Keeping it Real

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6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5: 17-37

Meditation Reflection:

 Freedom in Christ is founded on freedom from being fake. We are masters at the false front. By an early age most of us can pull off “I’m fine” to anyone who asks, no matter how untrue it may be. Keeping up appearances, looking successful, and seeming to be more than we are occurs in every time period and culture. Social media amplifies today’s version, as we can literally craft our public persona via selective posts and pictures.

We not only mask our imperfections; we often mask our sins as well. From the back-handed compliment, to disparaging remarks prefaced by “God bless her soul, but…”, to shallow mantras like “You only live once” or “it’s not like it’s against the law”, we rationalize our viciousness in countless ways. Like addicts, we deny we have a problem with sin, and we excuse and blame our behavior on everyone and everything but ourselves.

Just as sobriety can only be achieved through facing reality, so human freedom from sin being realcan only be wrought from an utter realness about ourselves. When Moses asked God to reveal His Name, God responded that it is “YHWH” or “I AM”. God revealed that He is. God is being and existence, He is the source of all that is real. Thus, union with God requires utter realness and authenticity.

Lewis wrote about this mystery in a brilliantly imaginative way in his book The Great Divorce. The divorce in this case refers to the divide between heaven and hell and describes the process of purgation for those still travelling to heaven. Drawing from scriptural imagery, he describes inhabitants of hell as phantoms. On the opposite spectrum, he calls those in heaven “solid people.” The main character arrives at a gray bus stop, phantom-ish, and his journey toward heaven is one of becoming more solid – or more “real”. To do this he must surrender all that he keeps false within himself. I won’t give away more than that, as I highly recommend this read! I will only offer this teaser – Lewis creates numerous characters whose struggle to move from ghostish versions of themselves to the authentic provides deep insight into the rationalizations with which most of us struggle, the pain of conversion, and the joy of letting it go and experiencing authentic freedom.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus directly calls us out on how we tip toe around the truth and avoid real virtue and, in consequence, real love and relationship. How many times have we heard the excuse, “well, it’s not like I’ve killed anyone. I’m a decent person.”? Yet, harboring anger can be deeply destructive and emerge in violence that might be more subtle, but no less real. Passive-aggressive behaviors, online bullying, slander, gossip, critical remarks and callous attitudes prevent relationship and they hold us back from heaven.

Jesus states clearly, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20) and “so be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) A man who loves his wife, doesn’t look lustfully at other women. A woman who loves her husband, doesn’t flirt with other men. Does it matter whether it’s technically adultery? Jesus calls out the dishonesty. Either way, it certainly feels like cheating to the other spouse. Why? Because love is total, exclusive, and lifelong. Our love for our spouse should mirror love for God. In fact, God created the first man and woman in the state of marriage because as two persons in a relationship of life- giving love, they imaged the Triune God!

Authenticity begins by simply letting our Yes be yes, and our No be no. Drop the exaggerations and minimizations. Leave the white lies. Take down the false fronts. It feels like going a day without make-up at first, but not forever. As we become more at peace with ourselves, we become more comfortable in the truth. Eventually the fake-ness we clung to in the past will feel like too much make-up, caked on, that you can’t wait to wash off at the end of the day.

Jesus wants us, not the façades we create. He accepts us as we are and helps us become the truest version of ourselves. When this happens, we can begin to experience the real relationship, and real love necessary for heaven.

Consider:

  • List your most common struggles in a day, then pray about what interior attitude or disposition underlies them.
    • Consider the 7 Capital Sins for ideas (pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, and gluttony)
  • What is your most common/tempting rationalization?
  • In what ways have you grown in authenticity over the years? Reflect on how good it feels to be yourself.
  • Who is someone you can be completely yourself around; who knows the “real” you?
  • Consider how honesty is necessary for relationship.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Tackle one rationalization this week. Be direct with yourself and with God. Name the struggle, occasions of temptation, and the rationalization you use. Decide on how you will avoid the temptation or create a counter-mantra to repeat when you hear yourself rationalizing.

