Finding True Love

by Angela Lambert

May 21st, 2017; 6th Sunday Easter

Gospel of John 14:15-21

Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Meditation Reflection:

Every human person yearns for love, intimacy, and understanding.  We may not need to be loved or understood by everyone, but we desire that connection with at least one person and preferably a whole community.  Without it, we suffer an oppressive loneliness leading to depression, anxiety, and confusion.

Given the rapid advances in communication, it would seem we should feel more connected than ever and therefore happier than ever.  Yet, consider the high rate of depression and suicide in our culture, despite the unprecedented wealth and physical well-being compared to any other time in history.  So, if we are relatively wealthy, healthy, and connected, why aren’t we happy?

Jesus reveals the answer in today’s Gospel passage.  The world offers superficial connection, defining love as self-gratification rather than self-gift. Self-centered love uses others to make oneself feel good or to advance one toward a personal goal.  It might demonstrate a modicum of virtue, but only insofar as it provides personal reward.  Intimate married love has been replaced with casual sex and pornography.  Intimate family love through the gift of children has been replaced with pets (not that pets are bad, just that they are not kids).  Intimacy of friendship or shared work carry some comradery, but disillusionment ensues when they are quickly exchanged for a personal advancement.  All of these experiences leave people feeling used and alone, rather than loved.

Pope Francis sheds light on our pain by identifying the source of our wounds.  He connects our pain with our disconnect from Truth and the experience of mercy.  In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, he writes,

“…humanity is wounded, deeply wounded.  Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them.  And it’s not just a question of social ills or people wounded by poverty, social exclusion, or one of the many slaveries of the third millennium.  Relativism wounds people too:  all things seem equal, all things appear the same…  Pius XII, more than half a century ago, said that the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin.  Today we add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven.  We lack the actual concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our era is this, too:  we don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption; for a hand to raise you up; for an embrace to save you, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love; to put you back on your feet.  We need mercy.”

Pope Francis calls relativism a wound because it disables our ability to determine right from wrong and truth from error.  Christ forbids us from judging other people because only He knows what is in their hearts.  However, we must be able to make moral judgements about actions and choices.  It’s just as important to know the dangers of sin to the spiritual life, as it is to know the dangers of gravity when leaping from high places.   I tell my boys all the time, especially in the summer when they are careening down the hill on their bikes or scooters, “Force = Mass times Acceleration –  think about how fast you are going, because you could get hurt badly!”  The same truth becomes even more important as they get older.  Now that my oldest has his driving permit and is nearing his license, I try to curb the teenage boy’s “need for speed” with the same physics lesson.  I’m not being judgmental, I’m being loving by teaching him the truth.  The same applies to the spiritual life.  Sin wounds, hurts, and can even kill.  The Truth of Christ is a saving gift.

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches that Truth, Goodness, and Love are inseparable.  Without truth and without virtue, we will miss out on love.  Jesus said that He is the Truth (Jn 14:6), and those who love Him follow His commands.  God is a relationship of three distinct Persons in one divine nature.  The three Persons of the Trinity share a unity that exceeds our understanding, but Jesus unveiled a glimpse of its experience.  He speaks on numerous occasions of the unity of He and the Father. That unity comes from a relationship of love and obedience through an eternal self-gift.  The Holy Spirit is described as the Love between the Father and the Son. For us to share in the intimate relationship of the Trinity, we must share in God’s love through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When we place our faith in Christ, He sends the Holy Spirit that we may live by His Truth, following His commands, and thereby grow in intimate love.  Jesus told the apostles,

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Christians must not only love, but love like Christ – sacrificial, unconditional, and merciful.  Merciful love means speaking the Truth instead of enabling someone in their self-deception or rationalization.  It means never helping someone sin, but always helping them when they try to leave their sin.

To love in this way, we need supernatural grace which flows from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  St. Cyril of Alexandria, a bishop and Doctor of the Church, describes the Spirit’s transformative power in a beautiful way in a commentary he wrote on the Gospel of John:

 “After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word. We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we would begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. This was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit…

Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, Abba, Father, make it easy for us to grow in holiness and, through our possession of the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us invincibly against the wiles of the devil and the assaults of men.

 It can easily be shown from examples both in the Old Testament and the New that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell; he so transforms them that they begin to live a completely new kind of life…

Does this not show that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell and alters the whole pattern of their lives? With the Spirit within them it is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become men of great courage.”

