Toughening Up

taking up cross

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:5-10 NAB

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

Meditation Reflection:

We live in a culture rife with an entitlement attitude. Generation Y-ers get the worst rap for this and to be fair university studies have provided proof of its epidemic. Generation Z is too young to tell for certain but doesn’t appear likely to be much different. (I myself am on the very beginning edge of Gen Y, although I was somewhat sheltered from an entitlement perspective thanks to my mother’s tireless efforts to curb my attitude).

Merriam-Webster defines this attitude as: “the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).” A NY Post article “The worst generation?” from May 10, 2010 cited a University of New Hampshire study which concluded that: “Gen Yers are characterized by a ‘very inflated sense of self’ that leads to ‘unrealistic expectations’ and, ultimately, ‘chronic disappointment.’” ). Granted, not every Gen Yer suffers from an inflated sense of self, it does seem to be a cultural trend and it impacts our relationships and sense of satisfaction at work, in our families, and in our faith.

Because of the effects of Original Sin, we all tend toward a self-centered narcissism and will continue to spiral down if our trajectory isn’t changed by grace, parenting, or other formative agents. Jesus’ interaction with the apostles in this passage reminds me of interactions I’ve had with my own children. When asked to do the dishes, clean a bathroom, or fold laundry I am met with attitudes of “why me?” On other occasions a child of mine actually notices things that need to be done around the house. Rather than simply pitching in and taking care of the problem, they see it as a job opportunity for which they should be rewarded. The conversation looks something like this –

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I unload the dishes?”

Me.: “Clean dishes on which to eat.”

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I clean the cat’s litter box?”

Me: “I’ll let you keep having the cat as a pet.”

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I help with the laundry?”

Me: “Clean clothes.”

Child: “Ackh. Mooooom. Forget it.”

5 mintues later:

Child: “I’m bored.”
Me: “Then do the dishes.”
Child: “That’s boring too. What can I do that’s fun?”

Me: “I’m not your cruise ship captain. Do the dishes and maybe boredom won’t seem like such a bad thing.”

If only we could say our conversations with God didn’t look remarkably similar. How often do we take an entitlement attitude with the Lord? It looks something like “Look Lord, I went to Mass on Sunday! What do I get?” Or, “I put a few dollars in the collection plate, what will you give me?”

The entitlement attitude affects our expectations for the work to reward ratio as well and may be somewhat analogous to the passage for today’s Gospel. The same NY Post article cited another study which summarized the expectations of entitled employees:

According to another study, which will be published in the Journal of Management in September. Co-author Stacy Campbell, an assistant professor of management at Kennesaw State University, says the study revealed that when it comes to work, the two things Gen Yers care most about are a) high salaries, and b) lots of leisure time off the job.

‘They want everything,’ says Campbell. ‘They want the time off. They want the big bucks.’

To reach their conclusions, Campbell and co-author Jean Twenge — a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of “Generation Me,” a book examining discontent among members of Gen Y — worked over the data from an ongoing survey of high school students conducted annually since 1975 by the University of Michigan. Among their findings was that while both Gen Y and Gen X want sizable salaries, Gen X workers show greater awareness that a hefty paycheck comes with a hefty workload.

As Christians, we ought to evaluate our own expectations of working for the Lord. We can forget that it’s a privilege to work as a laborer for the Lord in bringing in His harvest and that it’s a blessing to have a job. When we feel like complaining, “What do I get for “carrying this cross?”, we can remember that we get to carry a cross. We get to work. We get to be near to Christ in the most intimate and meritorious moment of His work of salvation. We even get to help. We also gain numerous other rewards from carrying our cross and laboring with the Lord, taking His yoke upon our shoulders. Growing up, whenever I would feel sorry for myself or want pity, my mom would respond with a singular word that I detested: “Tough”. Sometimes she would even lengthen her response a little to: “Toughen up”. I loathed these words and swore I would never be so unfeeling toward my own children. Of course, you can guess, there came one fateful day when those same words came issuing from my own mouth in response to my own child’s self-pity moment. I realize now that my mom’s approach helped inoculate me from an entitlement attitude and in fact, made me tougher. In one word she exposed my self-pity for being an “unrealistic expectation” and reset my expectations to something more along the lines of reality. Crosses have a similar effect. Sometimes we whine to God and it feels like He is coldly ignoring our need and simply retorting “tough.” However, sometimes those very crosses strengthen us and enable us to increase in faith as well as hope and love.

