How to Be Happy For Others and Like It

Excerpt fromTake Time for Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life  Get your own papercopy from Amazon!

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25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 20:1-16

The kingdom of Heaven, from which Jesus came, far exceeds any social construct we observe on earth.  Here our relationships, from the inter-national to the personal, become skewed due to our two greatest weaknesses – pride and envy.

It’s childish really. Parents and elementary school teachers tire from the petty cases brought to them over and again throughout the day by children seeking “justice.” Moreover, in family life it can spiral out of control as one act of pride or envy against another is fought with counter measures of pride and envy and so on. Something is borrowed or stolen depending on who you ask, something gets taken in retaliation, and the then the yelling ensues. Someone gets knocked over by accident and retaliates with an intentional shove. Rather than accept their own guilt for their personal bad reaction, kids try to pass on blame and push parents to the classic question, “Who started it?” As everyone points fingers and clamor for justice, the poor mom and dad beg the kids to settle down and just be merciful with one another.

St. Paul tells us, “Love is patient, love is kind…” In other words, love tries to be understanding instead of over-reacting. Love shows compassion toward weakness, even weakness of character. Love is generous rather than miserly. Love doesn’t look out for #1, it looks out for the beloved.

Jesus’ parable of the landowner and day laborers illustrates the striking difference between our natural inclination and experience in contrast to the attitude characteristic of the kingdom of Heaven. When I hear this parable, I know that I shouldn’t agree with the laborers who were upset, but I can’t help empathizing with their feeling of disappointment, and even injustice. I hate to admit that even thoughts of, “why weren’t the guys the landowner found in the afternoon not there in the morning?” Even worse, my imagination considers multiple reasons they were late, all being their own fault or the result of vice. However, Jesus knows our fallen thoughts, so He includes important details in the parable to counter such accusations.  Thus, prior to hiring the last crew at 5:00, He asked them why they had been standing there idle all day. They responded with an innocent explanation – no one had hired them. “Exposed!”, as my kids would say. My thoughts reveal a childish attitude of rivalry rather than a mature disposition of love.

But what about the unfair pay? And why did the landowner pay the last men first in front of everyone else? Every parent knows if you plan to treat one kid and not the others on a particular day, at least keep it on the down-low. You spontaneously stop for DQ with one of your sons on the way home from a baseball game? Only a rookie parent would fail to have the ice cream finished being eaten and all evidence thrown away in an inconspicuous garbage before entering the house. Never mind that you make a point to treat the other kids individually too at various times. If one kid walks in the house with a half-eaten blizzard, mutinous anarchy erupts.

One stray DQ napkin, and the moment the door to the van opens the other kids point and yell “What?!  You went without us? Unfair!!!” Their envious rivalry takes all spontaneity out of love. On the surface, the laborers’ disappointment seems fair, however Jesus revealed that it stems from envy. Next to pride, envy is the most cited root of the many social and personal ills discussed in the Catechism.

Jesus invites us to consider a different way of thinking, living, and being. To imagine a kingdom free of pride, envy, ambition, lust, and selfishness we must think of it in terms of love. Not the fluffy, emotional kind of love. Rather, courageous and deep love which wills the good of the other and finds joy in sacrifice if it means enriching or healing the beloved. Jesus compares His relationship with us to the love a groom has for his bride, willing to give everything even at a sacrifice, and with great joy. He compares our interconnection with one another to a body united to Him as its head. Thus, one person’s pain is shared by everyone, and one person’s gain is rejoiced in by everyone.

Consider the parable again from Christ’s perspective.  The men the landowner found late in the day were aimless, anxious, and in danger of starvation. If they did not work that day, they would not have a day’s wage and would be unable to provide for themselves and their families. They owned no land to provide them with some kind of security. They had no annual salary, health insurance, or any kind of future protection. They lived day to day, always uncertain about tomorrow. The first men hired physically toiled longer, but they also had the peace of mind that at least for that day they would have a wage and therefore food. Moreover, there’s a certain dignity related to putting in a hard day’s work. If those without work were strangers, it would be easier to rationalize competitiveness.  Imagine however that the ones hired later are your sons or daughters, or close friends. It would be hard to truly enjoy your wage knowing how worried you might be that they only worked a few hours that day and would earn too little to eat enough on. Upon seeing your beloved child or friend provided a full day’s wage, you would rejoice with them as well as enjoy your own wage more because your friend received the same.  You would also rejoice that they had the opportunity to be productive and their work valued.

Jesus invites us all into His Kingdom. He finds us standing idle, looking for meaning and purpose, waiting for Truth and Mercy. He promises a generous wage for working for Him – the gift of enduring love, authentic meaning, and eternal happiness with Him. If we love our neighbor, we will feel pained seeing them still standing idle, wasting the day, impoverished and anxious.  We would want the same reward for them that we received from Christ no matter when they joined His crew. In fact, to have labored with the Lord, is a gift in and of itself.

