Making Straight the Path to Joy

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

john the baptist

Gospel reflection for the 2nd week of Advent

Gospel of Luke 3:1-6 NAB

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.  Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

 Meditation Reflection:

 John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, gave us the final message from God regarding preparation for the promised Savior – Repent.  If we remain blind to our sins, we also fail to see our need for a savior.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his book In the Beginning, made the observation that our culture has replaced the word “sin” with more palatable (and less personal) terms like “non-standard” behavior.  By doing so, it removes personal responsibility for immoral behavior, often excusing it away by blaming anything other than the person.  As a result, the task for evangelization today he concludes, is to be brave enough to talk about sin.

Don’t worry, this won’t be a throwback to fire and brimstone preaching.  Recall the reason God asked for repentance – so we could receive healing and mercy.  You probably know of someone who did not want to go to the doctor so he or she kept insisting they weren’t sick.  Pretending to be healthy only caused their illness to worsen.  Similarly, if we do not face our spiritual illnesses they grow in strength and deadliness.

In The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, she relates this advice from Christ regarding examining our souls:

I do not wish the soul to consider her sins, either in general or in particular, without also remembering the Blood and the broadness of my Mercy.”

Christ also revealed to St. Faustina that His greatest pain is when a soul refuses His mercy due to a lack of faith in His love and forgiveness.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins so that we may turn to Christ for forgiveness and transformation.  It would be false modesty and possibly even the sin of pride or despair to willfully believe that Christ cannot or will not forgive you.  In the first reading for today from Baruch 5:1, God commands: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever.”  We must mourn our sins sincerely, then we must also accept the forgiveness and joy of God.

The Catechism defines sin in this way:

Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” Paragraph 1849

Sin usually means putting a lower good above a higher good – the order being God, Humans, Animals, Plants, Inanimate objects.  When we put objects before people, people before God, animals before people, or things before animals, we act in a “disordered” way.  In modern terms, our priorities are mixed up.  When examining your life consider your priorities not merely as standard or non-standard, but as faithful to God or sinful.

The Church identifies seven capital sins, or those sins that encompass most of the sins or vices we commit.  They include Pride, Avarice (Greed), Gluttony (Overindulgence), Envy, Wrath (Anger), Lust, and Sloth. Reading about each of these sins can be eye-opening.  Every time I teach on this subject, I find more ways they apply to me and have to go to Confession.  Self-knowledge however is the first step in the spiritual life.  Jesus begins the beatitudes with “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, meaning those who recognize their poverty before God and need for Him.  Then He says, “Blessed are those who mourn” meaning those who, in seeing their sinful state, grieve over their sins.  This is followed up by the promise that one day they will rejoice (just as God prophesied through Baruch). The beatitudes continue to build from there to purity of heart wherein one may see God and finally a state of peace wherein one enjoys living as God’s child.

Christ urges us to have the courage and humility to examine our consciences and our lives, to endure the unpleasant feelings so as to make it to the other side where we will have joy and peace.

Consider:

  •  Reflect on Christ’s mercy and His mercy toward you in particular.
  • Read about and reflect on the seven capital sins.
  • Read and reflect on the Beatitudes.  (Matthew 5:3-12)

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Actively try to overcome a sin through prayer and practicing the opposite virtue.
    • (for example, to oppose gluttony intentionally fast from something you like; or to oppose sloth, get up 30 minutes earlier than usual)
  • Reflect on one beatitude a day.
  • Extend mercy to someone in gratitude for Christ’s mercy toward you.
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Appreciating the Advent of Christ

Guided reflection: by Angela Jendro

1st Sunday in Advent

Gospel Luke 21:25-28, 34-36 NAB

 Jesus said to his disciples: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand. “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

 Meditation Reflection:

 Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, a word which means “coming” and therefore a time of preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas.  The nativity scene of Jesus as a baby in a manger may be quaint, but it has nevertheless had world-changing and life-changing effects.  The incarnation of Christ stands as the axis of history.  When the Son of God became man, He raised the dignity of human nature higher than that of the angels.  No other creature shares such intimacy with God!  In consequence, life after the coming of Christ looks radically different than before – both in terms of history and in terms of our personal encounter with Him.

