Tough, Gentle Mercy

by Angela Lambert

 

littleacts-of-kindness

October 29th, 2016; 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 19:1-10

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Meditation Reflection:

As Jesus’ disciples, we too share in His mission to seek and save the lost.  During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has exhorted us to be more proactive in this mission – to intentionally practice mercy daily through concrete actions and to make efforts to see those in need of help around us.  People who are lost, by definition, don’t know their way back home.  Thus, we need to seek them out, to find them where they are drifting, and to gently walk the journey back with them.

How do we do this?  It depends on the relationship and the situation.  The one consistent in every attempt however, is prayer.  Since we follow Christ, we must begin by listening to Him and letting Him lead.

Each person and each situation require prudence and a tailored response.  I can propose some general ideas and lessons I’ve learned, but every lost or drifting soul must be cared for on a prayerful and individual basis.

Seeking the lost begins at home with the people God has entrusted to us.  It’s much easier to dote on our children than to discipline them and to complain or criticize our parents or spouse than to gently correct them.  Yet, those closest to us can drift away and get lost if sins get left unchecked.  Although people make their own choices, we must do what we can to seek them out when they begin to pull away from God or goodness.

For parents, this means doing the work of discipline.  For young children, it teaches them self-control, right from wrong, and starts them off on the right track with good habits.  For teens, it can be trickier.  Their struggles are heavier, more embarrassing at times, and better hidden.  Discipline has to not only reform their habits but also their minds and hearts.  How to reach a child’s heart is a daunting task to attempt and one prone to failure, nevertheless we have a Christian and parental duty to try the best we can out of love.  We must endeavor to be bold, suck it up, and lovingly try to help them get back on track just as our heavenly Father does for us.

“But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!”  Wisdom 11:26-12:2

When another adult in one’s family begins to stray, it requires just as much care and prudence.  It also requires greater understanding, compassion, and forgiveness on our part since we will likely be affected ourselves by their choices or we may struggle with feelings of disappointment or betrayal.  If we can be patient and prayerful however, knowing them so well can work in our favor to gently move them in a way that resonates with them personally.

Friends and acquaintances may be less open about their struggles but we can do small things to let them know we see they’re hurting and we are here to help.  Pray about whether to have a direct conversation or to indirectly point them through example, invitations, or suggestions.  Ask Mary to help you see their need and do what you can to meet it.  It may be material needs that can be met with physical gifts, emotional needs that can be met with a listening ear or a word of encouragement, loneliness which can be soothed through invitation to coffee or dinner, or spiritual need which might be aided by being brave enough to share your own faith openly with them or to pray with them.

little-acts-of-love-2

Consider:

  • When have you received merciful love? How did it change you?
  • How have the challenges you have faced enabled you to recognize the same struggle in others and better equipped to help?
  • Who do you find the most difficult to love and who do you find it easiest to care for?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for Christ to show you an opportunity to offer mercy to someone each day this week.Works of Mercy
  • Consider joining with others to help: volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center, lead a bible study, volunteer at a food shelf, organize meals for a neighbor or colleague who is sick…

 

~ 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.

 

 

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The Spiritual Merry-Go-Round

by Angela Lambert

merry-go-round

 October 23rd 2016; 30th Sunday in Ordinary Tie

Gospel Luke 18:9-14

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Meditation Reflection:

When we reach out to Christ in our crises, needing a savior, we experience the reality of His saving grace along with the reality of our own weakness.  Together, these produce humility in the soul, a recognition of our dependence on God and His graciousness.  Unfortunately, over time fallen human nature tends to forget the extent of God’s help and exaggerates its own abilities.  Likewise, together, these produce pride in the soul, a false conviction of our own independence.

