Receiving Christ’s Gift Graciously

Palm Sunday

excerpt from Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring by Angela Jendro

Gospel of Luke 22:14-23:56 NAB full version. Luke 23:1-49 NAB shortened version and reprinted here below.

The elders of the people, chief priests and scribes, arose and brought Jesus before Pilate. They brought charges against him, saying, “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Christ, a king.” Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds, “I find this man not guilty.” But they were adamant and said, “He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea,
from Galilee where he began even to here.”

On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time. Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at length, but he gave him no answer. The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly. Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, “You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”

But all together they shouted out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” — Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder. — Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” Pilate addressed them a third time, “What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.” With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed. The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.

As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed.

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal. “Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.

The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts; but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.

Meditation Reflection:

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week with Palm Sunday. The Gospel follows Christ through the events of His Paschal Mystery beginning with His final entrance into Jerusalem and culminating in His death.

Recall the Pope’s theology of sin. He teaches that the process of conversion begins with acknowledging our sin, confessing it with contrition to the Lord, then trusting in Christ’s mercy to forgive and heal us. As we unite ourselves to Christ this week, remembering the events of His suffering let us contemplate the third aspect of conversion – trusting gratitude for Christ’s mercy.

In the Office of Readings for today, a sermon by St. Andrew of Crete (d. 740), a bishop, offers a beautiful idea for how to honor Christ today…

“So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.”

This response inspires us to approach holy week with an attitude of deep appreciation; to follow the footsteps of the suffering Christ and feel the grace of His mercy accomplished through His sacrificial love. Numerous Gospel accounts tell of Pharisees or Sadducees wanting to kill Jesus but being unable. Christ could have escaped the Cross, it was within His power. He chose to surrender Himself which was the only reason they could apprehend Him. He chose to suffer as the sacrifice for our sins for the sole purpose of our redemption – to be freed from slavery to sin and death, to experience healing and supernatural strength, to experience union with God as His beloved children, and that our “joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Reflecting on Christ’s suffering however, especially if we have the courage to connect it to our own weakness and personal sins, requires more than a small amount of humility. It means we realize our dependence (something we hate in our culture) and our unworthiness. Christ endured things we could not, and when asked to offer something back in return, even trivial things, we often fail.   How many of us sigh at the length of the reading on Palm Sunday, and yet how much easier to read it than to live it! How much longer it was for Christ to actually endure the events we recall!

Distracted thoughts and limited attention spans will always burden us due to our weakened nature from original sin. We can work to minimize our distractions however and lengthen our attention by changing our habits. For instance, we can replace some of our thoughts about worldly matters with thoughts of spiritual matters through regular Scripture reading, good Christian books and conversation, or listening to Christian talk radio. We can replace worldly images in our imagination with images of Christ through praying the psalms and listening to Christian music. Rather than secular songs interrupting our prayer, over time we might find Christian songs interrupting our mundane tasks instead.

This Holy Week let’s do our best to, as St. Andrew suggested, lay our transformed selves before Christ. Let us ease His suffering with songs of praise and thanksgiving. Let us offer Him hope on the Cross by demonstrating that His sacrifice will bear much fruit.

 Consider:

  • Take time to reflect on those things Christ has conquered in your life – sin, addiction, lies you had believed, fears, pride, loneliness, despair…
  • Examine areas of your life in need of Christ. Imagine His blood washing over them and healing them. Invite Him to free you in that area as a grace of this Holy Week. Resolve to cooperate with Him in this effort.
  • Sacrifice is the proof of love. Christ would have suffered every pain for you alone.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray the Stations of the Cross.
  • Pray a psalm of thanksgiving each day for God’s help.
  • Pray psalm 21, the psalm Jesus quoted from the Cross when He said, “My God My God, why have you abandoned Me.”
  • Listen to Christian radio on your drive or as you get ready in the morning.
    • Ideas: local Christian music stations; download the Relevant Radio app and listen to Catholic programming.
  • Offer encouragement to someone who is suffering.
  • Offer mercy to someone in thanksgiving for Christ’s mercy to you.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Open Arms of the Father…Guided meditation for the 4th Sunday of Lent

Lenten Journey pic

Excerpt from Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring

By Angela M. Jendro

Gospel of Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 NAB

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

Meditation Reflection:

We often live in denial of ours sins and this can make it easy to imagine God as loving since we see ourselves entitled to His affections. However, when our hearts are really struck by the realization of a failure, when shame settles in our stomach at our weakness or self-centeredness, we can mistakenly assume God views us as a failure too and wants nothing to do with us. Jesus corrected this false view by describing God’s unconditional love in His Parable of the Prodigal Son, also known as the Parable of the Merciful Father.

