Excuses, Excuses…Be Brave! Be Determined!

merciful father

June 26th, 2016; 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 9:51-62

When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village
to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

 Meditation Reflection:

Being a Christian means following Christ, wherever and whenever He goes.  Full discipleship requires 100% commitment, not the made-to-order or pick and choose buffet we are accustomed to in our culture.  Consider Jesus’ own example.  He needed to journey to Jerusalem.  Notice the attitude He chose – resolution and determination.  Followers of Christ need the same resolution and determination.  In fact, St. Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic, emphasized repeatedly the need for determination in order to advance in the spiritual life.

As Jesus journeyed, doing the Father’s will, those He encountered each had an opportunity to join Him.  The Samaritans received messengers from Christ but rejected the Lord before He even arrived when they learned accepting Christ meant surrendering their bitterness toward Jerusalem.

The next person took the initiative to seek Jesus and requested to be in His company.  Jesus, who knows the hearts of each one of us, warned the man that being near to Christ would bring spiritual security and comfort but not necessarily the feeling of physical security and comfort.

The next two men Jesus invited to follow Him, but both requested to do something else first.  Their requests seem valid and even noble.  In fact, burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy and honoring your father and mother is the 4th commandment. Is Jesus asking us to neglect our duties?  Does Christian discipleship excuse neglecting our families?  Does God contradict Himself?  No.  Do we sometimes rationalize our cowardice or weakness by twisting God’s commands against Him?  Yes.  Many of us (including myself!), often excuse our lack of time for prayer by pitting it against the active life of charity.  It sounds something like this: “I don’t have time to sit and pray because I need to do…which God would want me to do.”  A practical example would be, “I could sit and pray (a.k.a. do nothing) or work an extra hour to provide for my family, or do a load of laundry and dishes, or run an errand.  God wants me to care for my family, that is my prayer.”

Sometimes that might be the case.  But, in truth, there’s usually time for both.  In addition, without prayer, even our loving activities can tend to be more self-loving rather than other-loving. Jesus knew the hearts of the two men who wanted to return to their families before following Him.  Rather than contradicting His command that we love one another, especially our families, He may have been calling them out on their rationalizations.  It reminds me of when I gather my kids for family prayer.  My two boys will often try to get out of it by appealing to my earlier request that they get outside for awhile or they were just about to start a chore I had assigned earlier.  In reality, they had time for both those things before and after prayer, it just sounds like a better excuse.

Let’s face it, we have an inner desire for God and we may even have authentic zeal for discipleship, but we also struggle with attachments that hold us back.  The good news, is that if we open ourselves up to Christ in prayer, He will reveal those attachments to us and provide the grace to overcome them.  It requires resolution and determination, but with God all things are possible.

Consider:

  • Like the Samaritans, how many of us hold on to bitterness, anger, or un-forgiveness?  Prayerfully ask Christ to reveal if any of these are holding you back from following Him.  Pray for the grace to surrender it to the Lord.
  • Like the man who proclaimed he would follow Christ wherever He goes, consider why you are a Christian. Is your love for the Lord intermixed with some self-love as well?  Do you complain when you encounter trials?  Are you impatient or upset when you experience discomfort?
  • What rationalizations do you use to delay responding to Christ or to responding more generously? What rationalizations have you overcome on your spiritual journey?   How has that experience strengthened your will to follow the Lord?
  • A favorite book of mine called “The Fire Within” by Fr. Thomas Dubay provides some great steps for identifying and overcoming attachments. Prayerfully read my summary of Fr. Dubay’s steps and see if you can identify one attachment and make a plan for rooting it out.identifying attachments

