How can God be both Justice and Mercy?

by Angela Jendro

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 15:1-32 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 he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing

490px-Bernhard_Plockhorst_-_Good_Shephard

by Bernhard Plockhorst

one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Then he said, “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

552px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project

Return of the Prodigal Son By Rembrandt

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:

Justice versus mercy. How can God be both? And how can we imitate Him when we need to apply concretely a mystery that surpasses our understanding?

In this Gospel Christ illuminates something of this mystery. First, we should remember that we live in a highly competitive culture. Consequently, we feel justice – giving each person his or her due – is necessary to keep things “fair.” Secondly, as St. Augustine pointed out in The City of God, if we are earthly-minded and focused on building the “city of man”, then we often find ourselves at war with one another as we vie for limited resources.

The resources and goods in the “city of God” however, Augustine notes, are unlimited. Moreover, rather than being reduced when given away they multiply, and rather than being limited to temporary gain, they last eternally.

Our human tendency to want justice applied to others but mercy applied to us, often relates more to our striving to build the city of man rather than the noble cause for justice itself. Justice is important, and God is justice as well as mercy. However, we have to be aware of our own prejudices and since we suffer the effects of original sin, we tend to rationalize our double-standard.

The truth is, when God weighs our own faults and violations of divine and natural law, none of us will be able to balance the scale and achieve a just state. We know God cares about justice because for us to rightly spend eternity with Him, the scale had to be balanced and so He sent His only Son to suffer and die for our sake, to tip the scale for us. By helping us reach a state of justice, He acted mercifully.

To even begin to understand something of this mystery, of the harmony between Justice and Mercy in God, Jesus uses comparisons we can relate to – a shepherd looking for a lost sheep and a woman searching for a coin. In each case you or I may not have cared. They care because they view the sheep and the coin as their belonging. When lost, they were impoverished in some way and in finding it their possessions became complete. We belong to God. You or I may not care about a particular person but God does. He views each human person as His own treasure, and to lose one results in a loss, and to regain that person creates completion.

To clarify and impress this on us further, Jesus follows with the Parable of the Prodigal Son (verses 11-32). Whereas in our work life if an employee or colleague leaves it may be disappointing but that person can be replaced by a new hire and eventually life goes on. We see this in every realm of society – politics, business, entertainment, sports – except one, the family. If a child rebels and leaves his or her family, there remains a hole and a lingering pain for as long as the child remains estranged. The family cannot simply find a replacement and move on with life. It will always feel like a loss and incomplete.

The relationship between justice and mercy therefore can only be understood in light of relationship. In the parable of the prodigal son, the rebellious child left home and eventually experienced the reality of the choices he had made. With the money gone, he finally received his due, and this provoked conversion. When he returned home, repentant and interiorly changed, his father was ecstatic to incorporate him back into the family. The older son, focused on the earthly resources, became bitter at the apparent injustice. It wasn’t fair. Had he viewed it from a spiritual perspective, he would have seen that he had become enrichened. Rather than focusing on the fattened calf he felt he “lost” to the feast of his wayward brother, he ought to have focused on the brother he regained.

The deeper we grow in love, the more we begin to understand God’s ways. Rather than seeing him merely as a judge, we need to see that He is foremost a father. He will do what it takes to keep his family together and to help His children flourish. Fathers and mothers make countless material sacrifices for their children and oftentimes with joy. From the outside others might rightly marvel at how this could be. Those who have children however, know by experience the deeper sense of satisfaction and pleasure one gains from these acts.

When considering justice and mercy, Christ exhorts us to view it in light of being God’s possession, His children, and love.

Consider:

  • Consider the difference between being an employee in comparison to being someone’s child. You are God’s own. You are God’s child.
  • Consider how love moves one to mercy and the more loving persons are, the more merciful they become.
  • Consider how you felt when you received mercy or when you gave mercy.
  • Reflect on how justice and mercy relate with one another. Sometimes being just enables one to be merciful.
  • Spend 5 minutes in silent prayer, just gazing on God who is Justice and Mercy.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray each day for the conversion of someone who has left the faith. If possible, reach out to him or her through acts of kindness and mercy.
  • In light of the parable of the prodigal son, forgive someone who has returned to you apologetically.
  • If there is someone who has made serious changes (for the better) in his or her life, pray about giving them a second chance and incorporating them back into your life.
  • Practice one corporal work of mercy and one spiritual work of mercy each day this week.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

Follow bar

Following Christ At All Costs

by Angela M. Jendro

Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India in October, 1979.

Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India in October, 1979. Jean-Claude Francolon | Gamma-Rapho | Getty Images

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 14:25-33 NAB

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Meditation Reflection:

How can Christ, whose new commandment to us was to “love one another as I have loved you” simultaneously ask that we hate our family members? As we celebrate the feast day of St. Mother Teresa this week, we can look to her example to illuminate this paradox. Jesus’ challenge that “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” proved a difficult task and one that required great love, detachment, and grace for Mother Teresa who left her home, her family, and even her beloved convent to serve the poorest of the poor in the streets in India. Jesus rightly warns to count the cost before we set out on a project lest we find ourselves giving up midway. Discipleship calls for a total gift of self, in response to the Lord who made the ultimate gift of self for us through His Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection.

In a perfect world, or at least in heaven, loves do not compete with one another and we aren’t painfully pulled in opposing directions. In our current fallen state however, we come to crossroads where we must choose between two loves. It’s one thing to forsake the love of a material good or a sinful habit, but the hardest love to forsake is that of someone with whom we have a relationship but refuses to share us with Christ and gives us an ultimatum.

This ultimatum may not sound as direct as “it’s me or Christ!” but it will likely pit some aspect of following Christ against something the person wants of you. Following Christ results in a life of sacrifice that’s counter-cultural. Authentic Christians don’t blend in and that bothers people who don’t want to stir the waters. Living your faith, even quietly, can prick the conscience of another and result in lashing out to ease his or her own angst. Similar to Jesus, Christians offer love unconditionally to others. Unfortunately, the same is not always true on the other end and the painful choice between following Christ or making the person you care about happy must be made.

