Becoming Rich: Investment Strategies From Christ

by Angela Lambert

 

 

July 31st, 2016; 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 12:13-21 NAB

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Meditation Reflection:

Greed comes in many forms and we can be quite talented at excusing it with innumerable rationalizations.  The man in this encounter masked his greed with a case about justice.  We don’t know the circumstances surrounding the inheritance but Jesus, who knows the truth in each of our hearts, shows greater concern from the man’s motive than the actual facts of the case.

Greed has a vicious way of undermining our relationships with God, each other, and even ourselves.  We often operate with the mentality of the farmer in Christ’s parable.  The modern equivalent would go something like this:  Work hard in school and be successful in a bunch of extracurricular activities so you can get into a good college, so you can get a good job, so you can make a lot of money, so you will be secure and happy.  Yet, how many people follow this plan and find themselves at 40 years old burnt out, lonely, empty inside, and suffering from health issues related to the stressful pace they have been keeping for decades.  Ironically, we are both the richest country in the world and the most depressed. We keep a frenzied pace only to find ourselves exasperatedly sighing the same words of Ecclesiastes “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” (2:22).

What is the point?! We clean the house and it’s messy again in a matter of hours.  We finish a project at work and another lands on our desk the next day.  Our kids finish one sport’s season and another begins.  Days fly off the calendar, then weeks, then years.  Everyone has to find a balance between work and life.  We have to be prudent, work hard, and plan for the future.  The problem is, it’s just sooooo easy to work and plan for more than we really need and miss out on the good stuff right in front of us.  Rather than plopping on the couch and watching a movie with our kids we run another load of laundry or get some work done on the computer.  Instead of going out with colleagues and deepening friendships, we put in a couple extra hours at work to get ahead.

Jesus reminds us to work and plan for our eternal future too.  We are made for meaning, purpose, and love.  Moreover, we are spiritual beings made for eternity with God.  Work labored for greed will produce a temporary reward, but work offered in love and service to God will bring eternal joy.  It will likely bring a deeper earthly joy as well.  Having the respect of others because of your position can feel good but it can also feel empty, not to mention add paranoia that someone will try to take it from you.  Having the respect of others because of your character is priceless and immune from circumstances.

Greed is an inordinate desire for wealth.  Every day we must pray and reflect on what really matters so we invest our time and efforts wisely and in the right order.  Through the grace of Christ, we have the opportunity to escape the crazed rat race and endless running on what feels like a gerbil wheel going in circles.  If we have the courage to surrender greed we can gain immeasurable wealth unaffected by the volatility of the stock market or our boss, and which produces deeper pleasure than money can buy. Working for your kids will mean more than working merely to afford fashionable clothing which will quickly be out of fashion, or a beautiful boat which won’t be as much fun without kids there to enjoy it with you, or the perfect house which will just be outdone by the Jones’ house that will be built next door in a year.  Doing work that improves the lives of others will give you deeper satisfaction than a simple paycheck.  No matter what your profession, how you conduct yourself and to what end is up to you.

As a teacher, I am reminded of this at graduation parties.  Our bonus, though not monetary, comes in the form of seeing kids we helped develop turn into amazing human beings.  It’s the emails from college or stopping by our classrooms to tell us everything they are up to or how something we taught them has stuck with them that is worth more than any zeros on a check. Similarly, I know wealthy individuals who find great joy in putting it at the service of the Lord and seeing the fruits of those spiritual endeavors. God promises in 2 Corinthians 9:6 “Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  Be generous with God and labor to sow what matters so you can be “rich in what matters to God.”

Consider:

  • Reflect on what matters most in your life. Consider what gets in the way of those things versus what develops them.
  • Prayerfully consider what is “enough” for you. What would be sufficient and what work is necessary to meet that goal?
  • Ask God to reveal any desires that have become excessive or obsessive. Is there anything you are grasping after or worried about that prevents you from enjoying the gifts God has already given you?
  • What kind of work or charitable contributions brings you a feeling of satisfaction?
    • Do you find meaning in aspects of your job?
    • Do you enjoy providing for your family and seeing them thrive?
    • Do you have charitable projects you care about?
  • Has greed ever undermined your relationship with God? With another person?  With being true to yourself?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Evaluate your investments in God, others, and yourself.  Decide on one thing you could do for each category to enrichen that relationship in your life.
  • The opposite virtue of greed is generosity. Do something generous this week.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Loving Confidence in Prayer

by Angela Lambert

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July 24th, 2016; 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 11:1-13 NAB

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.  “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), He says. In contrast, pagan gods tended to be images of the visible traits of humankind.  Thus, they tended to mirror fallen man’s tendencies toward power, greed, lust, and narcissism.