Example:

  • Daily struggle: Crabby toward your spouse and kids
  • Occasions of temptation: Getting out the door in the morning, right after a long day at work, or when interrupted during a project
  • Rationalizations: “They’re my family and should love me unconditionally – this is just who I am”; “I work hard to care for my family, and it just means I will be stressed out”
  • Counter-mantras: “They’re my family – they deserve my best behavior” or “I need to find balance in my life so I can be a peaceful person to my family”
  • Avoiding temptation –
    • Begin the day 10 minutes earlier so you aren’t stressed about running late (even better, begin with a prayer!);
    • create transition time between work and home – listen to Christian music on the drive and count your blessings so you arrive with a positive attitude;
    • adjust expectations for completing projects – expect to get interrupted by kids and be grateful for them, try to include them in the project if possible
  • ~ Written by Angela M. Jendro © 2019
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Lighting the Path and Seasoning the Journey Because Blending In is Bland

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5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:13-16

Meditation Reflection:

 People often complain they need to see something to believe it. Although faith requires going beyond sight, the seeds of faith can be planted through allowing others to see for themselves the work of Christ in our lives. Authentic, Christian discipleship causes deep transformation. This supernatural change witnesses in an evidentiary way, the reality of the Holy Spirit and the life of grace.

The first converts to Christianity were moved by the way Christians lived differently than everyone else. Amidst a callous, hedonistic culture, Christians treated one another with love and respect. Christian marriages were marked by mutual kindness and fidelity. Slaves were considered brothers and sisters in Christ. Martyrs sacrificed everything joyfully in witness to their belief in the resurrection. The way martyrs faced their death so peacefully and courageously, converted many onlookers who could plainly see that the dying Christians were acting with a strength and calm that exceeded the limits of human nature. Tertullian famously articulated this phenomenon saying, “The blood of the martyrs, is the seed of the Church” (197 A.D.).

As modern Christians, our lives ought to witness the reality of grace as well, by following Christ beyond our comfort zone. Sometimes we can make our faith life a little too neat and tidy. We make Sunday Mass a casual commitment, and parish fellowship a comfortable social club. We might look to faith for comfort, but we don’t expect the impossible from God, and we ask that He not expect the impossible of us.

Although this sounds like a reasonable relationship, it doesn’t do much to reveal the life of grace, or the reality of God’s supernatural love and aid. After teaching the Beatitudes, the heart of the New Law, Jesus followed up with this analogy to salt and light. The journey of faith, though very personal, also has an evangelistic element; it’s a gift we both receive and give in return. Christ urges us to follow the path of the Beatitudes to its end. He’s right that authentic discipleship will not blend in. Simply living the Christian faith, is a witness to truths that others try to avoid, resulting in numerous pressures from others to be quiet. Those pressures come in many forms – accusations of being overly zealous, judgmental, intolerant, or making one’ private faith public. Secular culture continues to find ways to diminish the witness of faith and put a bushel basket over the light by re-defining religion as personal sentiment and forbidding it to bear external fruit unless that fruit can be limited to, and labeled as, secular humanitarianism.

At the same time, although Christ was persecuted by some, He was also sought out by many others. Jesus promised, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32 RSV). Genuine discipleship can transform us and transform society, adding freedom to both. St. Paul told the Galatians, that the fruits of the Spirit are not of this world. By drawing near to God in prayer, the Spirit bears fruits within Christians of divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The world needs these fruits and hungers for them. If we keep our faith in a box that we only take out on Sundays or Christmas, we put a bushel over the light of Christ and make it impotent, leaving the world to suffer rather than to offer it hope.

I love Jesus’ analogy to salt. Maybe because I love salt on everything! It’s so basic, but it makes everything taste so wonderful. Our faith is the salt that makes life seasoned and enjoyable. If we offer the world a bland form of our faith, what is the point? We wouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable, but we would also deny them the chance to taste something remarkable.

Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He teaches us the path to follow and provides the necessary grace needed to make the journey. When we live in relationship with Him, our life can’t help but radiate His peace, love, and wisdom. If we can have the courage to follow Christ beyond our comfort zone, Christ promises that we can be a light for others shining the truth they need to be free, and the salt that seasons their life with His joy.

Consider:

  • What do you find comfortable about your Christian faith? What’s easy or natural for you?
  • What do you find uncomfortable? What teachings seem “too much”? In which areas of your life, or among which people, do you try to downplay your faith?
  • How might you live your faith more deeply or more authentically?
  • Reflect on the effect of salt and light. Fast from salt for a day and consider the difference without it. Try functioning with only the aid of natural light rather than light bulbs. How does it limit your work and your experience?
  • Consider each aspect of your day – home, work, activities, etc. Reflect on how you can live your faith in each

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • At the beginning of each transition in your day, begin with a prayer for Christ to teach you, and help you, live as His disciple in that part of your
    • The prayer can be a spontaneous prayer of your own words, or a written prayer you recite at each transition. Ideas: Our Father, Glory Be, Hail Mary, Memorare, a verse from a Psalm, a prayer to the Holy Spirit, the Disciple prayer by Cardinal Newman,
    • I personally like the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas: “Grant O Merciful God, that I may ardently desire, prudently examine, truthfully acknowledge, and perfectly accomplish, what is pleasing to Thee, for the praise and glory of Thy Name”

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~ Written by Angela M. Jendro © 2019

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The Relevance of Ritual

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Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Gospel of Luke 2:22-40

Meditation Reflection:

 “This is my life, my dream, my job, or my kids.” How quickly we can turn receiving a gift from God, to jealously withholding it for our personal plans. Worship and even ritual provide opportunities to keep this wily attitude in check and remind us of the purpose God has for them all.