In this parable, the father had freely given his sons everything he could – life, love, nurturing their growth, and even inheritance of his estate. The first son responded with obedience, loyalty, and service. The second son responded with ingratitude, an entitlement attitude, and complacency. When he arrogantly wished his father dead and demanded his future inheritance, his father not only allowed him to leave but also gifted to him the undeserved future inheritance. Mistaking license for freedom, the son lived foolishly for pleasure and self-gratification. Eventually however his funds ran out and the difficult times that followed revealed the short sightedness of his choices. The glamour of evil wore off when he found himself desperate enough to take a job caring for pigs (considered unclean by the Jews) and even more desperate when he felt tempted by his insatiable hunger to ask for some of their slop but was denied. As he hit rock bottom, he finally realized the generosity and goodness of his father.

Some Christians take their faith for granted. The spiritual gifts they had enjoyed from the sacraments, living in Christian fellowship, and possibly growing up in a Christian home seem less glamorous and more restrictive than worldliness. At first, missing mass on Sunday to sleep in, put in an extra day at work, travel, or any number of things might not seem that big of a deal. Next, spending time with worldly friends begins to outweigh Christian friends. As seeming independence and success increase, a person may feel he or she no longer needs God. They too mistake license for freedom and, taking their gifts from God, leave.

Over time however they begin to experience life without grace. The absence of God’s peace, the kindness of His followers, the richness of Scriptures wanes and they begin to hunger. When hard times hit, without that spiritual connection to God, a person finds themselves starving and desperate. Where can one turn for help? A person who uses others, finds themselves being used by others. Alcohol or drugs lose their ability to satiate and only make matters worse if not out of control. All former numbing mechanisms – shopping, eating, gaming, gambling, travelling, even over-working cannot help but rather become enslaving.

When one hits rock bottom, crawling back to God can seem unthinkable and disingenuous. How could you ask God for help now when you so brazenly rejected Him earlier or slothfully let Him fall by the wayside. Don’t you deserve to be miserable? Maybe God is saying “I told you so.”

Jesus tells us otherwise. Our pride imagines God reacting this way. Jesus reveals that God is watching the horizon, waiting hopefully, and running to embrace us when we return. The father in this parable doesn’t accept the demotion suggested by his son. He embraces him, and raises him back to the dignity he had left behind; transforming him from servant of pigs to a son.

The older son’s jealousy reveals a hint of the same mistaken view as the younger son. Although he made the loyal choice, he still considered his brother’s prodigal lifestyle as glamorous. As a result, it appears to him that his brother was rewarded for leaving so disrespectfully and rewarded for returning so degraded. However, the father and the younger son know the terrible poverty, anxiety, and shame his choices had brought upon him. The older son, though working in the fields all those years, also enjoyed the peace and dignity of living as his father’s son. He did not experience the “glamour” of debauchery nor did he have the impoverishment of it either. Fr. Dubay, in his book The Fire Within, summarizes this misconception well:

“Contrary to what the world thinks, attachments are killjoys. The worldly man and woman take it for granted that the more they can multiply experiences and accumulate possessions, the more they shall be filled with contentment. They so want to believe this that they will discount a constant stream of evidences to the contrary. Boredom at parties, hangovers after bouts of drinking, heartburn after overeating, aftereffects of drug abuse, emptiness after loveless sexual encounters and failure to find fulfillment in fine fashions or in expensive excursions make it abundantly clear that sense pleasures are not joy. No matter how intense they may be for the moment, they inevitably leave in their wake a vacuous disillusionment. Where one does find genuine joy is in the heart and on the lips of those who have generously given up all else to have Christ.”[1]

God loves us as a merciful father. He pours out blessings in our lives even if we will eventually take them for granted. A little time on our own however and we realize how much we rely on God’s supernatural aid and relationship. He assures us that He is waiting anxiously for our return, running to meet us if we come back to Him and offering us the peace and protection of His home.

Consider:

  • When have you felt truly sorry about something? What motivated the regret?
  • Have you ever experienced the gift of forgiveness from someone?
  • Is there someone you need to forgive?
  • Reflect on the father in the parable looking out at the horizon and seeing his son in the distance. Consider how God is waiting for you with the same longing.
  • Have you ever fallen for worldly deceptions? How did they turn out differently than what you first expected?
  • How does your dignity as God’s son or daughter outweigh and outshine the false beauty of the world?

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one sinful attachment to surrender and turn to God.
  • Read Psalm 51 each day this week.
  • Examine your conscience each night and pray an act of contrition.
  • Return to God in the sacrament of Confession.

 

[1] Dubay, T. (1989). Fire within: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and the Gospel-on prayer. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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Living in Denial

excerpt from Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring by Angela Jendro (download or print)

3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Luke 13:1-9 NAB

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

 Meditation Reflection:

The mystery of God’s Mercy and Justice extend beyond the limits of our comprehension. Nevertheless, Jesus exhorts us to never forget that God is both. God’s mercy makes salvation possible through even the smallest opening of repentance and desire in our hearts. At the same time, the mercy we experience on a day to day basis, the undeserved blessings God showers as a doting Father, can also lead to complacency.