The early Christians expressed the significance of this by affirming the intrinsic dignity of every human person from the moment of conception. In the Didache, one of the first “catechisms” or statements of faith possibly dating before A.D. 100, it is written: “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.”  Contrary to the Roman practice of infanticide, Christians believed that every stage of human life was sacred, including that of the child in the womb, because it experienced union with Christ who took up our humanity at the moment of His conception in Mary’s womb.  Consequently, human value is not subject to one’s usefulness, accomplishments, or convenience.  Rather, every human has inherent value because he or she enjoys the dignity of union with God.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the Christian belief in this way:

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”:78 “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”79 “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”80 “The only–begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”81  CCC par 460

Despite secular attempts to downplay the impact of Christ, our calendar retains the mark of His coming.  Modern attempts to replace B.C. (before Christ) with B.C.E. (before the common era) and A.D. (Anno Domini – in the year of our Lord) with C.E. (common era) still doesn’t change the fact that the “common era” is counted from before and after the coming of Christ.  In fact, the coming of Christ has changed history universally to an extent unmatched by any other person, empire, or movement.

Jesus tells us to “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.”  During Advent we take a step back to readjust our perspective.  Unfortunately, the craze leading up to Christmas tempts us to step backward rather than forward.  We can too easily become either stressed by the anxieties of Christmas celebrations or distracted by feasting and consumerism that we forget the impact and gift of Christ in our lives.  God became man, that we might become God.  Advent is a time to reflect on this mystery and invite Christ to bring to perfection this good work that He has begun in us.

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 NAB

 Consider:

  • Reflect on the inestimable dignity you have in Christ.  How might you align your view of yourself with God’s view of you?
  • Consider the gift of God becoming man.  How does this deepen your feeling of confidence and security knowing that God has united Himself with our very nature?
  •  God’s intimacy through Christ is startling and should have a startling effect on your life.  Thank God for how He has transformed your heart and your life.  Invite Him to transform it even more.

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, thank Christ for His closeness to you.  Keep it present to your mind by wearing a cross or carrying a scripture verse in your pocket.
  •   Pray for the unborn and for greater appreciation for the sacredness of life from conception to natural death.
  • Identify one way that you don’t live up to the dignity Christ has given you.  Resolve to act or be treated in the way you ought to be, as a son or daughter of God.

 

Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” [St. Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.] CCC 1691

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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The Glorious Reign of Christ our King

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 Jesus and Pilate

Feast of Christ the King

Gospel John 18:33b-37

Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Meditation Reflection:

Christ’s humble form in the Eucharist and His life of material poverty can sometimes cause us to forget the magnitude of His greatness and the awe-inspiring power and glory of His kingship. Advent marks the beginning of the New Year for the liturgy. As a result, the week prior marks the end of the year and so we reflect on the end of time when Christ will come again to reign in glory. Scripture attests to the fact that His Second Coming will be very different than His first. In the latter His glory was veiled so that we might have the freedom to accept or reject Him. In the former, everyone will see and know that He is God. The Truth will be revealed and we will no longer be able to live in unreality.

Pontius Pilate articulates this confusion well. He simply asks Jesus if He is the king of the Jews but Jesus describes His kingdom in terms foreign to Pilate’s political experience. Jesus’ kingdom includes those who love and live by Truth. Christ’s kingdom conquers hearts not lands and its members become citizens of this monarchy freely. Pilate asks the famous question “What is truth?” as Truth stands directly before him. At Christ’s Second Coming, no one will ask this question. Reality will be so bright that we cannot hide in blindness or denial.

For those who love Christ, who have been desiring to see in fullness the Lord they can only see by faith, it will be a glorious moment. When our king comes we will truly rejoice and feel both honored and unworthy to be His servants. We will sing songs of praise like those in the book of Revelation, grateful to be in His courts. For those who rely on lies or a self-created image they will cringe when the truth of their emptiness is exposed. The feast of Christ the King should encourage us and strengthen our hope to persevere in aligning ourselves with God who is Truth, Goodness, and Love. It seems unreal to the worldly but the reality check will come and Christ will reward those who know the Truth. In response to the culture of relativism the Christian can respond: You have your truth and I have mine…His name is Jesus.

