The Trap of Self-Reliance

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Some More

by Angela M Jendro

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2nd Sunday of Easter/Sunday of Divine Mercy

Read the Gospel of John 20:19-31

Meditation Reflection:

The Christian faith is neither a well-crafted myth nor a brilliant philosophy.  Rather, the Christian religion is based on eye-witness testimony of the resurrected Lord.

It began with the testimony of Mary Magdalene, who encountered the risen Christ in the morning when she went to His tomb and was subsequently sent by Him to tell the apostles.  They felt excited and a bit confused “for they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9 NAB).   In the evening, Jesus appeared to them as well except for Thomas who wasn’t there.  Upon seeing Him with their own eyes they believed and rejoiced. 

When they shared their Good News with Thomas he refused belief until he could see it for himself.  Thomas had been willing to die with Christ (John 11:7-8, 16) but he couldn’t envision rising with Him. In consequence, his faith – though fiercely loyal – remained limited to his own personal experience. One week later however, Jesus showed mercy toward Thomas’ obstinate self-reliance, appearing to him in the flesh and so enabling Thomas to believe. 

We too can fall into the trap of self-reliance in matters of faith – limiting our belief to personal experience and rejecting the witness of Jesus’ apostles and His Church.  Our present culture tends toward “cafeteria Christianity”, meaning we pick and choose what we like and leave what we don’t.  We view doctrine as a buffet of ideas that we can take or leave according to our personal preferences and reasoning. 

Imagine Thomas saying to the other ten, “you have your truth and I have my truth, one is not better than the other.”  Yet, one is that Jesus is risen and the other is that Jesus is dead!  How could Jesus’ Church endure with such conflicting beliefs?  The same remains true today.  Capitulating to the attitude of an individualistic faith undermines Christ’s work.

Jesus chose to share His Truth and grace through the apostles’ witness (and their successors – the pope and bishops).  Their interpretation of Scripture and the power of their miracles came from the Holy Spirit bestowed on them by the Lord. At the final moment of Jesus’ death, He breathed His last and surrendered His Spirit to the Father.  On the evening of His resurrection, He breathed upon the Apostles, and gave them His Spirit and His authority:

“‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” John 20:21-23

Christianity is an encounter with the incarnate God who dwells within the very souls of His baptized disciples and makes them one Body.  Jesus is not a restauranteur who offers the world’s greatest buffet.  He is the Son of God who desires all persons to be united as a family in the Lord.  He therefore established a visible Church endowed with His invisible presence to guide and govern its members to His eternal kingdom.

Today, one week after Easter, we celebrate the inexhaustible, generous, mercy of Christ which He lavishes on all who will accept it. As He did for Thomas on this same day, Christ reaches down into the darkest parts of our souls, to our most acute failures and sins, to apply the healing balm of His Merciful Love poured out on the Cross for our salvation. Our Lord is a crucified Lord.  When He appeared to the apostles “He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:20).  He did not choose, as Satan tempted Him to be in the desert, a king without the Cross.  Similarly, true disciples are crucified disciples.  They have died to self, and self-reliance, and live by the Holy Spirit in communion with the Church.

There’s no sin too great for Jesus to forgive. He only requires a repentant heart which chooses to trust in His love.  There’s also no weakness of faith He can’t strengthen, no doubt He can’t heal, and no question of doctrine He can’t explain to you – if you let Him.  And remember, He has given us the fellowship of the Apostles through both the Scriptures and the living voice of authority in His Church.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). Today’s Gospel passage concludes with John offering the same witness to us that was offered to Thomas. Today is the day to surrender to Christ in prayer every doubt you harbor and every limitation you place on faith.  Then, receive His mercy in daily prayer, immersion in the Scriptures, the Eucharist at Mass, and trying to learn the Church’s reasons for her doctrines.  In consequence, you too will become an eye-witness of the resurrected Christ to others.

Consider:

  • When buying a product online or hiring someone for a house project, how much credence to you give to people’s reviews?  How much credence to you give to the testimony about Jesus from the Apostles, the saints and martyrs, the Christians you know who testify to the Lord’s work in their lives?
  • It’s hard to trust someone you can’t see.  Do you make Christ visible to others in your life?  How might you witness the reality of His truth and mercy even more?
  • Reflect on the choice presented today: whether to sand stubbornly in self-reliance or enter the communion of the Body of Christ – His Church – and lean on one another.
  • Jesus told St. Faustina that His greatest pain is distrust on the part of souls in His mercy.  In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis observed that we fail to believe in Christ’s mercy because we have no experience of mercy in our lives and therefore believe no one – not even Christ – will help us.
    • To what extent has this been your experience? 
    • What makes it difficult to trust Christ? 
    • How might you extend mercy to the people in your daily life so they might believe in Christ’s mercy?

Practical Application:

  • Every time you feel helpless, turn to Christ in prayer and throw yourself at His mercy. Repeat the words He asked St. Faustina to have written under His image: “Jesus, I Trust In You.”
  • Do one work of mercy each day.

All Rights Reserved © 2020 Angela M Jendro

I highly recommend both the Diary of St. Faustina and The Name of God is Mercy .

A beautiful exemplar of Christ’s merciful love is Mother Teresa. I also recommend her book A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve

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