Mercy means healing and transformation. In our complacency we can begin to think that we deserve our blessings and forget our sins, or worse forget our blessings as well. St. Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 10:1-12 that the Israelites, after witnessing the mighty hand of God liberating them from Egypt and walking on dry land through the Red Sea, reverted to doubt, fear, and grumbling in the desert. In consequence, although liberated by God from Egypt, they died in the desert unable to enter the Promised Land. God can work mighty deeds in our lives. His mercy will cut through any sin. God’s forgiveness is not merely “spiritual dry-cleaning” as Pope Francis has termed it. God’s work heals and transforms. This process ought to bear fruits therefore of virtue, sanctity, and love. In fact, one of the ways St. Teresa of Avila verified the authenticity of a spiritual experience was by the fruits of virtue that accompanied it.

Jesus warned in today’s Gospel that God’s mercy is inextricably united to God’s justice. God has given us free will. He will honor that gift. If we choose to reject the opportunity for life which comes through healing from sin, then at some point we will die. God offers us more chances than we deserve but they are limited by time and by our choices. We cannot receive the fruits of mercy until we choose to acknowledge and repent of our sin.

Unfortunately, the general cultural view denies the reality of sin, excusing it away. In consequence, as Pope Francis has preached on Mercy (recall the Year of Mercy 12/8/2015-11/20/2016) he concomitantly needed to preach on sin. In a First Things article, titled “The Pope’s Theology of Sin”, William Doino Jr. provides context for the relationship between sin and mercy and presents Pope Francis’ insights regarding the process of reaching the first step – acknowledgement and repentance:

“The first part is to recognize the darkness of contemporary life, and how it leads so many astray: Walking in darkness means being overly pleased with ourselves, believing that we do not need salvation. That is darkness! When we continue on this road of darkness, it is not

easy to turn back. Therefore, John continues, because this way of thinking made him reflect: ‘If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’”[1]

Why is seeing our sin so important? Isn’t it a bit depressing? If it was analogous to learning you had an incurable cancer, then yes. But if it’s analogous to learning you had a cancer that can be cured with early treatment, then it’s a huge relief. If we do not suffer under the oppression of sin, we do not need a redeemer. When we live in denial of our sins and addictions, we refuse the opportunity for help. For example, if a person lives in denial of their regular rude or hurtful comments under the rationalization that they are just “speaking their mind”, then they will soon lose relationships and friendship. If a person lives in denial of their intemperance in spending or greed for possessions beyond their means, they will eventually suffer bankruptcy. Similarly, if we live a self-centered life rather than a God-centered life, at some point we will experience the harsh reality of our choices.

After opening our eyes to our sins (with the help of the Holy Spirit), the second part of the process is to take them to Confession; not with an attitude of a quick shower but with a humble, and deeply contrite heart. The word Pope Francis used to describe this feeling is one we shy away from in our culture – shame. Yet, when we feel genuine shame for our sin, it also motivates us to change and open ourselves up to receiving help and grace.

The final part of the process he writes, is:

“having absolute faith in God to renew us: We must have trust, because when we sin we have an advocate with the Father ‘Jesus Christ the righteous.’ And he ‘supports us before the Father’ and defends us in front of our weaknesses.” [2]

Rather than despair at our weaknesses and imperfections, Pope Francis reminds us to put our trust in Christ. We must acknowledge that we cannot change on our own and allow Jesus to apply His healing grace to our souls – enlightening our minds, strengthening our wills, and fanning the flame of love for God and neighbor.

In conclusion, the mystery of God’s Justice and Mercy requires us to make an active decision to turn away from sin and accept God’s help. Because grace is freely given by God, fruits of that grace are expected too. If we do not bear fruit, we can conclude that we have not actually been receptive to grace. If we do bear fruit, it will evoke feelings of gratitude and love because we know who we are, and from where those virtues truly came.

 Consider:

  • How has facing your faults, though painful, made you a better person with the help of Christ? How are you different today than in years past?
  • Has God ever “rebuked” you? Did it have a positive effect later or lead to greater freedom?
  • Are there faults you continue to rationalize? Do you treat your spouse, children, or family members with the love they deserve, or do you excuse your behavior by saying they should love you as you are without an effort to change?
  • Have you ever experienced the pain of seeing someone you love self-destructing or suffering due to living in denial of a serious problem? Have you offered help and been rejected? Consider how this relates to God’s perspective.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Read an examination of conscience and prayerfully reflect on it. Most parishes have a pamphlet by the confessional with an examination, you can also find some online. If possible, look for one tailored to your state in life (e.g. single, married, priest, etc.)
  • Read the First Things article on Pope Francis’ Theology of Sin. (http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/08/the-popes-theology-of-sin)
  • Choose one sin you have been avoiding admitting and actively root it out through prayer and practicing the opposite virtue. (For example – greed is combatted by generosity, a habit of critical remarks by encouraging ones, pride by humility, etc.)

