To Err is Human, To Forgive Divine

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24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 18:21-35

The three essential phrases required in every relationship include: “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” We all need affirmation of love since our deepest desire as creatures made in the image and likeness of God is to love and be loved. As persons wounded by original sin, we also need to give and receive forgiveness.

The more we love, the greater the offense when we mess up. If I hold up the line at the grocery store because I forgot an item on my list, I will upset the people behind me, but they won’t take it personally. They may utter some unkind words or sigh loudly, but by the next day it’s forgotten. If however I hold up a family member or friend from getting somewhere together on time due to my forgetfulness it can feel more personal and a failure to love the way they deserve.

Moreover, if a person’s in a bad mood and snaps at her coworkers, they’ll be upset but shake it off. Whereas, if she brings that bad mood home and takes it out on her family then it can damage and chip away at those relationships.

Mistakes and stress are daily occurrences, thus the need to apologize quickly and acknowledge the mess-up or failure of character in order to reestablish right relationship. It’s amazing how simply taking responsibility for a mistake or bad behavior can put people in a much more forgiving disposition.

C.S. Lewis, in his essay On Forgiveness, made an important distinction between mistakes which are excusable and mistakes which require forgiveness. All offenses are not equal, and he notes that oftentimes when we attempt to apologize, we in fact try to excuse away responsibility. If something is excusable however then it really doesn’t require forgiveness. By definition, a reasonable excuse implies that the wrong was not your fault.  He observed,

“I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive.

This distinction applies to our view of forgiving others as well. By confusing excusing with forgiving, we may think that if we forgive someone, we are saying what they did was okay or accepting that they aren’t really responsible. In consequence it feels inauthentic or false. However, forgiveness does not excuse but rather acknowledges the real offense and mercifully gives reconciliation as a gift. This means surrendering bitterness and ill-wishes, but it does not mean you have to trust the person or like them. C.S. Lewis explains it like this:

[Many people] think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or no bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. They keep on replying, “But I tell you the man broke a most solemn promise.” Exactly: that is precisely what you have to forgive. (This doesn’t mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise.  It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart – every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.)

On the other hand, since forgiveness is a free act of mercy by the offended, it can be intimidating to admit guilt. What if you let down your guard and admit your fault in all truth? You will be in debt to that person and they could hold it over you. They could also look down on you. After all, the root of our sins are ugly – pride, vanity, foolishness, envy, baseness, etc. If I don’t want people to see my house in a wreck, why would I let them see my soul in a wreck?

Unfortunately, this fear of rejection can color our approach to God’s forgiveness too.  Pope Francis commented in The Name of God is Mercy, that most people haven’t experienced mercy in their own lives, so they assume they won’t receive mercy from God.  St. Faustina also decried this attitude as Jesus revealed to her that His greatest wound was a lack of trust in His mercy on the part of souls. He asked Faustina to have the Divine Mercy image painted, and Feast of Mercy established the Sunday after Easter. Pope St. John Paul II recognized the authenticity and timeliness of this message and created the desired feast day. C.S. Lewis described this anguish we feel approaching God for confession and encouraged his readers saying,

A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it, from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favour. But that would not be forgiveness at all.  Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowance have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.  That, and only that,  is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.

Lastly, Jesus’ exhortation on forgiveness includes the question of the ongoing repetitiveness of offenses. It’s one thing to forgive big sins, but oftentimes the need to forgive the petty daily jabs can get the better of us, especially from those who do not apologize. Jesus modelled this frustrating kind of love in that He first loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). So, if we are to follow His great commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34), we must bear wrongs patiently. We must graciously excuse the excusable, and mercifully forgive the inexcusable. By doing this, we evangelize about God’s mercy by our action encouraging the offender that if you can forgive them, God can too. We also acknowledge with humility that we too are sinners. We need the forgiveness and patience of others as well. Not only that, but our own forgiveness by God will be measured by our forgiveness toward others.

Consider:

  • Reflect on the difference between an excuse and an admission of guilt.
    • How do you excuse your guilt away? Why do you think that is?
    • On the other hand, how do you sometimes assume guilt rather than an excuse it when it comes to other people?
  • Take a moment to examine your conscience and come before God in prayer asking for forgiveness.
  • Consider who may need your forgiveness. How might you offer mercy to him or her – whether for a regular fault or for a major injustice?
    • Offer the “justice” or revenge you desire to God
    • Pray for his or her conversion
  • Consider that forgiveness is an opportunity. Since God has forgiven you so generously and joyfully, forgiving someone who has hurt you is an opportunity to do the same for someone else.
  • We need the help of grace to forgive.  Take a moment to ask Christ for the strength to have a merciful heart.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray Psalm 51 each day this week. It’s David’s psalm praying for God’s forgiveness and trusting in His mercy.
  • Bear wrongs patiently during the day.
  • Extend mercy and forgiveness to someone who needs it from you.
  • Let an old grudge go.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 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. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

You can find C.S. Lewis’ essay on Forgivenss in The Weight of Glory: A Collection of Lewis’ Most Moving Addresses

Christian Conflict Resolution

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23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 18:15-20

Incorporation into the Christian community means being adopted into a family. This in turn means we have a greater responsibility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus knows families can struggle with dysfunctional ways of dealing with things – from gossip, to triangulating, to manipulation or passive aggressive tactics, and more. As the head of the Christian family however, He provides us with clear instructions about the best way to love our brother or sister in difficult situations.

First, Jesus tells us to confront our loved one directly if they have hurt us in some way. This means we cannot play the martyr, hope they read our mind, let it build up, or sweep it under the rug. Jesus knows healthy relationships require honest communication and ongoing reconciliation. We all sin and we all inevitably treat our loved ones unfairly or unkindly. To move forward reconciliation is essential. In our pride however, we sometimes don’t even realize we are hurting the one we love unless they tell us. Jesus instructs, therefore, that Christian love should make the person aware of their sin. The Church actually lists this as a Spiritual Work of Mercy called “admonish the sinner.”  It’s not meant to be mean or judgmental, but to help a person grow into Christian maturity.

If the person won’t listen, likely claiming that you are being unfair, then Jesus proposes you bring another witness or two. The goal would be to open the person’s eyes to their sin so they can change, and reconciliation occur. Sometimes the perspective of a couple of people can help to establish with objectivity the truth of the situation. It’s amazing how blind we are to our sinful attitudes and habits, especially toward our family! Even when confronted, we hold on so tightly, and refuse to change. We often rationalize, “This is how I am. My family should just love me unconditionally.”  However, because our family loves us unconditionally, we should try even harder to change because they deserve the best version of ourselves not the worst.

