

Pope St. John Paul II declared in 2000 at the canonization of St. Faustina, that today, the Sunday following Easter, be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday.  Christ had appeared to St. Faustina, a simple uneducated nun from Poland, in the 1930s and spoke with her about His great desire to bestow His mercy on us.  His message did not add anything new to the Gospel, however He re-emphasized His view to the modern world relaying to her His greatest pain which He identified as souls refusing to trust in His mercy.  In the Diary of St. Faustina, (recorded at the request of her spiritual director), she relays these words of Jesus to her regarding today:

I desire that priests proclaim this great mercy of Mine towards souls of sinners.  Let the sinner not be afraid to approach Me.  The flames of mercy are burning Me – clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon these souls…Distrust on the part of souls is tearing at My insides.  The distrust of a chosen soul causes Me even greater pain; despite My inexhaustible love for them they do not trust Me.  Even My death is not enough for them.”  (par. 50)

Like Thomas, many of us struggle to trust Christ.  We fail to have confidence in Jesus’ ability to change our lives and renew our souls.  Using Pope Francis’ analogy, we treat Confession like a dry cleaner.  We can imagine being showered off but not truly changed.  In doing so we do not emulate humility but rather wastefulness.

Today we reflect on the mercy of Christ and ask that He increase our hope that we might trust in Him.  The devil steals our joy, but Christ came to give us joy to the full.  He not only forgives us, but enables us to live a supernatural life of virtue and peace. On the Feast of Mercy during the Jubilee of Mercy, God exhorts us in every way possible to receive His mercy, to give mercy, and to trust in Him.  Let us pray for the grace to surrender the myth of perfection in exchange for the truth of sanctifying love.

Consider:

  • Reflect on the joy Christ feels when He can shower upon us the mercy He worked so hard to earn for us. Consider the mystery of a mother or father’s love that takes pleasure in sacrificing for their children.
  • Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you struggle to accept Christ’s help because you feel unworthy of His love if you make mistakes or fall to sins?  Do you feel you need to be holy all on your own?
    • Pelagianism, a heresy in the early Church, asserted that Christ came to set a good example for us but we have to live up to that example by our own efforts alone. The Church declared that the human will alone could not perfect itself but rather required supernatural grace.  Do you try to perfect yourself to feel worthy of Christ’s love, or do you accept your worthiness of His love and so the possibility of being made perfect by Him?
  • How much do you need to see to believe? What evidence has Christ given you already that you ignore?  What witness could you give to others about the reality of His presence?
  • Consider a time when you experienced the peace of Christ.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Do one act of mercy for someone each day this week.
  • Do one act of mercy toward yourself each day this week.
  • Thank Christ each day for His gift of mercy. Make a gratitude list east day of His blessings.
  • Learn about St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Image, and Feast Day.
  • Say the short prayer, “Jesus I Trust in You”, throughout the day.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.