This answered man’s nagging questions about the origins of good and evil but it also left him subject to the whims of unpredictable powers.  Be it Greek, Roman, or Babylonian gods, people tried to satiate the needs of their deities to avoid calamities and possibly manipulate them for favors.  This explains, for instance, why the Romans did not care who a person worshiped provided they did their part to appease the Roman gods too and why they blamed Christians for the fall of Rome.

This appeasement of the gods should not be mistaken for relationship.  It would be more apt to describe it as mutual manipulation.   In some places it spiraled into superstition bordering on the obsessive-compulsive.  For instance, some farmers would address one god for the successful tilling of soil, another for the planting of seed, another for the growth of the seed, another for the harvest, and so on.  Even well after the West became Christianized this practice proved difficult to root out since it had become so ingrained in the culture and in fallen man’s temptation to control rather than to trust.  In modern times, we must resist the secular attempt to lump Christianity with all of the other religions into one vague spirituality.  The history of pagan worship differs in an absolute way from Judeo-Christian worship. God has distinguished Himself from every other faith from the moment He revealed Himself to Abraham to the death and Resurrection of His Son and the sending of His Holy Spirit.

This difference is most notable in the way in which Christians pray.  Rather than the “multiplying of words” to appease or manipulate, Christian prayer is grounded in familial relationship.  When Jesus teaches the apostles to pray He shares with them His own prayer.  Through Baptism we become incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, receiving adoption and becoming children of God (see John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, Romans 8:15-16).  We cannot make ourselves someone’s child.  The intimacy and privilege of familial relationship comes to us as a gift – either through nature or through the will of the parents by adoption.  God has willfully adopted us and Christ has made that possible through His sacrifice. Thus, He teaches us to address God as Father and enter into a relationship of sonship or daughterhood with the Lord.  Consequently, we should begin prayer by simply meditating on the gift of God’s fatherhood and the reliable, selfless, pure love that it bestows.  Even one moment of contemplation of this sublime gift moves our hearts to praise God and so Jesus instructs our next words to be “hallowed be Your Name.”

In pagan practices, calling on gods by name provided connection and sometimes a power over them. This can be true to some extent even in our human relationships.  On the positive side, by knowing someone’s name a person can network, get in contact with him or her, or continue the relationship.  On the negative side, it can also mean identity theft, access to personal information for the purpose of fraud, etc.  Christ instructs His disciples to avoid these tendencies with God’s name.  God desires authentic relationship.  He knows every person’s hearts and He cannot be manipulated.  Thus, Jesus warns, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven (MT 7:21)

As a result, authentic relationship with God recognizes Him as the true Good and petitions: “Your kingdom come.”  God ought to rule our lives, not the other way around.  How does God do this?  How does His kingdom of love, joy, and peace come to reign in our hearts?  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Consequently, Jesus teaches us to ask God for our daily bread and explains directly after that God will always increase the Holy Spirit if we ask: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Lastly, since sin and hatred are incompatible with God, Jesus tells us to give forgiveness and ask for forgiveness that we may be reconciled with God and one another.  Moreover, He encourages us to ask in advance for God to spare us from temptations which would be too much for us and lead to abandoning Him.

Should you be afraid of God’s response (or lack thereof) if you pray, Jesus reveals to us how God views our prayers so that we may be confident when we approach Him.  God is not an image of us, we are an image of Him.  Even though we may be lazy or slow to help others, God is not.  As a teenager I noticed the difference between my response to my parents requests and their response to mine.  If asked to run to the store or help with a chore, I might drag my feet, feel too tired, grumble, or say no.  If I needed something however, they always responded promptly and reliably.  When I became a mother I finally understood this phenomenon. (Even while writing this I have been interrupted with requests from my kids a dozen times!)  The difference was mature love.  The love of good parents is an image of the love of God – self-less, prompt, generous, and happy to help.  Hopefully as children of God, we can mature in our prayer so that our petitions move from the emotional demands of a toddler or elementary school child, to the respectful, humble, and grateful petition of an adult child confident in the relationship with his or her parents.