In general, Jesus wants us to avoid the tornadic plague of gossip or the festering sore of passive aggressive retaliation. He wants His family to be happy, healthy, and loving. Direct communication and the ally of one or two close friends is usually enough for most problems. However, there are some injustices which require wider assistance and, if not changed, are too destructive to let go on. For instance, if a family member refuses to change his or her abusive behavior or treat an addiction, it needs to be brought to light for the whole family. If the person still refuses to change, family members are sometimes forced to separate themselves from the person in order to protect themselves and others, and in love withdraw from enabling the abuser or addict. It may seem extreme and even un-Christian; however Jesus came to conquer sin not to support it. Paradoxically, separating from addicts or abusers can motivate healthy change. At the very least, it is a way of evangelizing. It shows by your actions that the behavior is wrong. Lastly, Jesus assures us that although we have a serious responsibility toward the souls of our Christian brothers and sisters, ultimately we are not responsible for their behavior. At the end of the process, we can have peace that we have done everything we could. We must work tirelessly for the salvation of souls, but we must also know the limits placed on us by their free will.

Thankfully, we can always be a blessing to others through prayer and sacrifice. Even if we must separate from someone physically, financially, or even in communication, we can still pray for them.   Moreover, just as Jesus exhorted us to confront a person together, He also exhorts us to pray for others together. As children of God, and heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), our prayers come before Him with all the force and influence a son or daughter can have on their father, especially when they plead with him as a family.

In conclusion, the vocation of marriage plays an important role in the formation of this mindset and the practice of applying Christian love to all different kinds of situations. In his encyclical Familaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paull II called the family the first “school” of Christian love, from which persons develop the Christian self-giving habits necessary for mature interaction with the world as adults.  He wrote:

The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self- giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society.

True love is more than an emotion.  It’s a decision to choose the good for one’s beloved. The best course of action isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always clear. Thankfully, we are not alone in this. We can look to Jesus and to our Christian family to share the burden.

Consider:
  • Consider the gift of being God’s daughter or son. Reflect on Jesus’ love for you as your Brother.
  • Consider how you handle conflict. What do you do well? What could you improve?
  • How might you apply Jesus’ instructions for resolving problems to a situation in your life?
  • When has someone shown “tough love” toward you? How did their loving honesty help you grow?
  • St. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is the best weapon we possess. It is the key that opens the heart of God.”   Consider the power of prayer to fight for our brothers and sisters.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
  • Apply Jesus’ process to a conflict in your life this week.
  • Resolve not to gossip this week; Say a prayer every day for someone who bothers you.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 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. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

Authentic Love

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22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 16:21-27

Peter loved Jesus. He left everything to follow Him. Peter put his whole heart into the mission and his courage and zeal expressed themselves in extraordinary ways. Moved by faith, Peter walked on water. With his heart open to the Holy Spirit, he boldly answered Jesus’ question to the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” by proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God.

Love inspires, emboldens, strengthens, and provides unique insights into the beloved. Like the love between a husband and wife, a mother or father and their children, a beloved brother or sister, or a dearest friend, love wells up inside and can’t help but express itself with exclamations of affection, physical closeness, and fierce protectiveness.

Due to our wounded, fallen nature however, our love can also be misdirected. In this Gospel passage, Peter’s love mixed with his pride and with his worldly understanding to embolden him in a way that undermined, rather than supported, Jesus. Our love needs conversion to be authentic and to be true to our beloved.  It requires ongoing formation in what is True and Good as God has revealed it, rather than as our emotions direct us or the culture. It requires practice as well, to break bad habits and form good ones, or to overcome personal weaknesses that hurt the relationship.

Peter loved Jesus and was honored to be given the keys to the kingdom just one chapter prior to this. However, his pride and ambition, together with his cultural assumptions about what that kingdom would look like, misdirected his love to preserving an earthly kingdom by preserving Jesus’ earthly life. Just when Jesus needed the support of His disciples the most, as His “Hour” of Redemptive suffering for all mankind approached, Peter pulled Him aside and tried to dissuade Him.

Like Peter, our love needs Christ’s grace and truth to be authentic. Consider the sentiment “I just want you to be happy.” It can motivate noble sacrifice, but it can also rationalize weakness. If we define happiness as merely earthly comfort, ease, security, and pleasure, we risk encouraging our beloved to turn from their cross rather than helping them carry it. Yet, in trying to save their life, we could actually cripple them.

Consider the paradox inherent in parenting. Kids need protection, nurturing, and comfort.  At the same time, to mature into adulthood, they also need to work through difficulties, setbacks, and pain. The temptation to remove every obstacle can undermine the maturation process, whereas supporting them through the struggle without necessarily removing it for them can help them grow. To know when to intervene and when to stand back is NOT easy! It requires the counsel of the Holy Spirit and the grace of fortitude. When Jesus’ life was threatened by King Herod, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to protect Him. When Jesus was scourged and crucified however, Mary stood by Him, feeling every pain with Him, but knew it was necessary for His mission.

In marriage, family life, and friendship, authentic love needs conversion. When we say, “I just want you to be happy,” we have to be honest about which kind of happiness we desire for them: worldly or Christian.  Jesus is clear,

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Those we love will struggle with sin. It’s the battle of this life. Authentic love won’t condone the sin. Rather, it will strengthen a person to speak the truth in love and support the beloved through the pain of conversion because true life and true freedom is found in the Lord.

In the first reading for today (Jeremiah 20:7-9), the prophet Jeremiah exemplifies authentic love. His human nature desired comfort and to simply be liked. Nevertheless, his people had succumbed to habits of sin and needed to be corrected lest they die eternally from their destructive behavior and attitudes. He didn’t want to speak out anymore because every time he did, they met him with anger.

However, when he tried to remain silent, the truth welled up in him and he couldn’t hold it in any longer without suffering even greater pain. True love can’t stand to see sin hurting its beloved. Our friends and family need us to battle for their souls with the strength of prayer, God’s Truth, and the cross, not sentimentality. And we need those who love us to battle for our souls in the same way. To do this, we need to actively cooperate with the Holy Spirit that our love can be fully converted.  St. Paul described it well when he instructed:

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2

It will take time, effort, and support. However, we can be encouraged by Peter’s example. Peter’s conversion took time as well, but by the end of his life his love had become so perfect, that he accepted the cross and crucifixion for himself that he had once tried to dissuade Jesus from.

