Authentic Love

Excerpt from Take Time for Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life  Get your own papercopy from Amazon!

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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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Walking With The Lord

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3rd Sunday of Easter

Gospel of Luke 24:13-35 and the Sunday Readings

Meditation Reflection:

 We are an Easter people.  Christians celebrate the Lord’s day on Sunday, the first day of the Jewish week, the day of Christ’s resurrection and the beginning of our new life in Him. The first day Christ rose from the dead, He visited His people, and He continues to visit us today. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our journey of faith includes moments of inspiration and awe, as well as confusion and discouragement. At times, Christ’s teachings strike our hearts with the force of truth and His deeds inspire us to marvel at the miracles He works in our daily lives. At other times He seems hidden; or the Church, His Mystical Body, seems defeated by the world. Like Cleopas, we struggle to understand how the promise of freedom can be accomplished through suffering rather than political strength.

As disciples of Christ, we can sometimes grow too comfortable in our relationship with the Lord and forget His divine glory and transcendence. Christ meets us in our most vulnerable state. He makes Himself close to us, even in our humanity. At times, He veils His divinity, that we might approach Him. Yet, we need to remember that Christ is the Lord and that His immanence proceeds from His loving desire to relate to us. St. Paul proclaims this mystery to the Philippians when he writes,

“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God,

     did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

     Rather, he emptied himself,

     taking the form of a slave,

     coming in human likeness;

     and found human in appearance,

     he humbled himself,

     becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:5-8

The Christian journey, like the Road to Emmaus, requires faith in the Person of Jesus Christ.  It means trusting Him who is both man and God. This means that we will have times of elation where our hearts burn within us, and times of confusion.  We must remember, as Isaiah prophesied:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

nor are your ways my ways.” Isaiah 55:8

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn these moments, we can follow the example of the two disciples in today’s Gospel. First, they considered everything that had happened in fellowship together. We too should turn to Christian friends for spiritual guidance and comfort.

Second, they listened to Christ when He appeared, even though they didn’t realize it was Him at first. If we keep our hearts open as we do our daily duties, He can speak to us as well even without us realizing it at first. Third, Jesus turned them to Scripture to understand what had happened, and His Holy Spirit can open our minds to understand Scripture more deeply. Their bible-study walk with the Lord opened their minds to see God’s plan in a way they had not before. We too should try to get into our bibles, even reading a bible-study book or listening to Christian podcasts. Fourth, as the walk came to an end, Jesus did not push Himself on them. Rather He provided an opportunity for them to separate from Him politely by pretending to be going on. Thankfully, the two disciples invited Him in for dinner and pressed Him to stay. Christ makes Himself available to us, and even takes the initiative in our relationship, nevertheless He desires that we invite Him in further. Seemingly valid excuses will always present themselves to leave our Lord and go off to do something else. We must resist letting our Lord walk on without us and press Him to accompany us in each aspect of our day.

Finally, the disciples recognized Christ in the breaking of the bread. He made Himself known to them at Sunday Mass. The Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of our faith” because it is the Sacrament of Christ’s Real Presence – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The Son of God, who became incarnate, and “pitched his tent among us” (cf. John 1:14), continues to dwell with us in an immanent way in the Eucharist. He makes Himself available in every tabernacle, in every Catholic Church, around the world.  All we need to do, is come and break bread with Him.

Our Christian faith is not merely a philosophy. It’s an encounter with our Lord. Founded on relationship, our faith grows deeper through time spent with Him in the Eucharist, in conversation, in Scripture, and in our daily walk. Jesus suffered for us and with us. His Cross is a mystery we will revisit throughout our Christian journey. In times of confusion, we can take heart that He is near, He will bring understanding in His time, and that He is victorious.

Consider:

  • Reflect on what it means to be an Easter people. How does the joy of the Resurrection, shape your worldview?
  • When have you experienced the humility of Christ? When has He seemed especially near, compassionate, or merciful?
  • When has your faith required trust in the Person of Christ rather than human wisdom?
    • Have you ever been discouraged during a time of suffering when it appeared as if Christ remained silent or refused to act?
    • In retrospect, how did that suffering become a means of resurrection and freedom?
  • Imagine walking on the Road to Emmaus with Jesus. Who would be the Christian friend with you on the journey? What might you be saying to one another? What would your reaction be when He revealed Himself in the breaking of the Bread?
  • How might you walk with the Lord each day?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day inviting Christ to walk with you and eat with you.
    • Think through your schedule for the day – offer each thing to the Lord. Pray for the grace to shine His light to all those you meet, offer your work as a sacrifice of praise, and pray for the graces needed to meet any challenging people or tasks ahead of you.
  • Visit the Lord in the breaking of the bread by spending time with Him at Eucharistic adoration, praying before Him in the tabernacle at your Church, or attending a daily Mass.
  • Make time for spiritual conversation with a Christian friend.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Hard To Believe

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2nd Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday

John 20:19-31 and the Sunday readings

Meditation Reflection:

Christ is risen, He has won victory over sin and death. As He said to the Father from the Cross, His redemptive work “is finished.”  Jesus has done His part, now we must do ours. When Jesus appeared to the apostles, He offered them Peace and forgiveness of sins; sending them out to extend His peace and forgiveness to the world.