This choice takes as many forms as there are relationships. For a teen it can be a couple breaking up because one chooses purity over promiscuity or being left out of social gatherings because of a refusal to drink. For a young adult it can be a person choosing the religious life despite the discouragement of parents, or moving away from family and friends for a service they are called to by Christ. For parents it can mean getting the silent treatment from a child because you refuse to condone their wrong behavior. For a spouse it can mean suffering the anger of the other because one refuses to compromise living out his or her faith to appease the other’s sin. No one wants a rift in their family – whether between parents, children, or spouses. At the same time not everything is in our control except our own decision to follow the Lord. Navigating these situations can be confusing and spiritual direction should be sought to sort out how to authentically love in particular situations.

Mother Teresa desired to follow Christ and to give her whole life in love to Him. First it meant leaving her family to join the Sisters of Loreto as a nun and serve in India as a teacher. Next, she received her “call within a call” to go out into the streets and serve the poorest of the poor. She was happy as a nun and asked Jesus if she could just serve Him more devoutly in the way she already was. Each time however He repeated His request for her to satiate His thirst for souls by ministering to the poor and destitute. He would ask her each time, “Wouldst thou refuse Me?”

Mother Teresa felt torn between two loves. Her love for the other sisters, her students, and her life in the convent was certainly a noble love, but discipleship called her to follow Christ to a place that meant she would have to choose between the two. Ultimately, Mother Teresa could not surrender her love for Jesus to anything else and so she gave up and gave in to the Lord. As she followed Christ, Mother Teresa surrendered everything to Him – material goods, physical comforts, family, and even the convent walls. She went into the most destitute streets with nothing but a sari and a passion for Jesus.

Contrary to cultural demands, Christians cannot compartmentalize their faith. We are followers of Christ at church, at home, at work, when alone, or when with friends. We have to be prepared that some people, even some we for whom we care deeply, may not tolerate our discipleship and choose to leave us. In these instances, we can look to Christ for the grace and grit to carry our cross, a cross which He promises will end in a resurrection.

This Sunday, may we count the cost and, with the grace of Christ, decide to follow Him to the end. The joy of Mother Teresa, and the light of love and mercy her life became, serves as a witness for us of the glorious destination of discipleship – a project worth completing!

Consider:

  • Are you a disciple of Christ? If the answer is yes, what moves you to love Him and to follow Him? If the answer is no or not yet, what attracts you about Christ or piques your curiosity?
  • In what ways has discipleship caused you to live counter-culturally? Has it strained any of your relationships?
  • How has carrying your cross produced resurrections and blessings in your life? What have been some of the fruits of your discipleship?
  • What cross are you carrying right now? In what way does it resemble Jesus’ cross? How does it bring you closer to Him as you share in His experience?
  • It feels good to accomplish something hard that required grit and perseverance. Consider how it will feel to “finish the race” as St. Paul says, and to have followed Christ (with the help of His grace) to the end.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

Follow bar

Quiet Confidence

by Angela Jendro

mother_teresa

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 14: 1, 7-14 NAB

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.

He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Meditation Reflection:

Imagine Jesus, who grew up poor in a small town, now invited to a prestigious dinner at the home of a social and intellectual elite. Most people would feel out of place, worried that everyone was looking at them. In Jesus’ case, they were in fact all staring – “observing Him carefully.” Every move, every word would be evaluated and then spoken about afterward. In this case however, watching His every move is precisely what we should do as His disciples.

Jesus treated the dinner as just that, an opportunity to model and teach God’s Way. He spoke directly to circumstances of the situation, and the wisdom of God’s counter-cultural perspective. Quite often, invitations such as these mark steps upward in a social circle or steps forward in a career. Networking may take different forms depending on the time and place, but it remains part of the fabric of communal life. God made us in His image, a communion of Persons, and so we are meant to connect with one another and to form bonds of mutual self-gift. Yet, our fallen nature can distort God’s original design.

Unfortunately, our culture writhes with envious competitiveness. Worldly wisdom would tell you to assert yourself aggressively to get ahead. Social media and globalization, though good in some ways, exacerbate the problem by expanding the competitive field to seemingly everyone everywhere. Being the best now means comparing yourself to everyone in the world rather than simply to your home town or region. Position, status, and consumer goods are in limited quantity, so one must compete against one another for them. In the quest to be at the top, networking can twist from cooperative work to manipulation, and from gift of self to using other people. Thus, an invitation to a dinner, which ought to be an opportunity for kind hospitality, can warp into an event of honor grabbing, ladder climbing, and back biting.

The communion of saints in the kingdom of heaven looks starkly different from our worldly norms. Those who belong to the kingdom of God find their identity in being His children – a status which cannot be matched in prestige. Disciples of Christ know the power of God and so sense their own humble state in comparison. This humility however, is grounded in gratitude and love rather than competition; similar to the security children experience from their confidence in their parents’ loving provision for them. In addition, the goods God offers have infinite supply. This knowledge of one’s personal worth and wealth in relationship to God produces a quiet confidence that has no need to assert itself to prove one’s worth to others. Moreover, it frees a person from envy and enables them to rejoice in others. Within the context of this atmosphere, real friendships can develop and true enjoyment of communal life.

The book of Sirach also advises contentment in one’s life grounded in one’s identity as a creature of God. Compared to the Lord, who are any of us? Yet, we share in the glory of God, being made in His image, through our relationship with Him. He writes,

My son, conduct your affairs with humility,

and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.

Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,

and you will find mercy in the sight of God.

For great is the power of the Lord;

by the humble he is glorified.

Sirach 3:17-20

Moreover, he calls us to appreciate who we are as God made us, rather than to strive after being someone we’re not. Oftentimes, our discontentment in life rises from feeling we ought to “be more” or know more, but we base that standard on the external (and ever changing) criteria of the present culture, rather than valuing the unique gifts and talents God has bestowed on each of us personally. The other source is as old as Adam and Eve’s first sin at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We become discontent when we demand to be the Creator rather than the creature.

What is too sublime for you, do not seek;

do not reach into things that are hidden from you.

What is committed to you, pay heed to;

what is hidden is not your concern.

In matters that are beyond you do not meddle,

when you have been shown more than you can understand.

Indeed, many are the conceits of human beings;

evil imaginations lead them astray.

Sirach 3:21-24

These feelings of discontent and never being enough are normal, but only because a nature wounded by sin is our norm. But Jesus came to redeem us and the Good News is that we don’t have to live that way anymore. We have become the adopted sons and daughters of God, heirs to heaven, and secure in the riches of God’s goodness and peace. We don’t have to compete, we are all ready enough. Jesus Christ our King, humbled Himself and became man, dwelling with us in our poverty and meeting us at our level. He doesn’t lord it over us and exert His position with pride. Rather, He meets us with love. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me” He says, “for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). The wedding feast of Heaven will be joyous and rich with the comfort of being with loved ones and the enjoyment of just being oneself. We can experience a taste of that on earth by treating God, ourselves, and each other with respect and humility.