I’ll end with two quotes that I read often which give me hope:

Pope Francis quoting St. Augustine (January 19, 2016): “there is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future

St. Josemaria Escriva: “A saint is a sinner that keeps trying.”

Consider:

  • Reflect on Mary’s love for Jesus. Consider her fierce protection when He was young. Consider her fierce loyalty to His mission on the Cross, despite both of their suffering.
  • Consider the words “I just want you to be happy.”
    • Pray about what true happiness is, where it can be found, and how it can be attained.
  • When has Christian love required you to carry a cross?
    • Who supported you?  Who tried to dissuade you?
  • When have you had to stand by someone while they carried a cross?
    • In what ways were you tempted to encourage them to leave the cross?
    • How were you able to support them in their pain or struggle and make the burden easier?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Do one thing each day for “the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
    • Spend 5 minutes with Scripture
    • Read a good Christian book
    • Listen to Christian podcasts
    • Visit with a Christian friend
  • Support a friend on their spiritual journey who is struggling with a sin or with a cross.
    • Pray and sacrifice for them; speak truth in love; visit them; encourage them with Scriptures of hope and resurrection after the Cross or the example of a saint or someone you know.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Following the Leader: Christian Discipleship and Leadership

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21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 16: 13-20

Generally speaking, our culture loathes the word “authority.” It appears to undermine our values of autonomy, self- expression, independence, and freedom.  Moreover, the idea of monarch-rule seems archaic and undemocratic. In consequence, our cultural norms and assumptions can hinder our understanding and appreciation of the Kingdom of God.

God’s Chosen People first became a kingdom under Saul, then famously David. David’s authority however came from God. He was chosen by God and anointed king by God’s prophet Samuel. In addition, David’s success as a leader corresponded with his fidelity to the Lord.

The Kingdom of Israel served as a glimpse or foreshadowing of the Kingdom Jesus would establish. However Jesus, the New David, did not begin His reign by assigning authoritative positions to protect the physical security of His people, lands, and finances. Instead, He assigned authority to leaders He wished to protect the souls of His people, the Truth He came to reveal, and the path He opened for our salvation. These positions he assigned to Peter, the first pope and His steward/vicar on earth, and the twelve apostles and their successors the bishops.

The Pope, like David, is a human being. This means he will falter at times, sin, and struggle with human limitations. We must be careful however, not to project our cultural norm on our understanding of his role. Our leaders our voted upon to represent our views. They operate at a natural human level, with the responsibility to protect our physical security, rights, lands, and commerce. The Pope’s position, begun with Peter, has a different role. Christ chose Peter. Christ bestowed His authority upon Peter to be Christ’s representative, not the representative of popular opinion. Lastly, no matter what the pope’s natural gifts or limitations may be, the Holy Spirit empowered Peter and his successors to always be able to answer questions about the divinely revealed faith with certainty of truth by supernaturally empowering them to discern correctly answers about Christ. The first controversial question is recorded in Acts of the Apostles. The apostles held a council to address the question of whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised along with baptism or not. Peter was given the grace by Christ to know the answer was no to circumcision.

Moreover, the Pope is called to shepherd people on the way to salvation which means he also has the authority to make rules for His spiritual children that he believes will be important for their development. This resembles a family structure more so than a political one. I am grateful to God to live in our democracy. In my opinion, despite its flaws, it’s still the best, and most free, country in the world. Nevertheless, I don’t run my family like a democracy. If decisions were made by vote we would eat doughnuts every morning, live way outside our means, and discipline would devolve to mob rule.  Much to my children’s chagrin, our family is run as a monarchy. Though they push against the rules, we have much more peace, justice, and love as a result. In this monarchy, God is our king, and my husband and I are His stewards.

At times, my kids have accused me of being either overly strict or overly protective when I said no to something they wanted to do. To encourage me to soften, they would make life difficult for me, then add “no one really cares Mom, it’s not that big of a deal.” Even though I felt for them, and in a secular culture what they said was true, I also knew I had to hold the line because, at the end of the day, I would be held responsible before God.  So, I often respond to them, “I have to do what’s right for you, because it’s my responsibility and I will have to answer to God one day.” And when I fail to hold the line, and am a weak parent, I ask God for forgiveness and the grace to be stronger.

So, contrary to our cultural norms and assumptions, I have seemingly Medieval parenting methods to my children.  Yet, as parents we all know that raising kids to be mature adults is different than running a nation-state. Kids need us to exercise our authority, especially in decisions that they are too young to make. We are in a better position to discern what is safe from what is too risky, truth from lie, and wisdom from folly. Of course, unlike Christ we are not all-knowing, so oftentimes we need the Holy Spirit to guide us in our position and enable  us by His grace to make the right choices.

Discipleship means that Christ is our king. We can embrace this monarchy because our king is also our loving, self- sacrificing, and divine Savior.  As king, He chose to bestow His authority upon some of His subjects to govern for Him on earth and promised to safeguard it until the end of the world.

Upon Peter, and every pope thereafter, He bestowed the authority to say who Christ is, and gave them the supernatural ability to be correct. The role of pope is to preserve, protect, and promulgate the Deposit of Faith given by Christ. In addition, when confusion over Christ’s revelation occurs, for the sake of unity someone must be the authority that determines which response is correct and which is false. During the first councils of the early church the question of whether Jesus is God, Man, or both was a long, heated, argument. If determined as a vote, our doctrine would be that of Arius’ interpretation – Jesus was only a man but the highest possible one.  The pope recognized Athanasius’ response as the true one – that Jesus is both God and man.

In the vocation of marriage, Jesus bestows His authority on mothers and fathers over their children. Thus, as children we have an obligation to obey our parents. And as parents, we have the responsibility of exercising our authority in a Christian manner.  It’s not always easy.  When kids are fighting I would rather just yell “stop bickering” (which is never really effective), than get up, intervene, and if necessary, impose consequences for bad behavior. Crafting Christian rules takes time and effort, both of which are in short supply. Enforcing the rules with appropriate consequences means suffering the rebuffs and anger of resistant kids. As kids get older, knowing what decision to make in given circumstances becomes even more difficult.  They require even more prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, we can find peace and confidence in our divine monarch, Jesus Christ. He reigns in our souls with supernatural power and grace.  Despite our natural limitations, He transforms us into one Body, one family in God. His Holy Spirit guides us – enlightening our minds, strengthening our wills, and inflaming our hearts with love. Our unity in Christ can be seen visibly in the family and in the Church. Our trust is not in ourselves, but in Him who enables us to complete the mission He entrusted to us.