Thomas missed the opportunity to encounter the risen Christ. However, the apostles shared the Good News with him and offered the peace and hope that Christ had shared with them. Thomas refused to accept it. He refused to accept the authoritative word of the apostles and refused the joy and graces of the resurrection. Despite the numerous prophecies of Jesus that this would happen, or Thomas’ witness of Jesus’ power to raise the dead (even very recently with Lazarus), and ignoring the unanimous testimony of his fellow apostles, Thomas demanded to see it for himself before he would submit.

St. John shares with us that Thomas was also called “Didymus”, or “twin.” How many of us could claim to be Thomas’ twin? We might be passionate about serving Christ, crying out “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16), but we struggle to resurrect with Christ. Maybe we can accept that He has poured out His mercy in the lives of others, but we need to see it to believe it to accept it for ourselves.

When we truly realize the gravity of sin, especially our own sin, our feelings of shame and regret can challenge our trust in Jesus. It’s easy to say, “Jesus died for our sins”; it’s much harder to believe “Jesus forgives me of this particular sin.” That shame and regret then spirals further, making it seem impossible to begin anew.  “There can be no fresh start for me”, we say, then fruitlessly endeavor to redeem ourselves or despair altogether and give up.

If you struggle with overcoming shame and self-doubt by accepting the mercy of Christ, you are not alone. Despite Thomas’ disbelief, Jesus mercifully appeared to him that he might believe and receive the gift of peace and life. In 1931 Jesus appeared to a humble Divine MercyPolish nun, St. Faustina, asking her to spread the message of His mercy anew. Jesus lamented to Faustina that distrust on the part of souls caused His greatest suffering. Jesus burns with love for us and sacrificed to save us, but we cannot be saved if we refuse His love and mercy. He appeared to her many times after that, with a message of mercy He wanted made known. He asked for an image to be painted of Him, with two rays coming forth from His side – white and red – representing the water and blood which poured out of His side from the Cross, and the words “Jesus I Trust in You” beneath. We receive Jesus’ redemptive mercy through the sacraments when we are washed in the waters of baptism and united to Him in the sacrament of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. He also asked that a Feast of Mercy be instituted, to be a day of extraordinary graces and an opportunity for us to make an act of trust and abandon so that He could be free to pour out His transformative love.

St. John Paul II perceived the truth and wisdom of Jesus’ message to St. Faustina. He affirmed her sanctity when he canonized her in the year 2000 and established the requested Feast of Divine Mercy as the Sunday following Easter. St. John Paul II witnessed the misery and despair caused by atheism – promoted by communism in his youth, and consumerism in his older age. He worked tirelessly to the very end, to exhort us to trust in Jesus. Even when Parkinson’s reduced him to a wheelchair and frustrated his speech, he proclaimed the Good News that Christ loves us and can purify us.

I remember the last time I saw John Paul II. I attended a Wednesday audience at St. Peter’s in 2002. The formerly vibrant, strong, energetic, outdoorsy pope had to be wheeled out on stage. He personally delivered his message even though his words slurred making it difficult to understand, and bits of drool forced their way down his mouth. I remember thinking, “what courage, what humility, what determination!” No matter how hard his body fought against him, John Paul II proclaimed the Gospel of Christ with conviction. George Weigel fittingly titled JPII’s biography as Witness to Hope. Even on his death bed, thousands gathered outside the window to his room and millions (including me) held vigil while viewing it on TV.

St. John Paul II knew our struggle to accept Christ’s mercy and did everything he could to make that merciful love felt. Pope Francis also perceived this problem and called a Jubilee Year of Mercy (2016) to renew the message in a powerful and universal way.

Like Thomas, many of us want to see mercy to believe it. Jesus wants us to believe without seeing. Yet, He graciously gives us something akin to sight periodically, as He did for Thomas, condescending even further to meet our weakness. Moreover, the more we, His Mystical Body, show kindness to others, the more visible Christ’s mercy will be to the world.

Today, on this Feast of Divine Mercy, let us be strengthened by the witnesses of hope that Christ has sent to us. Let us take a leap of faith, and trust Christ with total abandon. He invites us to receive His mercy in the sacraments of Confession and Communion where His blood is poured out in our soul to free us from sin and free us to love.