In the Old Testament, we can find account after account of this cycle with the People of God.  It looks something like this:

  1. They love and obey God and things are going well.
  2. As things go well they begin to attribute it to themselves and grow lax in their fidelity to God.
  3. God warns them to turn back to Him and His help, otherwise on their own they will suffer defeat at the hands of an enemy.
  4. They ignore God’s warning, put their trust in themselves and/or false gods, and a foreign enemy conquers and enslaves them.
  5. They cry out to God in their helplessness and need, realize their mistake, and beg Him to help.
  6. God liberates and restores them.
  7. They love and obey God and things go well….and the cycle starts over.

Most of us can relate to this cycle in our own lives, whether one begins with stage #1, having grown up in the faith before falling away or at #2 trusting in oneself until hitting rock bottom.  Time has a funny way of dulling or obscuring our memories and unless we make a conscious effort to cultivate gratitude and humility we can easily forget our need.  Not only does this diminish our relationship with God but it can also obscure our judgment of others.  Confident in our own success we can dismiss the struggles of others currently working through a spiritual crisis.  In Jesus’ parable, the Pharisee could be described as at stage 2 and the tax collector at stage 5.  From the Pharisee’s vantage point, his forgetfulness of His own redemption led to callousness toward the tax collector’s need.

Pope Francis addressed contemporary examples of this attitude in his book “The Name of God is Mercy.”  He describes what happens when we begin to take grace for granted, noting:

This conduct comes when a person loses a sense of awe for salvation that has been granted to him.  When a person feels a little more secure, He begins to appropriate faculties which are not his own, but which are the Lord’s.  The awe seems to fade, and this is the basis for clericalism or for the conduct of people who feel pure.  What then prevails is a formal adherence to rules and to mental schemes.  When awe wears off, we think we can do everything alone, that we are the protagonists.

He even goes so far as to say he almost wishes the person to fall to produce the greater good of humility. He admits that “The degradation of awe’ is an expression that speaks to me.  At times, I have surprised myself by thinking that a few very rigid people would do well to slip a little, so that they could remember that they are sinners and thus meet Jesus.” (p. 97) Of course he does not wish someone to sin, however a reality check about the true state of our natural weakness and the need for grace many times only comes through the experience of failure.   Just as God allowed the Hebrews to stand on their own and fall in order that they might repent and return, Pope Francis acknowledges that by God allowing a person to stand on their own in virtue (which no one can do well or for long without grace) and fall He reveals a higher truth to them and deepens their conversion.

St. Paul, for instance, attributes his unanswered prayers for a suffering to be alleviated, to God’s efforts to protect Paul from falling to an even greater suffering of pride and self-aggrandizement from the extraordinary graces God had given to him.  God desires us to grow in holiness and reach perfection; surprisingly, that can sometimes mean allowing us to struggle a little so we remain on the right trajectory.

“Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong.“ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

St. Augustine offers insights as well in his letter to Proba.  Commenting on St. Paul’s words in the above passage, Augustine encourages us that during times of suffering we may pray for God to remove the difficulty but not to despair if God chooses an alternative instead.  The alternative resolution may be greater provisions of His grace that you may endure the trial, rather than its removal so you can merely return to the illusion of self-sufficiency.

In the kind of affliction, then, which can bring either good or ill, we do not know what it is right to pray for; yet, because it is difficult, troublesome and against the grain for us, weak as we are, we do what every human would do, we pray that it may be taken away from us. We owe, however, at least this much in our duty to God: if he does not take it away, we must not imagine that we are being forgotten by him but because of our loving endurance of evil, must await greater blessings in its place. In this way, power shines forth more perfectly in weakness. These words are written to prevent us from having too great an opinion of ourselves if our prayer is granted, when we are impatient in asking for something that it would be better not to receive; and to prevent us from being dejected, and distrustful of God’s mercy toward us, if our prayer is not granted, when we ask for something that would bring us greater affliction, or completely ruin us through the corrupting influence of prosperity.”