Consider:

  • To what extent does Jesus reign in your heart and in your life? When do you let Him lead, and when do you resist His commands?
  • Our culture tends to value being a leader over a follower. How does this influence our discipleship? Do we value being followers or wish only to lead?
  • In what ways has Christ appointed you His steward? In your vocation – who has He entrusted to your care? In your occupation – who or what has He entrusted to you and what fruit do you think He expects to see from it? In His Creation – what does He ask of you for its care?
  • How do you respond to the authority of Christ’s vicar on earth, the pope? Do you accept his guidance on matters of faith and morals, or do you resist? Is your faith strong enough to see not just the human, visible reality of the Church, but the divine, invisible reality as well? What has made this either easier or harder for you?
  • Consider the relationship between authority and unity. How are the two related and necessary?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • If there’s a teaching of the faith that you presently ignore, begin practicing it instead and try to learn more about why the Church teaches it.
  • Each morning look ahead at the day. Invite Christ to lead you in each aspect, and for the grace to follow. Even if you are called to lead others, let Christ lead you first.
    • Examples:
      • If you make a to-do list at work or home, prayerfully consider first how Christ would prioritize the items rather than how you want to prioritize them.
      • What expectations would Christ want to see in your family? Are there any that need greater implementation?
      • What expectations does Christ have for you at work? Do you honor Him by respectful, honest, and edifying language, free from vulgarity or slander? Do you honor Him in action through diligence in your work and mercy towards your co- workers?
  • Pray the Suscipe prayer by St. Ignatius or the Serenity Prayer.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone & Walking on Water

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19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33

Exhilaration, adventure, a leap of faith – we get brave and step out onto the water…outside our comfort zone. For a brief moment, his eyes fixed on Jesus, Peter did just that. Then, a gust of wind distracted him, and Peter’s gaze turned to the strength of the wind rather than the strength of the Lord. His faith sank and so did he.  Yet, as quickly as he had turned from the Lord, he turned right back. He immediately reached out to Christ for help.  Jesus did not delay, He caught Peter as soon as he asked. Jesus didn’t let Peter flounder in the water gasping for air as He lectured him. He cast no words of spite, no “I told you so”, or “that’s what you get for not believing in Me more.” Jesus came to reveal the Father’s love, and on this night He demonstrated the Lord’s compassionate mercy for our weak nature.

petersinking

Discipleship calls us beyond our comfort zone, and even beyond our natural limits. Yoked to Christ, He enables us to walk on water. Like Peter, we might step out of the boat in total confidence in our Lord. Once on the water however, we become fearful as we realize our total dependence on His supernatural help. It’s much easier to have faith floating on the water in a boat, than walking on water barefoot.

I remember the excitement of getting my first teaching job, and the enthusiasm of teaching students about God. Then, the first day of class arrived and panic struck. “Yikes!” I thought, “How I am I going to get through the day? What I am I going to say for a whole class period?! What if a student misbehaves? What if I’m a terrible teacher?…”  I also remember the joy of holding my first child in my arms the day he was born. It was absolutely surreal. Two days later the nurse walked us out to the car and waved goodbye.  As we put my son in the car seat and drove away anxiety erupted, “They’re just letting us take him?!  We don’t know anything! What if I’m a terrible mother? What if I say or do something that scars him for life?!…” Lastly, when I do speaking engagements or workshops, I’m exhilarated at the opportunity to share the joy of God’s saving love with others. A half hour before the talk however, worried thoughts begin to percolate up, “Why did I agree to do this? It would be far more comfortable to be at home watching Netflix. What if I fail? What if everyone is bored? Who am I to do this, I’m a sinner like everyone else?”  Like Peter, I begin to sink but then I cry out to the Jesus. He reminds me that I teach, mother, and speak because He has called me to.  He assures me that though I am not worthy, He is, and He is with me. He also pushes me by filling my heart with so much gratitude for His love in my life that I can’t resist sharing it with others.

The challenge of discipleship is living at a level only sustainable if Christ and His grace is real. It requires taking a risk, so much so that if Christ is not real, you would be at a loss. Consider how many times God tells us in Scripture to be not afraid. Pope St. John Paul II chose these words for his first statement as Pope, knowing how much we fear as we look around at the dangers that surround us.

When I begin to sink in fear a few verses come to mind that strengthen me.  First, I think of 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

“Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”

St. Paul felt too weak to face a challenge on his own. Rather than remove the difficulty, Jesus promised to provide the strength. St. Paul realized therefore, that the weaker he is, the more God’s power must be at work in him to accomplish God’s will. He moved from anxiety to total confidence, and writes in his letter to the Philippians 4:13,

“I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me”

We can trust Jesus to come through for us.  We can answer His call, even if it means going beyond our natural limits. When we struggle to take that leap of faith beyond our comfort zone, Christ urges us to simply reach out and He will be there for us as He was for Peter.

“Ask and it will be given to you; 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” Matthew 7:7

Ask, seek, knock, and you just might walk on water.

Consider:

  • How has following Christ stretched you beyond what you expected?
  • When has Christ made an endeavor more fruitful than it would have been by your own merits?
  • Have you ever felt like Peter, walking on water, in awe of Christ’s divine power?
  • Have you ever faltered because of fear, worry, or anxiety?
  • What Scripture verses or memories reassure you of Christ’s aid?
  • Is Christ calling you to something outside your comfort zone right now? What holds you back? What inspires you forward?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Take one risk each day for your faith.
    • Ideas: Inviting your spouse to pray together, praying as a family, saying “God bless” to someone on the phone or a at work, speaking up when someone is criticizing the Church or using God’s name in vain, sharing your faith with someone in need of comfort, going to the Sacrament of Confession, responding to God’s call in your vocation or job…

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Tunnel Vision

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17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus’ parables illustrate the attitude of people who have discovered the treasure of life with God. To be a citizen in His kingdom, a son or daughter of this good Father, is worth trading everything for. Both the landowner and the merchant shrewdly went all-in for this investment, knowing it was a sure bet and incomparably more valuable than anything else that they owned.