Consider:

  • When have you experienced mercy?
    • In prayer or at church, did you experience the peace of Christ?
    • After Confession, have you experienced the feeling of joy?
    • Have you experienced emotional or material support from someone when you were in need?
  • Do you find it difficult to accept help from others? Why do you think that is?
  • Do you find it hard to accept unconditional love from Christ? Do you struggle with feelings of needing to earn His love or be perfect before you can be saved? Pray about what underlies that resistance:
    • Is it pride – you want to feel worthy of friendship with the Lord?
    • Is it despair – you don’t believe Christ can accept you as you are?
    • Is it past wounds that need healing – you have been denied mercy by others or your understanding of your dignity has been chipped away by abuse or patterns of toxic thinking?
  • Reflect on the freedom and joy of unconditional, merciful love.
    • Offer prayers of praise and thanksgiving if you have experienced this.
    • If you haven’t experienced it, consider the example of people you know who have. What do you notice about how it affects their perspective, their choices, their demeanor, and the quality of their life?
  • Who might you extend merciful love to? What relationships in your life have too many conditions?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, pray the words “Jesus I Trust in You,” multiple times throughout the day.
  • Read a psalm of praise each day, strengthening and proclaiming your belief in God’s love for you. (Try beginning with Psalm 139).
  • Resolve on one way to be a person of mercy each day. Decide on who, what, when, and where you can be an encounter with Christ’s merciful love to them.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Stating the Facts & Facing the Conclusions

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4th Sunday of Lent

Gospel of John 9:1-41 

Meditation:

Another long passage. Why? Two in a row?! Is it because it’s Lent, and the Church wants to test our patience? No, despite our ever-shortening attention spans, we still need to hear real stories of real people’s transformation in Christ.

John could only include a sliver of these experiences in his Gospel, so he reserved room for the most powerful or most instructive. His Gospel is not written as myth or legend, but as testimony. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well taught us the surprising nature of the kingdom of God which we, like many of the Jews at the time, may find difficult to understand on a natural level. Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, testifies to the undeniable evidence of Jesus’ divine origin. Thus, discipleship of Christ cannot be sustained by natural reason alone, which is why believing in Him as merely a good moral teacher is not enough and not very effective. Rather, disciples follow Christ based on faith in Who He is. This faith may develop gradually over a period of time and interaction, like the Samaritan woman’s village with whom Jesus spent two days, or happen in a miraculous moment like the man born blind. Either way, the call of discipleship exceeds our understanding, and can only make sense if we believe that Jesus is truly God.

Discipleship begins with encounter and follows with witness. The man born blind witnessed to the facts about his healing without interpretation several times. The Pharisees refused to acknowledge the logical conclusion, so they tried to raise doubts about the premises. Finally, the exasperated man connected the dots for them and stated the real logical conclusion: He was born blind, now he is not blind; only God could have given him sight; God only blesses those whom He approves; therefore…Jesus is from God. For the Pharisees to reject Christ when the miracle was standing right in front of them, was to willingly choose blindness. God acts in our lives daily and has sent His only Son for our salvation. We have no more excuses for our ignorance. Christ can make the blind see, but we can also choose to be blind by our own obstinate will.

The Pharisees tried to pit Jesus against Moses, but Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a new Moses. Moses received the Law from God and brought it to the people. Jesus is God and communicates the New Law from His own authority. He also, therefore, has the authority to correct any misinterpretations or misapplications of the Old Law.

God also promised, that someone from the line of David would always be king. As the New David, Jesus takes up the crown as eternal king. When God told the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse and anoint one of his sons as the new king, Samuel expected the oldest to be chosen. Instead, God chose the youngest. This was such an unforeseen call, that David wasn’t even present at the visit but instead was tasked with tending the sheep. Just as God said to Samuel regarding David,

the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 RSV), so the blind man gave witness to Jesus by his miraculous and supernatural sight. “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see…It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”

 All Christians are called to bear witness to Christ, evidenced by His transformative power in their lives. How others react to that witness, brings to light their true state of soul. We all have an innate yearning for God. We sometimes avoid Him however to continue in some of our sins. Sometimes we feign ignorance, rationalize away Christ’s teaching, or discount the witness given by the lives of strong Christians we know, so we can avoid facing the truth about our attachments. We cannot hide any longer. Christ has come, His light has shone, and He continues to live and act through His Mystical Body the Church. He has given a New Law as our Eternal King. His expectations exceed our natural abilities and weakness, but His grace makes the Christian life possible.

The more our relationship with Christ develops, the more our faith will strengthen and our trust in Him will grow. Then, when the Christian life tests our minds and hearts, we will hopefully respond as St. Peter did, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; we have come to believe and are convinced, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69) and to give witness as St. John does at the beginning of His Gospel: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as the only-begotten Son from the Father.” (John 1:14 RSV)

Consider:

  • Where would you consider yourself in your spiritual journey?
    • Initial Outreach – just beginning the search for God, curious about Jesus but unsure of whether to follow Him
    • Early Development – responding to Christ, learning His truths, forming convictions, developing Christian habits, shedding sinful habits, wavering but growing stronger
    • Disciple – follower of Christ, faith in Him and trust in Him above oneself, motivated by love and loyalty, allowing Christ full authority to transform you, witness of His life in you
  • If, like the man born blind, you were asked to testify about your encounter with Christ, what would you say? What would be the “facts” of the case, and what would be your conclusions?
  • How has the Christian witness of others strengthened your faith or moved you to make a serious change in your life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning take five minutes of prayer to think about your day ahead and resolve to witness to Christ in one to three concrete
    • Consider in each aspect – home, work, recreation, family
    • Think of ways in each area you can live your Christian faith and witness to Christ by either your words or your actions.
    • Resolve on one thing to say or do in each area for the day.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Abraham, Lent, and Covid-19