[1] Doino, William Jr. “The Pope’s Theology of Sin.” First Things. August 2013. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/08/the-popes-theology-of-sin

[2] Ibid.

Strength in the Lord

By Angela Jendro

Excerpt from Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring by Angela Jendro

Download to your pdf reader or print.  Free Will Offering

1st Sunday of Lent

Gospel Luke 4:1-13 NAB

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

One does not live on bread alone.

Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written:

You shall worship the Lord, your God,

and him alone shall you serve.

Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written:

He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,

and:

With their hands they will support you,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said to him in reply,

“It also says,

You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.

When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.

 

 Meditation Reflection:

Directly after Jesus’ Baptism, the inauguration of His transition from His Hidden Life in Nazareth to His public ministry, the Spirit led Him into the desert for a time of preparation first – to fast, pray, and face temptation. In the same way, the Holy Spirit periodically draws us away from the noise of life and the distractions of the senses to be able to connect with God in a deeper interior way. In some cases, we choose to place ourselves in quiet reflection by going on a retreat or planning a weekend of solitude. At other times, the circumstances of life create that solitude for us.

It reminds me of standing ankle-deep in the waves of the ocean on the beach. As the water cascades over my feet it carries with it a flurry of sand, shells, sea-weed, and teems with life and energy. Then it recedes, drawing back everything it had just placed before me. Even the sand around my feet recedes leaving me only two small mounds beneath my arches.

Times of solitude can feel lonely and a little barren like the desert. However, they can be opportunities for prayer and preparation for the next mission God has for us when the water will return, replenished and shimmering.

The devil of course hates for us to follow Christ and he especially despises when we build the kingdom of God. He therefore attempts to derail us in any way possible. He prevents us from God’s work in a myriad of ways tailored to our own personal weaknesses. The devil distracts us with physical pleasures and the lie that if we don’t satisfy our body’s whims and desires, we will die, or at least be so miserable it’s not worth living.

During Lent, we face this lie and temptation, strengthening or will over our body and seeking joy in the Lord by giving up sweets, pop, alcohol, snacking, over-sleeping, staying up too late, etc., and replacing them with added prayer or spiritual exercises.

Another tactic favored by the devil is to redirect the trajectory of our work by aiming our talents at building the kingdom of self rather than the kingdom of God. He tempted Jesus with an enticement of kingship without the cross. Similarly, Satan attempts to promise us success and happiness without the suffering of the cross, if only we would exchange our faith in God for faith in ourselves.

Lastly, if we thwart both pitfalls through strength of faith and love, the devil makes his last attack by twisting God’s own words and attempting to skew our relationship with the Lord. The devil hates the Church because Christ empowered it with His authority to preach truth and correctly interpret Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit, as well as the grace of Christ to live it. If we listen to the Holy Spirit through Christ’s Church the devil loses his power to trick us “and will depart for a time”.

If we pay careful attention, we can learn the tricks of the devil in our own lives. St. Ignatius of Loyola began to notice this too and developed rules of discernment that have become a classic in the Christian life. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you grow in self-knowledge and provide the grace to overcome temptation so as to live in the freedom of the kingdom of God and work unhindered for His glory.

 Consider:

  • Spend some time in prayer reflecting on your average day. Consider what things unnecessarily slow you down, distract you, make you late, frustrate your work, or prevent you from getting started on something.   Implement a plan to combat one of them.
  • Consider the three categories of temptations from the Gospel today and how each one applies to you. This Lent build strength by combatting the pleasure that has a hold over you, the suffering you are trying to avoid or the status you are trying to achieve, and grow in knowledge of your faith to protect you from the deceptions of the devil.
  • Look back on your life and reflect on how God prepared you before raising you up for something. How did you feel beforehand and after? Have you experienced deeper and richer faith after a time of solitude or difficulty?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Commit to a Lenten resolution even if you fail at it periodically. Give something up and/or do something extra to strengthen your relationship with Christ and weaken your relationship with sin.
  • Read (or listen to the audiobook) C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. It’s short, entertaining, and enlightening. It’s a satirical work which features letters from an experienced demon to a lesser experienced one about how to tempt humans.
  • Listen to Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s podcasts on St. Ignatius’ discernment of spirits. He presents Ignatius’s ideas in an understandable and relatable way. (discerninghearts.com)

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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New Book – Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring by Angela Jendro

 

Lenten Journey_Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring by Angela M Jendro

Make a spiritual pilgrimage this Lent with guided meditations on theLenten Journey pic Sunday Gospels by Angela M Jendro, complete with real life applications and ideas for translating your meditation into action.