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week thank God for one deterrent He has helped you overcome or from which He has freed you, and invite Him to reveal and free you from a current hindrance you may or may not realize you have.
  • Pray for an increase in resolution and determination. Choose one concrete thing you can do this week to apply it.  (e.g. pray 15 minutes each morning or evening, say something kind to your spouse when you want to say something critical, hug your child when you want to throw your hands up in exasperation, choose a daily Mass to attend and do what it takes to get there, go to Confession…)
  • Using Fr. Dubay’s steps, identify a current attachment and do one thing each day to root it out.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Paradoxes of Discipleship

by Angela Lambert

carrying-the-cross-daily1

June 19th, 2016; 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 9:18-24

Once when Jesus was praying by himself, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.” He scolded them and directed them not to tell this to anyone. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

 Meditation Reflection:

Often we feel burdened by the frenetic pace of life, even the endless duties of Christian service for our loved ones.  We can easily feel that we do not have time to “just sit and pray.”  As a result we rationalize that our work is our prayer and God wants more from us than mere words.  These thoughts carry quite a bit of merit given their truth.  Nevertheless, they do not abnegate our responsibility to spend time alone with God.  Who could really say he or she has more work to do than the Son of God did during His time on earth?  Who of us can dare say our service cannot wait while we pray alone with God but Christ’s could?  Even Mother Teresa, known for her tireless works of charity, spent several hours in prayer every morning before beginning her service for the poorest of the poor. Angelo Comastri, Archbishop of Loreto, attested to her insistence on the necessity of prayer first, describing his encounter with her in this way:

“She looked at me with two clear and piercing eyes. Then she asked me: «How many hours do you pray a day?» I was surprised by such a question and tried to defend myself by saying: «Mother, I expected you to speak about charity, to invite me to love the poor more. Why do you ask me how many hours I pray?» Mother Teresa took my hands and held them tightly in her own as if she wanted to pass on to me what she had in her heart; then she told me in confidence: «My child, without God we are too poor to be able to help the poor! Remember: I am only a poor woman who prays. When I pray, God puts His Love into my heart and so I can love the poor. By praying!http://www.vatican.va/jubilee_2000/magazine/documents/ju_mag_01091997_p-18_en.html

Time alone with God, especially time spent in silent contemplation or meditation may feel like you are doing nothing whereas in truth an incredible amount is being accomplished in the depths of your soul by God.  In prayer, God fills our souls supernaturally with grace which enables us to know, love, and serve Him in ways we could not without this aid.  For instance, those who had encountered Christ but had not spent time alone with Him like the apostles, had fairly good guesses about Christ’s identity, nevertheless they were wrong.  Peter, however, having dedicated Himself to following Christ and remaining near to Him, was enabled by the Holy Spirit to correctly determine the truth about Jesus.

Moreover, when spending time alone with Christ in silence, He reveals more of Himself to us as well as His mission for us.  After Peter perceived Jesus as the “Christ,” which means “Anointed One,” referring to the long awaited Messiah or “Son of Man” from earlier prophecies, Jesus next revealed the Christ would suffer, die, and be raised to life.  This would not have been the kind of glory the apostles were expecting from their leader.  Without grace, they must have questioned why they chose to follow someone who predicted He would seemingly fail in such a painful way.  He also promised a resurrection but this too would be hard to put in one’s trust without grace.  If that weren’t enough, Jesus went on to disclose an even harder truth: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Self-denial? Intense suffering?  No marketing agent would put that on a billboard!

We can only make that kind of sacrifice aided by grace to trust that our Lord who suffered, died, and was raised to eternal life in Heaven, will raise us to eternal glory with Him if we endure the suffering and death to our worldly ambitions and sinful attachments on earth.  You only live once so the risk is big.  If Heaven isn’t for real, you won’t have a second chance at the pleasures or the fame the world has to offer.  Time alone with Christ must be a necessity for disciples.  Who do some secular people say Christ is?  A crutch for the weak, a glorified imaginary friend, an old superstition.  Who do disciples of Christ discover He is?  A trusted friend, a vigilant protector, a source of peace, a spring of joy.