So Abraham called the name of that place The LORD will provide” (Genesis 22:14, RSV)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship.  When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17, RSV)

Meditation:

We keep hearing the phrase “unprecedented times” about this period in which we fight the Coronavirus together. The uncertainty and scale of the crisis can test our faith.  Many are asking, “What if I or a loved one gets sick?”  “What will I do while my business is closed or I am without work?”  Although this particular crisis is unprecedented, the experience of feeling our vulnerability and smallness is not.

Among the many examples of faith we could look to for a role model, I’d like to focus today on Abraham.  He faced a critical moment when it appeared as though he might lose everything.  However, he put all he possessed, and life itself, in God’s hands – from which he received it back and more. Abraham trusted God above everything. He proved the authenticity of his faith through his  willingness to sacrifice Isaac and at the same time trust that God would keep His promise to give many descendants through Isaac.

Abraham-and-the-starsAbraham’s faith was not blind or irrational.  Quite the opposite.  Abraham had a relationship with God, and he had faith in who God  is, and in God’s character.  St. Paul has a moving reflection on Abraham’s faith in his letter to the Hebrews chapter 11.  He proclaimed of Abraham that, “He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead” (Heb. 11:19).

Abraham made a conscious decision based on his relationship with God, and he knew God to be truthful, loving, generous, and reliable.  He knew that God is the Creator, and we are His creatures.  Therefore God could ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and promise sons through Isaac at the same time, because even though it is impossible for humans, nothing is impossible for God.

In that critical moment, God’s actions also revealed incredible things about Him for us.  God revealed that He is faithful and loving.  He also revealed that He doesn’t desire arbitrary sacrifice and is not uncompassionate toward our suffering.  On that mountain, God showed that He doesn’t need things from us, instead He is the one who provides for us.  God Himself provided the sacrifice, His own beloved Son, on the Cross.  This further revealed God’s character as compassionate and merciful.  It also revealed the destructiveness of sin and His power to redeem us from it if we allow Him.  Thus, the true sacrifice He desires is to give up sin and to give in to His guidance and love.

During Lent we are called to withdraw into the desert with Jesus – to quiet distractions, battle sin, and build relationship with the Lord in prayer.  The Covid-19 pandemic has provided this desert experience at a new level.  Many of the things that usually distract us have been withdrawn for a time.  Time for deepening our relationship with God and our families has increased.  With fewer places to run, we are also more forced to face ourselves.  Stress has a way of revealing our vices and an imposed restrictions from government guidelines may unveil just how attached we might be to certain things.

This can be a time of fear, or a time of faith.  St. Paul urged that we must remember who God is – our Father, and who we are – His children.  If we truly believe this, as Abraham did and as Jesus made possible for us, then we should choose faith.  We are sons and daughters of the living God, heirs of heaven, what shall we fear?

St. Paul also added the hard truth about resurrection – to rise with Christ we must first suffer with Him.  We can try to avoid suffering and sacrifice but we will emerge from this pandemic and this Lent unchanged.  However, if we accept it with hearts of faith and trust, we will have gained far more than we lost. Lent is only for a time, and it ends with Easter.

For my part, I will try to use this time to offer a small daily post for prayer.  I’ll include a Scripture passage and a few thoughts.  I’d love if you would add your own reflections in the comments sections as a way for us to pray and reflect together 🙂 

Consider: – the three pillars of lent through the lens of our current situation

  • Prayer
    • Rosary walks – pray the rosary as you go for a walk outside.  You could listen to it on podcast, pray it with a friend, or by yourself.
    • Prayer of praise and worship – create a music playlist of praise and worship songs to listen to while at home or out walking.
    • The public celebration of the Mass has been suspended temporarily in many places.  Subscribe to receive the daily scripture readings from usccb.org or the Magnificat online and pray with them each day, or stream the Mass and participate in heart.
    • St. Joseph is the patron saint of departing souls.  Pray the St. Joseph pray each day or ask for his intercession for those who are dying.
    • Spend time with spiritual reading.  Get a good book about Jesus or the faith to nurture that relationship.
  • Fasting
    • Don’t horde supplies.
    • Simplify meals to reduce grocery shopping outings.
    • Offer up to Jesus intentionally, the loss of activities, events, or vacations you had planned on enjoying until they were cancelled.
    • Sacrifice some social media time
    • Consider other areas of your life or day that you could simplify for now
  • Almsgiving/charity toward neighbor
    • Begin with the persons in your home – make an effort to connect, eat meals together, be patient with one another, be forgiving, be flexible
    • Go through your things and set aside what you no longer use to donate to charity.  I highly recommend the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
    • Follow the department of health’s guidelines about staying home , even though it’s hard, out of love for those who are vulnerable to Coronavirus and in solidarity with the health workers who are sacrificing so much
    • Ask Mother Mary and the Holy Spirit for eyes to see the needs around you as Mary did at the Wedding of Cana, and to go to Jesus to help them together.

