Christ in the Distressing Disguise of the Poor at our Doorstep

by Angela Lambert

richmanlazarus

September 25th, 2016; 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 16:19-31 NAB

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

 Meditation Reflection:

Pope St. John Paul II often said that self-fulfillment and happiness can only be found in self-gift.  This paradoxical truth flies in the face of our cultural idolization of individualism summarized in mottos such as “looking out for number 1” or “YOLO – you only live once.”  We often ignore the needs of those right in front of us.  Lazarus lay at the rich man’s doorstep but we often ignore family members who live within our own home or are only a phone call away.

I recently read an article by Pierre Manent in First Things magazine  (“Repurposing Europe” April, 2016)  in which he reflects on the current state of political life in France from which any of us who lives in Western culture could learn.  Politics refers to the way in which people organize themselves as a community and view their responsibility toward the common good.  He observes that the move from Christendom to nationalism has been superseded by a move from nationalism to individualism.  Moreover, in a secular culture, the problem has been compounded by a lack of belief/reliance on divine providence.  In consequence, he asserts, France struggles with “a growing incapacity to propose goals for common action.”  Because of the “great withdrawal of loyalty from the community,” a society united merely by individual rights lacks the “capacity to gather and direct our powers, to give our common life form and force.”

Manent’s observations of his own French history resonates with the American experience as well.  Hyper-individualism, secularism, and a world-view that lacks an eternal horizon creates its own set of problems.  There are problems that are too big for us as individuals and require a unified effort which is only possible with a common view of the good and willingness to sacrifice for it.  There are also problems that are too big for us as a nation and can only be approached with a confidence in divine providence and the aid of a God who “protects the resident alien, comes to the aid of the orphan and the widow, but thwarts the way of the wicked” (Psalm 146:9).

In this year of mercy, Christ’s words exhort us in a special way to look beyond ourselves and to discover that our own happiness can only be found in concern for the well-being of others.  He does not scold the rich man for fine dinners, Jesus scolds him for ignoring Lazarus – who was sitting on his doorstep – while eating that dinner.  The cold-heartedness and lack of compassion for the suffering of another person fails to fit us for heaven – a place of perfect love and communion with God and all the saints.

Mother Teresa, famous for her compassion for the poor and recently canonized, advised us all to serve the poor in our own families and to comfort those in our own life who suffer spiritually, emotionally, or physically.    She found Christ in “the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.”  Sometimes we might hesitate to look too closely because it can be quite distressing.  We’d rather accept the fake smile and the rote “I’m fine” than dig deeper.  St. Mother Teresa acknowledges, “It is easy to love the people far away.  It is not always easy to love those close to us.  Bring love into your home, for this is where our love for each other must start.” I am challenged by this often as a teacher and a mother.  However, I pray for the grace to “cast out into the deep” (Luke 5:4), encouraged and convicted by Christ’s words that “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:40).

We grow our capacity to love on earth.  People often complain about how mean it is that God would “send someone to Hell.”  In reality, individuals send themselves there.  God has made hell out of mercy that we might have the freedom to choose Him or reject Him, to choose Love or to reject Love.  We can see a glimpse of this in the differing experiences of people at the same event.  Sacrificing time to serve the needs of another will either bring you joy or pain depending on your disposition.  For example, with my first child, I had difficulty adjusting at first to the constant needs which thwarted at every moment whatever I wanted to do at the time.  At one point I felt like I could literally feel the fires of purgatory burning away my self-will as I stopped what I was doing to tend to his interrupting need.  The experience made me realize just how attached I actually was to my own desires and plans.  Thankfully, God’s grace and love for my children helped me to grow and detach.  I still struggle with impatience sometimes but I have a lot more peace now and enjoy my new priorities.  I have learned by experience that I was trading something less valuable for something much more valuable.  Rather than losing an opportunity I had been given the greatest opportunity:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” Matthew 16:24-27

Let us continue to renew our efforts to share our joys with others and to invite them to our feast. Let’s keep practicing the works of mercy and praying for God to open our eyes to the needs of those around us.  I like to ask Mary’s intercession for this particular request because she especially showed compassion and insight toward the needs of others during her life (consider the Wedding Feast at Cana). Comforting the sorrowful, counseling the doubtful, and feeding the hungry can be met in a simple family meal together.  Kids soak up stability and comfort around the kitchen counter and something as simple as dinner or making banana bread can provide peace for their souls.