In time alone with the one we love, Christ gifts us with the faith, hope, and love necessary to believe and act on His admonition: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  For example, when in prayer, I felt Jesus call me to the vocation of motherhood, it took some grace and adjustment.  I was young and had more ambitious ideas of how to serve the Lord.  In time alone with Him at adoration however, He revealed to me that I had made some good guesses about the Christian life, but they were still very tainted by a worldly lens.  In time I came to see from His perspective.  I came to have faith but next I needed the hope and love to act on this call, which He provided through more time spent with Him.  I spent my 20’s at home raising my three kids, while my worldly peers pursued careers, partied, and travelled.  From a secular view, I had “no life”.  Sometimes, it even felt like that.  However, I had posted on my refrigerator John 15:13 “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” When tempted by the worldly lens that I had wasted my talents, I would spend time in prayer.  Without fail, I would walk away each time with the view of the greatness of my mission as a disciple and I felt unworthy of such an honor.  15 years later, I can see concrete examples of how in losing my life Christ saved it.  I can’t articulate the work He has done in my soul through my experience as a mother and my time alone with Christ in the home with my kids for 10 years.  I’m not saying that is His will for everyone.  It was however His will for me and in retrospect I can see why.  When I had finally become truly comfortable with my mission at home (and even homeschooling!) I was called to go out of the home, enroll my kids in school, and be a teacher again.  When this became absolutely clear I cried uncontrollably for an hour.  What had begun as a sacrifice became a sacrifice to surrender.  Christ blessed me however through ways only He can and through His Mystical Body, with the opportunity for all of my kids to attend the school at which I teach so we could still be together in some way during the day. I still rely on Christ to provide the faith, courage, and love to choose His will over the immediate visible rewards that come from my will and already I am seeing the fruits of His next call.

Our utilitarian culture measures worth by achievement.  Love however simply desires connection and time together.  Love bears fruits of good works, but its greatest joy is simply enjoying the nearness and attention of the beloved.  You are Christ’s beloved.  Your love should bear fruit of loving works, but Jesus’ greatest joy is time spent near Him, enjoying His presence.  As Mother Teresa advised, spend time alone with the Lord, and He will pour the love you need in your heart to carry your cross.  Paradoxically, you may find your cross to be your greatest blessing and that in losing your life for the Lord, it will be saved.

Consider:

  •  Consider how much time you spend alone with Christ.
    • What keeps you from making time for silent prayer and listening?
    • How has silent prayer with the Lord deepened your faith?
  • Consider the paradox that no matter how busy we are, if we make time for Christ somehow everything else still gets done.
  • With whom do you enjoy spending time together? Do you take joy in his or her presence even if nothing is being “accomplished”?  Do you know and love each other more deeply as a result?
  • If you have teens, consider the time you spend driving in the car. Often that space of time where you are simply alone in the quiet of the vehicle is when they open up about what’s on their minds or in their hearts.  What is it about a dedicated space of time that cannot be interrupted by tasks that opens people up to one another?
    • Consider how this relates to our relationship with the Lord. How many of us encounter Him during times when we have nowhere else we could go?  What if we simply carved out that time intentionally each day?
  • How has Christ deepened your faith, strengthened your trust, and made you more loving because of your relationship with Him?
  • Have you ever “died to something” in your life only to find that in fact Christ liberated you through it? Have you given something only to find you were given more in return?
  • What might Christ be asking you to surrender today? How might Christ value your contributions more than you do?  Pray for Him to reveal His view of your life and purify your own lens.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Spend an additional 15 minutes a day this week alone with Jesus.
  • Visit Jesus at adoration one time this week.
  • Read about Christ in the Gospels or a spiritual book. One suggestion would be “Jesus of Nazareth” by Pope Benedict XVI.
  • Take 5 minutes for silent prayer a day.
  • Listen to Christian music once a day – while driving, walking, getting ready etc.
  • Listen to the song “How He Loves Us” by David Crowder Band

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Why is There Suffering, and What is God Doing About It?…Gospel meditation for June 5th, 2016

by Angela Lambert

Jesus raises widow of Nain's son

June 5th, 2016; 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 7:11-17 NAB

Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, crying out “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” and “God has visited his people.” This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.