  • Download for free to your pdf reader for easy access on the go, or print to paper to make your handwritten notes.
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Printed Booklet – Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring

Free shipping within the U.S. 48 pages Guided Scripture meditatins for each Sunday of Lent through Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Encounter Christ in a new way with reflections that relate to your daily life, considerations to take to prayer, and ideas for concrete application.

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Mercy – The Freedom of Love

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 6:27-38 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

Meditation Reflection:

We most experience love, when we experience mercy. Love expresses itself the deepest in forgiveness, in patience with another’s faults or inadequacies, in tender care during times of physical or emotional weakness, in the desire for one to have even more than they deserve. God is Love (1John 4:8), and His incarnate Son revealed God by His mercy – through the humility to share our burdens, through His tender touch of healing, through His words of Truth, and through His suffering and death on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Jesus gave the New Commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you”(John 13:34) and exhorted us to “be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful,” (Luke 6:36) instructing that we will be judged by how much we loved saying “whatever you did to the least of these you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). As Jesus’ disciples therefore, we too are called to reveal the Father’s love through lives of mercy.

Mercy doesn’t mean enabling sin or saying that abusive behavior is okay. Rather, mercy requires that we acknowledge sin as sin, otherwise we could not forgive. Mercy acknowledges human limitations and chooses to bend down and humbly meet the person where they’re at. Entitlement is not mercy but justice. Giving someone their due is simply what’s owed. That’s why Jesus doesn’t find it particularly extraordinary. It’s precisely within the context of justice however, that mercy can be freely given – and it’s the freedom of the giving that is the essence of love. Mercy means giving someone what isn’t their due. As Pope Francis asserted:

“[Justice and mercy] are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love.” Misericordiae Vultus April 11, 2015 [1]

Jesus teaches us how to love by teaching us how to show mercy. As the Mystical Body of Christ, He is the Head and we are the Body. Each person will have to face judgment, but the judge is Jesus Christ. Oftentimes, we want justice for others but mercy for ourselves. Jesus reminds us that we cannot be hypocrites. The measure we apply to others will be the measure we receive. We can’t have it both ways. Either we all receive mercy, or we all receive strict justice.

The more we have received mercy, the more we love to give it in return. Those who have come to terms with the reality of their own sin and had the courage to bring them before the Lord in Confession and receive His forgiveness and healing, then see others in the same light with eyes of tenderness and a thirst for their salvation too. Sin is suffering, even if it seems pleasurable or glamorous at the time. It always results in a degradation of the human person and the painful feelings that accompany that reality. Only the person who has not received mercy sits in judgment, wanting justice and not realizing that sin can be its own punishment. In Luke chapter 7, Jesus dined with a Pharisee. While there a sinful woman entered and washed his feet with her tears. Jesus explained to the astonished lawyer, that those who have been forgiven much love much.

There’s nothing timid about mercy. It doesn’t mean being a pushover or a relativist. Mercy requires the greatest strength of character, more than we even have on our own. Authentic mercy in its real application in your daily life toward the people in your life, takes grace. Only the love of Christ in our souls can fructify into the kind of patient, resilient, self-sacrificing, love that Jesus expects of His disciples.

Even Mother Teresa testified that she and her sisters could not do the kind of work they did every day without prayer and the graces that flowed from it. Serving the poorest of the poor in India was her calling, but she often taught that each of us is called to show the same kind of love in our families and neighborhoods.

Let us make our homes real places of love so that we can overcome any hatreds. Love begins at home – everything depends on how we love one another at home. Do not be afraid to love until it hurts, because this is how Jesus loved.” Mother Teresa Thirsting for God: Daily Meditations ed. By Angelo D. Scolozzi, M.C. III.O.

A beautiful example of just such love, can be found in the life of Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914). Her husband, who was the love of her life, was also an ardent atheist. Their circle of friends in the upper level of society in France shared his rationalist distaste for faith and Catholicism in particular. Nevertheless, her character and love drew their affections and even the desire for her guidance. In the end, her husband Felix had a conversion to faith and became a Catholic priest after her death. He credited her example, prayers, and suffering on his behalf for his change of heart. Her patience, calm, generosity, and love went so deep that in her greatest trials it proved supernatural to him. He writes of her during her final illness,

When, having left her in the afternoon, I returned home in the evening, I was aware, as I approached her bed, of a calmness in her welcoming smile that would have been impossible in myself. For my own part, I knew well what kind of an invalid – intolerable to myself and to others – I would have been, instead of the source of serenity that she was to all around her; and I bowed down before the grandeur of the spirit that sustained and uplifted her.” The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur

When I asked my students how they see Christian love in their home the answers they gave were revealing. One girl said she appreciated how her mother made a nice dinner every night, even though it was a long day at work. In addition, she noticed that her mom would often call her dad and ask him to pick something up on his way home and he always did. These little acts of kindness resonated with her. Other students commented on how much it meant to have a listening ear, help studying for a test, a ride to activities, and words of encouragement. All of these little daily things added up to lot for them.