We accept God or reject God here, in this life and You Only Live Once.  I’ll close with this story of St. Martin of Tours surprising encounter with the Lord and his example of the right choice:

Even in the military Martin attempted to live the life of a monk. Though he was entitled to a servant because he was an officer, he insisted on switching roles with his servant, cleaning the servant’s boots instead of the other way around! It was on this garrison duty at Amiens that the event took place that has been portrayed in art throughout the ages. On a bitterly cold winter day, the young tribune Martin rode through the gates, probably dressed in the regalia of his unit — gleaming, flexible armor, ridged helmet, and a beautiful white cloak whose upper section was lined with lambswool. As he approached the gates he saw a beggar, with clothes so ragged that he was practically naked. The beggar must have been shaking and blue from the cold but no one reached out to help him. Martin, overcome with compassion, took off his mantle. In one quick stroke he slashed the lovely mantle in two with his sword, handed half to the freezing man and wrapped the remainder on his own shoulders. Many in the crowd thought this was so ridiculous a sight that they laughed and jeered but some realized that they were seeing Christian goodness. That night Martin dreamed that he saw Jesus wearing the half mantle he had given the beggar. Jesus said to the angels and saints that surrounded him, “See! this is the mantle that Martin, yet a catechumen, gave me.” When he woke, it was the “yet a catechumen” that spurred Martin on and he went immediately to be baptized. He was eighteen years old.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=81)

Consider:

  • Why do the poor “distress” us? What do we worry will happen if we reach out?
  • Who are the poor at your doorstep? Children with many needs, a relative or colleague going through a difficult time, someone struggling with sorrow or mental illness, someone dealing with a chronic illness, a new employee or colleague who is overwhelmed and needing a little mentoring or a word of encouragement…
  • When serving others, what is most difficult for you to give up?
  • When have you experienced that “in giving you received”? Have you found that when you took a leap of faith and made a gift of self through sacrifice you actually found fulfillment and joy?
  • We all have different gifts to put at the service of the Lord. Consider and pray about what your gifts are and how you might use them more.  (Some ideas: encouraging, teaching, healing, serving, financial giving, leadership, administrating, prayer and fasting, offering up suffering, understanding, hospitality…)

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a list of all the people in your life and one need for each. Every day this week meet a need of at least one or two people on that list.
  • Read about the life of a saint each day. They provide concrete examples for us of love in action.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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How can God be both Justice and Mercy?

by Angela Lambert

justice-and-mercy

September 11th, 2016; 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 15:1-32 NAB

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Meditation Reflection:

Justice versus mercy.  How can God be both? And how can we imitate Him when we need to apply concretely a mystery that surpasses our understanding?

In this Gospel Christ illuminates something of this mystery.  First, we should remember that we live in a highly competitive culture.  Consequently, we feel justice – giving each person his or her due – is necessary to keep things “fair.”  Secondly, as St. Augustine pointed out in The City of God, if we are earthly-minded and focused on building the “city of man”, then we often find ourselves at war with one another as we vie for limited resources.

The resources and good in the “city of God” however, Augustine notes, are unlimited.  Moreover, rather than being reduced when given away they multiply, and rather than being limited to temporary gain, they last eternally.

Our human tendency to want justice applied to others but mercy applied to us, often relates more to our striving to build the city of man rather than the noble cause for justice itself.  Justice is important, and God is justice as well as mercy.  However, we have to be aware of our own prejudices and since we suffer the effects of original sin, we tend to rationalize our double-standard.

The truth is, when God weighs our own faults and violations of divine and natural law, none of us will be able to balance the scale and achieve a just state.  We know God cares about justice because for us to rightly spend eternity with Him, the scale had to be balanced and so He sent His only Son to suffer and die for our sake, to tip the scale for us.  By helping us reach a state of justice, He acted mercifully.

To even begin to understand something of this mystery, of the harmony between Justice and Mercy in God, Jesus uses comparisons we can relate to – a shepherd looking for a lost sheep and a woman searching for a coin.  In each case you or I may not have cared.  They care because they view the sheep and the coin as their belonging.  When lost, they were impoverished in some way and in finding it their possessions became complete.  We belong to God.  You or I may not care about a particular person but God does.  He views each human person as His own treasure, and to lose one results in a loss, and to regain that person creates completion.