The Holy Spirit infuses us with Divine Love which bears fruit in our lives.  This love is so exceptional, that Jesus tells His disciples it will be evident to the world that they are His followers.  The fruit of worldly love is loneliness, anxiety, and depression.  The fruit of Christian love is intimacy with God and His followers, peace, and joy.  Worldly wisdom wounds, but Christian wisdom heals.  The great paradox of happiness, which Pope St. John Paul II re-iterated time and again, is that self-fulfillment can only be found in self-gift.  Christians experience the intimacy of friendship in their shared vision of the Truth, the intimacy of true love in living their vocational call to sacramental married love, Holy Orders, vows of religious life, or the single vocation, and above all – the deepest, most intimate, abiding love of our Trinitarian God dwelling in our soul as His very own Temple.    Happiness is loving and being loved, Truly.

Consider:

  •  Consider the relationship between Truth and Love.  Why is honesty necessary for relationship?  How does honesty deepen intimacy?
  • Have you ever had to make a decision that required you to choose between worldly wisdom and Christian wisdom?  Which did you follow and why?  What were the results?
  • Consider the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us.  Have you experienced spiritual healing, transformation, or love through the Holy Spirit?  Have you witnessed it at work in another person?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Grow in your relationship with Christ who is the Truth, by studying Scripture or studying the faith.  Read a spiritual book, join a bible study, listen to Christian talk radio or podcasts, or visit with someone advanced in the faith who can teach you.
  • Invite the Holy Spirit to bear more fruits of love within you by connecting with Him in prayer and/or the sacraments.  Add just 5-10 minutes of prayer to your day (or if possible, I highly recommend adding a daily Mass), and note the change in your reactions to others and to situations, or to the level of peace you feel amidst whatever is happening around you.

Related Posts:

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* 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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Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled…Peace and Surrender in Christ

by Angela Lambert

May 14th, 2017; 5th Sunday of Easter

 Gospel of John 14:1-12

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.” Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Meditation Reflection:

Do not let my heart be troubled? Jesus knows what it’s like to work, to have family, to experience crises.  He should know the stress we encounter.  How can He order such a thing?

Then I remember, I say the same thing to my loved ones.  I remind them that everything will be okay.  We can get through anything together and that I am here for them.  Jesus assures us that He is near and that He cares.  When we cry out to God, “where are you?!”, “how can you let this happen?!”, “do you see or care?!”.  He answers, yes.  Jesus tells us, that He and the Father are one. If we wrestle with whether God cares about our struggles, we need look no further than Jesus.  Christ witnesses the Father’s love.  A love that isn’t remote or detached.  Rather, an immanent, incarnate, self-sacrificing, and eternal love.

When Christ says, “everything will be okay,” we can trust Him.  Many of the apostles doubted as Jesus hung on the Cross and died.  His mission appeared extinguished and their hopes dashed.  They reeled in confusion and fear.  We too can experience times like this.  When God allows suffering without revealing His reason, our faith gets tested – we either succumb to the confusion and fear like most of the apostles, or we remain with Him at the Cross like Mary and John.  Mary and John remained because they loved Jesus unconditionally.  They trusted Him when all visible signs were removed.  The more we draw near to Christ and develop our relationship with Him, the stronger our trust will be in times of darkness.  The saints experienced unshakable peace because they cooperated with grace and reached a state of total surrender to the Lord.

St. Teresa of Avila, declared a doctor of the Church, composed this beautiful prayer which describes this union:

Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices. — St. Teresa of Avila

In His Father’s house there are many rooms, and one especially prepared for you by Christ.  Trust in His love, Trust His Wisdom, Trust His Goodness…and let nothing trouble your hearts, that His Peace may be with you always.

Consider:

  • When have you experienced the peace of Christ?  After Mass, in praying with Scripture, in nature, through other Christians?
  • Consider the fears and anxieties you carry.  Lay them before the Lord in prayer and surrender them.  Consider the power of Christ to provide, the love of Christ which motivates Him, and the faithfulness of Christ who remains near us in every trial.
  • In what areas of your life do you trust God completely?  In what areas do you rely on yourself or conventional wisdom rather than Him?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose your biggest worry.  Begin and end each day surrendering it to God in prayer.
  • Pray the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila each day this week.
  • We make an act of trust in God when we tithe.  If you do not tithe already, begin this week.  If you tithe already but feel called to tithe more (10% is the commonly suggested amount), prayerfully make a financial act of trust in the Lord.
  • Pray Psalm 23 each day this week.
Why do you trust Jesus Christ?  Post in the comments section below!