I still remember today, several decades after the fact, an act of mercy on my own mother’s part. She had just had the (white) carpet cleaned. We ordered pizza for dinner and when the doorbell rang I answered it. Excitedly I ran up the stairs with the pizza, tripped, and the whole thing fell face flat on the newly cleaned white carpet. I stopped breathing. The natural reaction should have been to scream or be angry. Instead, my mother calmly stated, “accidents happen.” I knew this acceptance of my clumsiness was mercy. In consequence, when one of my children or students makes a similar bumble, I react with patience and mercy because when I was in their place that is what I received.

Jesus wants to shake us out of our pettiness and call us to magnanimity. Rather than bickering siblings, He exhorts us to mature into loving, giving, adults. There’s no need to point fingers, Jesus sees and He will judge. We only need to focus on the measure He will use to judge us by. The more generous we can be on earth the more generous He can be with us in Heaven. Moreover, the more we can be patient and kind in response to the daily annoyances we encounter, the more we can reveal the Father’s love. Our culture can be highly critical and competitive. Gentle love and merciful kindness is sorely needed and a true testament of the reality of grace.

Consider:

  • When have you experienced mercy? Did you receive forgiveness? Tender loving care when you were ill? A hand up when you were down or starting out?
  • How can you show mercy in your home through acts of love? Where could you add patience and understanding? What are your loved ones shortcomings and how could you be merciful in their weakness? How can you be of service – what are the daily needs in your home?
  • Oftentimes judgment expresses itself as gossip, slander, and detraction. Consider how you could avoid participating in gossip or try to withhold critical comments about others. Think of someone you find most easy to criticize and think of an equal number of things you could compliment them about.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Thank God each day for the mercy He has shown to you. Think about the events of the day and be specific if you can.
  • Do something kind, loving, or of service each day toward those in your everyday life. Look for opportunities to show patience.
  • Read about the life of a saint and their example of practical mercy and love in the circumstances of their life.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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[1] http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_bolla_20150411_misericordiae-vultus.html

Who Me?!

by Angela Jendro

yqhih

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 5:1-11 NAB

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

Meditation Reflection:

I often find myself torn between two emotions. Like Simon Peter my encounter with Christ leaves me astonished with a strong desire to leave everything and follow Him so I can hang on His every word and witness His great works. I want to call out “Pick me! Pick me!” At the same time, when Christ actually calls me to follow Him and participate in His mission, I feel so ridiculous because of my smallness that all I can say is “Who me? Really? Are you certain? Uh oh…” It’s one thing to watch Christ, it’s completely another to be invited to work side by side with Him. I don’t mind blending into the crowd of admirers, but I know what Christ can do through His followers and I feel foolishly unqualified.

Every Christian who has encountered Christ and heard His call struggles with the same emotions. Pick up any account of the life of a saint and they articulate the same tension. Don’t mistake their words for false modesty. The saints knew precisely the greatness of God and their own ineptitude. The only difference is that they had the humility and courage to say yes to God anyway.

Today’s first and second reading give us two such examples. Isaiah (6:1-8) reacts to seeing the glory of the Lord with fear due to his own sinfulness and feelings of being unworthy. God doesn’t disagree with him because Isaiah’s response is appropriate and true. Rather God heals Isaiah and enables him to serve God by having an angel touch Isaiah’s mouth with an ember from God’s altar.   Isaiah’s first words of “Woe is me I am doomed” change to “Here I am, send me”. St. Paul recounts having a similar experience (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). He humbly acknowledges that he of all people has no right to be called an apostle because he began by persecuting the Church. I have to think that not a day went by that Paul did not recall being present at St. Stephen’s martyrdom as a witness on the side of the persecutors. To accept Christ’s call to serve as an apostle had to have required great humility on Paul’s part and a deep trust in the mercy of Christ. Paul was willing to change teams and look like a fool by accepting a leadership position because He decided to say yes to Christ anyway.