Consider:

  • Do you ever feel like you are not enough? What is the source of those feelings? Do you compare yourself to others, values of the culture, or set unrealistic standards?
  • How do you judge success and prestige? What makes a person “important”?
  • Take a moment to imagine yourself from God’s perspective.
    • Consider His greatness and your smallness; that He is the Creator and you are His creature.
    • Consider His love for you as a Father cares for His sons and daughters.
    • Consider His love for you as your Savior, who cares about you enough to suffer for you to have the opportunity to be healed and redeemed by His grace.
    • Consider His Holy Spirit that dwells within you, desiring to bear fruits of love, joy, and peace.
  • Pray about who God made you to be. Ask Him to reveal His plan for your life and to purify any false notions you have about yourself. Ask Him to help you appreciate your gifts and who you are, irrespective of what others or the culture think.
  • With whom do you feel comfortable enough to be yourself? Consider the peace that comes from those times together and God’s intention that we one day experience that with everyone in heaven.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Write down the gifts and talents God has given to you. How can they be applied to your vocation, your work, and the people in your daily life? Read them each day to remind you of your God-given mission and to find contentment in the important work that God has given to you.

happiness

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

Follow bar

 

 

The Fork In The Road For Every Christian

by Angela Jendro

fork in the road

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 12:49-53 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Meditation Reflection:

Imagine someone else saying the same words as Jesus did.  You might accuse them of not being very Christian.  Isn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace?  Isn’t He the nicest guy there ever was?  Aren’t Christians supposed to be nice people? Yet, Jesus exclaimed with great passion His eagerness to set the world ablaze.  This doesn’t seem to fit the sandal-wearing, nice, historical moral teacher image our culture likes to portray Jesus as.

fire pic

Jesus does bring peace, but not a superficial conciliation. He came to defeat sin and redeem mankind, accomplished through His own baptism of the Cross, one that caused Him great “anguish until it is accomplished.Fire purifies and destroys.  Christ came to set fire to sin, to destroy its corrupting influence in our lives, and to make room for life in God.  That battle begins within ourselves and extends to sin outside ourselves.  Purification can burn, but at the end of the process one feels liberated and empowered. To ignite this fire and make our purification possible, Christ knew He had to suffer and die first – something that caused Him distress as He waited in anticipation.

As disciples of Christ, we share in both His rewards and His suffering.  Christ’s words about causing division seem shocking.  Isn’t He supposed to bring unity and harmony? Jesus offers unity, but not everyone accepts it.  Note that although Jesus often ate with sinners, not every sinner chose to eat with Him and several found His witness challenging enough that they tried to silence Him altogether by crucifying Him.

I often quote G.K. Chesterton who said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It’s been found difficult; and left untried.”  At the fork in the road therefore, where one mfork in the road 2ust choose the path of discipleship or the path of least resistance, Christians must resolve and accept that as they walk to the left after Christ, some of their closest companions may walk to the right instead and their paths will separate.  Although Christians, like Christ, ought to keep the door open to those friendships, oftentimes living our faith can mean losing some relationships.  Jesus is Goodness, Truth, and Love.  Yet, He was rejected by many.  As we strive to be more Christ-like, we have to prepare ourselves for the same experience.

Even in the Old Testament, authentic prophets consistently experienced rejection and suffering.  The community they came to help change would pressure them to conform instead.  When God’s prophets refused, they found themselves exiled or running from death threats.  The first reading for this Sunday’s liturgy provides an evocative image of this from the life of Jeremiah:

“And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah…There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.” Jeremiah 38:6

stuck in the mud

This image strikes me because of the several analogous experiences I can think of in my own life.  Jeremiah acts in truth and love only to be thrown into a pit.  The mud makes the image even better as a symbol of the depressive reality of ones you love rejecting Christ (and you) in favor of persisting in their sins.  When Jeremiah “sank into the mud,” I am reminded of the feeling of helplessness and despair that can discourage me in these moments. Thankfully, Jeremiah did not remain in the mud forever, Jesus’ death was followed by His resurrection, and God will lift us up too.  David expresses this in Psalm 40:2

“The LORD heard my cry. He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; he set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps.”

Walking the path of discipleship may take you down a different road than some of the persons you love.  You might experience the pain of division and loss, not because you didn’t invite them along but because they refuse to come with you.  This fork in the road can come in many different forms at different times in our lives.  Choosing between following Christ and following someone we love is as painful as fire.

Our contemporary culture adds even more pressure.  It seems more rare these days to find people who can be friends even though they have different views and beliefs. Instead, the attitude appears to be that one must condone the decisions of another or they can’t be friends.

Discipleship may be difficult but in the end Christ conquers all.  He can provide the guidance to achieve the tricky balance of loving others without condoning sin, as well as the humility to be receptive to the hard truth about our own sins a Christian friend might challenge.  Every person must make a choice and, praise be to Christ, He provides us with the grace and the guts we will need to follow Him no matter the cost.

Have you had a similar experience?  If you’d be willing to share, write a short account of your fork in the road in the comment section below!

that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine. Romans 1:12

Consider:

  •  How has Christ set your heart on fire?
    • How has He purified it?
    • How has that purification made you more zealous and joyful?
  • Has living out your Christian faith ever caused you to experience persecution from persons you care about?
    • In what ways did it feel like you were sinking into a pit of mud?
    • In what ways did God lift you up from the pit and set you on rock?
  • Who are your true friends who accept you as you are, complete with respect for your beliefs?
  • Have you ever been the one doing the persecuting or rejecting? Consider why we find it difficult to be around people who challenge us to be better simply by the way they are living their own lives.
  • Are there persons with whom you struggle to be an authentic Christian around? Do you live your faith at work or out with friends, or do you hide it so they won’t think differently about you?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray Psalm 40 each day this week.
  • Resolve to let your faith be seen in some small way, especially in a place where you usually lack the courage. (e.g. wearing a cross necklace, having a small crucifix or rosary on your desk, writing favorite bible verses on notecards and placing them in places you will see – whether in your work space or at home, walking away from conversations that disparage the faith or other persons, etc.)

