Risk and Reward

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

miracle of loaves and fish

[reposted and updated from July 26, 2015]

July 28th, 2018; 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 6:1-15 NAB

“Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.”

Meditation Reflection:

A friend of mine has a gift for including others and making them feel a part of things. In observing him these past few years I realized that he does this by asking whoever is around for help with whatever project or task he is doing. If he is working in the garage or the yard and you happen by, be assured that a tool will be handed to you or a job assigned. His talent is most evident in the way he even includes his kids and their friends. The result is not the feeling of slave labor however, but rather the experience of being important, included, and an integrated part of what’s going on. It forms bonds and knits everyone together. The truth is, he doesn’t always need help, but he does enjoy people and being together.

Christ’s miracle in this passage reveals what I find to be one of the most remarkable mysteries of our faith: that God includes us in His work of salvation. It wouldn’t surprise me that Christ did something amazing. It does surprise me when He does something amazing with a small contribution from me.

When we look at the needs of the world, we can be overwhelmed like Philip. Like Andrew, we may consider what small resources are available to us but in contrast to the need they seem pointless. The critical question for you and I is whether we will make the contribution anyway, with faith that Christ can work wonders even today.

If the contribution is small it can seem worth the gamble and it makes us feel like good people. However, in the case of the child in this passage, it required all the food he had. Our faith is most tested when our contribution requires real sacrifice and real risk.   The boy could have reasoned that it would be imprudent to offer so much when so little could seemingly be achieved.  Children usually have more hope than prudence however, and in this case it turned out to be a blessing.  The boy didn’t know how his small contribution would help, but he trusted Who he gave it to.

In his spiritual classic, Abandonment to Divine Providence, Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade exhorts us to continue to make these acts of faith with confidence because Christ still works miracles today. He writes,

It is this same Jesus Christ, always alive and active, who continues to live and work fresh wonders in the souls of those who love Him.

Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman also urged that our faith is in some ways measured by our risk.  He challenges us to consider how much we have “ventured,” or bet, on Jesus being Who He says He is; much like the boy who trusted the person of Jesus more than the mathematical ratio of loaves to people who needed to be fed.

As regards individuals, then, it is quite true, that all of us must for certain make ventures for heaven, yet without the certainty of success through them. This, indeed, is the very meaning of the word “venture;” for that is a strange venture which has nothing in it of fear, risk, danger, anxiety, uncertainty. Yes; so it certainly is; and in this consists the excellence and nobleness of faith; this is the very reason why faith is singled out from other graces, and honoured as the especial means of our justification, because its presence implies that we have the heart to make a venture.” (Sermon 20)

Faith requires a risk for a reward that can only be calculated supernaturally. According to Christ’s math, five loaves and two fish can feed five thousand people with leftovers to boot. Like my friend, Christ does not necessarily need our particular contribution, but He does desire us and working with Him results in an experience of being bonded, knit together, and the satisfaction of being a part of something amazing.

Consider:

  • Do you believe Christ still works miracles today? Have you experienced one in your own life?
  • What sacrifice is Christ asking you to make for His work?
  • Is there a need that keeps tugging at your heart? Is there anything you can do to help, no matter how small the effect might be?
  • Consider Christ’s love and friendship for you; that He desires to work with you and to include you in His mission.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, offer to Christ the work of your day and entrust Him with the results.
  • Identify one thing about your life or work that you know is Christ’s will but you often get discouraged about because it’s seemingly so small in the world’s eyes. Ask Christ for faith and encouragement.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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Finding Freedom

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

July 15th,2018 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 6:7-13 NAB

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus conquered Satan, and just as He healed persons afflicted by demons, He also gave His authority to His apostles to drive them out as well. Jesus personally extends this opportunity for freedom to you and I through the ministry of His Church and His grace. The question is only if we will invite Christ and His followers in and accept healing, or refuse to listen and force them out.

Satan and his demons, even if they do not take total possession of a person, can and do take control of pieces of us whenever we allow ourselves to be bound by their lies and their allurements.

Whereas Christ is the Truth (John 14:6), Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44).  How can we discern between the two?  Truth builds up and encourages. Even if it’s not what we want to hear, it always leads to our true good and real happiness. In contrast, Satan’s lies derail us from happiness and discourage us, even to the point of despair.