Fr. Francis Fernandez-Carvajal, author of many works on the spiritual life, notes that the devil often tries to discourage us from great aspirations by tricking us with false humility. Drawing from Teresa of Avila, he writes in his book Through Wind and Waves,

St. Teresa of Avila, after stressing that the struggle for holiness is grounded on God’s help, and hence the importance of being humble, warns of the danger of a false humility that is short on desire and low in aspirations. The saint says regarding true humility: ‘It is necessary that we know what this humility is like. I believe that the devil harms people who practice prayer and prevents them from advancing by causing them to misunderstand humility. He makes it appear to us that it’s pride to have great desires and want to imitate the saints and long to be martyrs. Then he tells us or causes us to think that since we are sinners the deeds of the saints are for our admiration, not our imitation.’ This false humility leads to spiritual mediocrity, so opposed to the true Christian vocation.”

Although we legitimately feel unworthy, answering Christ’s call demonstrates faith and trust in the merciful love of God. Shrinking from service because of our smallness is not humble it’s mediocre, and mediocrity is not the response to grace that Christ deserves.

Christ calls every Christian to share in His work of saving souls. It’s natural to respond with an astonished “Who, me?!” However, as Pope St. John Paul II exhorted us, we should cling to Christ’s words “Be not afraid”. Push aside the temptation of false humility and step forward in faith to say as Isaiah did, “Here I am, send me”.

Consider:

  • When, like Peter or Isaiah, have you been astonished by Christ?
  • What is Christ asking of you today?
  • What fears or insecurities are holding you back?
  • Do you believe Christ will do great things through you or do you doubt His mercy?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week ask Christ in prayer, “What do you want of me today? Here I am, send me.”
  • Pray the litany of humility prayer each day. It asks Christ to deliver us from the desires and fears that tend to become extreme in us and prevent us from freedom in following Christ.
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be chosen and I set aside Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),
Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

 

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016

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Let Go and Let God

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 4:21-30

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Meditation Reflection:

Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of Christ in this passage.  All too often so-called friends or groups of admirers show their fickle nature by turning on us at the first instance we upset them, let them down, don’t meet all of their expectations, or they simply become distracted by something else.  The home-town crowd listening to Jesus turned from amazement at His gracious words to anger, impelling them to hurl Him down a cliff in what seems like a moment.

The daily Gospel readings this past week shed light on the situation however, that can help sooth our disillusionment.  Jesus responded to both praise and rejection with the same calm demeanor.  He knows human nature and refrains from getting worked up about the opinion of the masses.  His mission is to do the will of the Father not to poll focus groups.  Moreover, Jesus teaches that all any of us can do is the will of the Father, the results are in God’s hands not our own.  This works both ways – when we seemingly do great works, and when we seemingly fail.  

In Thursdays Gospel reading from Mark 4:1-20 Jesus told the parable of the Sower and the Seed.  As a teacher and mother this is one of my favorite passages.  Jesus, and His servants, have the responsibility to sow the seeds of the Gospel wherever God sends.  How those seeds grow depends on the soil, or the disposition, of the receiver.  Jesus’ words quite often fell on hearts that were hardened toward Him or too distracted by greed or anxiety.  Why should we be surprised if we experience the same thing?  Sometimes Jesus’ words fell on generous hearts and the Holy Spirit was able to work wonders through His followers.  Again, can we really take all the credit when our work bears rich fruit? Some of the credit belongs to the person of faith willing to “hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk 11:28).  Thus, Jesus places higher honor on two foreigners over God’s own children the Israelites because they were willing to do something in response to God’s word.  Finally, credit ultimately belongs to God.  In Friday’s Gospel from Mark 4:26-32 Jesus reflected on how a farmer plants seeds and harvests the crops but the entire process of growth in between is due to the mystery of God’s work in nature.

This Gospel should give us peace that God is in control.  He opens people’s ears to hear and eyes to see if He chooses.  He decides which persecutions He will allow toward His servants and which He won’t.  In this Gospel Jesus calmly and effortlessly passed through the angry crowd, demonstrating God’s total control over the situation.  During His Passion however, the Father allowed His Son to be taken by the angry crowd in the Garden of Gethsemane and eventually crucified.  Yet, by the power of God Jesus also rose from the dead.  

Disciples of Christ can take comfort in Jesus’ words He so often speaks:  “Peace be with you” and “Be not afraid”.  We can let go and let God because our only task is to do the will of the Father and let Him bring our work to fruition.  We have the joy of being His instrument, but the music played through us belongs to Him.

Consider:

 Have you ever had an experience like Christ’s where a friend or an acquaintance turned on you?  What did it teach you about relying on the opinion of others?
 How much do you worry about what other people think of you?
 Do you trust your children to God or do you put all the pressure for their good on yourself?
 In John 15:1-5 Jesus asserts that our fruitfulness depends upon our connection to Him.  

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

 

o How often do you begin your work with prayer?  
o Do you pray for the people in your life?  
o Do you pray for God to guide little decisions and everyday tasks in addition to the larger ones? 
o How has bringing things to prayer enrichened your experience or the outcome?    