Consider:

  • Reflect on Jesus’ words to Pilate: “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. “Who do you listen to when discerning the answers to important questions?
  • Do you consult Scripture, Christian spiritual writers, your priest, etc.?
  • Is there someone you know that loves you enough to speak Christ’s Truth to you despite whether it is something you want to hear or not?
  • Do you ask Christ in prayer?
  • Do you rely on cultural norms to determine your perspective?
  • Do media or secular friends play a role in your decision making?
  • Our culture is permeated by relativism – the belief that there is no objective truth. Do you believe that Truth is objective – the Person of Christ – or do you adhere to the cultural mantra “you have your truth and I have my truth”?
  • Imagine Jesus coming in all of His glory with His hosts of angels. Consider what it would feel like to be in His Kingdom.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for Christ’s kingdom to come in your own heart each day this week.
  • Start each day imagining the Second Coming of Christ. Walk through the rest of the day with joy and pride of being a member of His true, everlasting kingdom.
  • If you are blessed with a Truth-speaker in your life, take the time to thank him or her. They could probably use your encouragement. We know how Truth was treated while He was on earth.
  • If you struggle to understand or align yourself with one of Christ’s teachings in Scripture or through His Church, actively seek understanding by learning more through reading, talking with someone educated on the topic, praying about it, etc.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2015; edited and reposted © 2018

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Faith-filled Giving, Authentic Discipleship… Gospel Meditation for Mark 12:38-44

by Angela Jendro

Faith-filled Giving, Authentic Discipleship

Mother-Teresa-Giving-Quote

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Mark 12:38-44 NAB

In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus observes two persons and each teaches us something different about discipleship and giving. Growing up both my parents communicated their conviction about giving in word and action. They taught us about tithing and the responsibility of stewardship. Stewardship refers to how God gave human persons the responsibility and authority to care for gifts He entrusts to us. This includes Creation (see Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si), our talents, possessions, money, opportunities, and time. Scripturally and traditionally, tithing has been defined as giving God the first 10% of one’s income. My parents taught us to give 5% to our parish and 5% to charitable giving of our choice. This, they also taught, is just the beginning. One is called to be generous of heart and put all that one has been given at the service of Christ. Even if one has no income, is sick and suffering, unable to “do” anything for anyone else, that person can offer their suffering and prayers which has great power to build up the Church.

The rich people Jesus observed contributed from their “surplus.” It’s valuable to give but it doesn’t take faith to give your extra. Moreover, Jesus juxtaposes this observation with His critique of a hypocritical attitude which desires honor for oneself rather than giving honor to God. I personally know certain rich persons who give from faith not just surplus and who do so with great humility and gratitude. I have also observed other persons who only give if it will be visible to others, they will be recognized, and others will “see what a good person they are.” At times, the gift, though it looks large, is either merely the 10% they ought to give anyway or less.

Our parish should not have to “beg” for money. It’s our responsibility to give to God the honor and faith He deserves and giving the first 10% of our paycheck is a concrete way to show it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to remember to bring the check to Mass when I am trying to just get us all there on time, showered, and dressed somewhat appropriately. The longer I wait though the more burdened I feel. When my parish offered the option to have my tithing paid through automatic deduction from my checking account I signed up. I have my paycheck automatically deposited, and I have a great peace knowing my tithing is automatically given to God too. Many people say that you cannot out-give God. This is absolutely true; ask anyone who has ever tried. It’s okay to attend charitable banquets or galas, but let’s be intentional about our giving and remember that we are merely doing our duty as stewards to a God who has been so generous to us and is the source of all we have.

The widow in this passage challenges us to give God not just 10%, but everything. As a poor widow, in a time and culture where she would have no opportunity to earn a living, she was completely dependent on God. She demonstrated her faith when she gave Him the little she had. In the first reading today (1 Kgs 17:10-16) another poor widow showed similar faith by giving Elijah her last meal. He promises her that if she does this for God’s prophet, God will not let her flour or oil run out until the drought is over. She makes a leap of faith and prepares the little cake for Elijah. God keeps His promise by providing what she needs.   I wonder if the widow Jesus observed was recalling the same event when she gave her last coin. Jesus, who knows and judges hearts, holds her up as an example of profound giving.

Discipleship is not for minimalists. Jesus does not call us to mediocrity. Jesus demonstrates that love means giving one’s whole self with abandon to God, trusting in His goodness and love. Giving God 10% or more means acknowledging that He gave you 100% and it’s the least you can do. The more you love the easier it is to give. When we love God deeply, giving to Him can bring deep joy.