Make a Resolution:

  • Choose one thing from each pillar to implement during this time.

Comment:

  • How has the coronavirus affected your lent?
  • What Scriptures have come to mind for you or encouragements during this?
  • What have you learned about yourself from this experience?

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2020

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Hope When Least Expected

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3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of John 4:5-42

Meditation Reflection:

What a long passage. Why? Why does John give this much space in his Gospel to one woman’s conversion? Jesus encountered multitudes of people during His brief public ministry. John even gives a disclaimer at the end of his Gospel, apologizing that he could only include a handful of Jesus’ miracles, enough to make the point that He is the Son of God, because they were too innumerable to recount in written form.

Carl_Heinrich_Bloch_-_Woman_at_the_WellOne reason may be because the woman at the well’s encounter with Christ models the process of conversion. Jesus approached her when she least expected it. She went to the well at noon, the worst time of the day, to avoid the other women. Sin has a way of isolating us from others as we try to cover up our sins or protect our rationalizations.

Jesus initiated the conversation. He sought her. He began with a request, but in fact desired to offer her healing and salvation. Every Christian’s conversion begins with an encounter with Christ, and the experience of Him having sought us before we sought Him. Discipleship is not a project, club, or philosophy. It’s a response. It’s a realization that what Christ asks of us, is in fact His invitation to receive from Him.

Next, He addressed her sins. She skirted the issue, and even when confronted directly, she tried to distract Him with a theological debate. By the end however, she felt relief and joy. From her encounter, she learned that the Christ, the anointed one of God, had come. Moreover, He had come to her – despite her personal unfaithfulness, as well as the unfaithfulness of her people the Samaritans. Jesus revealed Himself as the Savior, come through the promise of the Jews, and at the same time for the salvation of all.

Imagine her hopelessness as she approached the well in the heat of the day. Women of her time would view success as a good marriage and large family. She had already had five husbands and given up on marriage altogether with the man she was living with. She had no friends and was excluded from the community of women. There was no way back for her, and no opportunity going forward.

God gives surprisingly and super-abundantly. Met with physical thirst, Jesus offered her the living waters of eternal life. It took a while for her to wrap her mind around what He was saying. Eventually however, she recognized the work of God and ran to the people of her town to tell them. She left her water jug, despite her physical thirst and needs. She boldly told everyone of her experience, despite the shame of her reputation among them.

Her witness was so moving that they went to Jesus to see for themselves. They too encountered Christ in an unexpected and surprising way – through the seemingly least religious woman in town. By the end of their encounter however, they too were converted.

During Lent, Jesus comes to meet us in our shame and our thirst. As a Church, we endeavor to hear Him through increased prayer and introspection. We recall that He came to save us, while we are still sinners. We remember that He first sought us, but we must respond. Thankfully, He is patient.

Our transformation in Christ will become our witness, and our witness will bring Christ to others. But first, we must set aside our tactics for avoiding our sins and allow Christ to lead us out of them.

Consider:

  • The woman went to the well at noon instead of morning because of shame:
    • What are you ashamed of? What do you hide from others?
  • Imagine meeting Jesus:
    • Would you feel surprised? What excuses might you make?
  • Imagine Jesus calling you out on your sins:
    • What are your competing loves? Be honest.
    • How is Jesus, the living water, compared to these other “spouses”?
  • How are the other pleasures you seek temporary and always needing replenishing, whereas Christ’s joy is abiding?
  • Jesus offers her life, and commands her to sin no more. Let Jesus confront your sin. You too must choose. None of us can have both.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • When God confronted King David about his sin through the prophet Nathan, David responded by composing Psalm 51. He acknowledged his sin, asked for forgiveness, and trusted God to transform his heart.
    • Pray Psalm 51 each day this week.
  • Do an examination of conscience this week. If possible, meet Christ in the sacrament of Confession.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Determined Discipleship

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1st Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11

Meditation Reflection:

Before Jesus began His public ministry, He went into the desert to pray and fast for forty days. Spending time in the desert meant leaving comforts, distractions, and entertainment, and being alone in solitude. This may sound appealing, especially if you have a demanding job or little kids. Yet, when we do make time to be alone in the silence, it can be uncomfortable and disconcerting. We must face ourselves, the inner thoughts we have been pushing to the side, fears, insecurities, doubts, ambitions, and vanities. The biggest battle most of will face, is with ourselves and the enemy loves to bite at our heels as we do. Thus, Jesus prepared for His ministry by enduring all the temptations you and I experience and overcoming them.