If we want the Lord to increase our faith we need not look much further than prayer, sacraments, fellowship, and picking up our cross daily and following Him. Yet, we often expect huge returns for minimal effort. Christ reminds us today that we are blessed to labor in His kingdom. We are blessed to be near Him in the cross. The faith and satisfaction we will gain from hard earned sweat and blood in the field will give a much more satisfying feeling than the superficial reward of a participation trophy.

God provides the supernatural strength we need to follow Him, we just have to adjust our expectations and persevere when things get tough. St. Paul reminds us in second letter to Timothy, that God enables us to toughen up through His grace that we might be courageous and noble:

“Beloved: I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control… bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” 2Timothy 1:6-8

Consider:

  • What kind of attitude do you have toward God? How has it grown and matured over the years?
  • Reflect on the gift of working side by side with Christ as He brings in the harvest. Jesus says, “the harvest is ready but the laborers are few.” Have you had the chance to be a part of someone’s spiritual journey? How did it feel to see the seeds of faith grow into noble discipleship?
  • In what way could you adjust your expectations of discipleship? Do you suffer from an impulsiveness that needs instant gratification or are you able to delay gratification?
  • My mother’s discipline, though apparently counter-cultural at the time, inoculated me from suffering the poison of entitlement mentality (as much as I tried to get her to cave into the idea!). Who has been courageous enough in your life to lovingly adjust your perspective even if you fought them on it?
  • When have you felt deep satisfaction in work itself rather than the reward at the end? How does this relate to work as a disciple?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray and reflect on the prayer of St. Francis this week.
  • Call or write a thank you to someone who has saved you or healed you from an entitlement attitude.
  • If you have children, grandchildren, or work with children, reflect each day on your interactions with them and consider if there is an analogy to your own interactions with the Lord.

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016

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prayer of st francis

Christ in the Distressing Disguise of the Poor at our Doorstep

by Angela Jendro

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 16:19-31 NAB

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named  lazarusLazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Meditation Reflection:

Pope St. John Paul II often said that self-fulfillment and happiness can only be found in self-gift. This paradoxical truth flies in the face of our cultural idolization of individualism summarized in mottos such as “looking out for number 1” or “YOLO – you only live once.” We often ignore the needs of those right in front of us. Like Lazarus who lay at the rich man’s doorstep, we often ignore family members who live within our own home or are only a phone call away.

In truth, we all need community for some things, and individualism can even undermine the needs of the individual. The rich man thought Lazarus was insignificant, but Lazarus had a role in his long term prosperity. I came across an interesting connection in an article by Pierre Manent in First Things magazine (“Repurposing Europe” April, 2016). Manent reflected on the current state of political life in France from which any of us who live in Western culture could learn. He observed that the historic move from Christendom to Nationalism has now been superseded by a move from Nationalism to Individualism. Moreover, in a secular culture, the problem has been compounded by a lack of belief/reliance on divine providence. In consequence, he asserted, France struggles with “a growing incapacity to propose goals for common action.” Because of the “great withdrawal of loyalty from the community,” a society united merely by individual rights lacks the “capacity to gather and direct our powers, to give our common life form and force.”

Manent’s observations of his own French history has some application to the American experience as well. Hyper-individualism, secularism, and a world-view that lacks an eternal horizon creates its own set of problems. There are problems that are too big for us as individuals and require a unified effort which is only possible with a common view of the good and willingness to sacrifice for it. There are also problems that are too big for us as a nation and can only be approached with a confidence in divine providence and the aid of a God who “protects the resident alien, comes to the aid of the orphan and the widow, but thwarts the way of the wicked” (Psalm 146:9).

Christ’s words exhort us in a special way to look beyond ourselves and to discover that our own happiness requires concern for the well-being of others. Jesus did not scold the rich man for fine dinners, He scolded him for ignoring Lazarus – who was sitting on his doorstep – while eating that dinner. The cold-heartedness and lack of compassion for the suffering of another person fails to fit us for heaven – a place of perfect love and communion with God and all the saints.

