Living in Denial

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

3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Luke 13:1-9 NAB

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

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

 Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final part of the process he writes, is:

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

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

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

 Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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

[2] Ibid.

Strength in the Lord

By Angela Jendro

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

Download to your pdf reader or print.  Free Will Offering

1st Sunday of Lent

Gospel Luke 4:1-13 NAB

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

One does not live on bread alone.

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

You shall worship the Lord, your God,

and him alone shall you serve.

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

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

and:

With their hands they will support you,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said to him in reply,

“It also says,

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

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

 

 Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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New Book – Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring by Angela Jendro (download or print)

 

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

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

  • Download for free to your pdf reader for easy access on the go, or print to paper to make your handwritten notes.
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Who Me?!

by Angela Jendro

yqhih

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 5:1-11 NAB

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016

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Let Go and Let God

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 4:21-30

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

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

 

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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

January 1st: Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

theotokos

by Angela Jendro

Gospel Luke 2:16-21 NAB

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.  When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Meditation Reflection:

“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  When it comes to their children, mothers are contemplatives; they treasure and reflect on every little thing and never tire of gazing at their children in love.  I will never forget the first night I spent with my son in the hospital. The nurse urged me to sleep after an exhausting birth, but I couldn’t stop holding him and staring at him.  I was overcome with a love there is no vocabulary to describe, and in awe of this mystery beyond comprehension.  With each subsequent child, I experienced the same awe.  Moreover, rather than dividing my love, each child multiplied it by expanding my heart with love for each of them individually.

As Mary gazed with love on her child, she gazed not only on her son, but the Son of God.  Mary was the first person to contemplate the mystery that Jesus is both God and man, creator and savior, born to die that we might live.  She is the first to love Him with her whole heart and the only to have the privilege of loving Him with a mother’s heart.

When God the Son took on a human nature, He allowed Himself to become weak and vulnerable.  He experienced human development and the daily process of growth and maturation we all go through.  Mary and Joseph were not merely day care providers for Jesus.  They were the first disciples of Christ and lived their vocation as His family to the fullest.  As God, Jesus had all the divine attributes.  As man, He shared DNA with Mary, He adopted Mary and Joseph’s mannerisms, He received a formation within the context of His family.

Though He is both God and Man, Jesus is one Person.  As a result, since Mary is the mother of Jesus she is rightly called Mother of God.  This does not mean she is the origin of the Trinity.  However, we must remember that mothers are mothers of people, not merely bodies.  It would be strange to say that I am the mother of my son’s body but not the mother of my son the person.  In the same way, to bifurcate Mary’s motherhood as merely that of part of Jesus would be to bifurcate Jesus Himself.  Jesus is one Person, the Second Person of the Trinity, who, since the moment of His incarnation, is forever simultaneously both God and Man.

Mary revered our Lord as both.  She nurtured His human needs and she worshipped His divinity.  She, like Him, obeyed the Father in all things.  She was the first human to live fully God’s plan for all mankind – union with God of heart, mind, and will.  Moreover, she is the only human to love Him as her Son and to be loved by Him as His mother.

This deep, pure, motherly love of Mary extends to each one of us as well.  From the Cross, as Christ suffered and died for our redemption and rebirth, He entrusted Mary as mother to St. John.  In doing so, He gave all of us to her as her children.  In baptism, we are united to Christ as His Mystical Body.  In consequence, we are also united to Mary as our mystical Mother.  Rather than dividing her love, each person who accepts her as mother, multiplies her love and experiences the same tender attention she gives to each of her children.  Christ shares our nature, and He has also shared His Heavenly Father and His earthly Mother with us.  Through Christ we become adopted sons and daughters of God and cherished children of Mary.  Through Christ’s humble love to become our brother, He has invited us into His own family.

Mary is the mother of God because God became man.  Mothers never tire telling anyone who will listen about their children.  Moreover, mothers love their children simply for who they are, not merely what they do.  If we ask Mary, she will share with us about her Son and teach us how to love and follow Him for Who He is, and not merely what He can do for us.