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

Follow bar

 

 

 

Eyes Wide Open

Ascension of Christ_ Getty Images

Ascension of Christ: Getty Images

by Angela M Jendro

 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 12:35-40 NAB

“Jesus said to His disciples: ‘Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus emphasized the need for disciples to be vigilant. According to Wordbook, vigilant means to be “carefully observant or attentive; on the lookout for possible danger.” Discipleship can suffer from the same waning of enthusiasm as any of our other noble goals. How many New Year’s diets or exercise plans end by February? How many books are left only partially read? How many friendships or relationships wither from slow neglect? Jesus exhorts us to head off dangers to our faith by being aware and making efforts to protect ourselves from them. Discipleship requires the same perseverance, effort, and watchfulness as anything else we hope to accomplish and maintain.

Similarly, the same strategies to keep healthy habits can be applied to discipleship. For instance, to achieve the goal of getting in shape, partnering with a friend for accountability will greatly increase your chance of success. Discipleship requires fellowship as well. We need faith-filled friends to keep us accountable, inspire us to be better, and keep us in the habit of prayer and worship. To achieve the goal of developing your mind through reading, you will need to choose a time, place, and frequency or it will never happen. Forming a book club can also provide that boost of a deadline to motivate you. Similarly, to grow nearer to Christ you will need to read Scripture regularly. The same pitfalls apply here so being vigilant about sticking to a routine will be important and joining a bible study could be motivating.

The synonym for vigilance illuminates the essence of discipleship as well: “open-eyed.” Thus, Jesus exhorts us to keep our eyes of faith open to judge things from the perspective of faith rather than the world. In Hebrews 1:1, St. Paul defines faith as: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (RSV). He goes on to illustrate this with the example of Abraham who left for a land God promised without any sight of it beforehand – no map, no appraisal or inspection, no google images – only God’s word. Moreover, after having received a son despite he and Sarah’s old age, Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac at God’s command. Imagine the paradox presented to Abraham. God had promised Abraham many descendants through Isaac, and yet God also asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. How could both of these things be true at the same time? Abraham could find no assurance in natural reason or human experience and power. Abraham merited the title Father of Faith by his response. St. Paul relates, “[Abraham] considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:19 RSV). Abraham had confidence that God is all-powerful and that God keeps His promises. He didn’t limit God to our human experience. He trusted God and proved his conviction when he risked everything to be obedient to the Lord.

How can we imitate the vigilant, open-eyed faith of Abraham? Every day we need to open our eyes through prayer. We need to ask for the gift of faith and trust. We must stay sharp through fellowship with faithful Christians and spiritual reading. We need to deepen our trust through developing our relationship with Christ and receiving His grace in the sacraments. Finally, many saints and spiritual writers suggest doing an examination of conscience every night. Look back on the day and evaluate your choices. When did you show love for God and for others? What temptations did you overcome? What inspirations of the Holy Spirit did you follow? Secondly, where did you lean on your own understanding instead of God’s? When did you relax into thinking and acting like a child of the world rather than a child of God? What choices were motivated by a lack of faith, hope, or charity? Ask God for forgiveness and an increase in grace to do better the next day.

Even if the end of the day doesn’t work for you, try to at least be more introspective throughout the day. Jesus warned “Be sure of this, if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.” Sins can make little strongholds in our soul if we are not vigilant in identifying them and putting them before the Lord for healing. We never know when we will be attacked by temptation and sometimes it can be very subtle. By developing a habit of staying alert we will be better prepared to avoid or overcome them.

If we vigilantly live in faith, our hearts will be stay open to receive Christ and to respond to the promptings of His Spirit. A habit of holiness characteristic of the saints is their awareness of God’s presence and activity throughout their day. They also witness fidelity to the Spirit when called to serve in a way that makes no sense from a practical perspective unless God is real, all-powerful, and keeps His promises. Like Abraham, the Father of Faith, they have confidence that if God is asking then God will provide. If therefore we seek first His kingdom, we can be assured that everything else will be taken care of (Matthew 6:33), and quite often in ways we could not have foreseen.

Consider many people’s demand to “see it to believe it.” Yet, Jesus says “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39) Faith means walking with Christ, and in that walk your experience will confirm the faith you embarked upon. It entails some risk which is why encouragement from other believers’ experiences is an essential part of vigilance. I still struggle to patiently trust God, but at the same time I have seen God act so many times in my life that I can say I believe it because I’ve seen it. I just need to recall those times to strengthen my faith when it’s difficult. Consider how often in the Scriptures it exhorts the audience to recall a mighty work of God in the past to keep them strong in the present.

I have seen God provide over and again, always in unexpected ways, and just at the right time. He has done this at every level – family, relationships, work, finances, and health. Even though it’s easier to trust the wisdom of the world or our own strength which we can see right before us, we ought to vigilantly keep our eyes open to the wisdom and strength of our loving God which is far more reliable. He is coming, and it will be a day of great rejoicing we won’t want to miss!

Consider:

  • Reflect on what practices have deepened your faith and helped you grow as a disciple of Christ.
  • Consider where you need further growth. Pray about how you could be more vigilant in that area.
  • Meditate on the words Jesus told St. Faustina to have written below His image: “Jesus I trust in You.”
  • Reflect with gratitude on a time(s) when God came through for you in a surprising or powerful way.
  • Is there a part of your life that needs more trust in Jesus? Pray for an increase in faith and hope.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way to be more vigilant in your faith life. Share your goal with someone who will encourage you and keep you accountable.
  • Pray the short prayer, “Jesus I trust in You” several times each day.
  • Pray Psalm 27 each day this week.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

Follow bar

Suggested Reading: 

Abandonment to Divine Providence by Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade

33 Days to Merciful Love: by Fr. Michael Gaitley

Catholic Bible: Revised Standard Version, Compact Edition

 

Becoming Rich: Investment Strategies From Christ

by Angela M Jendro

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 12:13-21 NAB

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Meditation Reflection:

Why is Jesus so hard on the man just looking for a fair division of inheritance, doesn’t God care about justice?  How about the farmer?  Shouldn’t Jesus be praising him for his hard work?  The man just looked forwrad to an early retirement, is that so bad?

Neither of these men did anything wrong on the surface, rather it was their underlying disposition of heart that concerened Christ.  Greed is defined as an inordinate desire for wealth.  Inordinate means the desire for wealth is either excessive or sought after in the wrong way.  It also refers to having your priorities out of order.  For example, wanting to earn a good living doing an honest job is noble.  Whereas making the accumulation of wealth your top priority or going after it through illicit means or making money a higher priority than God or others would be inordinate.  That’s why the virtue of generosity (of both money and time)  is so important to keep greed in check and wealth rightly ordered.