God knows our nature.  He knows our timeless struggle of cycling through humility and pride, gratitude and forgetfulness. Daily prayer and surrender to divine providence provide strong medicine to break the destructive cycle in our own spiritual lives.  Whenever we feel quick to judge or a little too self-sufficient, let us remember back to the times we cried out to our savior and received His mercy and in turn cultivate compassion and empathy for others crying out to our savior from their own needs.  As my mother frequently recites, “But for the grace of God, there go I…”

Consider:

  • When have you cried out to God to save you?  When has God’s grace liberated you from the snares of a sin or vice?
  • In what ways do you rely on God every day? How does His grace continue to transform you and bless you?
  • Is there someone you feel tempted to judge or feel calloused toward rather than compassionate? What is it that bugs you about them?  Is there a particular sin you are more harsh about than others?
  • Can you recognize the above seven stage spiritual cycle in your own life? Was there a point where God helped break the cycle or do you feel you still keep circling?  Which number might describe your current situation?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Show compassion toward someone struggling with a sin or vice.  Reach out in a concrete way this week to encourage or strengthen them.
  • Pray the Litany of Humility each day this week.https://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayers/humility.htm
  • Make a gratitude list of all the things you only have as a result of God’s 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.

 

 

Why Pray If God Already Knows?

by Angela Lambert

father

October 16th, 2016; 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Meditation Reflection:

If God is all-good, all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, why should we pray?  Wouldn’t it be better to only offer prayers of thanksgiving or praise?  If we pray for someone or for something, are we not assuming we can change God’s mind and that to change His mind means there’s something lacking in His divine providence?

Questions such as these arise in many human hearts.  Jesus addresses it in this passage and points us toward some reasons we ought to pray, and more boldly, to pray for specific intentions. The great theologian Thomas Aquinas addressed these questions as well in the Summa Theologica (II.II.Q.83) and offers some clear questions and answers for us to contemplate.

In Article 2, “Whether it is becoming to pray,” he addresses this objection:

Objection 1:  It would seem that it is unbecoming to pray. Prayer seems to be necessary in order that we may make our needs known to the person to whom we pray. But according to Matthew 6:32, “Your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.” Therefore it is not becoming to pray to God.”

This seems like a valid argument and even cites Scripture.  If God knows what I need anyway, and certainly He knows it better than me, why should I pray at all?  I myself have felt a little silly at times praying for intentions as I imagined God saying, “I know this already, move on.”

Yet, Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11), to call out to God day and night (Luke 18:7), that whatever we ask in prayer shall be given to us (MT 18:19, MT 21:22, MK 11:24JN 14:13, JN 15:7 and many more).  Moreover, St. Paul says to pray without ceasing (1 Timothy 5:17).  So why does God want us to pray for things if He already knows our needs?

Aquinas’ response provides insight for us:

Reply to Objection 1. We need to pray to God, not in order to make known to Him our needs or desires but that we ourselves may be reminded of the necessity of having recourse to God’s help in these matters.”

First, we pray because we need to see the connection between our needs and God’s provisions.  If we don’t pray, we often take God’s gifts for granted or assume they resulted merely from chance, good luck, or our own efforts.  Through prayer, especially through persevering prayer, our disposition changes and we realize our total reliance on God’s graciousness.

Secondly, because of the transformative effect petitioning God can have on our faith and our relationship with God, sometimes God wills that something happens only if we pray for it.  Aquinas puts it this way: “Divine providence disposes not only what effects shall take place, but also from what causes and in what order these effects shall proceed. (II.II.Q.83A.2)”

In other words, God’s divine providence doesn’t change because of our prayers since God is all good and His desire is always perfect.  However, Aquinas points out that God’s divine providence desires not only certain good effects, but the prior causes of those effects as well.  For instance, God’s intention to provide for you might also include the source of that provision – either a particular job, an act of generosity by another, etc.  In consequence, we ought to pray for things because there are some things that God wills to give, but through the causation of our prayers.  Thus, He may provide a particular thing only if you pray for it because He wills that it be caused by your prayers.

If we ought to pray, then for what should we pray and for what shouldn’t we pray?  Should we pray for spiritual gifts only or can we pray for temporal things?