Consider:

  • Have you ever helped someone even when it was inconvenient and would rather have avoided it?  Have you done things for your kids you never would have imagined doing before you had them?
  • Consider the difference between asking your mom or dad for help as opposed to a friend or neighbor. What things might you ask of them that you wouldn’t from the others?
  • Reflect on God’s love as that of a perfect Father. Reflect on the loving gratitude that should emanate from this relationship.
  • Where do you need God’s kingdom to come more in your life? Where do you need His peace, joy, justice, love…?
  • Do you forgive others as you would have God forgive you? Are there any grudges you need to let go?  Are you quick to reconcile when someone apologizes?
  • Imagine how Christ must have looked while praying alone. Imagine you are one of the apostles, witnessing Him regularly taking time in solitude with the Lord.  What do you think moved them so much that they asked Him to teach them to pray in the same way?  Ask Christ to teach you to pray as He did too.
  • Pray for an increase in trust and a purified sight of God.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray the Our Father slowly and meditatively each day this week.
  • Pray each day for an increase in trust.
    • Maybe repeat the words given to St. Faustina by Christ to have written under His image: “Jesus I Trust in You.”
    • Or pray the words of the father who brought his son possessed by a mute spirit to Christ (MT 9:22-24) “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
  • Each day be forgiving toward someone in the same way you would like God to be patient and forgiving toward you.
    • Ideas: The person who cuts you off in traffic, the colleague who annoyingly one-ups you, the child who throws a tantrum or acts ungratefully, the spouse who forgets something or acts irritably, the fast food employee who messes up your order…

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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The Priority of Being Present

by Angela Lambert

July 17th, 2016; 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Gospel of Luke 10:38-42 NAB

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Meditation Reflection:

Theologians and spiritual writers often reflect on this passage as a teaching on the active life of service and the contemplative life of prayer.  I find it also provides rich insights into the life of family. Martha’s home – her welcoming love and hospitality – together with the company of her sister Mary and brother Lazarus, became a place of respite and comfort for Christ.

His relationship with their family began with Martha’s initiative as He entered their village.  Just prior to this passage, Luke recounted the many places and people that either failed to receive Jesus or rejected him outright.  Martha however invited Him into her home and served Him with gracious hospitality.

In family life, welcoming children begins with a similar openness toward receiving others whenever they arrive and a readiness to serve.  In fact, in Luke 9:48, Jesus confirms this connection when He teaches: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Oftentimes however, parents become “burdened with much serving” like Martha.  Babies require constant care day and night, young children need continual help, and pre-teens need a frenetic amount of chauffeuring.

The Lord appreciates every sacrifice we make.  Things get out of balance however when we allow our work to become a source of anxiety and worry.   Jesus did not scold Martha for working too hard, He voiced His concern for her anxiousness.  Her worry had begun to undermine her ability to be present in the moment and began to skew her perspective.  When she tried to drag Mary into her frenzy Jesus prevented her and gently helped Martha see where she had crossed the line.

Pope Francis also noted this challenge to modern families in his newest apostolic letter The Joy of Love.  Citing responses he had received from the pre-synodal questionnaire he had sent out, he acknowledges:

Many of the respondents pointed to the problems families face in raising children.  In many cases, parents come home exhausted, now wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal.  Distractions abound, including an addiction to television…Other responses pointed to the effect of severe stress on families, who often seem more caught up with securing their future than with enjoying the present.  This is a broader cultural problem, aggravated by fears about steady employment, finances, and the future of children.” (Amoris Laetitia, par. 50)

 

My watershed moment like Martha’s occurred at Christmas time several years ago.  My three kids were young and yet also old enough to have new Christmas traditions of our own and we were going to host Christmas for our extended family. As a result, I had grand plans worked out into an organized to-do list so that we could accomplish everything from home-made frosted sugar cookies the kids and I would make together in Christmas shapes to the FoodNetwork recipes I would make for the family celebration.   That all came to an abrupt and painful halt when I became sick with the flu one week prior to Christmas day.  As the flu persisted and Christmas approached my stress level reached breaking point.  My mom called to say hi but instead had to methodically walk me back from my emotional cliff.  She went through my list with me one task at a time and asked the simple question over and over again: “and what would happen if that didn’t get done? And what if that didn’t get done…”

Although I had loving intentions behind each task, the element of service had been usurped by a ball of worry.  My mom, like Christ, gently gave me perspective.  Consequently, with the help of a great deal of divine grace, I surrendered our newly established Christmas traditions and accepted that we could do them next year.  I scaled back my expectations for hosting, humbly accepted help, and recalled that spending time together was the most important thing not the elaborate meal.    Since then, with the help of prayer and grace, I have worked to keep my life in better balance.