Consider:

  • Reflect on all of God’s gifts in your life – people, relationships, opportunities, food (especially ice cream!), clothing, housing, work, beauty in nature, His saving Truth and grace…
  • How have you benefited from the generosity of others?
  • Consider or “observe” someone authentically generous. Is there something(s) they do you could imitate?
  • Reflect on how you can’t out-give God. Consider how God always blesses you with more the more you give.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Evaluate your giving and make a plan:
    • Financially – pray about how much to give to your parish, what charities you want to support, what people in your life you might give to.
    • Time – be intentional about making time for your family, friends, neighbors, parish, and local charities.
    • Talents – pray about who you could help with your skills, knowledge, etc.
  • Add warmth to your home
    • In his homily at the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis commented on the solitude and loneliness that plagues our culture pointing to “the paradox of a globalized world filled with luxurious mansions and sky scrapers but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families.”
    • Add warmth to your home for your family and share that warmth with others in your life you could reach.
  • Pray for a heart of gratitude and the eyes to see the needs of others around you.
    • Giving can be simple: a cup of coffee, a warm smile, helping someone save face, showing patience toward someone, giving encouraging words or recognition, fixing something if you’re mechanical, helping someone with technology if you’re computer savvy…

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2015; reposted Angela Jendro © 2018

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The Simple Truth – Love

Love alone counts

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 November 3rd, 2018 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 12:28B-34 NAB

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Meditation Reflection:

A couple of weeks into the school year, a new student of mine stopped by my room after the bell and asked, “How does a person become a saint?”.  As a religion teacher, my first thought went to if she was asking about the process of being canonized, but I stopped, thinking maybe she means on a more spiritual level – like the process of detachment from the world or the three stages of the spiritual life, then I stopped again as my mind jumped to other possibilities for the source of her question until I quit guessing in my mind altogether and simply said, “Why do you ask?  What is it you want to know?”

The Holy Spirit must have prompted me to ask instead of assume, because I never could have anticipated the beauty and simplicity of her answer.  In all sincerity, and with a beaming sweet smile on her face, she replied “because I want to be one!” “Ah” I said, “then it’s simple, love God with all your heart.”  “Really?!” she asked.  “Yep,” I said, that’s it.”

God, the Blessed Trinity, is a union of 3 Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He created human persons in His image as a union of persons in relationship of love with Him and with each other.  When we love God, we can’t help but love our neighbor whom we see as God’s image on earth and our brother or sister in Christ.

The answer is simple.  Jesus’ answer was simple.  It was the same command God had given in Deuteronomy over a thousand years before, and the mission He had given Adam and Eve at their creation.

We are the ones who make sainthood difficult.  We turn our eyes from the Beauty of God and prefer baser pleasures instead.  Because of our wounded nature, we worry that obedience to God will somehow restrict our freedom and deter us from our full potential.  This same self-assertion applies to our neighbor whom we view in light of our own pleasure or gain.  If he or she will add happiness or pleasure, we love them.  Otherwise, we tend to suspect them, like jealous siblings, worried that they will steal something from us, compete for the same resources and attention, or annoy us.

Thankfully, as we mature spiritually, we grow out of these childish concerns.  We understand that our Heavenly Father sets us high upon the rock in safety (Ps 27:5) fills our cup to overflowing (Ps 23), corrects the ones He loves as a Father does for His child (Proverbs3:12), and offers true freedom (John 8:32).  We also grow into a more adult relationship with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, realizing they are not a burden but a blessing. Moreover, filled with God’s love it necessarily overflows to others (cf 1 John 4:7)

Loving God means taking time for Him, in prayer and Scripture.  It means learning more about Him and deepening our understanding of His self-revelation.  It’s also the “simple raising of the heart and mind toward God” (CCC par. 2559) and the desires of love from deep within the soul.

As St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, put it:

“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy”

The Christian disciple follows the example of Christ, who modelled and taught the way of Love – prayer and sacrificial works of mercy. His prayer life was so deep, His disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, upon which He gave them the Our Father.  His merciful actions were so numerous John states at the end of His Gospel that if everything He did was written down, the whole world could not contain it (John 21:25).

Everyone searches for the key to happiness.  It’s simple, Love the Lord with all your heart:

“Find your delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desire” (Psalm 37:4)

 Consider:

  • Ask God for the grace to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as Christ as loved you.
  • Reflect on Psalm 27:4 “One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the LORD’s house all the days of my life, To gaze on the LORD’s beauty, to visit his temple.”
  •  Imagine the people in your life – at work, in your neighborhood, driving on the highway, etc. – as your brother and sister.  What prayer might you have for them if they were family?  How might you see them more personally and with more compassion?
  • Consider this passage from St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue which describes how our hearts can be taken up, and on fire, with love for God. It is written from the perspective of God the Father speaking to her:
     No virtue can have life in it except from charity (love), and charity is nursed and mothered by humility.  You will find humility in the knowledge of yourself when you see that even your own existence comes not from yourself but from Me, for I loved you before you came into being.  And in My unspeakable love for you I willed to create you anew in grace.  So I washed you and made you a new creation in the blood that My only-begotten Son poured out with such burning love.