The Presentation in the Temple is a religious practice of the Jews that began with the establishment of the Levitical priesthood. The firstborn son of the family had been designated by God to serve as priest, but when it changed to the tribe of Levi serving as priests, families would “redeem” the son from service by exchanging something. This offering provided for the Levites, whose priesthood allowed for more consistency in religious practices.

The image of the Presentation also serves as a reminder that our lives are not our own, and neither are our children’s, or any “baby” (be that a work, talent, or ministry, etc.) we possess. Everything belongs to God and ought to be offered back to Him. Our natural lives are a gift from the Creator, and our supernatural lives came at a cost paid by our Savior. The practice of reminding ourselves periodically in a formal or intentional way can help curb our tendency to grasp at things.

Organized religion often gets derided in the media and cultural conversation, even by some Christians. Yet, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus participated faithfully in the Jewish religion. Though an exceptional family, they never asked to be an exception to the rules. When Jesus instituted the New Covenant, He maintained formal worship through the Mass and the sacramental life. God doesn’t need our worship, we need it. We need to offer ourselves and our work to Him, to praise Him with gratitude and make supplication for our needs.

Making time for sacrament preparation can prove difficult for busy people and families. Whether it’s classes for Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, or Matrimony, the Church provides a process of preparation that, though time consuming, orients our lives in Christ in an essential way.

Presentation of Jesus_Fra_Bartolomeo_Wikimedia

Fra Bartolomeo Wikimedia

Through these experiences, God can surprise us. Mary and Joseph presented Jesus like any Jewish couple would. The day had personal significance for them like any parents, but they didn’t stand out in the crowd. Nevertheless, this encounter with God in ritual yielded spiritual insights and fruits.

First, God blessed Simeon and Anna – two people who had faithfully sought God in prayer their whole lives and came to Him in the Temple regularly. Their example encourages us to persevere in the practice of our faith, even when it seems dry.

Secondly, Simeon’s prophecy articulated the nature of Mary’s vocation to motherhood, especially motherhood to Christ. Every mother and father looks at their infant and wonders who he or she will grow up to be, and seeing how special their child is, senses the child will be amazing. Simeon confirmed that Jesus would be a glory for Israel. However, he also warned that Jesus would experience conflict and rejection. Similarly, as children get older parents know the pain of seeing their child accepted by some but ignored or ridiculed by others. Finally, Simeon predicted a sword would pierce Mary’s heart too. Her Son is the Sacrifice for our Salvation, and she felt His pain in her own heart, like every mother and father who suffers to see their child in pain.

It’s especially difficult to surrender to God’s plan when we or our loved one must suffer. Jesus promised that to be His follower we must take up our cross and follow Him. This also entails allowing our loved one to take up their cross too. We can’t prevent every suffering nor ought we dissuade them from a sacrifice to which God is calling them (like Peter when he rebuked Jesus for saying He must die). We can however share the burden like Simon of Cyrene and be present to them like Mary and John.

Much of discipleship consists in the humdrum of regular prayer, work, and worship: starting the day with a Gospel reading and meditation, going about the tasks of your workday, attending Mass on Sunday, volunteering in the parish, and celebrating the sacraments with loved ones.

Aspects of worship may feel at times monotonous, but they are in fact irreplaceable touchstones with God; reminders that we and all that we love belong to Him. Moreover, in these moments, like Mary and Joseph at the Presentation, you may find yourself surprised by the Spirit.

Consider:

  • Imagine the rhythm of daily life for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as faithful Jews.
  • How does the rhythm of daily prayer, Sunday worship, and liturgical seasons provide a needed framework for your faith life?
  • How might you enter more deeply into prayer or the sacramental life of the Church?
  • What has God entrusted to you as your “baby” or “babies”? Offer it back to Him in prayer and dedicate it to His plans by His graces with the cooperation of your work.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • If you are still forming the habit of regular prayer or church attendance, resolve to attend Mass every Sunday and pray every day. Decide where, when, and how.
  • Offer your life, your work, and your loved ones to God in prayer each day this week.

©Angela M Jendro 2019

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