To clarify and impress this on us further, Jesus follows with the Parable of the Prodigal Son (verses 11-32).  Whereas in our work life if an employee or colleague leaves it may be disappointing but that person can be replaced by a new hire and eventually life goes on.  We see this in every realm of society – politics, business, entertainment, sports – except one.  The family.  If a child rebels and leaves his or her family, there remains a hole and a lingering pain for as long as the child remains estranged.  The family cannot simply find a replacement and move on with life.  It will always feel like a loss and incomplete.

The relationship between justice and mercy therefore can only be understood in light of relationship.  In the parable of the prodigal son, the rebellious child left home and eventually experienced the reality of the choices he had made.  With the money gone, he finally received his due, and this provoked conversion.  When he returned home, repentant and interiorly changed, his father was ecstatic to incorporate him back into the family.  The older son, focused on the earthly resources, became bitter at the apparent injustice.  It wasn’t fair.  Had he viewed it from a spiritual perspective, he would have seen that he had become enrichened.  Rather than focusing on the fattened calf he felt he “lost” to the feast of his wayward brother, he ought to have focused on the brother he gained back.

The deeper we grow in love, the more we begin to understand God’s ways.  Rather than seeing him merely as a judge, we need to see that He is foremost a father.  He will do what it takes to keep his family together and to help His children flourish.  Fathers and mothers make countless material sacrifices for their children and oftentimes with joy.  From the outside others might rightly marvel at how this could be.  Those who have children however, know by experience the deeper sense of satisfaction and pleasure one gains from these acts.

When considering justice and mercy, Christ exhorts us to view it in light of being God’s possession, His children, and love.

Consider:

  • Consider the difference between being an employee or member in comparison to being someone’s child. As we mourn the loss of so many lives 15 years ago today, 9/11, we feel pain not because we lost so many skilled workers, but because we lost sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers.  We feel sorrow at tragedies around the world too, but there is a particular pain associated with losing “our own”.  Consider that God views every one of us in this way.  You are God’s own.  You are God’s child.
  • Consider how love moves one to mercy and the more loving persons are, the more merciful they become.
  • Consider how you felt when you received mercy or when you gave mercy.
  • Reflect on how justice and mercy relate with one another. Sometimes being just enables one to be merciful.
  • Spend 5 minutes in silent prayer, just gazing on God who is Justice and Mercy.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray each day for the conversion of someone who has left the faith. If possible, reach out to him or her through acts of kindness and mercy.
  • In light of the parable of the prodigal son, forgive someone who has returned to you apologetically.
  • If there is someone who has made serious changes (for the better) in his or her life, pray about giving them a second chance and incorporating them back into your life.
  • Practice one corporal work of mercy and one spiritual work of mercy each day this week. Works of Mercy
  • Pray Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy Prayer.

*Additional meditations on forgiveness and mercy: https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/04/09/love-and-mercy-in-superabundance/

https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/04/02/divine-mercy-can-you-believe-it/

https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/03/12/the-life-changing-power-of-grace-and-mercy/

https://taketimeforhim.com/2015/12/12/prepare-for-the-coming-of-christs-mercy-by-giving-mercy/

~ 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.

 

Following Christ At All Costs

by Angela Lambert
INDIA - OCTOBER 01:  Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India in October, 1979.  (Photo by Jean-Claude FRANCOLON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

INDIA – OCTOBER 01: Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India in October, 1979. (Photo by Jean-Claude FRANCOLON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

September 4th, 2016; 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 14:25-33 NAB

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

 Meditation Reflection:

How can Christ, whose new commandment to us was to “love one another as I have loved you” simultaneously ask that we hate our family members?  As we celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa, we can look to her example to illuminate this paradox. Jesus’ challenge that “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” proved a difficult task and one that required great love, detachment, and grace for Mother Teresa who left her home, her family, and even her beloved convent to serve the poorest of the poor on the streets in India.  Jesus rightly warns to count the cost before we set out on a project lest we find ourselves giving up midway.  Discipleship calls for a total gift of self, in response to the Lord who made the ultimate gift of self for us through His Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection.

In a perfect world, or at least in heaven, loves do not compete with one another and we aren’t painfully pulled in opposing directions.  In our current fallen state however, we come to crossroads where we must choose between two loves.  It’s one thing to forsake the love of a material good or a sinful habit, but the hardest love to forsake is that of someone with whom we have an intimate relationship who refuses to share us with Christ and gives us an ultimatum.