Satan began with the stomach and physical pleasure (where he trips most of us up!), by 512px-Immenraet_Temptation_of_Christ_wikimediatempting the starving Christ with bread. He waited until Jesus was at the end of His fast when He would be tired, hungry, and physically weak. Similarly, the devil tries to exacerbate our problems when we are worn out and vulnerable. How many of us have failed to pray in the morning because we didn’t want to give up the comfort of sleep? When have you missed Mass because it would be an inconvenience or it was cold outside? Are there times when putting your feet up, having a beer or glass of wine, and watching tv took precedence over interacting with your spouse or kids at the end of a long workday (especially when kids require discipline or help with homework)? How many opportunities do we miss simply because it’s uncomfortable or we are too lazy? Unless we overcome our own slothful inertia, we cannot be strong enough to be the salt of the earth that Jesus needs from His disciples.

curbbing ambitionAfter overcoming our desires for pleasure and comfort, the next hurdle is fame and ambition. Satan loves to stroke our ego and promote the lie that the measure of our worth is measured by our success. Yet, our Lord chose a life of humility and rejected some of the apostles’ notions that His kingdom would bring them worldly notoriety. God works the most through the small and the weak. St. Paul even states that in our weakness God’s power is brought to perfection (I Corinthians 2:12). Until we curb our own ambitions, we won’t be free to work for God’s ambitions.

Finally, the ultimate stumbling block of the Christian faith, is suffering. Satan’s third temptation offered Jesus the kingdom without the Cross; a short cut around humiliation and struggle. Whether its discipleship, marriage, family, or work, many people give up when things get hard. Our culture of instant gratification further softens our resolve along with an expectation that we should always be happy.

Christ endured and overcame every temptation, that we might be strengthened to do the same. Jesus unites Himself to us in our struggle and imbues us with His divine grace.

During Lent, we step away into the desert so that we might encounter the truth about ourselves. We struggle against our own will through acts of fasting and self-denial. We battle our greed and self-centeredness through works of charity and almsgiving. We increase our prayer, and contemplate the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, to deepen our love for our savior and to more closely follow Him.

Don’t be discouraged if you have already cheated on your Lenten sacrifice. Self-knowledge is the beginning of conversion and develops humility. Each day, we must pick up our cross, and as our awareness of our own weakness intensifies, our awareness of our need for Christ will also intensify. Whether you give something up or do something extra (or both), choose something that will touch the temptation you find most difficult – comfort, notoriety, or happiness at the expense of Christian fidelity. Discipleship is difficult, and even the apostles’ conversions took time, so be patient. After three years with Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they eventually stopped trying to change Christ, and instead surrendered to being changed by Him. If we spend more time with our Lord, our love for Him will deepen, and we too will be more conformed to Him, and able to joyfully celebrate His final victory at the Resurrection.

Consider:

  • Which comforts or pleasures tempt you the most? Sleep, soda, alcohol, television, food, desserts, music, movies?
  • What do you want others to notice about you most? What do you take the most pride in? Do you feel small or unimportant if your work isn’t acknowledged or honored by others?
  • How do you avoid suffering? Do you avoid conflict with your spouse or kids? Do you take short cuts at work? Do you try to get ahead by putting others down or by neglecting your duties toward God or family?
  • Consider past Lents. How has God strengthened you? How have you grown as a Christian?
  • Invite Christ into this Lent. Be docile to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to strengthen an area of your faith

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning this week begin with this prayer by Francis de Sales:

My God, I give you this day. I offer you, now, all of the good that I shall do, and I promise to accept, for love of you, all of the difficulty that I shall meet. Help me to conduct myself during this day in a manner pleasing to you. Amen.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Ash Wednesday – Preparing with Christ for Transformation in Christ

Since Christ spent 40 days in the desert praying and fasting to Gesù_nel_desertoprepare for His mission, we too spend 40 days praying and fasting to prepare for receiving the graces He won for us by His death and Resurrection at Easter. Christ offers the grace of Redemption to every person; however we cannot be redeemed unless we accept that grace through repentance of our sins and placing our faith in Christ. This means change – which is why we try to give up something during Lent and/or add prayer or works of mercy to our daily routine during this time.

The Catechism expresses this dual process by saying:

“’God created us without us; but he did not will to save us without us.’ To receive his mercy we must admit our faults. ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’” CCC 1847, quoting 1 John 8-9

Catholics don’t reflect on their sins for six weeks because they have a morbid side needing to cultivate “Catholic guilt”. We meditate on our sins because unless we take the time to stop and look or pray to the Holy Spirit about them, life passes rapidly by leaving us older but unchanged and unprepared for eternal life. We receive ashes on our foreheads to remember that this life is short and the key to heaven is to repent and believe in the Gospel.

In the book The Name of God Is Mercy, Pope Francis was asked “Why in your opinion, is humanity so in need of mercy?” His response articulates the reasoning underlying Lent as well:

“Because humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them…Pius XII, more than half a century ago, said that the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin.”