Greed takes many forms and we can be quite talented at excusing it with innumerable rationalizations.  The man in this encounter masked his greed with a case about justice.  We don’t know the circumstances surrounding the inheritance but Jesus, who knows the truth in each of our hearts, identified a greedy motive obscuring the actual facts of the case.  The farmer enjoyed a fantastic crop year.  However, his first thought/priority was of himself and his own pleasure.  A generous person would have been excited at the opportunity to give grain to others in need and provide for more of the poor in the area, reserving only an “ordinate” amount for his needs.  In terms of storing up riches in heaven, St. John Chrysostom remarked that the poor are a blessing to us from God as they are the bank tellers of heaven – meaning whatever we give to others lasts forever in eternity.

We often operate with the mentality of the farmer in Christ’s parable.  The modern equivalent would go something like this:  Work hard in school so you can get into a good college, so you can get a good job, so you can make a lot of money, so you will be secure and happy.  These goals have some prudence behind them, but without a view to stewardship or vocation, they, like the farmer’s view,  lack a vertical dimension.  They prepare for the needs of the earthly body, but not for the elevation needed by the soul.  Consider how many people follow this plan and find themselves burnt out, lonely, and suffering from health issues related to the stressful pace they had been keeping.  Ironically, we are both the richest country in the world and the most depressed. We keep a frenzied pace only to find ourselves exasperatedly sighing the same words of Ecclesiastes “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” (2:22).

It can feel like, “What is the point?”! We clean the house and it’s messy again in a matter of hours.  We finish a project at work and another lands on our desk the next day.  Our kids finish one sport’s season and another begins.  Days fly off the calendar, then weeks, then years. If all we’ve done is focus on tasks rather than loving service of God and neighbor, we miss out on relationship with God and people we love. Greed has a vicious way of undermining our relationships with God, each other, and even ourselves.  Everyone has to find a balance between work and life.  We have to be prudent, work hard, and plan for the future.  The problem is, it’s just sooooo easy to work and plan for more than we really need and miss out on the good stuff right in front of us.  Rather than plopping on the couch and watching a movie with our kids we run another load of laundry or get some work done on the computer.  Instead of going out with colleagues and deepening friendships, we put in a couple extra hours at work to get ahead.  Sunday finally comes around and the thought of getting up and going to Mass feels like just another thing on the calendar rather than an intimate encounter with the living God.

Jesus reminds us to work and plan for our eternal future too.  We are made for meaning, purpose, and love.  Moreover, we are spiritual beings made for eternity with God.  Work labored for greed will produce a temporary reward, but work offered in love and service to God will bring eternal joy.  It will likely bring a deeper earthly joy as well.  Having the respect of others because of your position can feel good but it can also feel empty, not to mention add paranoia that someone will try to take it from you.  Having the respect of God because of your character is priceless and immune from circumstances.

Every day we must pray and reflect on what really matters so we invest our time and efforts wisely. Through the grace of Christ, we have the opportunity to escape the crazed rat race and endless  gerbil wheel.  If we have the courage to surrender greed we can gain immeasurable wealth unaffected by the volatility of the stock market or our boss, and which produces deeper pleasure than money can buy.  Doing work that improves the lives of others or working a job that pays well so you have money for charitable works you care about will give you deeper satisfaction than a simple paycheck.  No matter what your profession, how you conduct yourself and to what end is up to you.

As a teacher, I am reminded of this at graduation parties.  My bonus, though not monetary, comes in the form of seeing kids I’ve helped develop turn into amazing human beings.  It’s the emails from college or stopping by my classroom to tell me everything they are up to or how something I taught them has stuck with them that uplifts my heart and reinforces the purpose of my work. Similarly, I know wealthy individuals who find great joy in putting it at the service of the Lord and seeing the fruits of those spiritual endeavors. They find happiness in generosity.  God promises in 2 Corinthians 9:6 “Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  Be generous with God and labor to sow what matters so you can be “rich in what matters to God.”

Consider:

  • Reflect on what matters most in your life. Consider what gets in the way of those things versus what develops them.
  • Prayerfully consider what is “enough” for you. What would be sufficient and what work is necessary to meet that goal?
  • Ask God to reveal any desires that have become excessive or obsessive. Is there anything you are grasping after or worried about that prevents you from enjoying the gifts God has already given you?
  • What kind of work or charitable contributions brings you a feeling of satisfaction?
    • Do you find meaning in aspects of your job?
    • Do you enjoy providing for your family and seeing them thrive?
    • Do you have charitable projects you care about?
    • Do you contribute to the Church?
  • Has greed ever undermined your relationship with God? With another person?  With being true to yourself?
  • How might you grow in generosity?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Evaluate your investments in God, others, and yourself.  Decide on one thing you could do for each category to enrichen that relationship in your life.
  • The opposite virtue of greed is generosity. Do something generous this week.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

 

How to Pray Like Christ

by Angela Jendro

Lord, teach us to pray

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 11:1-13 NAB

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), He says. In contrast, pagan gods tended to be images of the visible traits of humankind. Thus, they tended to mirror fallen man’s tendencies toward power, greed, lust, and narcissism. This answered man’s nagging questions about the origins of good and evil but it also left him subject to the whims of unpredictable powers. Be it Greek, Roman, or Babylonian gods, people tried to satiate the needs of their deities to avoid calamities and possibly manipulate them for favors. This explains, for instance, why the Romans did not care who a person worshipped provided they did their part to appease the Roman gods too and why they blamed Christians for the fall of Rome.

This appeasement of the gods should not be mistaken for relationship. It would be more apt to describe it as mutual manipulation. In some places it spiraled into superstition bordering on the obsessive-compulsive. For instance, some farmers would address one god for the successful tilling of soil, another for the planting of seed, another for the growth of the seed, another for the harvest, and so on. Even well after the West became Christianized this practice proved difficult to root out since it had become so ingrained in the culture and in fallen man’s temptation to control rather than to trust.

In modern times, we must fight the secular attempt to lump Christianity with other religions into one vague spirituality. The history of pagan worship differs in an absolute way from Judeo-Christian worship. God distinguished Himself from every other faith from the moment He revealed Himself to Abraham to the death and Resurrection of His Son and the sending of His Holy Spirit.