     This blood gives you knowledge of the truth when knowledge of yourself leads you to shed the cloud of selfish love.  There is no other way to know the truth.  In so knowing Me the soul catches fire with unspeakable love…”

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • What sets your heart on fire with love for God?  Do that every day this week.
  • Pray one psalm a day, one chapter of a Gospel, or one chapter of Acts of the Apostles each day.
  • Choose someone from your daily life and imagine them as your brother or sister.  Pray for them by name and do something kind for them.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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The Courage to Transcend Mediocrity…Gospel Meditation for Mark 10:17-30 for 28th Sunday

by Angela Lambert

Jesus and the Rich man

Gospel of Mark 10:17-30 NAB

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus is about to leave when the young man comes running to Him. The question must have been burning on his heart and he knew he had to get to Jesus and ask Him before He left. In every human soul, the question of eternal life singes until satisfied.

In his work, Pensees, the philosopher Pascal observed that we fill our lives with distractions just to avoid this very question. When we are quiet or alone, it surges up and must be dealt with. We realize the feebleness of our nature and our true vulnerability. We are then faced with the clear decision that either there is no God in which case I can live as I want but my life is meaningless, or there is a God and I can live forever but I must acknowledge His authority and live by His precepts.

Many of us make something of an effort. Like the rich young man, many of us modern religious persons live comfortable and fairly moral lives. We follow God’s rules while we pursue the average American dream. Yet, our hearts still burn for more. Thankfully, the man in the passage pushes Jesus on the issue. Jesus affirms that the man has done the minimum requirement for eternal life. So why isn’t he satisfied? This is why “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” The man had opened his heart with a listening ear, courageous enough to seek out the answer rather than bury the discomfort. He asked Jesus that challenging question I have suggested in past posts – “Lord show me my blind spot.” And Jesus does, out of love.

Christ calls us beyond the minimum.

“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)

The philosophical and theological definition of “perfect” is “full or complete.” This is why He tells the man he is “lacking” one thing only. Christ, God incarnate, is about to set out for a journey. He offers the man the opportunity to come follow Him. What a privilege! Yet to do this, he would have to leave everything behind – another fork in the road.

How many times do we turn down incredible opportunities to stay in our comfort zone?   We get sentimental or attached to any number of our possessions and it undermines our freedom to say yes to the gifts of Christ that come in the form of service opportunities, vocation, relationships, even careers we may end up finding more fulfilling but less lucrative. When we let fear, comfort, or greed hold even a small part of us back from God, we experience a nagging feeling of hunger because we are not quite full. It’s normal to feel this divided heart – a simultaneous desire for complete abandonment to God and the fullness of joy and peace that accompany it, and the safe visible comforts of a worldly success which give us a kind of safety net but leave us feeling a bit cowardly.

I appreciate that Jesus says it’s impossible for us to make this leap by human effort alone because it speaks to my own experience. Rather than being discouraged by my own failure, I find hope in Jesus’ words that “all is possible for God.” The difference between the Old and New Covenant, is that in the first God gave His saving truth but in the second He gave us the grace to live by that truth. The young man in this passage encountered Christ and saw His gaze of love. May we too be blessed to see this gaze of love for us and say yes to perfect fullness. It’s okay if we leave feeling sad. It’s difficult to give up attachments. We don’t actually know if the man in this passage is sad because he won’t give up his possessions or because he will. The important thing is that we respond to grace, confident in Christ’s promise that our “sadness will be turned to joy” (John 16:20).

Consider:

  • Do you avoid solitude or quiet? Do you have a nagging feeling inside? Do you know why? With the help of Christ, consider honestly what fears, comforts, or ambitions hold you back from following Him with complete freedom and abandonment.
  • When did you make a sacrifice for Christ that turned out to be a terrific blessing? What held you back at first? How did you overcome those inhibitions? How did Christ exceed your expectations?
    • (for example: when I personally felt called by Christ to stay home with my children I found it hard to leave my job and the feeling of achievement. However, I came to experience freedom from taking my identity in accomplishments and a fullness of love in my heart I had never imagined. When my kids were school aged and Christ called me back to teaching, I found it difficult to transition again. However, I have a richer experience at work than before because now it’s more fully in union with Christ and I am less pulled by earlier attachments. It has also enriched my relationship with my kids as God has purified me of attachments I had grown while at home with them.)