For example, early in my faith journey I was surprised at how God answered prayers and I noticed something.  I found that He kindly accepted my meager attempts and although I usually prayed for the solution to my problem, God saw the problem itself and provided a solution much more creatively and profoundly than I could have imagined.  As a result, I try to refine my prayers to petitions of presenting problems to the Lord and trusting in Him to provide the resolution.  Thus, my faith deepens as I see Him at work rather than prayers that feel like manipulation by demanding specific logistics.

 Aquinas offers insights into a couple of common questions in this regard that are helpful.  In Article 5, he presents this objection:

Now according to Romans 8:26, “we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Therefore we ought not to ask for anything definite when we pray.”  The objector in this case cites Scripture correctly but draws the wrong conclusion.  It’s true that our prayers are often misguided, like my earlier example.  Nevertheless, as Aquinas points out, Scripture also says, that the Holy Spirit will enable us to pray as we ought.  He writes, “Although man cannot by himself know what he ought to pray for, “the Spirit,” as stated in the same passage, “helpeth our infirmity,” since by inspiring us with holy desires, He makes us ask for what is right. Hence our Lord said (John 4:24) that true adorers “must adore . . . in spirit and in truth.”

God is a patient and kind guide.  He accepts the true prayers of our hearts no matter how bungled the words we use to express them.  In addition, the more we invite the Holy Spirit to direct our prayer, the deeper and more authentic our prayers become.

In Article 6, Aquinas tackles the even harder question of whether we ought to pray for temporal things, i.e. the needs of our earthly well-being. He makes an insightful distinction between prayers for our needs verses disordered wants, “order” being the key word.  When it comes to praying for specific things we ought to petition God, but to have them appropriately prioritized.  For example, of highest importance would be those needs relevant to the salvation our souls, the souls of those we love, and the advancement of God’s kingdom.  Next in order would be our daily needs – food, clothing, shelter, friendship, etc.  Last would be our wants (“If you feel like treating me Lord….would be awesome!”)

Prayer is not a letter to Santa.  It’s not a childish wish list.  Prayer is relational.  We converse with God and deepen our relationship as our loving Father listens to our needs and provides for them.  We converse with the saints and with each other as we unite in prayer before the Lord for a petition.  Thus we see the beauty of the Christian family and experience a deepening of unity with the people of God as we rely on each other’s prayers as well as our own.  God wills our good, and He also wills at times for that good to come through prayer.  As a mother I often anticipate my children’s needs but I appreciate when they humbly ask and acknowledge the connection between their need and my generosity.  God loves us dearly and provides so many things for which we never even asked or dreamed.  Yet, He desires to partner with us and to bring about good through our cooperating efforts both in action and also in prayer and sacrifice.

Consider:

  • Consider how connected we feel to those who we rely on for help and those whom we help.
  • Have you ever tried to struggle with something on your own for a long time before finally asking God for help? Were you surprised at how quickly He helped you once you asked?
  • Pray to the Lord for the needs of your soul. What sins do you need His grace to overcome?  What virtues do you desire to grow?  What desires would you like the Lord to give you?
  • Pray to the Lord for the needs of the souls of those you love. With what are they struggling?  Where do they need conversion?  What holy desires do they need from the Holy Spirit?
  • Pray for the needs of the souls of you enemies. Pray for conversion in their hearts and gifts of grace.  Pray for blessings in their lives.
  • Pray for your needs – material, physical, emotional, relational.
  • Pray for your wants from a spirit of joy in God’s generosity. Avoid a demanding or complaining attitude and accept it may not be God’s will. On the other hand, remember God’s fatherly love and His desire for your “joy to be full.”

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a prayer intention list in your prayer journal. Write the date or make a check mark next to the ones He answers.  (remember some might be answered soon others may require time and perseverance)
  • Pray a prayer of surrender each day to God’s divine providence and openness to what surprises He may send you.

 

~ 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.