This difference is most notable in the way in which Christians pray. Rather than the “multiplying of words” to appease or manipulate, Christian prayer is grounded in familial relationship. When Jesus teaches the apostles to pray, He shares with them His praying togetherown prayer. Through Baptism we become incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, receiving adoption and becoming children of God (see John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, Romans 8:15-16). We cannot make ourselves someone’s child. The intimacy and privilege of familial relationship comes to us as a gift – either through nature or through the will of the parents by adoption. God has willfully adopted us, and Christ has made that possible through His sacrifice. Thus, He teaches us to address God as Father and enter into a relationship of sonship or daughterhood with the Lord. Consequently, we should begin prayer by simply meditating on the gift of God’s fatherhood and the reliable, selfless, pure love that it bestows. Even one moment of contemplation of this sublime gift moves our hearts to praise God and so Jesus instructs our next words to be “hallowed be Your Name.”

In pagan practices, calling on gods by name provided connection and sometimes a power over them. This can be true to some extent even in our human relationships. On the positive side, by knowing someone’s name a person can network, get in contact with him or her, or continue the relationship. On the negative side, it can also mean identity theft, access to personal information for the purpose of fraud, etc. Christ instructs His disciples to avoid these tendencies with God’s name. God desires authentic relationship. He knows every person’s hearts and He cannot be manipulated. Thus, Jesus warns, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven (MT 7:21)

As a result, authentic relationship with God recognizes Him as the true Good and petitions: “Your kingdom come.” God ought to rule our lives, not the other way around. How does God do this? How does His kingdom of love, joy, and peace come to reign in our hearts? Through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, Jesus teaches us to ask God for our daily bread and explains directly after that God will always increase the Holy Spirit if we ask: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Lastly, since sin and hatred are incompatible with God, Jesus tells us to give forgiveness and ask for forgiveness that we may be reconciled with God and one another. Moreover, He encourages us to ask in advance for God to spare us from temptations which would be too much for us and lead to abandoning Him.

Should you be afraid of God’s response (or lack thereof) if you pray, Jesus revealed how the Father views our prayers so we may approach Him with confidence. God is not an image of us, we are an image of Him. Even though we may be lazy or slow to help others, God is not. As a teenager I noticed the difference between my response to my parents requests and their response to mine. If asked to run to the store or help with a chore, I might drag my feet, feel too tired, grumble, or say no. If I needed something however, they always responded promptly and reliably. When I became a mother I finally understood this phenomenon. (Even while writing this I have been interrupted with requests from my kids a dozen times!) The difference was mature love. The love of good parents is an image of the love of God – self-less, prompt, generous, and happy to help. Hopefully as children of God, we can mature in our prayer so that our petitions move from the emotional demands of a toddler or elementary school child, to the respectful, humble, and grateful petition of an adult child confident in the relationship with his or her parents.

Consider:

  • Have you ever helped someone even when it was inconvenient and would rather have avoided it? Have you done things for your kids you never would have imagined doing before you had them?
  • Consider the difference between asking your mom or dad for help as opposed to a friend or neighbor. What things might you ask of them that you wouldn’t from the others?
  • Reflect on God’s love as that of a perfect Father. Reflect on the loving gratitude that should emanate from this relationship.
  • Where do you need God’s kingdom to come more in your life? Where do you need His peace, joy, justice, love…?
  • Do you forgive others as you would have God forgive you? Are there any grudges you need to let go? Are you quick to reconcile when someone apologizes?
  • Imagine how Christ must have looked while praying alone. Imagine you are one of the apostles, witnessing Him regularly taking time in solitude with the Lord. What do you think moved them so much that they asked Him to teach them to pray in the same way? Ask Christ to teach you to pray as He did too.
  • Pray for an increase in trust and a purified sight of God.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray the Our Father slowly and meditatively each day this week.
  • Pray each day for an increase in trust.
    • Maybe repeat the words given to St. Faustina by Christ to have written under His image: “Jesus I Trust in You.”
    • Or pray the words of the father who brought his son possessed by a mute spirit to Christ (MT 9:22-24) “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
  • Each day be forgiving toward someone in the same way you would like God to be patient and forgiving toward you.
    • Ideas: The person who cuts you off in traffic, the colleague who annoyingly one-ups you, the child who throws a tantrum or acts ungratefully, the spouse who forgets something or acts irritably, the fast food employee who messes up your order…

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016 edited © 2019

Follow bar

Recommended books on prayer:

(with links to Amazon)

 

 

 

The Priority of Being Present

by Angela M Jendro

20150814_015150000_iOS

Gospel of Luke 10:38-42 NAB

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Meditation Reflection:

Theologians and spiritual writers often point to this passage as a teaching on the active life of service and the contemplative life of prayer.  I find it also provides rich insights into the life of family. Martha’s home – her welcoming love and hospitality – together with the company of her sister Mary and brother Lazarus, became a place of respite and comfort for Christ.

His relationship with their family began with Martha’s initiative as He entered their village.  Just prior to this passage, Luke recounted the many places and people that either failed to receive Jesus or rejected him outright.  Martha however invited Him into her home and served Him with gracious hospitality.

In family life, welcoming children begins with a similar openness toward receiving others whenever they arrive and a readiness to serve.  In fact, in Luke 9:48, Jesus lauded this service, promising: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Oftentimes however, parents become “burdened with much serving” like Martha.  Babies require constant care day and night, young children need continual help, pre-teens need a frenetic amount of chauffeuring, and teens still require guidance and massive food intake.

These daily battles don’t go unnoticed by Chirst and He appreciates every sacrifice we make.  He also understands how even the best intentions and sacrificial serving can go awry if we allow our work to become a source of untethered anxiety and worry, distracting us from the relationships that it was meant to nurture and undermining our own spiritual health.   Jesus did not scold Martha for working too hard, He voiced His concern for her anxiousness.  Her worry had sabotaged her ability to be present in the moment and began to skew her perspective.  When she tried to drag Mary into her frenzy Jesus prevented her and gently helped Martha see where she had crossed the line.