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Christ challenges that possessions hold us back. Give away a possession this week.
  • Choose one fear, comfort, or ambition that is holding you back from following Christ’s lead completely. Practice the opposite virtue and do concrete actions to detach yourself. Be sure to pray and ask for grace. You will need Christ to help. Talk with a Christian who knows and cares about you so they can offer ideas and perspective.
  • Thank God for His grace in your life. Make a list of His gifts and of all the fears He has already freed you from up to now.
  • If God’s providence creates the opportunity, have the courage and humility to encourage someone else with your witness about how God freed and fulfilled you.

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2015

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In the Image of God…Gospel Meditation for Mark 10:2-12 for the 27th Sunday

by Angela Jendro

Mary undoer of knots

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 10:2-12 NAB

The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Meditation Reflection:

Pope Francis recently visited the United States for the purpose of supporting and building up the family. In a Wednesday audience, he summarized his message in this way, a reminder of God’s beautiful plan for humankind:

The humanism of the Bible presents this icon: the human couple, united and fruitful, placed by God in the garden of world, to cultivate it and to guard it.”

Scripture reveals that the family in fact represents most completely the image of God. Moreover, the image of a God who has revealed Himself to be a communion of Persons of life-giving love. Even though it was Jesus who revealed God’s Trinitarian nature, we can see the Trinity already foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The first instance being when God created humans in His own image. We read in Genesis 1:26-28,

Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness…God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.”

God, who is One, referred to Himself as “us” and created two persons, distinct yet one to be His image. The unity of man and woman as the image of God is again affirmed in Genesis 2:18-24 when man is not complete without the creation of woman. Although we may joke that a dog is man’s best friend, (and at times both men and women feel that way!), the truth is that we were made to be a communion of persons in life-giving love. Woman is created from man’s side, showing that though she is different than man, she is also of the same nature and of equal dignity.

“The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.After creating each of the kinds of animals however, “none proved to be a helper suited to the man. So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”

Because the family is the icon of the Trinity and therefore of God Himself, it makes sense that it has suffered the most from Satan’s attacks and from the effects of original sin. The unity between man and woman has been harmed and the joy of openness to life undermined. Sometimes we can feel so far of a distance from our nature at creation that it seems like God’s revelation about ourselves in Genesis is just a dream. Rather than unity, we more often see power struggles, selfishness, adultery, use and abuse, and so on. In addition, the gift of fruitfulness has now been categorized as a health problem, worthy of universal “preventative care” as part of women’s health.

After the Fall of Adam and Eve however, God promised a Redeemer. In Genesis 3:15, called the protoevangelium, or “First Good News”, God says to the snake, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.” At the incarnation, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”(John 1:14). He brought us truth, healing, love, and redemption. Through Christ we now know the fullness of God’s revelation and we have access to the graces needed to become re-made in His likeness.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus juxtaposes the two possible views toward marriage: a skepticism based on the reality of sin, or a hopefulness based on the reality of redemption. Jesus has not given up on marriage and the family, He has come to redeem it. It is the very image of our Trinitarian God.

One of my favorite images right now is “Mary Undoer of Knots.” St. Paul calls Jesus the “New Adam” because by Christ’s obedience He untied the knot of Adam’s disobedience. Likewise, Mary is the New Eve, whose fiat, or Yes to God untied the knot of Eve’s “No”. Sometimes I feel like life is a knotted up ball of a mess and I feel overwhelmed and powerless. It’s then that I look at the image of Mary undoer of knots and I surrender my life back over to our Blessed Mother and Christ, confident that if I am patient, they will undo the knots, one at a time.

Consider:

  • Consider your own feelings regarding marriage and family.
    • What makes you feel discouraged? Surrender it to Christ and pray for Him to redeem it.
    • What makes you feel hopeful? Think of a couple you know who seem to be truly united in love, who will each other’s good and have Christ at the center of their relationship.
  • How might you image the Trinity more in your own family? In what ways do you bring harmony and unity in your family? In what ways do you undermine unity? (usually we all do both!)
  • Reflect on how authentic love is life-giving and creative. Sometimes this produces human life but even when that isn’t a possibility it still expresses itself in ways that are creative and constructive. Consider the phrase “a labor of love.” When we love something we can’t help but express and share it.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2015 and updated © 2018

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* These Sunday meditations are intended to engage the heart and imagination in prayer and include a practical application (resolutions) to your daily life. In our presentation on prayer I offer a more detailed discussion of ways to pray with Scripture that can take 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour and vary in depth depending on your time-frame and prayer goals.  