Christian service is not an end in and of itself.  Rather, it’s a loving encounter with another person.  Whether it’s care for kids, elderly parents, a disabled relative, or dedication at one’s job, we all need to make sure we keep the persons we are serving at the center and resist letting the tasks distract us with worry from the people whom we are caring about in the first place.  Jesus loved visiting Mary, Martha, and Lazarus because of the warm hospitality and because of the personal love, faith, and fellowship that they offered.  Despite our technological advances, we have become busier as a culture rather than more relaxed.  It requires intentional effort and grace to put people first and to be present in the moment.  It’s no small task to order our lives in such a way that we can work hard and have time to stop and listen to those we love.  When we become untethered by our to-do list, Mary appears to just be sitting around doing nothing.  Jesus reminds us that personal attention is just as important a “task” as the others, if not more important.

Mary chose the better part.  We too must pray for the grace to choose to spend time doing what feels like nothing with our kids, parents, and family; to just enjoy being with one another.  Similarly, we must choose to make time to just be with Christ so that our work remains in service to Him imbued with His love.  No one claims they treat their family and friends the best when they are stressed out and anxious.   By “practicing the presence of God”, as Brother Lawrence’s spiritual classic teaches, God will provide the peace we need to practice the presence of others as well.  It will be counter-cultural, and you will have to let go of competing with the super-moms and the super-colleagues, but Jesus assures us that choosing to be present to the people we care about over a frenzied attitude over work that needs to be done is the better part and we shouldn’t let anything take it from us.

Consider:

  •  Prayerfully consider how present you are to Christ.
    • Do you make time to sit with Him and listen?
    • Do you think of Him during the day or while at work?
    • Do you enjoy silent prayer or struggle with the feeling that you are “doing nothing”?
  • Prayerfully consider how present you are to your family.
    • When are your favorite times to connect?
    • What special moments do you recall with your parents or kids where you felt loved and listened to?
    • What things undermine your peace and your ability to focus on those around you?
    • What causes you to become stressed and distracted?
    • How could you re-order your life or adjust your expectations so you can resist unnecessary anxiety and give your loved ones the best version of yourself?
    • What do you need to take care of yourself so you can be a peaceful, present person?
      • How much sleep do you need? Be honest!
      • How and when do you relax?
      • What are your quirks or limitations it would help to acknowledge? (For example – running late makes you stressed so make an effort to arrive 5 minutes early or you need a bite to eat every couple of hours so make time for good food, etc.)
    • Pray for an increase in the virtue of Hope. Consider how worry can be combated by trust in Jesus. Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added” (Matthew 6:33).  Pray for the grace to prioritize your life according to God’s will, then allow Him to make sure everything else gets worked out.
    • Reflect on the reality of our limitations: limitations of time in a day, energy, the need for rest and food, etc. It takes humility to live within our limitations but being more realistic about what we expect from ourselves and others as well as what we say yes or no to can greatly reduce unnecessary stress.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Read “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence (it’s a small, thin book but sticks with you)
  • Make a list of priorities. Then make a list of your schedule and activities.  Prayerfully evaluate if they align and make adjustments. Schedule in time for God, time to take care of yourself, and time for serving your family and at work.
  • Each day choose one person to whom you will be present and attentive. If possible decide who, when, and how. (It can be as simple as asking someone at work about their day at lunch or visiting with your kids at the dinner table.)

 

~ 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.

 

 

Compassion in Suprising Circumstances…Gospel Meditation for July 10th, 2016

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by Angela Lambert

July 10th, 2016; 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 10:25-37 NAB

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Meditation Reflection:

G.K. Chesterton once said, “The Catholic faith has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”  Judeo-Christian belief consists not merely in knowing God, but in covenant relationship with Him.  This means we cannot conveniently keep our faith in a box that we take out when we feel like it.  Relationship with God requires active following of His commands – from those given to Moses to those given by Christ.   The famous parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates our common human struggle for consistency between our faith and our practice of it.  It’s one thing to know God’s teachings, it’s another to do it.

As a religion teacher I am humbled by this struggle every day.  I begin each year by clarifying for my students that the Catholic faith I will share with them is true, freeing, and life-giving.  Nevertheless, as their teacher I know the faith well but I, like them, must struggle to practice it each day.  They need to know up front that I am a sinner working with the help of grace to conform my life to Christ’s.  They shouldn’t trust me because I live the faith perfectly but rather because every day I try.  