Consider:

  • Consider how quickly we tend to assume the worst about a person. When have you misjudged someone’s intentions or situation? How might you see others through the lens of love rather than rivalry?
  • Consider the dignity of work. When have you put in a hard day’s work and loved it? Why does it feel good to be productive?
  • Consider the joy connected to laboring out of love. Which tasks would seem ridiculous to take pleasure in if you didn’t love the person?
  • Consider the contrast between envy and love. Envy becomes angry at another’s blessings; love rejoices when another is blessed. Envy competes for what it believes to be limited resources or opportunities. Love understands that God can bless everyone.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Combat envy with the opposite virtues of contentedness and gratitude. Do one thing each day this week to nurture contentedness and express gratitude.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

* 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. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

To Err is Human, To Forgive Divine

Excerpt fromTake Time for Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life  Get your own papercopy from Amazon!

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24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 18:21-35

The three essential phrases required in every relationship include: “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” We all need affirmation of love since our deepest desire as creatures made in the image and likeness of God is to love and be loved. As persons wounded by original sin, we also need to give and receive forgiveness.

The more we love, the greater the offense when we mess up. If I hold up the line at the grocery store because I forgot an item on my list, I will upset the people behind me, but they won’t take it personally. They may utter some unkind words or sigh loudly, but by the next day it’s forgotten. If however I hold up a family member or friend from getting somewhere together on time due to my forgetfulness it can feel more personal and a failure to love the way they deserve.

Moreover, if a person’s in a bad mood and snaps at her coworkers, they’ll be upset but shake it off. Whereas, if she brings that bad mood home and takes it out on her family then it can damage and chip away at those relationships.

Mistakes and stress are daily occurrences, thus the need to apologize quickly and acknowledge the mess-up or failure of character in order to reestablish right relationship. It’s amazing how simply taking responsibility for a mistake or bad behavior can put people in a much more forgiving disposition.

C.S. Lewis, in his essay On Forgiveness, made an important distinction between mistakes which are excusable and mistakes which require forgiveness. All offenses are not equal, and he notes that oftentimes when we attempt to apologize, we in fact try to excuse away responsibility. If something is excusable however then it really doesn’t require forgiveness. By definition, a reasonable excuse implies that the wrong was not your fault.  He observed,

“I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive.

This distinction applies to our view of forgiving others as well. By confusing excusing with forgiving, we may think that if we forgive someone, we are saying what they did was okay or accepting that they aren’t really responsible. In consequence it feels inauthentic or false. However, forgiveness does not excuse but rather acknowledges the real offense and mercifully gives reconciliation as a gift. This means surrendering bitterness and ill-wishes, but it does not mean you have to trust the person or like them. C.S. Lewis explains it like this:

[Many people] think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or no bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. They keep on replying, “But I tell you the man broke a most solemn promise.” Exactly: that is precisely what you have to forgive. (This doesn’t mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise.  It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart – every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.)

On the other hand, since forgiveness is a free act of mercy by the offended, it can be intimidating to admit guilt. What if you let down your guard and admit your fault in all truth? You will be in debt to that person and they could hold it over you. They could also look down on you. After all, the root of our sins are ugly – pride, vanity, foolishness, envy, baseness, etc. If I don’t want people to see my house in a wreck, why would I let them see my soul in a wreck?

Unfortunately, this fear of rejection can color our approach to God’s forgiveness too.  Pope Francis commented in The Name of God is Mercy, that most people haven’t experienced mercy in their own lives, so they assume they won’t receive mercy from God.  St. Faustina also decried this attitude as Jesus revealed to her that His greatest wound was a lack of trust in His mercy on the part of souls. He asked Faustina to have the Divine Mercy image painted, and Feast of Mercy established the Sunday after Easter. Pope St. John Paul II recognized the authenticity and timeliness of this message and created the desired feast day. C.S. Lewis described this anguish we feel approaching God for confession and encouraged his readers saying,

A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it, from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favour. But that would not be forgiveness at all.  Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowance have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.  That, and only that,  is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.

Lastly, Jesus’ exhortation on forgiveness includes the question of the ongoing repetitiveness of offenses. It’s one thing to forgive big sins, but oftentimes the need to forgive the petty daily jabs can get the better of us, especially from those who do not apologize. Jesus modelled this frustrating kind of love in that He first loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). So, if we are to follow His great commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34), we must bear wrongs patiently. We must graciously excuse the excusable, and mercifully forgive the inexcusable. By doing this, we evangelize about God’s mercy by our action encouraging the offender that if you can forgive them, God can too. We also acknowledge with humility that we too are sinners. We need the forgiveness and patience of others as well. Not only that, but our own forgiveness by God will be measured by our forgiveness toward others.