“She is so full of love that no one who asks for her intercession is rejected, no matter how sinful he may be. The saints say that it has never been known since the world began that anyone had recourse to our Blessed Lady, with trust and perseverance, and was rejected.”

St. Louis de Montfort

Consider:

  • How has meeting someone’s mother taught you something new about a person?
  • What do you cherish about your mother’s love?
  • If you are a parent, consider the mystery of your love for your children.  Imagine Mary’s love for Jesus at each of the stages of growth your kids have experienced.
  • Adoptive parents repeatedly report that they love their adoptive kids as if they were theirs biologically.  Consider Mary’s motherly love for you as her adoptive child, whom she loves as her very own.
  • Reflect on Christ’s love for Mary as His mother.
    • Consider the deep feelings of admiration and appreciation He has for her.
    • Reflect on their relationship and connection as mother and son.
    • Consider the comfort and strength He drew from her during His public ministry, knowing He had one person who understood His mission and supported Him no matter what.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • This week, read and reflect on the words of Mary in Scripture.
  • Ask Mary to be your mother and go to her each day with your needs. Ask her to tell you about Jesus and teach you how to follow Him.
  • Pray a decade of the rosary each day.  Consider using the Scriptural rosary if you can.
    • (I have never prayed the rosary without experiencing some kind of grace.  Mary always brings us to Jesus.)
    • Pope St. John Paul II said, “To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and His mother.”

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro© 2018

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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.

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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A Meal and An Encounter

Last Supper

August 19th, 2018 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 6:51-58 NAB

Jesus said to the crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Meditation Reflection:

When I have old friends over for dinner, it is never merely a meal.  It’s always a highly anticipated event, an encounter with people I dearly love at a deep level.  It’s an exchange of conversation flavored by our shared history, values, and mutual respect.  When I have new friends over for dinner, it’s never merely a meal either.  It too is an encounter, a sharing of ourselves and opening up to discover common values as well as the excitement of hearing a person’s different perspective or experiences.

The great modern theologian, Fr. Romano Guardini (1885-1968), made the beautiful insight that the Mass too is both a meal and an encounter (from his book Meditations before Mass).  He reflected that Christ made this connection when He referred to Himself in the passage above as both “bread” (meal) and as “come down from heaven” (encounter).  In the Mass Christ invites us to a dinner He has prepared that we might both be nourished by the food and refreshed in spirit by the personal encounter with Him either as a new or old friend.

Deep friendship is one of the greatest pleasures one can experience in life. Even the philosopher Aristotle considered it one of the highest virtues.  To find someone who shares the same “vision of the Truth” as C.S. Lewis put it, is a real joy.  Scripture reminds us that “Faithful friends are beyond price” (Sirach 6:15) and we all know that for something to be expensive it must be rare.  To spend time with that friend in person is even more delightful.  To have that kind of friendship in marriage can result in an exchange of love and unity at the very depths of our humanness.

Christ desires this kind of friendship and union with each of us.  That is why the image of a wedding feast is used to represent the culmination of the Christian life.  Christ the bridegroom and the Church His bride are united body and soul in the Eucharist.  Celebrating the Lord’s Supper presents the opportunity to encounter Christ at every level, from the surprises of a new friendship to the deepest and most intimate of long relationships.  The more dinners, the more the friendship can develop.

Consider:

  • Who is your closest friend?  How did the friendship develop?
  • How would you describe your friendship with Christ?  How has it developed?
  • Consider the role of meals in developing friendships.  Whether it is as simple as coffee, drinks, lemonade, cookies, grilling, eating out, or cooking a full meal, or family dinners.  How does food somehow enrich the experience and open people up to each other?
  • Consider why Christ would desire to be present to you in Person, in the flesh, in the context of a meal.  Consider how personal it is and bonding.  Also consider the addition of other people – how does eating with others add to the experience?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Next Mass, approach the Lord’s Supper the way you would a dinner with a close friend.  Prepare yourself for the encounter and treat it with the same attention and respect you would give your dinner guest or host.
  • On the way up the aisle to receive the Eucharist try to push away any distracting thoughts.  Reflect on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  After receiving Christ, try to remain silent and focus on Him for a few minutes before talking, singing, or thinking of anything else.
  • Offer hospitality to someone.  Make them dinner and treat them as if they were Christ Himself visiting your home.