Mother Teresa, famous for her compassion for the poor and recently canonized, advised us all to serve the poor in our own families and to comfort those in our own life who suffer spiritually, emotionally, or physically.  She found Christ in “the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.” Sometimes we might hesitate to look too closely because it can be quite distressing. We’d rather accept the fake smile and the rote response “I’m fine” than dig deeper. St. Mother Teresa acknowledges, “It is easy to love the people far away.  It is not always easy to love those close to us.  Bring love into your home, for this is where our love for each other must start.” I am challenged by this often as a teacher and a mother. However, I pray for the grace to “cast out into the deep” (Luke 5:4), encouraged and convicted by Christ’s words that “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:40).

We grow our capacity to love on earth. People often complain about how mean it is that God would “send someone to Hell.” In reality, individuals send themselves there. God has made hell out of mercy that we might have the freedom to choose Him or reject Him, to choose Love or to reject Love. We can see a glimpse of this in the differing experiences of people at the same event. Sacrificing time to serve the needs of another will either bring you joy or pain depending on your disposition. For example, with my first child, I had difficulty adjusting at first to the constant needs which thwarted at every moment whatever I wanted to do at the time (even doing the dishes!). At one point I felt like I could literally feel the fires of purgatory burning away my self-will as I stopped what I was doing to tend to his interrupting need. The experience made me realize just how attached I actually was to my own desires and plans. Thankfully, God’s grace and love for my children helped me to grow and detach. I still struggle with impatience sometimes but I have a lot more peace now and enjoy my new priorities. I have learned by experience that I was trading something less valuable for something much more valuable. Rather than losing an opportunity I had been given the greatest opportunity:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘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. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” Matthew 16:24-27

 

Let us continue to renew our efforts to share our joys with others and to invite them to our feast. Let’s keep practicing the works of mercy and praying for God to open our eyes to the needs of those around us. I like to ask Mary’s intercession for this particular request because she especially showed compassion and insight toward the needs of others during her life (consider the Wedding Feast at Cana). Comforting the sorrowful, counseling the doubtful, and feeding the hungry can be met in a simple family meal together. Kids soak up stability and comfort around the kitchen counter and something as simple as dinner or making banana bread can provide peace for their souls.

We accept God or reject God here, in this life and You Only Live Once. I’ll close with this story of St. Martin of Tours surprising encounter with the Lord and his example of the right choice:

Even in the military Martin attempted to live the life of a monk. Though he was entitled to a servant because he was an officer, he insisted on switching roles with his servant, cleaning the servant’s boots instead of the other way around!

It was on this garrison duty at Amiens that the event took place that has been portrayed in art throughout the ages. On a bitterly cold winter day, the young tribune Martin rode through the gates, probably dressed in the regalia of his unit — gleaming, flexible armor, ridged helmet, and a beautiful white cloak whose upper section was lined with lambswool. As he approached the gates he saw a beggar, with clothes so ragged that he was practically naked. The beggar must have been shaking and blue from the cold but no one reached out to help him. Martin, overcome with compassion, took off his mantle. In one quick stroke he slashed the lovely mantle in two with his sword, handed half to the freezing man and wrapped the remainder on his own shoulders. Many in the crowd thought this was so ridiculous a sight that they laughed and jeered but some realized that they were seeing Christian goodness. That night Martin dreamed that he saw Jesus wearing the half mantle he had given the beggar. Jesus said to the angels and saints that surrounded him, “See! this is the mantle that Martin, yet a catechumen, gave me.” When he woke, it was the “yet a catechumen” that spurred Martin on and he went immediately to be baptized. He was eighteen years old.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=81)

Consider:

  • Why do the poor “distress” us? What do we worry will happen if we reach out?
  • Who are the poor at your doorstep? Children with many needs, a relative or colleague going through a difficult time, someone struggling with sorrow or mental illness, someone dealing with a chronic illness, a new employee or colleague who is overwhelmed and needing a little mentoring or a word of encouragement…
  • When serving others, what is most difficult for you to give up?
  • When have you experienced that “in giving you received”? Have you found that when you took a leap of faith and made a gift of self through sacrifice you actually found fulfillment and joy?
  • We all have different gifts to put at the service of the Lord. Consider and pray about what your gifts are and how you might use them more. (Some ideas: encouraging, teaching, healing, serving, financial giving, leadership, administrating, prayer and fasting, offering up suffering, understanding, hospitality…)

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a list of all the people in your life and one need for each. Every day this week meet a need of at least one or two people on that list.
  • Read about the life of a saint each day. They provide concrete examples for us of love in action.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Sometimes the Small Stuff Matters

by Angela Jendro

 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 16:10-13 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Meditation Reflection:

Few things of importance are gained overnight with little to no effort. As tempting as the get rich quick scheme can be, it never proves to be reliable or lasting. The temptation appears in many forms but inevitably produces the same results. Diets that promise to drop weight fast only leave you gaining it right back because they don’t involve long-term lifestyle changes. New clothes, cars, or homes you hope will boost your self-confidence leave you with the same empty feeling at night if you haven’t become the person you can be proud of on the inside. Stress might be soothed by pills or substances temporarily, but only the hard work of managing stress through healthy ways will actually change your situation or give you authentic contentment.

True change comes through the hard, slow, daily process of building character. The Plato and Aristotle_Raphaelphilosopher Aristotle, in his famous book on Ethics, defined virtue as a habit of doing the good. He taught that a person only acquires a virtue after having chosen it regularly over a long period of time and in many circumstances. For instance, if I tell the truth once, it doesn’t make me a truthful person. To say that I have the virtue of honesty means I have told the truth regularly for many years. As Jesus points out in this passage, a person’s character is shown as much, if not more so, in the small matters as in the larger ones. A truthful person will be pained by lying, even in small exaggerations. On the other hand, a person who lies easily about daily matters to avoid responsibility or make things easier, will certainly lie when the stakes are much higher.

It can be tempting to compartmentalize our life, especially our faith life, and not uncommon in our culture for a person to think they can act one way at work, another at home, and another at church. However, our choices become our habits and our character. Like the fast, easy, changes marketed to us, compartmentalization is only a temporary illusion. If you swear around your friends often, you will eventually let a swear word slip at work or in front of your children. If you are dishonest at home with your spouse, you will be dishonest with your boss. We can’t sit in the pew and believe ourselves to be disciples of Christ, if we distort His Gospel the rest of the week by not following Him at work and home too.

Jesus wants to bring us interior peace and this requires being authentic. We build Christian virtues by practicing them daily in all situations. We make choices based on what we care about most. This is why we can’t serve God and the world. Those daily choices build a path one way or the other, like everything else in life. Jesus lived this teaching as well.  He did the Father’s will in everything. Then when in the Garden of Gethsemane He feared His impending crucifixion, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

If we love God and if we truly believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then we will try to imitate Christ in every choice no matter where we are. The beautiful result is that the more Christ like you grow, the more He will shine in every work you do. The Church calls this “sanctifying the temporal world.” It may be the slow, difficult, unglamorous path, but it will certainly be more lasting and, thankfully, Jesus gives us His Spirit and grace to help us.

Consider:

  • What virtues would your family or friends confirm that you have already? What kind of person do you try to be?
  • What virtues would you like to acquire that you presently struggle with? How might you begin working on them?
  • In what way do you compartmentalize your faith? Are there places, persons, or circumstances you hide your beliefs or act contrary to your faith?
  • Consider how you might apply Jesus’ teaching to your everyday responsibilities and the people you interact with. Mother Teresa touted the greatness of doing small things with great love. How might you incorporate that into your daily work?
  • Aristotle was right about the necessity of practice to build virtue. However, we often still struggle to overcome our own weakness and we can’t become truly Christ-like without the aid of grace. Consider the power of prayer, reading Scripture, and the sacraments through which the Holy Spirit can strengthen and change your heart.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Focus on faithfulness to God in the small matters this week. Be especially diligent in the everyday little tasks or interactions to act Christ-like.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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How can God be both Justice and Mercy?

by Angela Jendro

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 15:1-32 NAB

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing

490px-Bernhard_Plockhorst_-_Good_Shephard

by Bernhard Plockhorst

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

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

Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.  When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and

552px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project

Return of the Prodigal Son By Rembrandt

I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.  He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Following Christ At All Costs

by Angela M. Jendro

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

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

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 14:25-33 NAB

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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Quiet Confidence

by Angela Jendro

mother_teresa

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 14: 1, 7-14 NAB

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

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

My son, conduct your affairs with humility,

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

Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,

and you will find mercy in the sight of God.