In Jesus’ parable three challenges to follow Jesus’ command, “Love one another as I have loved you” and the Lord’s command in the Old Testament to “love your neighbor as yourself” are presented – one representing a common failure and two representing Christian response.  The priest and the Levite, both of whom would have known the Law well and considered themselves strict adherents, pass by their fellow Jew in need.  They had what they considered prudential reasons to not stop, but in truth they were rationalizing their desire to look the other way and avoid the bother.  How often do we lack compassion for those nearest to us?  How often do we put off reaching out because we think we have more important or pressing matters?  In her speech as she received the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa urged  people in the West to show concern for those in their own homes and families.  She cited the plague of depression, loneliness, and deep emptiness experienced by children and the elderly often set aside by the busy lifestyles of adults.  She even noted that in some ways it’s easier to fill the needs of the poor in Calcutta because all they need is a little food or medical care.  In the Western culture, rich with material things, the needs go much deeper and prove more difficult to meet.  Her solution?  Begin with a smile.  This may sound easy but try practicing it, especially when you feel bothered or exasperated by annoying tendencies, mannerisms, habits, etc. of your loved ones.  It’s a shame that we tend to treat those closest to us the worst!  Imagine if we could have greater compassion for our families. If we mastered that, it would enable us to have compassion toward anyone.

The Samaritan, overlooked the animosity between his people and the Jews because he felt “moved with compassion” at the sight of another human person in such horrible pain and humiliation.  The Samaritan treated the man as person with personal care.   He did not shrink back from the blood but provided medical care himself.  For reasons not provided in the parable, he had to leave the man the next day but even still the Samaritan provided for the wounded man from his own wallet and risked even more money to see that the man was restored to full health.  The Samaritan took no half-measures.  He cared for the man, provided for him, then returned to see that the man was well again.  It can be uncomfortable and difficult to concern ourselves with the problems of persons with whom we are unfamiliar.  It’s easier to pass them over or look the other way and we can find plenty of reasons to rationalize that it’s not our problem.  Yet, to love as Christ loved, we must in fact seek out those in need, attend to them even at personal cost, and allow grace to soften our hearts so we may be moved with compassion.

Finally, the innkeeper had to make a decision as well.  Imagine his surprise when he opens the door to a prospective guest only to find a foreigner carrying a beaten, half-dead man. In addition to admitting two less than ideal guests, he is asked to care for the wounded man and, if need be, provide for any expenses required for his recovery, relying only on the promise of the Samaritan to return with payment. We too encounter analogous situations in numerous ways.  Unexpected guests in need of our love appear in family life, at work, or literally at our door.  It may be a child you hadn’t “planned”, a relative in need, a friend of your child or spouse, a struggling co-worker, or a client.

Discipleship means opening our eyes to the needs around us, allowing our hearts to be moved with compassion, and to share in the sorrow of someone we’d rather pass by.  It could be a friend who needs to talk despite your busy schedule, a child needing comfort in the middle of the night when you would rather sleep, a testy teen who needs patience and firm but loving rules, an awkward colleague whose lonely and has difficulty making friends, or encouraging a family member when tempted to criticize them.

Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40).  These words motivated Mother Teresa every day and made possible the extraordinary love she showed to those that society found most repulsive. May we follow her example and also heed the exhortation from the first reading for today from Deuteronomy, especially in this special Year of Mercy:

For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.

 Consider:

  •  Who do you find difficult to love?  What behaviors particularly annoy you or what tasks of love do you avoid?
    • In your family: (ideas: sleepless infants, whining kids, testing teens, moody or preoccupied spouse, a manipulative relative, elderly parent or grandparent who is lonely or in need of care, a competitive sibling…)
    • In your work: (lonely co-worker, new person in need of extra help getting acclimated, competitive co-worker, difficult boss, insensitive cubicle-mate, overwhelmed colleague…)
    • In your home-life: (a friend in need after a surgery, a new baby, or a loss; a neighbor kid who seems left alone too much or neglected, a single-mom whose driveway needs plowed or a word of encouragement, a young family in need of a free babysitter so the couple can have some time together, a new neighbor in need of help getting to know everyone…)
  • Do you nurture compassion and understanding for those suffering in other countries? Do you make an effort to understand some of the complexities of their struggles and their personal challenges?
  • Have you ever been the recipient of someone’s compassionate mercy in a time of need?
  • What teachings do you find difficult to practice?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Consider an aspect of discipleship in which you need to grow.  Decide how to practice it concretely each day this week.  (Think of who needs you, what he or she needs from you, and how you will meet that need.  For example exercising more patience toward someone by smiling at them intentionally each day and doing one thing that would be of help for them.)
  • Pray each day for compassion and a softened heart.
  • Read Mother Teresa’s speech from when she received the Nobel Peace Prize. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1979/teresa-lecture.html
  • Learn about the struggles of someone in foreign country.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Encountering Christ Through Your Life…Gospel Meditation for Sunday July 3rd, 2016