Pope Francis also noted this challenge to modern families in his apostolic letter The Joy of Love .  Citing responses he had received from the questionnaire he had sent out prior to the Synod on the Family, he acknowledged:

Many of the respondents pointed to the problems families face in raising children.  In many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal.  Distractions abound, including an addiction to television…Other responses pointed to the effect of severe stress on families, who often seem more caught up with securing their future than with enjoying the present.  This is a broader cultural problem, aggravated by fears about steady employment, finances, and the future of children.” (The Joy of Love  par. 50)

 

My watershed moment like Martha’s occurred at Christmas time several years ago.  My three kids were pretty young, and at the same time old enough for us to have established Christmas traditions of our own.  In addition, we were going to host the Christmas Eve celebration for our extended family. As a result, I had grand plans worked out into an organized to-do list so that we could accomplish everything from home-made frosted sugar cookies the kids and I would make together in Christmas shapes to the FoodNetwork recipes I would make for the family celebration.   That all came to an abrupt and painful halt when I became sick with the flu one week prior to Christmas day.  As the flu persisted and Christmas approached my stress level reached breaking point.  My mom called to say hi but instead had to methodically walk me back from my emotional cliff.  She went through my list with me one task at a time and asked the simple question over and over again: “and what would happen if that didn’t get done? And what if that didn’t get done…”

Although I had loving intentions behind each task, the element of service had been usurped by a ball of worry.  My mom, like Christ, gently gave me perspective.  Consequently, with the help of a great deal of divine grace, I surrendered our newly established Christmas traditions and accepted that we could do them next year.  I scaled back my expectations for hosting, humbly accepted help, and recalled that spending time together was the most important thing not the elaborate meal.    Since then, with the help of prayer and grace, I have worked to keep that perspective and peace.

Christian service is not an end in and of itself.  Rather, it’s a loving encounter with another person.  Whether it’s care for kids, elderly parents, a disabled relative, a nextdoor neighbor,  or dedication at one’s job, we all need to make sure we keep the persons we are serving at the center and resist letting the tasks distract us with worry from the people whom we are caring about in the first place.  Jesus loved visiting Mary, Martha, and Lazarus because of the warm hospitality and because of the personal love, faith, and fellowship that they offered.  Despite our technological advances, we have become busier as a culture rather than more relaxed.  It requires intentional effort and grace to put people first and to be present in the moment.  It’s no small task to order our lives in such a way that we can work hard and have time to stop and listen to those we love.  To a stressed out Martha, Mary appeared to just be sitting around doing nothing.  Jesus reminded her that personal attention is just as important a “task” as the others, if not more important.

Mary chose the better part.  We too must pray for the grace to choose to spend time doing what feels like nothing with our kids, parents, and family; to just enjoy being with one another.  Similarly, we must choose to make time to just be with Christ so that our work remains in service to Him imbued with His love.  No one claims they treat their family and friends the best when they are stressed out and anxious.   By “practicing the presence of God”, as Brother Lawrence’s spiritual classic teaches, God will provide the peace we need to practice the presence of others as well.  It will be counter-cultural, and you will have to let go of competing with the super-moms and the super-colleagues, but Jesus assures us that choosing to be present to the people we care about over a frenzied attitude over work that needs to be done is the better part and we shouldn’t let anything take it from us.

Consider:

  •  Prayerfully consider how present you are to Christ.
    • Do you make time to sit with Him and listen?
    • Do you think of Him during the day or while at work?
    • Do you enjoy silent prayer or struggle with the feeling that you are “doing nothing”?
  • Prayerfully consider how present you are to your family.
    • When are your favorite times to connect?
    • What special moments do you recall with your parents or kids where you felt loved and listened to?
    • What things undermine your peace and your ability to focus on those around you?
    • What causes you to become stressed and distracted?
    • How could you re-order your life or adjust your expectations so you can resist unnecessary anxiety and give your loved ones the best version of yourself?
    • What do you need to take care of yourself so you can be a peaceful, present person?
      • How much sleep do you need? Be honest!
      • How and when do you relax?
      • What are your quirks or limitations it would help to acknowledge? (For example – running late makes you stressed so make an effort to arrive 5 minutes early or you need a bite to eat every couple of hours so make time for good food, etc.)
    • Pray for an increase in the virtue of Hope. Consider how worry can be combated by trust in Jesus. Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added” (Matthew 6:33).  Pray for the grace to prioritize your life according to God’s will, then allow Him to make sure everything else gets worked out.
    • Reflect on the reality of our limitations: limitations of time in a day, energy, the need for rest and food, etc. It takes humility to live within our limitations but being more realistic about what we expect from ourselves and others as well as what we say yes or no to can greatly reduce unnecessary stress.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a list of priorities. Then make a list of your schedule and activities.  Prayerfully evaluate if they align and make adjustments. Schedule in time for God, time to take care of yourself, and time for serving your family and at work.
  • Each day choose one person to whom you will be present and attentive. If possible decide who, when, and how. (It can be as simple as asking someone at work about their day at lunch or visiting with your kids at the dinner table.)

Comments: 

  1. You can help encourage one another by sharing your own example of a “Martha” or “Mary moment.
  2. Share your resolution for the week! How are you going to apply today’s meditation to your life?  Then let us know how it’s going.

For further reading click here to buy them from Amazon!

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook @taketimeforhim

 

(16th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016; edited and updated © 2019

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

 

Experiencing Jesus Christ & Receptivity to His Friendship

by Angela M. Jendro

Jesus sends the 12

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Lk 10:1-12, 17-20

At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”

The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus desires personal relationship with each human person. At the same time, no man is an island, and therefore Jesus encounters persons within the context of their lives. Our experiences and choices, together with our relationships with others, form the framework through which we receive and respond to Christ.

Our personal encounter with Christ may begin with a personally appointed disciple of His, sent ahead of Him. For some, a certain preparation may be needed before Christ’s visit will be fruitful. Someone whose heart is hardened toward God by experiences of pain or falsehood may need their demons cast out so Christ can fully enter. In some cases, this happens in a literal way through the name of Jesus and the authority granted by Him. In other cases, it happens in a more indirect and organic way, through the softening of a heart by the experience of Christian love, the opening of a mind through seeds of truth, or the reception of mercy in a time of need. An otherwise weak soul, may find the courage to say yes to Christ after being inspired by the bravery of another. A proud soul may see the beauty of meekness through the gentle joy of colleague. Our perception of God can be obscured by our experiences in life – either of prosperity or pain – but it can also be clarified by our experiences in life, especially through encounters with other Christians.

Christ call us to proclaim the kingdom of God to others and He equips us with the supernatural power and grace to do so. The good news of the Lord’s presence and mercy is proclaimed through a myriad of ways and tailored to the individuals who will receive it. God may call you to witness through your example, through your choices, through works of mercy, through your patience and kindness, through your prayers and sacrifices, or through words of teaching, encouragement, conviction, or comfort.