 Meditation Reflection:

Why is there evil in the world?  Why doesn’t God do anything about it? Some persons will answer that either God doesn’t exist or God doesn’t care.  Those persons willing to investigate the question further however, universally discover two things: human free will causes most evils and the person who has consistently done the most to alleviate suffering is God.  Utopian ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries, endeavoring to eradicate evil through human efforts alone, all ended in countless deaths and totalitarian rule. Sin causes evil and only God can save us from ourselves.  Even death, God has revealed, did not originate with faulty genetics or evolution.  Sickness, death, toil, and pain entered the world through the original sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3; Romans 8:19-23).

God created human persons to experience Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  He designed us to live in perfect friendship with Him and with each other in a unity of love and joy for eternity.    We all experience deep suffering at some point(s) in life.   The woman in this Gospel provides an example of both deep spiritual pain from losing her only son after having already lost her husband, as well as utter material destitution since she would have no legal rights to property or work without a husband or son.  Upon seeing this, Jesus is “moved with pity for her.” When we feel most vulnerable, most alone, and our hearts are breaking, we can look to this passage and take comfort in knowing that Christ is looking on us with pity.  Moreover, this pity moves Him to do something to alleviate our pain.  In this case, Jesus restored the man to life.  In doing so, He restored the woman’s life as well.  Although Christ does not always save those we love from earthly death, this miracle demonstrates His power and His love which brings new life in surprising and supernatural ways.  It also points to the hope that all will be made new in the resurrected life in the kingdom of God.

God became man to dwell among us (John 1:14) and to personally alleviate our suffering through His Word, His touch, and His sacrifice.  As the psalmist proclaims: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).  Moved with pity, Christ continues to reach directly into our hearts to dry our tears and heal our wounds. He anoints our wounds with grace through His sacraments, He dispels hurtful lies with His divine revelation, He forgives our sins in the sacrament of Confession and fortifies us with grace to overcome them, and He feeds us with His very own body and blood in the Eucharist.  Finally, He unites us as members of His body and extends His hand of mercy through His disciples operating under the direction and love of the Holy Spirit.

Does God care about our suffering?  Is He going to do anything about it?  Yes.  Quite a lot actually, if only you will allow Him.  Christ offers new life if we will accept it.  He offers healing if we turn to Him.  This is the witness of every Christian disciple.

Consider:

  •  Re-read the Gospel and imagine you are one of the persons present.
    • Consider the love of the mother for her only son. Consider her love for her husband as well.  The death of her son means the image of her husband is gone as well as their family together.  In addition, imagine you will now be destitute with no way to provide for yourself.  To your surprise, a man emerges from the crowd and gives your son, your family, your life, back to you.
    • Imagine you are one of the members of the crowd. Why might you be present and how might you be feeling toward the woman?  What would you think of Christ’s miracle?
    • Imagine Christ’s perspective. What does His response reveal about His heart and His character?
  • Consider the definition of pity. Dictionary.com defines it as: “sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, often leading one to give relief or aid or to show mercy.” The heart of Christ felt sorrow at the sight of the woman’s pain and it moved Him to help her.  Imagine Christ seeing you in your pain.  Consider His merciful look of pity which shares your sorrow and desires to bring you comfort.
  • Reflect on a time Christ comforted you or saved you when you were in dire need. Take time to appreciate all that He did and the incredible ways He acted in your life during that time.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day with this prayer: “Lord show me the needs around me.  Move my heart with pity and enable me to show mercy to someone today.”
  • Surrender a pain to Christ to heal. Reach out to Him in His Word, His Sacraments, or His Church.  Spend 5 minutes of silence with Christ and your pain.
  • Make a gratitude list of the mercies Christ has shown you over the years and then each day.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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