This ultimatum may not sound as direct as “it’s me or Christ!” but it will likely pit some aspect of following Christ against something the person wants of you.  Following Christ results in a life of sacrifice that’s counter-cultural.  Authentic Christians don’t blend in and that bothers people who don’t want to stir the waters. Living your faith, even quietly, can prick the conscience of another and result in lashing out to ease his or her own angst.  Similar to Jesus, Christians offer love unconditionally to others.  Unfortunately, the same is not always true on the other end and the painful choice between following Christ or making the person you care about happy must be made.

This choice takes as many forms as there are relationships.  For a teen it can be a couple breaking up because one chooses purity over promiscuity or being left out of social gatherings because of a refusal to drink.  For a young adult it can be a person choosing the religious life despite the discouragement of parents, or moving away from family and friends for a service they are called to by Christ. For parents it can mean getting the silent treatment from a child because you refuse to condone their wrong behavior.  For a spouse it can mean suffering the anger of the other sometimes even divorce because one refuses to compromise living out his or her faith to appease the other’s sin.  No one wants a rift in their family- whether between parents, children, or spouses.  At the same time not everything is in our control except our own decision to follow the Lord.   Navigating these situations can be confusing and spiritual direction should be sought to sort out how to authentically love in particular situations.

Mother Teresa desired to follow Christ and to give her whole life in love to Him.  First it meant leaving her family to join the Sisters of Loreto as a nun and serve in India as a teacher.  Next, she received her “call within a call” to go out into the streets and serve the poorest of the poor.  She was happy as a nun and asked Jesus if she could just serve Him more devoutly in the way she already was.  Each time however He repeated His request for her to satiate His thirst for souls by ministering to the poor and destitute.  He would ask her each time, “Wouldst thou refuse Me?”

Mother Teresa felt torn between two loves.  Her love for the other sisters, her students, and her life in the convent was certainly a noble love, but discipleship called her to follow Christ to a place that meant she would have to choose between the two.  Ultimately, Mother Teresa could not surrender her love for Jesus to anything else and so she gave up and gave in to the Lord.  As she followed Christ, Mother Teresa surrendered everything to Him – material goods, physical comforts, family, and even the convent.  She went into the most destitute streets with nothing but a sari and a passion for Jesus.

Mother Teresa did not want to have come so far only to turn back.  She had made a choice for Christ, to be a disciple, whatever may be.  Hopefully our discipleship will bring greater peace to our families and relationships and maybe our sacrifices will not be as large as Mother Teresa’s.  Only Christ knows the crosses we will have to carry but He asks that we be ready to face whatever may come with single minded devotion, lest we come so far only to turn back.

Contrary to cultural demands, Christians cannot compartmentalize their faith.  We are followers of Christ at church, at home, at work, when alone, or when with friends.  We have to be prepared that some people, even some we for whom we care deeply, may not tolerate our discipleship and choose to leave us.  In these instances, we can look to Christ for the grace and grit to carry our cross, a cross which He promises will end in a resurrection.

This Sunday, may we count the cost and, with the grace of Christ, decide to follow Him to the end.  The joy of Mother Teresa, and the light of love and mercy her life became, serves as a witness for us of the glorious destination of discipleship – a project worth completing!

Consider:

  • Are you a disciple of Christ?  If the answer is yes, what moves you to love Him and to follow Him? If the answer is no or not yet, what attracts you about Christ or piques your curiosity?
  • In what ways has discipleship caused you to live counter-culturally? Has it strained any of your relationships?
  • How has carrying your cross produced resurrections and blessings in your life? What have been some of the fruits of your discipleship?
  • What cross are you carrying right now? In what way does it resemble Jesus’ cross? How does it bring you closer to Him as you share in His experience?
  • It feels good to accomplish something hard that required grit and perseverance. Consider how it will feel to “finish the race” as St. Paul says, and to have followed Christ (with the help of His grace) to the end.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Learn more about Mother Teresa or read a collection of her writings or quotations.
  • If you feel tension between following Christ and appeasing someone you love, seek spiritual direction this week from your priest or a wise and holy person you know. Reach out in person, by phone, or email.
  • Pray an Act Of Consecration to Jesus each day this week.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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