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

 Whatever your work may be, take time in prayer to surrender it to Christ each day.  Ask for Him to guide the process as well as the outcome. 
 Choose a time in the middle of your day to connect with Christ.  Decide on when, where, and how – even if it’s as simple as 5 minutes of silent prayer or reading Scripture at your desk during lunch.

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016; edited © 2018 Angela Jendro

Do You Have Skin In The Game?

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.

Meditation Reflection:

Fables and epic stories begin with something along the lines of “Once upon a time” or “A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away…”  Biographies on the other hand begin with concrete dates, places, and people.  The Christian faith differs from other religions because it is not a mythical fable rooted in the imagination instead of history, nor is it merely comprised of the accumulation of man’s wisdom in his search for God.  Rather, it is founded on eyewitness of God made man – Jesus Christ; on the testimony of men and women’s experience encountering God in His search for us.  St. Luke begins his Gospel as a biography not a story.  He underscores his intent to present the research he has compiled through his investigations in an orderly way.  The historical reality of Jesus, His place of origin, death under Pontius Pilate, the respect He gained from multitudes of people, and the numerous witnesses of His miracles are written of not only by the Gospel writers but secular historians of the time as well such as the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.

The apostles believed in Jesus because of what they saw as did many of the first followers of Christ.  Their faith centered on the climatic event of the Resurrection and seeing Jesus for the 40 days leading up to His ascension into heaven.  When choosing someone to replace Judas, for instance, the apostles required that the candidates be men who had followed Jesus from His Baptism through His Ascension and that the person had been a witness of the Resurrected Christ.  The early Christians did not preach a “spirituality” or self-help plan and Christ is not our universal imaginary friend.  The early Christians died for their belief in the reality of Christ and His promise of resurrection.  Their willingness to sacrifice everything this life has to offer proved their belief in the promises of Christ in Heaven.  The apostles and martyrs had nothing worldly to gain from their belief and their supernatural deeds of heroism, courage, sacrifice, and love served as a potent witness of the authenticity of their testimony.

Jesus brings “glad tidings to the poor” because He freed captives, healed the blind and lame, comforted the sorrowful, and gave eternal life to those willing to accept His love.  He then gave this same power to His apostolic Church through His Holy Spirit.  Read Acts of the Apostles, also authored by Luke, to see the evident power of God at work through the apostles and their successors.

The mission of Christ to free and heal continues in His Church today.  St. Paul writes in his first letter the Corinthians:

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. Some people God has designated in the church
to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues.
(I Corinthians 12:28)

Every Christian is called to witness to Christ.  The early Christians demonstrated their belief by how much they were willing to risk for their faith.  The same applies for us as Christians today.  Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) challenged in his sermon Venture of Faith that we consider how “Christian” we really are by weighing our faith by how much we risk for it:

Consider for an instant. Let every one who hears me ask himself the question, what stake has he in the truth of Christ’s promise? How would he be a whit the worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it to fail? We know what it is to have a stake in any venture of this world. We venture our property in plans which promise a return; in plans which we trust, which we have faith in. What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to Him on a belief of His promise? The Apostle said, that he and his brethren would be of all men most miserable, if the dead were not raised. Can we in any degree apply this to ourselves? We think, perhaps, at present, we have some hope of heaven; well, this we should lose of course; but after all, how should we be worse off as to our present condition? A trader, who has embarked some property in a speculation which fails, not only loses his prospect of gain, but somewhat of his own, which he ventured with the hope of the gain. This is the question, What have we ventured? I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolve, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, nothing we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolve, and do, and not do, and avoid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us. I really fear that most men called Christians, whatever they may profess, whatever they may think they feel, whatever warmth and illumination and love they may claim as their own, yet would go on almost as they do, neither much better nor much worse, if they believed Christianity to be a fable.

 Every Christian risks something because Christ transforms us which requires breaking things down as well as building things up.   That risk may be something material or it may be immaterial.  It may mean putting family before career or taking a risk in your career to reach for greatness.  It may mean taking the risk of emotional vulnerability, making connections with people, surrendering fear, or accepting the truth of your worth in God’s eyes.  When united to Christ, He will do great things in you and through you.  Each person has gifts from the Spirit and they vary. Today’s Gospel reminds us of the mighty deeds of Christ, witnessed by many, and continued today.  Let us pray for the courage to take a leap of faith and trust in the power and love of Christ.

Consider:

  • Consider the great things Christ has done in and through you.
  • Consider the great things Christ could do in and through you if you let Him.  Reflect on what holds you back and prayerfully surrender it to Christ.
  • Reflect on how Christ has set you free, opened your eyes, and brought you glad tidings.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray each day for God to work in you.
  • Pray each day for God to work through you.  When given the opportunity, take the risk to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
  • Read Acts of the Apostles.

 

~ Written and updated by Angela Jendro © 2018

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