Discovering the love of Jesus Christ, experiencing His liberating grace and forgiveness, is an incredible feeling. It overwhelms a person with joy. Yes, Jesus’ kingdom has laws. He says, if you love me then follow my commands. But His commands are the way of love and the way of living to the highest degree of your dignity and will lead you to the fullness of your development.

On the one hand, we hate rules in our culture. We balk at phrases like “submission to authority” and only like a monarchy for the glamorous magazine photos, not as a political system. Our democratic ideals, although a fruit of our Christian heritage, can also color our vision of faith in a negative way. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy because it’s not akin to a political system governing equals, but rather a family governed by our Heavenly Father who has appointed His Son as king. God has revealed the laws of His kingdom, both through the natural moral law, and the divinely revealed law through Moses and through Jesus. We may resist the faith as an imposition of rules to control us, but it would be to assume those rules were imposed arbitrarily by someone without the right authority and for their own personal interest or gain.  However, God’s laws are at the heart and foundation of creation. He revealed the ultimate science behind our human nature and the instructions for how to flourish. Our adolescent view of our Father’s rules changes when we mature in the faith and realize His wisdom and His benevolence.

So, what must we sell to buy this field or this pearl, this “treasury of truth” as St. Augustine called it? We must relinquish anything that would edge out Christ or drain our spiritual resources. If we delight in the law of the Lord, as the Psalms often repeat, how can we meditate on them if media edges out our time for prayer?  If we wish to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us, how can we see their needs and humbly serve them if our busy schedules consume our thoughts and actions? How can we enjoy the fruits of purity if we are stuck in the mud of lust?  How can we enjoy fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ if we can’t let go of being overly competitive, cynical, or unforgiving?

We must say no to lesser treasures, to possess the greatest treasure. Without love this seems too much, similar to a single person who can’t imagine being tied down to one person their whole life, until they meet that person and suddenly they can’t wait. St. Augustine famously observed:

“Two cities, then, have been created by two loves: that is, the earthly by love of self extending even to contempt of God, and the heavenly by love of God extending to contempt of self. The one, therefore, glories in itself, the other in the Lord; the one seeks glory from men, the other finds its highest glory in God, the Witness of our conscience.”

Praise be to God that Jesus has cast His net to the whole world, inviting every single person into His kingdom. He has no immigration caps or limits. In the end, those who want to enter may, and those who do not may not. Love is total and generous. As a couple approaches marriage, they move from individual lives to a shared life. In their marriage vows they don’t parse percentages; they vow a gift of their whole selves for their whole lives together.  Christ has offered us His perfect love, total and sacrificial. The only proper response is joy, gratitude, and a reciprocal gift of self. You see this joyful abandonment expressed in the life of every saint, beginning with the disciples who “left everything and followed Him” (Luke 5:11).

Consider:

  • When have you experienced the joy described in these parables? When have you experienced the value of faith in Christ?
  • What have you had to sacrifice to follow Christ and to love as He loves? Is there anything presently that competes with your discipleship?
  • Consider the difference between a democracy and a monarchy. How is God’s kingdom different than our own governments? How does it resemble family structure?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Tell one person about a time you experienced Christ and felt tremendous joy.
  • Make a list of your daily and weekly tasks and goals. Look over them and prioritize them in light of the Gospel.
  • Pray a Psalm each day. They are prayers filled with praise and trust.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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When Your Work for Christ Feels Sabotaged

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16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:24-43

weeds and wheatThese parables have been a rock of hope for me as a mother and teacher. I feel like I put so much time and effort into carefully forming my children and students in the faith only to be discouraged by the worldly attitudes that apparently pop up overnight like the weeds in Jesus’ first parable. Like the servants I exclaim with surprise, Lord did we not sow good seed in your field, where have the weeds come from?  One day we’re listening to Christian music in the car, and the next the kids are streaming explicit rap music on Spotify. Whereas before the kids couldn’t wait to read bible stories together, suddenly, they start dragging their feet and complaining. The values of prayer, service, and modesty now seem to be riddled with competing values of constant activity and entertainment – from sports to social media to video games, the goal of making lots of money, and popular clothing styles that degrade their God-given dignity.

For most people these weeds pop up as they near middle school and intensify in high school. Developmentally, kids sense their need to become independent and separate from mom and dad.  Unfortunately, the culture they reach out to for acceptance is riddled with weeds of atheism, hedonism, consumerism, a degraded definition of personhood, and individualism. The less Christian our culture has become, and the more virulently anti-Christian it has grown to be, the more it feels like our contribution as formators (whether as parents, teachers, aunts & uncles, youth ministers, counselors etc.) is as small as a mustard seed in comparison.

Woman praying by Barbara Jackson pixabay_comWhen I feel this surprise and frustration I’m encouraged by Jesus’ lack of surprise and calm confidence.  Jesus expected the weeds. He knows they didn’t come from us (well, maybe some of them – none of us are perfect yet!). He advises us to persevere with confidence because the mustard seed of our work, the hidden leaven of our efforts toward their formation, will grow with supernatural grace. In the end, Christ will be victorious, and the weeds will be separated out and tossed aside.  As St. Paul declared to the Philippians:

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

St. Monica (331 AD – 387 AD) and St. Augustine (354 AD – 430 AD) provide the perfect example of this. St. Monica raised Augustine Catholic and prayed for him and her pagan husband diligently. Nevertheless, as Augustine got older, his experience at school and within the culture rooted weeds of pride and vain ambition. He abandoned the Catholic faith altogether deeming it unintelligent and unappealing. Instead he pursued the spiritual in a cult called Manichaeism and worked toward advancing his career as a rhetorician in Rome.

Monica, left behind at their home in North Africa, cried torrents of tears for her son’s conversion. At the time Augustine spent his workday developing a rich lifestyle, and his free time partying and living with a woman he wasn’t married to. Nevertheless, Monica persevered. When Augustine had still lived in North Africa, she had endeavored to connect him with any priest or bishop she could find who would be willing to speak with him about the faith and try to convince him of the errors of Manichaeism. When Augustine ran away from home (he snuck out on a boat for Rome and only told his mother after the fact) she increased her prayer and sacrifice.  Augustine credits his mother’s sacrificial prayers for his eventual conversion.