His common tactics include whispers that you are not worthy, that you cannot be loved, that you will never find happiness, that you are a failure, that God is a tyrant and faith is an illusion. Broken with despair, Satan offers false hope through sin.  He promises that happiness can only be found in pleasure so seek it without restraint or any moral boundaries.  He urges you to look out only for yourself and seek total independence – from any need of others and from God, and from anyone relying on you either.  The fruit of these lies however only reveal that the truth is true – that these do not bring happiness but intense sorrow, loneliness, and a degradation of your true dignity.  We need only to look at our secular hedonistic culture to see evidence of this.  In its pursuit of pleasure and freedom without God or morality, it has produced widespread depression, high suicide rates, slavery to addiction, and callousness toward the dignity of human life.

Contrary to Satan’s lies, the truth is in fact liberating.  You CAN find joy and happiness living a moral life in relationship with Christ.  Where do we find evidence of people who experience real freedom of soul, peace of spirit, and radiate joy?  In the lives of the Saints and in the lives of everyday Christians who strive to live a life of holiness with the help of grace.

Christ came to conquer sin and death that we might experience freedom and the fullness of joy (see John 15:11).  In today’s passage we see that He does this by giving His own authority to those He had chosen and sending them out to us.  Christ gave His saving Truth to His Church, not because of the apostles’ perfect character but simply because He willed it and wanted to personally extend His Gospel throughout the whole world.  He continues to do this through the apostles’ successors today, the bishops, who are also flawed human beings, and yet still messengers of the authoritative and saving word of God.  He also does this through every baptized Christian, whom He calls to be witnesses of the truth of the Gospel.

We need witnesses of this reality to give us hope and the strength to choose Christ – who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Consider the battle with addiction. At first it offered relief from pain and promised feelings of happiness for the person.  Instead it brought loss and self-destruction.  Still, the idea of giving up that addiction may feel like facing a life of misery.  The testimony of those who have conquered it and now experience freedom can strengthen the addict to reach for the hope of happiness in sobriety instead of reaching for their drug.

Similarly, in a culture obsessed with lust, chaste love may appear like misery.  The joy and freedom testified by chaste singles and faithful married couples prove the lie to be wrong.  Especially impressive today, are those who struggle with homosexual desires who choose chaste love.  Their witness directly contradicts the current propaganda that they won’t be happy unless they have homosexually physical relationships.  (For examples of their testimonies, see the website couragerc.org).

Satan tempted Jesus to be king without the Cross, and he tempts us the same way.  Nevertheless, Jesus proved that suffering and death brings resurrection and grace.  Following Christ will not be pleasurable all the time, but it will be joyful and meaningful.  The days of my children’s births were not pleasurable, but they were the most joyful and meaningful days of my life.  Any noble and worthwhile pursuit will require sacrifice, but there’s a kind of pleasure in the sacrifice when you know you are working toward something great.  What greater work can we do than taking Christ’s yoke upon us and building up the Kingdom of God?!

Jesus confronts the lies we cling to and our sin.  We must say yes to Him to be free of them, thus the call for repentance before being able to receive healing.  Oftentimes our response to being convicted of sin is to become defensive, attack the messenger, or walk away.  To this response Jesus tells the apostles to “shake the dust from their feet” and move on to those who are open to His Word.  Yet, sin is precisely where the demons have a foothold in our heart and deprive us of true joy.  You may not feel strong enough to overcome a sin, but by acknowledging your sin and inviting Christ in, and His Body the Church, He can drive the demons out and fill you with His peace; and one day you might get to be the hand of Christ to help someone else in your situation.  The choice is up to you.

Consider:

  • Think of one sin you struggle with the most.
    • What are the lies and rationalizations that keep you tied to this sin?
  • People were free to accept or reject the apostles.  Consider how receptive or defensive you are toward those Christ sends to you.  Who specifically are those persons in your life?
  • Invite Christ to free you with the help of His grace, to accept His Truth and to detach from the lie or sin you are struggling against.  You don’t have to do it alone, He gives you the whole Church, infused with His own authority and grace, to strengthen and support you.
  • The Truth is true.  How might you witness to this by your words and life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Identify one specific, practical way you will reach out to accept the support of Christ’s Church to help you overcome your sin and receive freedom and healing.
    • (Examples: talking openly with a spiritual friend or your priest; receiving grace through attending a daily Mass; meditating on Scriptures or spiritual books that address your particular struggles; going to the sacrament of Confession…)

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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