For great is the power of the Lord;

by the humble he is glorified.

Sirach 3:17-20

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

What is too sublime for you, do not seek;

do not reach into things that are hidden from you.

What is committed to you, pay heed to;

what is hidden is not your concern.

In matters that are beyond you do not meddle,

when you have been shown more than you can understand.

Indeed, many are the conceits of human beings;

evil imaginations lead them astray.

Sirach 3:21-24

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

happiness

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Expressions of Feminine Self-Gift Part III: Setting the World on Fire (Highlights and quotations from my talk at “Devoted” at St. John the Baptist.)

What a gift to speak at St. John the Baptist tonight with the women of “Devoted”!  I was privileged to spend the evening with such remarkable ladies at such a beautiful event. Below are some highlights and the quotations I referenced.   

Red heart shaped tree

St. Catherine of Siena “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire”

God can and DOES do INCREDIBLE things through His children. The life of every saint testifies to God’s mighty work through their little “yes”.

 Who does God mean for your to be? – First: a Woman

Women have particular gifts from God to set the world ablaze with His transformative Truth and Love.

Examples of Women in the Gospels:

  • Mothers: Mary, Elizabeth
  • Prophetess: Anna
  • Some accompanied him on His journey Some provided for them out of their means (Luke 8:1-3) Joanna, Susanna
  • Mary, Martha – friends of Jesus
  • Jesus holds up the poor widow as a model of generosity “This poor widow has put in more than all of them”
  • Most profound teachings given to women
    • Woman at the well
    • Martha about resurrection from the dead
      • “This conversation with Martha is one of the most important in the Gospel” John Paul II On the Dignity of Women 15
    • Mary Magdalene – the first to see the risen Christ; Thomas Aquinas calls her the “apostle to the apostles”

 The Feminine Genius is needed now more than ever

The Second Vatican Council proclaimed:

“The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved.   That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.”

The Council’s Message to Women as quoted in John Paul II’s On the Dignity and Vocation of Women

Special Genius of Women 

  • Theological insights from feminine perspective
    • Pope Francis remarked that we need more women theologians
    • Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)  English anchorite; Her work is based on a series of 16 visions she received in 1373
      • Meditates on Jesus’ motherly care for us
        • Compares His passion to pregnancy and birth
        • The Eucharist to nursing a baby (“He feeds us with Himself”)
        • The tenderness of a mother holding her child to Christ bringing us close to Him through His Church
      • 4 women doctors of the Church
        • Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic;
        • Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
        • Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
        • Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)
      • Contemporary Catholic theologian – Edith Stein, a.k.a. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (1891-1942)
  • Gift for Acknowledging the Person
“Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance growth is her natural maternal yearning.” Edith SteinWoman
  • Building relationships and society – humanizing vs. technocratic and efficiency only
“Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” John Paul II Letter to Women 1995
  • Antidote to individualism – motherhood as a white martyrdom
Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism. “Individual” means “what cannot be divided”. Mothers, instead, “divide” themselves, from the moment they bear a child to give him to the world and help him grow… Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero said that mothers experience a “maternal martyrdom”. In the homily for the funeral of a priest assassinated by death squads, he said, recalling the Second Vatican Council: “We must be ready to die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this honor…. Giving one’s life does not only mean being killed; giving one’s life, having the spirit of a martyr, it is in giving in duty, in silence, in prayer, in honest fulfilment of his duty; in that silence of daily life; giving one’s life little by little. Yes, like it is given by a mother, who without fear and with the simplicity of the maternal martyrdom, conceives a child in her womb, gives birth to him, nurses him, helps them grow and cares for them with affection. She gives her life. That’s martyrdom”.