Augustine would eventually be intrigued and persuaded by the preaching of a bishop, but it would be St. Ambrose in Milan. Ambrose’s teaching was a turning point and God continued to lead Augustine toward the truth. He eventually saw the errors in Manichaeism and the falsehoods at its foundation. He also encountered stories of lives of the saints as well as the example of the conversion of one of his colleagues, both of which stung at his conscience to convert as well. Eventually he made the turn, was baptized, and lived a reformed life becoming a bishop and one of the greatest saints and doctors of the Church.

After pulling the weeds in Augustine, God harvested all that intelligence, passion, and skill for the building up of His kingdom. At the end of Monica’s life she even had a beautiful mystical experience in prayer together with Augustine.

Afterward, she expressed to Augustine the feeling St. Paul did in Philippians, that God had brought to completion the good work He had entrusted to her. Moved by her love and faith, her husband had been baptized before his death.  Once her son was secured in Christ, she felt at rest and died shortly after.

St. Augustine’s youth resembles that of our own youth today. Even though his Confessions (the book he wrote about his conversion) was written in the 5th century, it resembles our own age in a remarkable way. We can take heart, as Monica did, that God’s work won’t go unharvested and to persevere in prayer and sacrifice.

It reminds me of the classic scenario where a child has one parent who only promises what he or she can deliver on and provides for the seemingly small but daily sacrifices the child needs, while the other parent neglects the daily work and present needs but compensates with big promises that they never keep. At the time, the big talker overshadows the real gifts the child is receiving. However, in time, the truth gets revealed and the value of those real gifts outshines the shadow of the imagined gifts.

The Truth is true. Eventually, the world’s false promises come up empty and Christ’s promises prove real. Hopefully some of our kids and loved ones will trust in Christ and resist the weeds to begin with, and they will experience the peace of Christ permeate their life early on.  Some of our loved ones will be more lured by the weeds and may experiment with the glamour of the worldly values. Yet, even this may lead them back to Christ as they begin to feel the anxiety and degradation that it produces.

For your part, keep on planting good seed. Keep praying, teaching, role modeling, and working on your own conversion. Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) did just that, and shortly after her death her atheist husband became Catholic, and later a Dominican priest! In her journal, Elisabeth wrote,

“Whatever suffering this [isolation of faith] entails, I offer for the souls who are so dear to me. Nothing is lost, not one grief or one tear.”

She was right. Like St. Monica, God blessed her tears and sacrifice with a rich harvest of the seeds she had planted and the leaven of her charity. Jesus said that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Elisabeth’s husband Felix testified to this saying of her life, especially in her final years as she was bedridden from illness:

She did indeed uplift all who surrounded or approached her, and it was a strange thing to see this woman, so modest, so humble of heart, condemned to practical immobility, shedding around her far and wide the light of her great influence.

One friend of theirs (also an atheist) said of Elizabeth after her death:

Some beings are a light toward which all turn who need light to live by!

The culture may feel louder and stronger but persevere. Have hope in Christ and battle for your loved ones with prayer, sacrifice, and kindness. We already know the winning side and it’s Christ!

Consider:

  • How have you planted seeds of faith in others? How might you continue to do that in similar or new ways?
  • How can you add leaven to the dough through Christian acts of love? What are common situations in your daily life that offer opportunities for patience, gentleness, strength, or forgiveness?
  • Who has planted seeds of faith in you? Consider how they have grown over time and with age and experience.
  • What weeds of worldliness are growing alongside the wheat in you?
  • What are the present challenges against the faith in your family and friendships? How might you entrust them to Christ and battle with prayers and sacrifices?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • When confronted with frustration this week, turn to Christ with a prayer (such as Philippians 1:6), or battle by praying a rosary (St. Padre Pio called it his weapon because of its power against Satan and for conversion of souls), or asking the prayers of the guardian angels or a favorite saint.
  • Read about the lives of St. Augustine and St. Monica.
  • If you know someone who has made it to the other side of a struggle you are currently in, reach out to them and listen to their story to gain greater hope.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Share your thoughts or experiences in the comments to build each other up in hope!

Preparing the Soil: Spiritual Receptivity

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15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23

St. Paul tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). So why does the Word of Christ set some people’s hearts on fire while others pass it by with apathy or disdain? Does Jesus play favorites with who He invites to understand His message and who He lets go? How does He choose to whom “knowledge of the mysteries of heaven is granted”?

sowerJesus answers in a surprising way – He is the sower who offers Himself to everyone; whether it takes root depends on us. We are responsible for the extent to which we receive His Word.

It reminds me of my kids’ proverbial complaint that I’m not fair. Each one is certain that they have more chores than the others, and that they receive less than the others. I remind them that it only appears that way because they see their work but don’t see the work their siblings do. Either, because sometimes it occurs when they are not around, or because they just refuse to acknowledge it.  Similarly, the appearance of others receiving more stems from ingratitude and envy rather than a material difference. It’s easy to fall into the same trap spiritually as God’s children. God treats us all fairly, it’s our perception that tends to need adjustment.

Jesus’ parable illustrates the affect that attitude has on our faith. For God’s Word to be sown in our hearts and transformative, we must be receptive. Receptivity requires an attitude of gratitude, humility, and love. Resistance undermines the work God can do within us, and the fruit it can bear in our lives.

The seed that falls on the path has no effect because it’s met with apathy or hostility. Consider the things that deaden our hearts or fuel them with anger towards God.  Certainly secular culture, infused with hedonistic consumerism, dulls our desire for God by distracting us with instant gratifications and claiming that God is irrelevant to society. When things go wrong or we suffer however, our faith in God’s existence suddenly appears but only to blame Him. Anger and apathy make relationship impossible with anyone. Relationships require investment, interest, and openness. Much like the futility of reasoning with someone who’s already discounted you, if we don’t care about God except to shake our fist at Him, nothing He says or does will be convincing.

The rocky soil illustrates faith rooted only in sentimentality and emotions. It resembles the infatuation stage of a relationship. During that time, the couple is enamored with one another and experience strong feelings that say their love will last forever. Those feelings however, do not, as C.S. Lewis puts it, deliver on their promises. Feelings, by nature, come and go. Lasting love is a decision not an emotion. The infatuation stage in our relationship with God may include powerful feelings of love for the Lord and the desire for holiness. When a person encounters suffering or confusion, that love will either wither from shallowness, or go deeper to root down further in the soil. Fair weather friends make for rocky relationships, and the same goes for our relationship with God.