 

Hope in Christ in Times of Darkness

by Angela Lambert

light-in-dark

October 9th, 2016 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:11-19 NAB

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Meditation Reflection:

On His way to Jerusalem, where He would be rejected and killed for our sins, Jesus encountered ten lepers.  Since leprosy is highly contagious those who suffered with its physical harms additionally suffered from social isolation and rejection as well, banished to stay separate from healthy people.  When the lepers saw Jesus they called out because they could not approach in their condition.  Jesus’ instructions to show themselves to the priests required them to make an act of faith and hope.  Faith believes God’s words and hope acts upon those promises before necessarily seeing them.   At that time, if someone believed they had been healed from leprosy, they had to show themselves to the priests for examination before being cleared to reenter the community.  The lepers did not question Jesus’ command but did as He instructed before they had been healed.  They acted with hope based on belief in Jesus and His words.  As they walked in hope, they were cured.

The virtues of faith and hope direct one toward the highest of all virtues – charity.  Charity is the love of God above all things and love of neighbor out of love for God.  Only one leper demonstrated this higher virtue.  Jesus, who knows the hearts of all men, indicated that the man who returned had a deeper and more fruitful faith than the other nine.  Why?  He returned to Jesus to say thank you.

Consider how many of us quickly forget God’s miraculous work in our lives shortly after the crisis is over. We fall back into our regular routines and grow complacent or even complain about mundane things. Even worse, when the next crisis upsets our lives, we sometimes forget God’s power and fall to discouragement and negativity.  How can we avoid this common mistake?

A simple thank you and a disposition of gratitude express, as well as develop, the essential virtues of the spiritual life. Every day, and many times throughout the day, we have to choose our attitude.  We regularly experience the temptation to succumb to negativity, skepticism, disgust, and even despair.  Our present culture, especially during the current election cycle, presents seemingly constant negative and depressing messages.  From mainstream news to social media to conversations at work, the temptation to view the state of our nation in an overly negative light and give up in despair is constant.  However, with faith in Christ’s promise and hope in His transformative love, we can work through this crisis with the aid of the Holy Spirit and supernatural grace.

If everything depended on us alone, then discouragement and despair would be a sensible response. Take for example the Gospel passage.  The lepers would have considered their future to consist merely of painful physical deterioration and utter loneliness. Their lives took a completely new trajectory when they encountered Christ.  This surprising, unexpected event, liberated them their illness and gave them new hope for their future.

Propping up hope that man can save himself, then deepening discouragement at the realization that we can’t, are two common ways the devil tries to lead us away from the Lord.  We can benefit from doing a daily attitude check and remembering that when we encounter Christ, surprising, unexpected things can happen and change our lives and our world.

A favorite author of mine and Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, wrote an essay entitled “The Six Ages of the Church” which gives me perspective for our current situation as a Church and as a nation.   In this essay he proposed that throughout the course of its 2000 year history, the Church has (and continues) to experience a cycle of three stages: crisis, response, and flourishing. With each challenge the Church experiences setbacks and loss.  In response, new apostolates arise and face the challenge resulting in a time of flourishing and achievement.  The next crisis sets the Church back again but new responses emerge again as well, and so on and so forth.

Viewing history from this perch inspires hope as we consider every age poses its challenges and Christians have felt the same confusion, disillusionment, and fear that we do.  Yet, in every age the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of God’s people and inspired them with new ways to meet those challenges, adapt, and overcome.

light-2

This cycle applies to our individual lives as well.  We will encounter challenges that leave us feeling confused and helpless.  Nevertheless, if we call out to Jesus and walk forward in faith and hope, He will transform our lives and we will indeed flourish.  During times of peace, the challenge is to remain grateful and to return to the Lord, remembering that He is the source of our health.  We are always dependent on Him.  During times of crisis, we need to remember God’s power to transform, possibly even through us.  Thanksgiving, counting our blessings, and confidently surrendering to the Lord should be our daily response.  No matter what our crisis – individually, locally, or nationally – there are always things for which to be grateful and always hope for renewal.  As St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5: 18 In all circumstances, give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Consider:

  • Reflect back on times that God helped you through a difficulty.  Consider the feelings you experienced beforehand and the joy afterward.
  • Consider how your faith, hope, and charity have grown over the years. How have your encounters with Christ in your daily life deepened your convictions?
  • When do you feel discouraged, pessimistic, and negative? What areas of your life are particularly vulnerable to this attitude?  How might you change your perspective?  What might you be overlooking or taking for granted in the situation?  How might you make a positive difference in it?
  • If you have children, consider what kind of formation they will need to be Christian leaders in our present culture. What virtues could you help them develop?  What persons or saints could you point them to for inspiration?  How might you nurture and develop their faith and their conscience?  How can you teach by example in your own life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a gratitude list. Each day reflect and thank God for three things from that day.
  • Do one thing this week to make a positive contribution or change where you are usually negative.
    • (examples: bring a treat for everyone to a meeting you would rather avoid and choose to smile; pray for our leaders each day this week; tell someone thank you each day for something; if you don’t like the music at church, volunteer your musical talents; if you don’t like what your spouse cooks for dinner, cook something yourself for everyone; if you keep having negative encounters with your child, proactively plan an activity or time together that will be positive; etc.)
  • Reduce discouraging messages this week (either via media or negative friends), and increase encouraging messages (read Scripture, listen to uplifting music or inspiring biographies).

*note of thanks to reader Carl Cadwallader for the topic suggestion of hope in Christ in times of darkness.

light-shine

~ 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.

 

Toughening Up

by Angela Lambert
saved from ministrymatters.com

saved from ministrymatters.com

October 2nd, 2016; 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:5-10 NAB

 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?  Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

 Meditation Reflection:

We live in a culture rife with an entitlement attitude.  Generation Yers get the worst rap for this and to be fair university studies have provided proof of its epidemic.  Generation Z is too young to tell for certain but from my own anecdotal experience it doesn’t appear likely to be much different.  (I myself am on the very beginning edge of Gen Y, although I was somewhat sheltered from an entitlement perspective thanks to my mother’s tireless efforts to curb my many attempts at this attitude).

Merriam-Webster defines this attitude as: “the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).”  A NY Post article from May 10, 2010 cited a University of New Hampshire study which concluded that: “Gen Yers are characterized by a ‘very inflated sense of self’ that leads to ‘unrealistic expectations’ and, ultimately, ‘chronic disappointment.’” (http://nypost.com).  Granted, not every Gen Yer suffers from an inflated sense of self, it does seem to be a cultural trend and it impacts our relationships and sense of satisfaction at work, in our families, and in our faith.

Because of the effects of Original Sin, we all tend toward a self-centered narcissism and will continue to spiral down if our trajectory isn’t changed by grace, parenting, or other formative agents.  Jesus’ interaction with the apostles in this passage reminds me of interactions I’ve had with my own children.  When asked to do the dishes, clean a bathroom, or fold laundry I am met with attitudes of “why me?”  On other occasions a child of mine actually notices things that need to be done around the house.  Rather than simply pitching in and taking care of the problem, they see it as a job opportunity for which they should be rewarded. The conversation looks something like this –

Child:  “Mom, what will you give me if I unload the dishes?”

Me.:  “Clean dishes on which to eat.”

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I clean the cat’s litter box?”

Me:  “I’ll let you keep having the cat as a pet.”

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I help with the laundry?”

Me: “Clean clothes.”

Child: “Ackh.  Mooooom.  Forget it.”

5 mintues later:

Child: “I’m bored.”
Me: “Then do the dishes.”
Child: “That’s boring too.  What can I do that’s fun?”

Me: “I’m not your cruise ship captain.  Do the dishes and maybe boredom won’t seem like such a bad thing.”

If only we could say our conversations with God didn’t look remarkably similar.  How often do we take an entitlement attitude with the Lord?  It looks something like “Look Lord, I went to Mass on Sunday! What do I get?”  Or, “I put a few dollars in the collection plate, what will you give me?”