*revised edition; first posted 8/16/15

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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Risk and Reward

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

miracle of loaves and fish

[reposted and updated from July 26, 2015]

July 28th, 2018; 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 6:1-15 NAB

“Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.”

Meditation Reflection:

A friend of mine has a gift for including others and making them feel a part of things. In observing him these past few years I realized that he does this by asking whoever is around for help with whatever project or task he is doing. If he is working in the garage or the yard and you happen by, be assured that a tool will be handed to you or a job assigned. His talent is most evident in the way he even includes his kids and their friends. The result is not the feeling of slave labor however, but rather the experience of being important, included, and an integrated part of what’s going on. It forms bonds and knits everyone together. The truth is, he doesn’t always need help, but he does enjoy people and being together.

Christ’s miracle in this passage reveals what I find to be one of the most remarkable mysteries of our faith: that God includes us in His work of salvation. It wouldn’t surprise me that Christ did something amazing. It does surprise me when He does something amazing with a small contribution from me.

When we look at the needs of the world, we can be overwhelmed like Philip. Like Andrew, we may consider what small resources are available to us but in contrast to the need they seem pointless. The critical question for you and I is whether we will make the contribution anyway, with faith that Christ can work wonders even today.

If the contribution is small it can seem worth the gamble and it makes us feel like good people. However, in the case of the child in this passage, it required all the food he had. Our faith is most tested when our contribution requires real sacrifice and real risk.   The boy could have reasoned that it would be imprudent to offer so much when so little could seemingly be achieved.  Children usually have more hope than prudence however, and in this case it turned out to be a blessing.  The boy didn’t know how his small contribution would help, but he trusted Who he gave it to.

In his spiritual classic, Abandonment to Divine Providence, Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade exhorts us to continue to make these acts of faith with confidence because Christ still works miracles today. He writes,

It is this same Jesus Christ, always alive and active, who continues to live and work fresh wonders in the souls of those who love Him.

Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman also urged that our faith is in some ways measured by our risk.  He challenges us to consider how much we have “ventured,” or bet, on Jesus being Who He says He is; much like the boy who trusted the person of Jesus more than the mathematical ratio of loaves to people who needed to be fed.

As regards individuals, then, it is quite true, that all of us must for certain make ventures for heaven, yet without the certainty of success through them. This, indeed, is the very meaning of the word “venture;” for that is a strange venture which has nothing in it of fear, risk, danger, anxiety, uncertainty. Yes; so it certainly is; and in this consists the excellence and nobleness of faith; this is the very reason why faith is singled out from other graces, and honoured as the especial means of our justification, because its presence implies that we have the heart to make a venture.” (Sermon 20)

Faith requires a risk for a reward that can only be calculated supernaturally. According to Christ’s math, five loaves and two fish can feed five thousand people with leftovers to boot. Like my friend, Christ does not necessarily need our particular contribution, but He does desire us and working with Him results in an experience of being bonded, knit together, and the satisfaction of being a part of something amazing.

Consider:

  • Do you believe Christ still works miracles today? Have you experienced one in your own life?
  • What sacrifice is Christ asking you to make for His work?
  • Is there a need that keeps tugging at your heart? Is there anything you can do to help, no matter how small the effect might be?
  • Consider Christ’s love and friendship for you; that He desires to work with you and to include you in His mission.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, offer to Christ the work of your day and entrust Him with the results.
  • Identify one thing about your life or work that you know is Christ’s will but you often get discouraged about because it’s seemingly so small in the world’s eyes. Ask Christ for faith and encouragement.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018