by Angela Lambert

pope francis and refugees

Pope Francis welcomes a group of Syrian refugees after landing at Ciampino airport in Rome following a visit at the Moria refugee camp in the Greek island of Lesbos, April 16. Filippo Monteforte / Pool via Reuters

July 3rd, 2016; 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 NAB

At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”

The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,
but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus desires personal relationship with each human person.  At the same time, no man is an island, and therefore Jesus encounters persons within the context of their lives. Our experiences and choices, together with our relationships with others, form the framework through which we receive and respond to Christ.

Our personal encounter with Christ may begin with a personally appointed disciple of His, sent ahead of Him.  For some, a certain preparation may be needed before Christ’s visit will be fruitful.  Someone whose heart is hardened toward God by experiences of pain or falsehood may need their demons cast out so Christ can fully enter.  In some cases, this happens in a literal way through the name of Jesus and the authority granted by Him.  In other cases, it happens in a more analogous way through the softening of a heart by the experience of Christian love, the opening of a mind through seeds of truth, or the reception of mercy in a time of need.  An otherwise weak soul, may find the courage to say yes to Christ after being inspired by the bravery of another.  A proud soul may see the beauty of meekness through the gentle joy of colleague.  Our perception of God can be obscured by our experiences in life – either of prosperity or pain – but it can also be clarified by our experiences in life, especially through encounters with other Christians.

Christ call us to proclaim the kingdom of God to others and He equips us with the supernatural power and grace to do so.  The good news of the Lord’s presence and mercy is proclaimed through a myriad of ways and tailored to the individuals who will receive it.  God may call you to witness through your example, through your choices, through works of mercy, through your patience and kindness, through your prayers and sacrifices, or through words of teaching, encouragement, conviction, or comfort.  Conversions continue to take place even in surprising places.  Peter Leithart, writer for First Things magazine, reports in his article “Islamicization of Europe or Christianization of Islam?”, that many Muslim refugees migrating into Europe from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and central Asia have been converting to Christianity and requesting baptism by the droves.  The article cites a variety of reasons for this phenomena but ultimately individuals in need have encountered Christ through the Christians who have aided them which sparked openness to Christianity and a desire for Christ.

The kingdom of God, which is none other than union with God, begins here on earth at the crucial crossroads of the human will.  The seventy-two sent out by Christ recounted their exhilaration at being able to cast out demons.  The devil seems oppressively powerful, yet at the simple name of Jesus, he is conquered.  Unfortunately, a simple “no” by the human will can shut Jesus out.  Relationship requires the reciprocal good will of two people.  Christ loves us, but if we do not love Him in return there can be no friendship.  As Christian disciples, we must pray to be His missionaries laboring in His harvest and take care to not turn others away by their encounter with us.  We should also not become discouraged if even after great feats people in our lives still reject God.    Ultimately, that is between them and God.  The stakes are high – heaven! – so let’s pray that we can open hearts to receive the Lord for all of eternity.

Consider:

  •  Consider how Christ has sent messengers ahead of Him to you.
    • Who brought to you His truth, sacraments, love, or compassion?
    • How did it increase your faith or clarify your understanding of Christ?
  • Consider how you are a messenger of Christ – to your family, your colleagues, your neighbors, and your friends.
    • In what ways to you demonstrate Christ’s love and truth to them?
    • In what ways could you improve your Christian witness?
  • Reflect on your receptivity. How open are you to the Word of God in Scripture, through His Church, through others?  What hinders you and what helps you?
  • Reflect on Christian evangelization occurring in Europe by reading Peter Leithart’s article:First Things. “Islamicization of Europe or Christianization of Islam?”

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Each day prayerfully and intentionally decide on one person with whom you will share Christ.  Prayerfully decide how and when you will do it. (e.g. saying a kind word to someone who annoys you at work, praying with your children together before bed, doing something loving toward your spouse, forgiving someone in need of mercy, etc.)
  • Reach out to someone who has been instrumental in your own conversion and thank him or her. It could be as simple as an email, text, hand-written note, or phone call.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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