The entitlement attitude affects our expectations for the work to reward ratio as well and may be somewhat analogous to the passage for today’s Gospel.  The same NY Post article cited another study which summarized the expectations of entitled employees:

According to another study, which will be published in the Journal of Management in September…when it comes to work, the two things Gen Yers care most about are a) high salaries, and b) lots of leisure time off the job. ‘They want everything,’ says Campbell. ‘They want the time off. They want the big bucks.’ …

To reach their conclusions, Campbell and co-author Jean Twenge — a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of “Generation Me,” a book examining discontent among members of Gen Y — worked over the data from an ongoing survey of high school students conducted annually since 1975 by the University of Michigan. Among their findings was that while both Gen Y and Gen X want sizable salaries, Gen X workers show greater awareness that a hefty paycheck comes with a hefty workload.

As Christians, we ought to evaluate our own expectations of working for the Lord.  We can forget that it’s a privilege to work as a laborer for the Lord in bringing in His harvest and that it’s a blessing to have a job.  When we feel like complaining, “What do I get for “carrying this cross?”, we can remember that we get to carry a cross.  We get to work.  We get to be near to Christ in the most intimate and meritorious moment of His work of salvation. We even get to help.  We also gain numerous other rewards from carrying our cross and laboring with the Lord, taking His yoke upon our shoulders.  Growing up, whenever I would feel sorry for myself or want pity, my mom would respond with a singular word that I detested: “Tough”.  Sometimes she would even lengthen her response a little to: “Toughen up”.  I loathed these words and swore I would never be so unfeeling toward my own children. Of course, you can guess, there came one fateful day when those same words came issuing from my own mouth in response to my own child’s self-pity moment.  I realize now that my mom’s approach helped inoculate me from an entitlement attitude and in fact, made me tougher.  In one word she exposed my self-pity for being an “unrealistic expectation” and reset my expectations to something more along the lines of reality.  Crosses have a similar effect.  Sometimes we whine to God and it feels like He is coldly ignoring our need and simply retorting “tough.”  However, sometimes those very crosses strengthen us and enable us to increase in faith as well as hope and love.

If we want the Lord to increase our faith we need not look much further than prayer, sacraments, fellowship, and picking up our cross daily and following Him.  Yet, we often expect huge returns for minimal effort.  Christ reminds us today that we are blessed to labor in His kingdom.  We are blessed to be near Him in the cross.  The faith and satisfaction we will gain from hard earned sweat and blood in the field will give a much more satisfying feeling than the superficial reward of a participation trophy.

God provides the supernatural strength we need to follow Him, we just have to adjust our expectations and persevere when things get tough.  St. Paul reminds us in second letter to Timothy, that God enables us to toughen up through His grace that we might be courageous and noble:

“Beloved: I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control… bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” 2Timothy 1:6-8

Consider:

  • What kind of attitude do you have toward God? How has it grown and matured over the years?
  • Reflect on the gift of working side by side with Christ as He brings in the harvest. Jesus says, “the harvest is ready but the laborers are few.”  Have you had the chance to be a part of someone’s spiritual journey?  How did it feel to see the seeds of faith grow into noble discipleship?
  • In what way could you adjust your expectations of discipleship? Do you suffer from an impulsiveness that needs instant gratification or are you able to delay gratification?
  • My mother’s discipline, though apparently counter-cultural at the time, inoculated me from suffering the poison of entitlement mentality (as much as I tried to get her to cave into the idea!). Who has been courageous enough in your life to lovingly adjust your perspective even if you fought them on it?
  • When have you felt deep satisfaction in work itself rather than the reward at the end? How does this relate to work as a disciple?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray and reflect on the prayer of St. Francis this week.
  • Call or write a thank you to someone who has saved you or healed you from an entitlement attitude.
  •  If you have children, grandchildren, or work with children, reflect each day on your interactions with them and consider if there is an analogy to your own interactions with the Lord.

Related past posts:

https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/09/03/following-christ-at-all-costs/

https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/08/13/the-the-fork-in-the-road-for-every-christian/

https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/07/30/becoming-rich-investment-strategies-from-christ/

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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