Lent is like an annual visit to the doctor. It’s important to evaluate your health once a year and catch abnormalities or diseases early. We don’t take medication unless we know we are sick and the same applies to the spiritual life. If we don’t think we are sick with sin, we don’t see a need for a Redeemer. When we realize our woundedness and repent, it’s then that we can be healed by our Lord.

Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Getting the Last Word…but Making it a Blessing

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7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:38-48

Meditation Reflection:

 Forgiveness and love are the mark of Christ, and therefore the signifier of His followers. In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II was shot by a Turkish assassin Ali Agca. The attempt occurred on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and JPII credited Mary for “guiding the bullet” which just barely missed a major artery. Even while in the ambulance, JPII voiced his forgiveness of the assassin. Later after he had recovered, he visited Agca in prison and offered his forgiveness in person. Agca had not offered an apology and only inquired as to why he wasn’t dead. This encounter however had an impact and later when he was released from prison, Agca travelled to St. Peter’s to place roses on John Paul II’s tomb.

St. John tells us that “God is Love” (1 John 4:7, emphasis added) and Jesus tells us to be perfect as the Father – therefore perfect in Love. The term perfect means “full, or complete.” When Jesus refers to His Heavenly Father’s perfection therefore, He means that God’s love lacks nothing and is total. By contrast, “even tax collectors” love their friends, but their love is imperfect because it is incomplete. Total love includes those who love us and those who do not.

But how we can love someone who hates us or hurts us? Does Jesus mean we must be friends with people who wish us harm or take advantage of us? No. Love is defined as “willing another person’s good.” Thankfully, this does not require feelings of love, or even reciprocal friendship. It doesn’t even mean trusting the person. It simply means choosing not to act in revenge or anger, and instead doing that which promotes the good of the other. Thus, we can pray for our enemies, in which we petition God on their behalf for graces to be bestowed upon them. We can speak kindly, act respectfully, and do the right thing toward others, not because they necessarily deserve it, but because it’s who we want to be.

Authentic love can also sometimes mean tough love. It can require choices that appear unloving but are in fact healthy boundaries. Loving an addict for instance or someone with mental illness will require tough love but will be more effective toward their health than enabling them in their sickness. Disciplining children is tough love, but it helps the child grow in goodness.

Christ calls His followers to imitate His mercy. This demand goes above and beyond natural strength and even natural wisdom or common sense. It only makes sense considering the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection for our salvation, and it can only be accomplished with the aid of His divine grace.

Christ loved us while we were yet sinners. He willed our good and worked for our salvation even when we were mired in sin and rejected Him. As His disciples, we can work for the salvation of others, even when they too are mired in sin and working against us. This can be tricky, but my mother offered me advice about these situations that I have found to be a guiding principle. When tempted to react vengefully when faced with difficult people and situations, she would say, “don’t let their behavior change who you are.” Her wisdom strengthened my resolve and shed light on how to decide what to do. No matter what others are doing or how low they sink, the truth is if we just fire back, we sink to their level too. Jesus wants us to rise above, with the help of His grace and the light of His example. Whether it transforms the other person or not, it will definitely transform us.

Loving our enemy is necessary to stop the cycle of violence, and our only hope for human unity. When we are the ones caught up in it, we want to get the last word in or throw the last punch. When we are the observer however, we just want it to stop. As a mom, I get tired of hearing my kids bicker. Both claim it’s the other’s fault and point the finger at who started it. Both go on and on and on, despite my attempts to break it up because they are obsessed with having the last word. I wonder if God views our bickering in the same way. Maybe the other person did start it, so what? Why can’t we just stop? No one can move on unless we do, and everyone is miserable.

Loving our enemy is a supernatural virtue. To cultivate charity, we need to connect to God and His stream of grace in prayer and the sacraments. We must meditate on the Gospels to develop our sense of what Jesus would do. We need to make time for fellowship with Christians walking the walk and learn from their insights and examples. In this way, we can grow in love until it fills every gap in our heart and reaches the fullness of perfection like that of our Father in heaven.

Consider:

  • Who do you find easy to love and why?
  • Who do you find difficult to love? Who could you identify as your enemy?
    • In what way do they provoke you to strike back?
    • How might you react with love instead? How could you “will their good”?
  • Consider how we love our children even when they disobey, say hurtful things, or work against us. Do you ever feel anger toward your kids, but choose/will what’s good for them?
  • Consider God’s perspective as our Father and us as His children. How does He view our bickering, feuds, back-biting, and competitiveness? What would He say to you about how you treat your brother or sister in Christ?
  • We can pick our friends, but we can’t pick our family. Consider how loving our natural siblings can cultivate the virtues needed to love our spiritual siblings.
  • Read the story of St. Maria Goretti and reflect on her example of tough love, forgiveness, and the transformation it caused in her assailant.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pick one person who makes your life difficult.
    • 1) Begin each day with a sincere prayer for them. (not a list of all their flaws that God should fix, but rather for God’s blessing upon them!)
    • 2) Resolve each day this week to refrain from snide remarks to them or about them, gossip, or any kind of action that would anger or hurt them.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Keeping it Real

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6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5: 17-37

Meditation Reflection:

 Freedom in Christ is founded on freedom from being fake. We are masters at the false front. By an early age most of us can pull off “I’m fine” to anyone who asks, no matter how untrue it may be. Keeping up appearances, looking successful, and seeming to be more than we are occurs in every time period and culture. Social media amplifies today’s version, as we can literally craft our public persona via selective posts and pictures.

