New and Improved: This Upgrade is Worth the Price!

5th Sunday in Easter

Gospel of John 13: 31-33A; 34-35 NAB

When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Meditation Reflection:

As consumers we regularly hear the pitch “new and improved” for every product from toothpaste to vehicles. Oftentimes we consider this prospective as something positive. Every time Apple comes out with a new iPhone my kids work to convince me of its superiority over the one I already own. However, although new cars, new appliances, or new clothes can seem appealing, learning a new technology seems more work than it’s worth unless the benefits are considerable. This attitude spills over into my spiritual life as well. I appreciate when God simply keeps things running smoothly as they are. When offered something new, though it sounds exciting, it also sounds like a lot of work. “New” has the allure of surprise and opportunity, but it also has the anxiety of unfamiliarity, making mistakes during the learning process, discomfort of discerning how to act in new situations, and the fear of the unknown. Today’s Gospel recounts the inauguration of the “New” Covenant. A savvy consumer would ask “how is it new” and “is it worth the price”?

During the Last Supper, Christ’s Passion began with Judas’ betrayal. Once Judas left to execute his plans, Jesus spoke to the other disciples about the New Covenant being inaugurated that night. A covenant refers to a solemn agreement between God and man, usually sealed in the blood of a sacrifice. God had made these types of agreements in the past through Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. His New Covenant however, on the night the Jews celebrated the Passover, was mediated through His Son, Who would also be the sacrificial lamb and Whose blood would bind us to the Father. Moreover, whereas God’s covenant with Abraham extended to Abraham’s family, the covenant with Moses extended to a nation, and the covenant with David extended to a kingdom, the New Covenant extended to all of humanity.

A marketing executive might take issue with Christ’s assertion that He gives a “new” commandment however when He instructed us to love one another. Jews treasured a passage in Deuteronomy as the heart of the Old Covenant. It’s called the Shema (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Jesus Himself referenced it in His teaching:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and 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. Mark 12:28–30

Jesus’ “new” commandment sounds very similar – to love. Is this false advertising? The difference may seem slight on the surface but upon closer investigation it transcends the old model to a remarkable degree. Jesus did not eliminate the old, but he did present a new and improved model. In the new version Christ added the stipulation, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Christ set a new standard for love of God and neighbor – humble service marked by suffering and sacrifice. Put that on a billboard. Any buyers?

A faith that’s merely a get rich quick scheme – prosperity, reward, and status at no cost – is not the Gospel. Consider Jesus’ difficult teachings about discipleship:

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

The early Church verified this teaching by their lives and their instructions:

“[Paul and Barnabas] strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

Why does it have to be so hard? Human nature. As much as we idolize change in our culture, in practice we avoid it. Change as simple as healthy living often gets abandoned because of the sacrifice and discomfort one experiences in the beginning. Those who have made the change can attest that they feel more energetic, happier, and it would be painful to go back to their bad habits. However one can only experience this feeling if one perseveres through the initial pain of re-habituating one’s body and one’s lifestyle. Similarly, to love as Christ loved will feel uncomfortable and painful in the beginning. It means re-habituating one’s whole lifestyle – the measuring standard must be readjusted, and priorities re-evaluated. Many give up after a short while. However, those who persevere can attest that this new lifestyle makes one feel deeper joy, peace, and energy than before and it would be painful to return to their former habits.

At present, human free will presents a tension between sin and grace, which means we suffer – both interiorly as we wrestle between love of self and love of God, and exteriorly as we suffer from the sinful choices of ourselves and others.

Christ’s Paschal Mystery offers hope in that it did not end on the Cross but rather at the Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. Eventually, our conversion will be complete, and we will have interior peace. At some point this world will come to an end and those who choose love will spend eternity together with each other and with God.

Oftentimes I just want God to restore things to how they used to be, much like the Jews, who expected God would save them by restoring Israel to its former glory as a kingdom under David’s reign. God’s love exceeds our imagination though, and most of the time His answer is not to go back, but to offer something new and improved. St. John recounts in the book of Revelation:

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away…I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (see Revelation 21:1-5)

We can be confident that the time, discomfort, and sacrifice for this upgrade will be worth the effort, and Christ will be there to help. It will be new, surprising, beyond imagining, and exceed all expectations.