 

To Serve is to Reign…Gospel Meditation for Mark 9:30-37

by Angela Jendro

pope-francis-hugging-disabled-childpope-selfie

25th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 9:30-37 NAB

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Meditation Reflection:

This week, a student of mine asked me why a woman cannot be the pope. This question, and its underlying one – why a woman can’t be a priest, gets asked every year. I myself wrestled with this question when I was in college. I’m glad I pursued the answered because there are beautiful theological reasons. Oftentimes however, what we are really asking is why a woman can’t hold what seems to be the highest and most powerful position in the Church. This seems sexist, unfair, and therefore not Christ-like. The apostles in today’s passage viewed leadership in Christ’s kingdom in a similar way. They were arguing along the way about who would have the highest position, the most power and prestige. If Christ’s kingdom resembled worldly kingdoms that would have been an appropriate question. Jesus corrects them in a pointed way. As God says in Isaiah 55:8 “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” Jesus had just taught the apostles that the Son of Man, the Messiah, would have to suffer and be killed. Rather than considering that they might be called to follow in His footsteps they wonder who will take leadership afterward. Jesus clarifies what He means by His kingdom. His words would have been surprising to the apostles and they are still surprising to us today.

It’s hard to truly believe Jesus when He teaches that “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” We would rather believe that discipleship means visible worldly greatness. The world looks at the papacy and sees position and power. However, beginning with Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century, the title the pope has used for himself has been “the servant of the servants of God.” Discipleship of Christ means following the path of humility and self-sacrifice, the same path Christ took. What can be more humble and self-sacrificing than caring for a small child, especially if you are its mother or father? This path of humility is open to all with equal opportunity. Some might even say that women have an unequal and greater opportunity since we alone have the ability to carry in our wombs new life at its most vulnerable stage.

Every Christian can become a saint if he or she cooperates with the grace of Christ. The Second Vatican Council used the phrase “the universal call to holiness” to describe the doctrine that God desires everyone to have perfect union with Him. The opportunity is equal, it’s or response which is unequal. Teresa of Avila said that what prevents individuals from experiencing greater depths of prayer and union with God is a lack of generosity, courage, and humility.

I wasn’t asked by Christ to be pope, but I was asked to be a mother and a teacher. In the world’s eyes there is nothing notable about my position except that I maybe “wasted” some of my talents and opportunities that I could have used for wealth and power instead. My eyes are on a different prize though. I don’t want to be the one in power, I want to be Jesus’ disciple. All I ask is that He say to me one day, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” I may not be the servant of the servants of God, but I accept being the servant of those He “put His arm around” and placed in my care.

Consider:

  • Who has God placed in your care? How has this made you grow in humility?
  • When do you feel tempted by worldly prestige?
  • Consider how you prioritize your life. How might Christ re-order your priorities? Ask for His help and grace.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Write out your priorities – look at where you spend your time and money. Pray about it each day this week and ask Christ to show you where you are doing well and where you need to change.
  • Pope Francis visited the U.S. for the world meeting of families. Read one of his speeches or homilies from when he was here. Consider how he shares Christ’s values as it pertains to family and discipleship. [A couple of my favorite sources: vatican.va (vatican website) and zenit.org (Catholic news agency)]

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2015; updated  © 2018

* These Sunday meditations are intended to engage the heart and imagination in prayer and include a practical application (resolutions) to your daily life. In our presentation on prayer I offer a more detailed discussion of ways to pray with Scripture that can take 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour and vary in depth depending on your time-frame and prayer goals.  

 

Communication and Relationships

Reflection by Angela Jendro

Jesus heals two blind men, an apostle behind him. Mosaic (6th)

September 9th, 2018; 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 7:31-37 NAB

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, to the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Meditation Reflection:

People brought to Him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged Him to lay His hand on him.”  To have begged Christ, they must have loved the man dearly.  Begging implies a kind of poverty and desperation.  It can be hard enough to ask for help sometimes, but to beg can seem too humiliating to do.  Jesus responds with such personal attention and care that it seems He too shares their concern that the man’s speech and hearing be restored.

This passage underscores the centrality of our relational nature – both our relationship with others and with God.  Relationship depends upon communication.  Clearly the people in this passage had communicated their love to the man through their actions and their expressions.  However, they begged Christ to remove the barrier of deafness and the speech impediment so that they might share words with the man and receive them in return.