We not only mask our imperfections; we often mask our sins as well. From the back-handed compliment, to disparaging remarks prefaced by “God bless her soul, but…”, to shallow mantras like “You only live once” or “it’s not like it’s against the law”, we rationalize our viciousness in countless ways. Like addicts, we deny we have a problem with sin, and we excuse and blame our behavior on everyone and everything but ourselves.

Just as sobriety can only be achieved through facing reality, so human freedom from sin being realcan only be wrought from an utter realness about ourselves. When Moses asked God to reveal His Name, God responded that it is “YHWH” or “I AM”. God revealed that He is. God is being and existence, He is the source of all that is real. Thus, union with God requires utter realness and authenticity.

Lewis wrote about this mystery in a brilliantly imaginative way in his book The Great Divorce. The divorce in this case refers to the divide between heaven and hell and describes the process of purgation for those still travelling to heaven. Drawing from scriptural imagery, he describes inhabitants of hell as phantoms. On the opposite spectrum, he calls those in heaven “solid people.” The main character arrives at a gray bus stop, phantom-ish, and his journey toward heaven is one of becoming more solid – or more “real”. To do this he must surrender all that he keeps false within himself. I won’t give away more than that, as I highly recommend this read! I will only offer this teaser – Lewis creates numerous characters whose struggle to move from ghostish versions of themselves to the authentic provides deep insight into the rationalizations with which most of us struggle, the pain of conversion, and the joy of letting it go and experiencing authentic freedom.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus directly calls us out on how we tip toe around the truth and avoid real virtue and, in consequence, real love and relationship. How many times have we heard the excuse, “well, it’s not like I’ve killed anyone. I’m a decent person.”? Yet, harboring anger can be deeply destructive and emerge in violence that might be more subtle, but no less real. Passive-aggressive behaviors, online bullying, slander, gossip, critical remarks and callous attitudes prevent relationship and they hold us back from heaven.

Jesus states clearly, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20) and “so be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) A man who loves his wife, doesn’t look lustfully at other women. A woman who loves her husband, doesn’t flirt with other men. Does it matter whether it’s technically adultery? Jesus calls out the dishonesty. Either way, it certainly feels like cheating to the other spouse. Why? Because love is total, exclusive, and lifelong. Our love for our spouse should mirror love for God. In fact, God created the first man and woman in the state of marriage because as two persons in a relationship of life- giving love, they imaged the Triune God!

Authenticity begins by simply letting our Yes be yes, and our No be no. Drop the exaggerations and minimizations. Leave the white lies. Take down the false fronts. It feels like going a day without make-up at first, but not forever. As we become more at peace with ourselves, we become more comfortable in the truth. Eventually the fake-ness we clung to in the past will feel like too much make-up, caked on, that you can’t wait to wash off at the end of the day.

Jesus wants us, not the façades we create. He accepts us as we are and helps us become the truest version of ourselves. When this happens, we can begin to experience the real relationship, and real love necessary for heaven.

Consider:

  • List your most common struggles in a day, then pray about what interior attitude or disposition underlies them.
    • Consider the 7 Capital Sins for ideas (pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, and gluttony)
  • What is your most common/tempting rationalization?
  • In what ways have you grown in authenticity over the years? Reflect on how good it feels to be yourself.
  • Who is someone you can be completely yourself around; who knows the “real” you?
  • Consider how honesty is necessary for relationship.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Tackle one rationalization this week. Be direct with yourself and with God. Name the struggle, occasions of temptation, and the rationalization you use. Decide on how you will avoid the temptation or create a counter-mantra to repeat when you hear yourself rationalizing.

Example:

  • Daily struggle: Crabby toward your spouse and kids
  • Occasions of temptation: Getting out the door in the morning, right after a long day at work, or when interrupted during a project
  • Rationalizations: “They’re my family and should love me unconditionally – this is just who I am”; “I work hard to care for my family, and it just means I will be stressed out”
  • Counter-mantras: “They’re my family – they deserve my best behavior” or “I need to find balance in my life so I can be a peaceful person to my family”
  • Avoiding temptation –
    • Begin the day 10 minutes earlier so you aren’t stressed about running late (even better, begin with a prayer!);
    • create transition time between work and home – listen to Christian music on the drive and count your blessings so you arrive with a positive attitude;
    • adjust expectations for completing projects – expect to get interrupted by kids and be grateful for them, try to include them in the project if possible
  • ~ Written by Angela M. Jendro © 2019
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