Pope Francis Wednesday Audience January 2015

Obstacles

 Edith Stein noted that our gifts can also become distorted by sin.

  • Concern for the person can get out of control and turn into meddling and gossip
  • The desire to integrate everything can also lead to getting spread too thin and dabbling in too many things
  • A heart of service that sees the needs of others can turn into a dominating or controlling “help” – the “nagging wife” or “helicopter mom”

There is hope in our struggles!

  • Romans 8:28
    • “God works all things together for good for those that love Him”
  • Philippians 1:6
    • “I am sure that He Who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

 Your expression of self gift will also include your PERSONAL circumstances, vocation, temperament, talents, opportunities

Family Life

  • Innate wisdom to guide the family – including the husband and wife
    • “She craves for an unhampered development of her personality just as much as she does to help another toward that same goal.   And thus the husband will find that she can give him invaluable advice in guiding the lives of the children as well as of themselves.” Edith Stein Woman

Making a house a home

  • “Part of her natural feminine concern for the right development of the beings surrounding her involves the creation of an ambience, of order and beauty conducive to their development.” Edith Stein Woman

Spiritual Motherhood 

  • Example of Elisabeth LeSeur 1866-1914
    • Her husband Felix remarking on the days approaching her death (after which he converted to Catholicism and later became a priest!):
“She did indeed uplift all who surrounded or approached her, and it was a strange thing to see this woman, so modest, so humble of heart, condemned to practical immobility, shedding around her far and wide the light of her great influence.”

An atheist friend after her passing:

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

Work Life

Edith Stein notes that some jobs naturally align with feminine genius more than others.  However, women have something unique to offer every kind of work and in every case they bring their interpersonal gifts to the culture of the workplace.

“Thus the participation of women in the most diverse professional disciplines could be a blessing for the entire society, private or public, precisely if the specifically feminine ethos would be preserved.” Edith Stein Woman

Work-life balance

“Her professional activity counterbalances the risk of submerging herself all too intimately in another’s life and thereby sacrificing her own; however, an exclusive preoccupation with her professional activity would bring the opposite danger of infidelity toward her feminine vocation. Only those who surrender themselves completely into the Lord’s hand can trust that they will avoid disaster between Scylla and Charybdis.   Whatever is surrendered to Him is not lost but saved, chastened, exalted and proportioned out in true measure.”

Edith Stein Woman

Public Life

“In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favors some, it pushes others to the margines of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human.   In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that ‘genius’ which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensititivty for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! – and because ‘the greatest of these is love’ (cf. 1 Cor 13:13)”

John Paul II On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman

 

Progress usually tends to be measured according to the criteria of science and technology. Nor from this point of view has the contribution of women been negligible. Even so, this is not the only measure of progress, nor in fact is it the principal one. Much more important is the social and ethical dimension, which deals with human relations and spiritual values. In this area, which often develops in an inconspicuous way beginning with the daily relationships between people, especially within the family, society certainly owes much to the “genius of women”.

John Paul II Letter to Women 1995

Closing:

Jeremiah 29:11

“Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, the LORD declares, plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

MUSTARD SEED

Matthew 13:31-32

“He put another parable before them, ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches”

The greatest example of feminine genius is Mary. Her yes brought about the incarnation of God and our salvation!

Mary models perfect discipleship. Each of us are being called by God.  We need only be our true selves to set the world on fire with His love!

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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The Fork In The Road For Every Christian

by Angela Jendro

fork in the road

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 12:49-53 NAB

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

fire pic

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

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

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

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

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

stuck in the mud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Eyes Wide Open

Ascension of Christ_ Getty Images

Ascension of Christ: Getty Images

by Angela M Jendro

 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 12:35-40 NAB

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Suggested Reading: 

Abandonment to Divine Providence by Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade

33 Days to Merciful Love: by Fr. Michael Gaitley

Catholic Bible: Revised Standard Version, Compact Edition

 

Becoming Rich: Investment Strategies From Christ

by Angela M Jendro

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 12:13-21 NAB

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019