Consider:

  • Reflect on the difference between an excuse and an admission of guilt.
    • How do you excuse your guilt away? Why do you think that is?
    • On the other hand, how do you sometimes assume guilt rather than an excuse it when it comes to other people?
  • Take a moment to examine your conscience and come before God in prayer asking for forgiveness.
  • Consider who may need your forgiveness. How might you offer mercy to him or her – whether for a regular fault or for a major injustice?
    • Offer the “justice” or revenge you desire to God
    • Pray for his or her conversion
  • Consider that forgiveness is an opportunity. Since God has forgiven you so generously and joyfully, forgiving someone who has hurt you is an opportunity to do the same for someone else.
  • We need the help of grace to forgive.  Take a moment to ask Christ for the strength to have a merciful heart.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray Psalm 51 each day this week. It’s David’s psalm praying for God’s forgiveness and trusting in His mercy.
  • Bear wrongs patiently during the day.
  • Extend mercy and forgiveness to someone who needs it from you.
  • Let an old grudge go.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

* 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. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

You can find C.S. Lewis’ essay on Forgivenss in The Weight of Glory: A Collection of Lewis’ Most Moving Addresses

Christian Conflict Resolution

Excerpt from Take Time for Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life  Get your own papercopy from Amazon!

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23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 18:15-20

Incorporation into the Christian community means being adopted into a family. This in turn means we have a greater responsibility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus knows families can struggle with dysfunctional ways of dealing with things – from gossip, to triangulating, to manipulation or passive aggressive tactics, and more. As the head of the Christian family however, He provides us with clear instructions about the best way to love our brother or sister in difficult situations.

First, Jesus tells us to confront our loved one directly if they have hurt us in some way. This means we cannot play the martyr, hope they read our mind, let it build up, or sweep it under the rug. Jesus knows healthy relationships require honest communication and ongoing reconciliation. We all sin and we all inevitably treat our loved ones unfairly or unkindly. To move forward reconciliation is essential. In our pride however, we sometimes don’t even realize we are hurting the one we love unless they tell us. Jesus instructs, therefore, that Christian love should make the person aware of their sin. The Church actually lists this as a Spiritual Work of Mercy called “admonish the sinner.”  It’s not meant to be mean or judgmental, but to help a person grow into Christian maturity.

If the person won’t listen, likely claiming that you are being unfair, then Jesus proposes you bring another witness or two. The goal would be to open the person’s eyes to their sin so they can change, and reconciliation occur. Sometimes the perspective of a couple of people can help to establish with objectivity the truth of the situation. It’s amazing how blind we are to our sinful attitudes and habits, especially toward our family! Even when confronted, we hold on so tightly, and refuse to change. We often rationalize, “This is how I am. My family should just love me unconditionally.”  However, because our family loves us unconditionally, we should try even harder to change because they deserve the best version of ourselves not the worst.

In general, Jesus wants us to avoid the tornadic plague of gossip or the festering sore of passive aggressive retaliation. He wants His family to be happy, healthy, and loving. Direct communication and the ally of one or two close friends is usually enough for most problems. However, there are some injustices which require wider assistance and, if not changed, are too destructive to let go on. For instance, if a family member refuses to change his or her abusive behavior or treat an addiction, it needs to be brought to light for the whole family. If the person still refuses to change, family members are sometimes forced to separate themselves from the person in order to protect themselves and others, and in love withdraw from enabling the abuser or addict. It may seem extreme and even un-Christian; however Jesus came to conquer sin not to support it. Paradoxically, separating from addicts or abusers can motivate healthy change. At the very least, it is a way of evangelizing. It shows by your actions that the behavior is wrong. Lastly, Jesus assures us that although we have a serious responsibility toward the souls of our Christian brothers and sisters, ultimately we are not responsible for their behavior. At the end of the process, we can have peace that we have done everything we could. We must work tirelessly for the salvation of souls, but we must also know the limits placed on us by their free will.

Thankfully, we can always be a blessing to others through prayer and sacrifice. Even if we must separate from someone physically, financially, or even in communication, we can still pray for them.   Moreover, just as Jesus exhorted us to confront a person together, He also exhorts us to pray for others together. As children of God, and heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), our prayers come before Him with all the force and influence a son or daughter can have on their father, especially when they plead with him as a family.

In conclusion, the vocation of marriage plays an important role in the formation of this mindset and the practice of applying Christian love to all different kinds of situations. In his encyclical Familaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paull II called the family the first “school” of Christian love, from which persons develop the Christian self-giving habits necessary for mature interaction with the world as adults.  He wrote:

The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self- giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society.

True love is more than an emotion.  It’s a decision to choose the good for one’s beloved. The best course of action isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always clear. Thankfully, we are not alone in this. We can look to Jesus and to our Christian family to share the burden.

Consider:
  • Consider the gift of being God’s daughter or son. Reflect on Jesus’ love for you as your Brother.
  • Consider how you handle conflict. What do you do well? What could you improve?
  • How might you apply Jesus’ instructions for resolving problems to a situation in your life?
  • When has someone shown “tough love” toward you? How did their loving honesty help you grow?
  • St. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is the best weapon we possess. It is the key that opens the heart of God.”   Consider the power of prayer to fight for our brothers and sisters.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
  • Apply Jesus’ process to a conflict in your life this week.
  • Resolve not to gossip this week; Say a prayer every day for someone who bothers you.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

* 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. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.