Consider:

  • Recall a time when you kicked a bad habit or developed a healthy habit. How long did it take? How did it feel afterward?
  • What healthy spiritual habits have you developed? Consider the work it took to establish them and the fruits you enjoy as a result.
  • What spiritual habits do you need to develop? How might you begin work on one today?
  • Consider what it means to love as Christ loved. In each circumstance below, can you think of a time that you either extended that kind of love to another or received that kind of love from someone else?
    • Humble service
    • Self-sacrifice
    • Suffering for someone’s good
    • Rejoicing at elevating someone else
    • Forgiveness and mercy, even toward an enemy
    • Patience and kindness toward someone who aggravates you

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Exchange a bad spiritual habit for a good spiritual habit. Make a plan: decide which habit to address and how to develop it. When, where, and how will you achieve it? Remember to pray for grace as you do! Transformation can only take place by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Opportunities to love as Christ loved are present every day in family life.
    • Intentionally practice Christ-like love toward family members today.
    • Spend some time each day reading a little bit of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortationThe Joy of Love, especially the chapters pertaining to family life.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Learning to Trust

Divine Mercy

Divine Mercy Sunday

Gospel John 20:19-31 NAB

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Meditation Reflection:

We spend so much time and money distracting and soothing ourselves from regret for our mistakes and fear of our mortality. Christ’s victory over sin and death opens the possibilities of a new beginning during this life and life eternal in the next. The Risen Christ finds the apostles in fear and brings them Peace. Thomas misses the opportunity for peace however because he refuses to believe his fellow apostles’ unanimous witness. Despite his own witness of Jesus’ many miracles and the reliability of the disciples’ account, he refuses to receive Christ’s peace without seeing the healed wounds of the Lord for himself. Christ would have been in His right to refuse such a demand but in His mercy He appears directly to Thomas so that his faith could be strengthened and he could receive the riches Christ had suffered to give to him.

Imagine the joy Jesus must have felt, having earned our salvation through such intense suffering, when He could then bestow upon His apostles the administration of His Kingdom which is none other than the forgiveness of sins. Every mother knows the relief of holding her newborn in her arms after a long pregnancy and birth. Jesus must have experienced a similar relief when He enjoyed our new life given through His loving sacrifice.

Pope St. John Paul II declared in 2000 at the canonization of St. Faustina, that today, the Sunday following Easter, be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday. Christ had appeared to St. Faustina, a simple uneducated nun from Poland, in the 1930s and spoke with her about His great desire to bestow His mercy on us. His message did not add anything new to the Gospel, however He re-emphasized His view to the modern world relaying to her His greatest pain which He identified as souls refusing to trust in His mercy. In the Diary of St. Faustina, (recorded at the request of her spiritual director), she relays these words of Jesus to her regarding today:

I desire that priests proclaim this great mercy of Mine towards souls of sinners.   Let the sinner not be afraid to approach Me. The flames of mercy are burning Me – clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon these souls…Distrust on the part of souls is tearing at My insides.   The distrust of a chosen soul causes Me even greater pain; despite My inexhaustible love for them they do not trust Me. Even My death is not enough for them.” (par. 50)

Like Thomas, many of us struggle to trust Christ. We fail to have confidence in Jesus’ ability to change our lives and renew our souls. Using Pope Francis’ analogy, we treat Confession like a dry cleaner. We can imagine being showered off but not truly changed. In doing so we do not emulate humility but rather wastefulness.

Today we reflect on the mercy of Christ and ask that He increase our hope that we might trust in Him. The devil steals our joy, but Christ came to give us joy to the full. He not only forgives us, but enables us to live a supernatural life of virtue and peace. On the Feast of Mercy, God exhorts us in every way possible to receive His mercy, to give mercy, and to trust in Him. Let us pray for the grace to surrender the myth of perfection in exchange for the truth of sanctifying love.