Truthful words can communicate our inner thoughts and feelings, a sharing of ourselves that can only be known if we choose to share it with others.  Christ healed the man by restoring his ability to communicate and therefore enabling him to enjoy more freedom to relate to those he loved.  Jesus went even further by connecting the man to God Himself.  He took the man aside, physically touched him, and opened his ears to hear and his tongue to speak – both bodily and spiritually.  Jesus, the Word of God, became man that we might have relationship with God.  We can only know God’s inner thoughts and feelings if He chooses to share them with us verbally.  Jesus is God’s incarnate communication.  He desires to restore all of us to relationship with Him and with others.  If we humble ourselves to beg Him to open our ears and free our tongues, He gives us hope in this passage that He will unite us at a deeper level than we can imagine to God and those we love.

If God is a dialogical unity, a being in relation, the highest creature made in his image and likeness reflects this constitution; thus he is called to fulfill himself in dialogue, in conversation, in encounter.” — Benedict XVI, Trinity Sunday, Genoa, May 18, 2008.

Consider:

  • Jesus healed the man by touching him and praying for him.  Consider the power of human touch, words, and prayer.
  • Do you struggle with either hearing God or with speaking to God? Do you offer general prayers or do you really communicate with the Lord?  How might you open yourself up to deeper communication with God?
  • Is there a person you struggle communicating with?  Why do you think that is?  How might you repair the relationship and soften the communications?
  • Consider the power of words to build up or break down a relationship.  When was a time that someone’s words made a significant and positive difference in your life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Which Scripture passage do you love the most?  Write it down and post it where you will see it every day.
  • Read one psalm a day.  They are God’s words to you and beautiful words of prayer back to God.
  • If there is someone you struggle with, place the relationship before God and beg Him to bless it.
  • Intentionally think about the words you use each day this week.  Ask Christ for self-control to guard against harsh, critical words.  Ask the Holy Spirit to provide you with the right words to say to each person you meet in your day.

~ Written by Angela Lambert-Jendro © 2015

Trust – And the Leap of Faith

Reflection on John 6:60-69

Giusto di Gand Joos Van Wassenhove Instituzione delleucarestia (from commons.wikipedia.org)

by Angela Jendro

August 25th, 2018; 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 6:60-69 NAB

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Meditation Reflection:

The psalmist exhorts us to “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 34).  He does not say, “see then taste”.  Rather than requiring scientific evidence to support the miracle of the Eucharist before receiving it, Christ pleads with us to believe in Him and receive the Eucharist after which we will see its power to give life.  Belief in the Eucharist should not be predicated upon whether it satisfies our natural reason or whether or not we feel like it.  Instead, Christ’s word alone, His teaching as Lord and Savior of the world forms the basis for belief in the supernatural miracle of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Because of its supernatural quality, it necessarily exceeds our natural experience and reasoning.  This makes it difficult for any person to believe in such a transformation based on merely human experience.

The Catechism discusses this common problem, writing:

The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ (Jn 6:60) The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks.  It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division.  ‘Will you also go away?’ (Jn 6:61):  The Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only He has ‘the words of eternal life’ (Jn 6:68) and that to receive in faith the gift of His Eucharist is to receive the Lord Himself.”

In this passage the followers of Christ divide between those who “returned to their former way of life” where their faith wasn’t challenged and those who, with Peter, can only say “We have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy one of God.” The passage seems to indicate that everyone present experienced confusion and found Christ’s teaching difficult to accept.  Many of us share this same experience.  We follow Christ and marvel at His actions in our life.  Then we come to a point where one of His teachings, whether in Scripture or through His Church, seems too difficult.  We are tempted to rationalize that no one could really believe it and then go on living as we were. Christ challenges us to respond instead like Peter by putting our trust in Him.  If we are convinced that Jesus is the Christ, then we should be convinced that everything He says and promises is true.

Consider:

  • What makes you convinced that Jesus is God and Savior?  Are you convinced?
  • What teaching of Christ do you struggle with the most?  Do you follow Christ always or only when it makes sense to your natural reason?
  • Which is more reliable – Christ’s wisdom or your own? Why?
  • Do you find it hard to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist?  If yes, why?  If no, why not?  If you have a deep belief in the Eucharist, consider how you might share that belief with someone else.  Pray for a providential moment.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Faith is a gift.  Pray each day this week for an increase in the gift of faith.  You could share the prayer of the man in Mark 9:24 who said to Christ, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”
  • Make an effort to deepen your belief in the Eucharist.  Spend time praying at Church or adoration, go to a daily Mass, read about the Eucharist in the Catechism http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm, read John 6 again, read about Eucharistic miracles. Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind and heart.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018 (edited from original post Aug. 23rd, 2015)