Conversions continue to take place even in surprising places. Peter Leithart, writer for First Things magazine, offers one such example in his article “Islamicization of Europe or Christianization of Islam?” He reports that many Muslim refugees migrating into Europe from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and central Asia have been converting to Christianity and requesting baptism by the droves. The article cites a variety of reasons for this phenomena, but at the core of it, the conversions are credited to individuals in need having encountered the Gospel through the Christians who aided them. This Christian love sparked openness to Christianity and set on fire a desire for Christ.

The kingdom of God, which is none other than union with God, begins here on earth at the crucial crossroads of the human will. The seventy-two sent out by Christ recounted their exhilaration at being able to cast out demons. The devil seems oppressively powerful, yet at the simple name of Jesus, he is conquered. Unfortunately, a simple “no” by the human will can shut Jesus out. Relationship requires the reciprocal good will of two people. Christ loves us, but if we do not love Him in return there can be no friendship. As Christian disciples, we must pray to be His missionaries laboring in His harvest and take care to not turn others away by their encounter with us. We should also not become discouraged if even after great feats people in our lives still reject God.  Ultimately, that is between them and God. The stakes are high – heaven! – so let’s pray that we can open hearts to receive the Lord for all of eternity.

Consider:

  • Consider how Christ has sent messengers ahead of Him to you.
    • Who brought to you His truth, sacraments, love, or compassion?
    • How did it increase your faith or clarify your understanding of Christ?
  • Consider how you are a messenger of Christ – to your family, your colleagues, your neighbors, and your friends.
    • In what ways to you demonstrate Christ’s love and truth to them?
    • In what ways could you improve your Christian witness?
  • Reflect on your receptivity. How open are you to the Word of God in Scripture, through His Church, through others? What hinders you and what helps you?
  • Reflect on Christian evangelization occurring in Europe by reading Peter Leithart’s article

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day prayerfully and intentionally decide on one person with whom you will share Christ. Prayerfully decide how and when you will do it. (e.g. Saying a kind word to someone who annoys you at work, praying with your children together before bed, doing something loving toward your spouse, forgiving someone in need of mercy, etc.)
  • Reach out to someone who has been instrumental in your own conversion and thank him or her. It could be as simple as an email, text, hand-written note, or phone call.

 

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016; edited edition © 2019

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

Excuses, Excuses…Be Brave! Be Determined!

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 9:51-62

When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Meditation Reflection:

Being a Christian means following Christ, wherever and whenever He goes. Full discipleship requires 100% commitment, not the made-to-order or pick and choose buffet we are accustomed to in our culture. Consider Jesus’ own example. He needed to journey to Jerusalem. Notice the attitude He chose – resolution and determination. Followers of Christ need the same resolution and determination. In fact, St. Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic and doctor of the Church, emphasized repeatedly the need for determination in order to advance in the spiritual life.

As Jesus journeyed, doing the Father’s will, those He encountered each had an opportunity to join Him. The Samaritans received messengers from Christ but rejected the Lord before He even arrived when they learned accepting Christ meant surrendering their bitterness toward Jerusalem.

The next person took the initiative to seek Jesus and requested to be in His company. Jesus, who knows the hearts of each one of us, warned the man that being near to Christ would bring spiritual security and comfort but not necessarily the feeling of physical security and comfort.

The next two men Jesus invited to follow Him, but both requested to do something else first. Their requests seem valid and even noble. In fact, burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy and honoring your father and mother is the 4th commandment. Is Jesus asking us to neglect our duties? Does Christian discipleship excuse neglecting our families? Does God contradict Himself? No. Do we sometimes rationalize our cowardice or weakness by twisting God’s commands against Him? Yes. Many of us (including myself!), often excuse our lack of time for prayer by pitting it against the active life of charity. It sounds something like this: “I don’t have time to sit and pray because I need to do…which God would want me to do.” A practical example would be, “I could ‘just’ sit and pray, or work an extra hour to provide for my family, or do a load of laundry and dishes, or run an errand. God wants me to care for my family, that is my prayer.”

Sometimes that might be the case. But, in truth, there’s usually time for both. In addition, without prayer, even our loving activities can tend to be more self-loving rather than other-loving. Jesus knew the hearts of the two men who wanted to return to their families before following Him. Rather than contradicting His command that we love one another, especially our families, He may have been calling them out on their rationalizations. It reminds me of when I gather my kids for family prayer. My two boys will often try to get out of it by appealing to my earlier request that they get outside for awhile or they were just about to start a chore I had assigned. In reality, they had time for both those things before and after prayer, it just sounds like a better excuse.

Let’s face it, we have an inner desire for God and we may even have authentic zeal for discipleship, but we also struggle with attachments that hold us back. The good news is that if we open ourselves up to Christ in prayer, He will reveal those attachments to us and provide the grace to overcome them. It requires resolution, determination, and being honest with ourselves, but with God all things are possible.

Consider:

  • Like the Samaritans, how many of us hold on to bitterness, anger, or un-forgiveness? Prayerfully ask Christ to reveal if any of these are holding you back from following Him. Pray for the grace to surrender it to the Lord.
  • Like the man who proclaimed he would follow Christ wherever He goes, consider why you are a Christian. Is your love for the Lord intermixed with some self-love as well? Do you complain when you encounter trials? Are you impatient or upset when you experience discomfort?
  • What rationalizations do you use to delay responding to Christ or to responding more generously? What rationalizations have you overcome on your spiritual journey?   How has that experience strengthened your will to follow the Lord?
  • A favorite book of mine called “The Fire Within” by Fr. Thomas Dubay provides some great steps for identifying and overcoming attachments. Prayerfully read my summary of Fr. Dubay’s steps and see if you can identify one attachment and make a plan for rooting it out: identifying attachments

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week thank God for one deterrent He has helped you overcome or from which He has freed you, and invite Him to reveal and free you from a current hindrance you may or may not realize you have.
  • Pray for an increase in resolution and determination. Choose one concrete thing you can do this week to apply it. (e.g. pray 15 minutes each morning or evening, say something kind to your spouse when you want to say something critical, hug your child when you want to throw your hands up in exasperation, choose a daily Mass to attend and do what it takes to get there, go to Confession…)
  • Using Fr. Dubay’s steps, identify a current attachment and do one thing each day to root it out.identifying attachments

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert Jendro © 2016; edited and updated © 2019

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.