For those who make it past luke-warmness, and deeper than mere emotions, thorns still threaten to choke out faith with worldly anxiety and desires. To live in the world but not of the world is no easy task. Worry about our comfort, security, and what others think about us can quickly turn our gaze from God back to earth, crowding out room for His grace. We sit down to pray but our phone buzzes with a notification. Worry or desire pulls us away from Scripture and back into our technology.  Social events fill up the calendar and we think we are too busy to go to Church.  We might tell ourselves that we just have to prioritize these worldly things for a time, and then we will be able to relax and give God our whole selves. It tends to only be a trick we play on ourselves, like the carrot at the end of the stick – the donkey keeps walking but the carrot keeps moving at the same time he does.

A person who has found Christ, realizes that in Him they have everything. A humble heart, open to the Lord, fills with gratitude as it receives grace upon grace.  Apathy turns to zeal, sentimentality to conviction, and the constant grasping after the next thing is replaced with spiritual fulfillment and peace. In this rich soil, the soul begins to bear fruits of faith, hope, and love, along with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).

When we find ourselves saying, “Why doesn’t God speak to me? I pray but don’t hear anything?,” or “I just don’t feel like praying or going to Church, I don’t get anything out of it,” or “My life always feels so out of control no matter what I do, why can’t I ever just find peace?”; we can take a step back and evaluate the soil in our souls.  The Word of God has come to us in the flesh and remains with us, what can we do to better receive Him?  Begin with asking for His help.

Consider:

  • When do you struggle with feelings of not caring about God or your faith? What or who fuels that hardening of heart, and what/who softens your heart toward God?
  • Despite my love for flowers and home-grown vegetables, I’m a terrible gardener because I’m not attentive enough about keeping things watered or clearing away weeds. How can you be more attentive to the garden of your soul? What does it need to be watered, and what weeds need clearing away?
  • Pray about how deeply your faith is rooted. Is it guided primarily by emotions or by principle? Consider how your relationship with God is similar to, or different than, your relationships with others.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the thorns in your spiritual life. Prayerfully consider what competes with your prayer time, Mass, your generosity with the Lord, or your openness to His teachings. Ask for Christ to remove the thorns and replace them with greater devotion.
  • Mary exemplifies perfect receptivity to the Lord, rooted in deep love and enduring the hardest tribulations. Ask for her intercession to soften your heart and to “open your eyes to see and your ears to hear” as she did.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Work on preparing the soil for Christ.
    • If you need more gratitude: each night list 10 things you are thankful for from the day.
    • If you need more humility and detachment: Pray the Humility Prayer each day.
    • If you need more openness: Read Scripture for 5 minutes each day. It could be the daily readings (which can be found at usccb.org), a devotional, or simply opening one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Finding Yourself

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13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 10:37-42

I would think of this passage often when my kids were little. After finally getting them tucked into bed, just as I would sit down to finally relax, I would hear a little voice call out “Mooooooooom. I’m thirsty.” Fighting the frustration in my thoughts and body, I would remind myself, “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink…”

Following Christ means loving Him above all things, including all people, and most importantly above ourselves. If He were only a man this directive would be ridiculous and arrogant. Jesus gives this command because He is God. St. Augustine famously wrote in The City of God:

“There can only be two basic loves… the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self, or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God.”

As much as we may try to avoid this decision, the limits imposed on us by time and space force a choice. Sometimes it means a clear fork in the road, while at other times it may mean small daily sacrifices.

Discipleship applies to every vocation – priest, religious, married, and single. Priests and religious give a clear witness of total gift of self to God. Their remarkable vows and their counter-cultural lives attest to their faith in eternal life since they must sacrifice worldly goods for heavenly.  For example, a friend of mine who’s a nun, came by with three sisters to take some furniture I was giving away. That same day two workmen were at the house working on taping and mudding the basement that was being finished. As they came upstairs to take a break, they saw three nuns in full habit and me carrying a large bookshelf out of the house.  Imagine their surprise! One offered to help when he saw us struggle to lift it to the truck. Later one of the sisters asked him to help us tie down the furniture and he generously assisted. I have no doubts that will be a sight they remember forever, and a story they will tell for some time.

Married and single persons blend into society more since even non-believers marry or remain single.  However, it doesn’t take long for Christians to stand out even in these vocations. The disciple of Christ remains faithful to marriage vows even when the culture dismisses them.  Catholic families notoriously stand out as they tend to (though are not required to) exceed the usual one girl and one boy trend. Every mother I know who has more than three kids, has recounted to me rude comments made to them about the number of children they have.  These comments come from family members as well as complete strangers in places as random as the grocery store.  Openness to life necessitates losing your “life” to receive it back from Christ. It affects your body, your sleep, your emotions, your free time, your career choices, your travel, your finances, and so on. Once when I was congratulating a couple I know who were pregnant with their sixth child, the father conveyed his struggle that now they would have to get a 12-passenger van. Many a parent has lamented the min-van transition, but this step was tough for him to swallow. That is sacrifice. However, any mother or father will tell you, when you hold that baby in your arms you realize it’s completely worth it.

Finally, single persons stand out in their discipleship too. The Christian who lives chastely and temperately, puts others before themselves, and makes decisions prayerfully, shines a bright light in a culture that glamorizes promiscuity, partying, and self-advancement. They use their freedom to give of their time generously rather than selfishly. A single woman I know put it this way to me – she said that she was totally free for the Lord to call at any moment. Whereas others served God through their obligations to their family or religious order, she said, God needs some people who can be available any time anywhere.  I hadn’t thought of it like that before.  Of course she had to go to work and take care of her home, but she recognized that she had tremendously more “free” time and flexibility than the other vocations and intentionally chose to consecrate that time and freedom to God.

Discipleship comes at a cost but it’s a solid investment. Things of this world will always be insecure. Jobs can be lost, stock markets dive, beauty and health get marred by illness, and so on. Every investment we make in the Lord however will merit glory in heaven forever.  When I drag my tired body off the couch to give my thirsty daughter a cup of water at night, it remains treasured by God forever along with every sacrifice of love that we make.

We can’t be in two places at once and there will always be only 24 hours in a day. We must make choices. Jesus encourages us to be strong against temptations no matter where, or from whom, they come. He also sent the Holy Spirit to provide the gifts of fortitude and counsel we will need to make those decisions prayerfully and follow through on them courageously. He also gave us the gift of the Church to guide us and inspire us.