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~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* 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.

 

We All Need a Loving Gate-Keeper and Filter…Christ the Good Shepherd

by Angela Lambert

May 7th, 2017 4th Sunday of Easter

 

Gospel of John 10:1-19

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them. So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Meditation Reflection:

Quite often as a mom, I feel like a gate-keeper.  Before my kids go somewhere I need to know with whom, who the parents are, and approve.  Technology plagues me even more, with parent controls, ratings evaluations, and restrictions. The ever-multiplying accounts, passwords, devices, programs, and updates can feel like an interminable game of whack-a-mole.  Christmas and birthdays used to be fun, now they feel like a migraine-inducing tidal wave of gate-keeping duties, with impatient children complaining as I set the perimeter that I am being too slow, and of course, too controlling.  I’ve at least developed a one-line response to save my overtaxed brain from responding to the myriad of “logical” arguments and pleas of trust from my young teens. “It’s as simple as this,” I say, “You will not have unfiltered access to the internet.”  The Church could consider adding that as the 11th Commandment for the modern era.

Let’s face it, even adults, as children of God, need filters.   We too can be easily allured by promises of pleasure, freedom, status, or adventure from false advertisers; and I don’t just mean commercially.    Despite having everything, Adam and Eve fell prey to Satan’s proposition that God’s single rule (not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) was controlling, and denying them fun out of selfish motivations.  Satan continues to deceive us through similar false promises.

Just as predators try to find ways to get around parents to manipulate children, spiritual “thieves and robbers” try to get around Christ to attack us, God’s children.  First, they try to separate us from His influence by undermining our trust in Him, His Word, or His Church.  Common attempts sound something like: “Christ’s teachings hold you back. If you want to get ahead in life you have to be willing to get your hands dirty”, or “It’s not that you are going against Christ’s teachings, you are just modernizing them.”  In regards to those difficult passages in Scripture, the ones that really strike at your conscience, you will be urged to simply pass over them or interpret them in a more relaxed way – “Forgive others, yes, but forgive my ex?, I don’t think He meant that…”  Jesus stresses that we must die to ourselves in this life and deny ourselves.  Instead we rationalize that He only meant that symbolically, or at least in a modest way – like going on a diet or not aiming too high. Finally, the Church, Christ’s living voice of authority, is the clearest voice of our Shepherd and therefore the harshest recipient of worldly criticism.

We are children of God, in need of a loving gate-keeper.  Christ’s commands, given through Scripture and the Church, can seem restrictive and controlling if we have an adolescent view.  However, as we develop in spiritual maturity, we begin to appreciate the wisdom and the love underlying them.  When I’m tempted to brush off a Church teaching or a little pull at my conscience, I stop and recall that Christ loves me more than I love myself, and He is far wiser than me.  Who am I going to trust?  Any other false shepherd – whether secular culture, another person, or my own impulses – eventually drains rather than fills and proves a destructive, rather than uplifting force.

Christ, our Good Shepherd, leads to green pasture. He refreshes our souls and leads us beside peaceful waters (Psalm 23).  Jesus lamented to St. Faustina that distrust on the part of souls causes Him the greatest pain.  As a mom of teens, I know what He means.   I want my kids to trust me too, and so I repeat the prayer He gave to St. Faustina, “Jesus I trust in You.”

Consider:

  •  When have you been steered wrong – by others, by cultural norms, or by your own impulses?  What was the reason?  What did you learn?
  • When have you been steered right by Christ?  How has His wisdom brought deeper joy and fullness of life, even amidst suffering, than these other voices?
  • Have you ever had to be the gate-keeper for loved ones?  Consider the love it takes to be strong and the need for them to trust you.
  • How can you trust Christ more and listen to His voice more often?  Could you attend Church more regularly?  Could you invest more time into Christian friendships?  Do you make time to study your Bible, read quality devotionals, or learn more about your faith?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Choose one way to listen more to the voice of Christ this week.
    • Ideas:  Add 10 minutes to your prayer time, pray the rosary in the car, listen to Christian radio, listen to Christian podcasts, read the daily Scriptures (these can be found at usccb.org), post inspirational Scripture quotes in places you will see them often, meet with a Christian friend.
  • Consider adding a filter, rating restrictions, or accountability software to your personal technology.

Related posts:

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* 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.