Consider:

  • Reflect on the joy Christ feels when He can shower upon us the mercy He worked so hard to earn for us. Consider the mystery of a mother or father’s love that takes pleasure in sacrificing for their children.
  • Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you struggle to accept Christ’s help because you feel unworthy of His love if you make mistakes or fall to sins? Do you feel you need to be holy all on your own?
    • Pelagianism, a heresy in the early Church, asserted that Christ came to set a good example for us but we have to live up to that example by our own efforts alone. The Church declared that the human will alone could not perfect itself but rather required supernatural grace. Do you try to perfect yourself to feel worthy of Christ’s love, or do you accept your worthiness of His love and so the possibility of being made perfect by Him?
  • How much do you need to see to believe? What evidence has Christ given you already that you ignore? What witness could you give to others about the reality of His presence?
  • Consider a time when you experienced the peace of Christ.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Do one act of mercy for someone each day this week.
  • Do one act of mercy toward yourself each day this week.
  • Thank Christ each day for His gift of mercy. Make a gratitude list east day of His blessings.
  • Learn about St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Image, and Feast Day.
  • Say the short prayer, “Jesus I Trust in You”, throughout the day.

Behold, I Make All Things New

by Angela Jendro  Excerpt from Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal 20190328_204247219_iOSSpring 

Easter Sunday!

Gospel of John 20:1-9 NAB

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus is risen! Just when we think all is lost, He makes something new. Jesus took His most beloved disciples by surprise, and He takes us by surprise as well.

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25 RSV)

Death scares us by its finality, and the shroud of the mysterious unknown that surrounds it. Yet, in Christ we can be confident that with death comes resurrection. Jesus had warned, and promised:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24 RSV)

Every change, even welcomed ones, require us to leave the old behind in order to embrace the new. It takes courage to leave a familiar prison, to embrace an unfamiliar freedom. Today, we celebrate the victory of Christ, Who provides both the courage and the freedom we desire.

God’s love for us exceeds all our expectations. His intervention in our lives, especially when we surrender completely to His will, always surprises us. If we trust in Jesus each day, allowing Him to lead, He will bring richness, joy, peace, and deep love to our lives in ways we might not have foreseen.

Today we celebrate new life.   We celebrate God’s love. We celebrate God’s power and His victory over sin and death. We celebrate His victory in our own lives and within our own hearts. Our confidence can be renewed, that no struggle or suffering can stop Christ. If we place our trust Him, He will heal and transform us. Today, we celebrate our fresh start. During Lent, we endeavored to face our sins and bring our guilt before the Lord. Now, we get to leave that shame in the past, crucified with Christ, and begin something new.

Revelation 21:3-5 NAB “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

 The One who sat on the throne said,

Behold, I make all things new.” 

Consider:

  • Consider Christ’s victories in your life.
    • How have you grown?
    • In what way do you experience greater freedom than before?
    • What were you afraid of before, that you no longer fear?
    • What virtues has Christ developed in you?
    • How has your love for God and others deepened?
  • How has God surprised you?
    • When did He give you something more than you asked for?
    • When did His plan lead you down an unexpected road?
    • When have you experienced His loving mercy when you didn’t think you should?
  • Reflect on Christ’s love for you and His strength.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Resolve to begin anew today. Make a concrete step to leave the old behind, no matter how comfortable it is, and allow Christ to lead you forward.Cross with heart 2

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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

Lenten Journey pic

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

By Angela M. Jendro

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

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

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

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Living in Denial

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

3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Luke 13:1-9 NAB

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

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

 Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final part of the process he writes, is:

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

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

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

 Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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

[2] Ibid.

Strength in the Lord

By Angela Jendro

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

Download to your pdf reader or print.  Free Will Offering

1st Sunday of Lent

Gospel Luke 4:1-13 NAB

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

One does not live on bread alone.

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

You shall worship the Lord, your God,

and him alone shall you serve.

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

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

and:

With their hands they will support you,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said to him in reply,

“It also says,

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

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

 

 Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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

 

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

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

  • Download for free to your pdf reader for easy access on the go, or print to paper to make your handwritten notes.
  • No price for e-book,  Free Will Offering accepted via Paypal and/or Prayers for the author 🙂

 

For printed booklet – visit our Online store tab or purchase below:

 

Printed Booklet – Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring

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

$15.00

 

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