Jesus pointed out that you can tell a tree by its fruits. Even though self-love appears prudent, in our culture it has produced the highest levels of depression, “anger issues”, and suicide in history. Love of God above all things is only prudent from an eternal perspective, it requires faith. However it has produced thousands upon thousands of saints, the first mark of which is Joy.

Consider:

  • When have you chosen yourself over God? How did you rationalize it? How did you feel afterward?
  • When have you chosen God over yourself? How did God provide for you in that decision and bless you afterward?
  • Reflect on Jesus’ paradoxical words that we find ourselves in losing ourselves. Pope St. John Paul II expressed the same idea saying that we find self- fulfillment through self-gift. Others have expressed this phenomenon by saying that when they volunteered somewhere, they received more than they gave.
  • Who has been a witness to you by their Christian discipleship?  What struck you about them?
  • In what ways do you witness to Christ in your life? What makes it difficult? What makes it rewarding?
  • How can you practice works of mercy in your everyday life and your vocation?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for an increase in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, and Fear of the Lord), and the grace needed to follow Christ
  • Intentionally practice one work of mercy each day this week. Do small things with great love for your family members, coworkers, friends, or neighbors.

 

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Because of Your Name…

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12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 10:26-33

Because of Christ’ Name, we suffer.  But by His Holy Name, we are saved.

If you remain lukewarm in your faith, keep it private, and compartmentalize it from the rest of your life, you will likely enjoy peace with the world.  If you proclaim Jesus to be a great teacher like Buddha, but refrain from calling Him God, people will respect you and your “spirituality.” If you acknowledge Christ as one way and not The Way, most people will put up with your belief, since they afford everyone a little bit of foolishness.

One problem…to proclaim a nice moral teacher who isn’t God and isn’t the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is not to proclaim Jesus Christ. As C.S. Lewis famously put it: Jesus claimed to be God, that means He is either a Liar (He knew He wasn’t God but said He was), a Lunatic (He wasn’t God but really believed He was), or Lord (He is God). The first two do not make for good moral teachers, the third deserves our worship and obedience.

Fra_Angelico_-_Christ_the_Judge_-_WGA00679Jesus promises that “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” To do that however, we must proclaim the God Who became Man, that He is the fullness of Revelation – Divine Truth, the Savior of all mankind, and Love incarnate. To proclaim a myth of our own making, and worse to belittle Christ by using a weakened, distorted, version of Him as our inspiration, is to deny Christ. Jesus warns “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

 To proclaim Christ takes serious guts, and I don’t’ just mean speaking about Christ. Simply living your faith in everyday life will incite criticism and even personal attacks by others.

If you go to Church every Sunday despite competing demands for your time, you may be accused of being too rigid or too zealous. Those who would prefer you prioritize them over God will accuse you of being uncharitable or having an unhealthy scrupulosity. Those whose own church attendance looks lackluster in comparison will more likely try to find fault with your devotion rather than to imitate it.

If you believe that Jesus is the Truth – the Word of God, prepare to be accused of intolerance, close-mindedness, and archaic thinking. Even if you do not “push your beliefs on others”, your simple rejection of the religion of Relativism will offend its many followers (note: Relativism states that there is no objective truth – except, paradoxically, Relativism. It maintains that there’s no real right or wrong, just subjective beliefs). Moreover, no matter how hard persons try to rationalize sins, their God-given consciences sense the truth and can’t help but react at reminders. People who want to live in darkness hate the light. It happens at every age. Teens who don’t drink or engage in pre-marital sex, get left out of parties and certain social groups. Adults who put God and family first, get left out of some events or opportunities at work, or in neighborhood gatherings.

It’s hard to follow Christ, especially when it means staying up at night with a newborn, while colleagues or friends fly off to sunny vacations. It takes humility to make time for Mass and soccer games, knowing others will “get ahead” in their career because of their willingness to work all hours and days.

And what do you get for your sacrifice and virtue? Consider, how did Cain react toward Abel? How did Joseph’s brothers treat his piety? You will be honored by God and those who are Godly, but you will be scorned by those of the world.

Jesus is the Truth, and Satan is the father of lies. Those who live by Truth will threaten those lies. In retaliation, just as Satan spread lies to Adam and Eve about God, and just as he continues to spread lies about Jesus, Satan will spread lies about Jesus’ followers too. We can feel helpless in these situations because it’s hard to defend ourselves when the other person fights dirty. Jesus knows our struggle and has experienced our pain.  Thus, He assures us beforehand to “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed.” Jesus promises that the Truth will conquer in the end. It requires more patience, a lot of faith, and Holy Spirit courage though.

It’s hard to suffer unjust treatment and unwarranted animosity, especially when you are simply trying to live your own quiet Christian life.  Take heart however, people don’t get bothered by the lukewarm or the mediocre; whereas greatness is always challenged. The more you are treated like Christ (the real Christ, not the mythical nice guy in sandals), the more it means you are becoming Christ-like. So, as Pope St. John Paul II repeated again and again, “Be not afraid.” Let Christ’s love in you soften hearts, even if they scream at you first. Let the light of Christ radiate in you and cut through the darkness. As the prophet Jeremiah witnessed in today’s first reading (Jeremiah 20:11),

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:

my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.”

Consider:

  • When did Jesus experience the most criticism and rejection? Consider how His mighty works of healing and love, were met with envy and anger by some of the Jews.
  • Consider the mystery of the Cross. Christ suffered out of love for us and was rejected. Yet He rose again to new life and brought about our salvation. How might we offer our pain and suffering from others’ rejections for their salvation, like Christ has done for us?
  • Reflect on a time when you “preferred darkness to light.” How did you rationalize your sin or your way of thinking? How did you react toward someone whose life shined a light on it?
  • Reflect on a time when you preferred light to darkness. When have you experienced joy and freedom when the Truth in someone else’s life freed you from a lie in your own?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, pray an Our Father or a Hail Mary for someone who is persecuting you.
  • Each day this week, pray Psalm 69.
  • Offer this prayer each day:
    • Lord, I don’t want my light to be so dim as to not make a difference.

      I beg You to make Your Divine Light shine through me with such radiance,

      That it frees with Your Truth, those held captive by lies,

      Guides those who are lost back to You,

      And lifts lonely discouraged souls with Your Love.

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