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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Lighting the Path and Seasoning the Journey Because Blending In is Bland

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5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:13-16

Meditation Reflection:

 People often complain they need to see something to believe it. Although faith requires going beyond sight, the seeds of faith can be planted through allowing others to see for themselves the work of Christ in our lives. Authentic, Christian discipleship causes deep transformation. This supernatural change witnesses in an evidentiary way, the reality of the Holy Spirit and the life of grace.

The first converts to Christianity were moved by the way Christians lived differently than everyone else. Amidst a callous, hedonistic culture, Christians treated one another with love and respect. Christian marriages were marked by mutual kindness and fidelity. Slaves were considered brothers and sisters in Christ. Martyrs sacrificed everything joyfully in witness to their belief in the resurrection. The way martyrs faced their death so peacefully and courageously, converted many onlookers who could plainly see that the dying Christians were acting with a strength and calm that exceeded the limits of human nature. Tertullian famously articulated this phenomenon saying, “The blood of the martyrs, is the seed of the Church” (197 A.D.).

As modern Christians, our lives ought to witness the reality of grace as well, by following Christ beyond our comfort zone. Sometimes we can make our faith life a little too neat and tidy. We make Sunday Mass a casual commitment, and parish fellowship a comfortable social club. We might look to faith for comfort, but we don’t expect the impossible from God, and we ask that He not expect the impossible of us.

Although this sounds like a reasonable relationship, it doesn’t do much to reveal the life of grace, or the reality of God’s supernatural love and aid. After teaching the Beatitudes, the heart of the New Law, Jesus followed up with this analogy to salt and light. The journey of faith, though very personal, also has an evangelistic element; it’s a gift we both receive and give in return. Christ urges us to follow the path of the Beatitudes to its end. He’s right that authentic discipleship will not blend in. Simply living the Christian faith, is a witness to truths that others try to avoid, resulting in numerous pressures from others to be quiet. Those pressures come in many forms – accusations of being overly zealous, judgmental, intolerant, or making one’ private faith public. Secular culture continues to find ways to diminish the witness of faith and put a bushel basket over the light by re-defining religion as personal sentiment and forbidding it to bear external fruit unless that fruit can be limited to, and labeled as, secular humanitarianism.

At the same time, although Christ was persecuted by some, He was also sought out by many others. Jesus promised, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32 RSV). Genuine discipleship can transform us and transform society, adding freedom to both. St. Paul told the Galatians, that the fruits of the Spirit are not of this world. By drawing near to God in prayer, the Spirit bears fruits within Christians of divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The world needs these fruits and hungers for them. If we keep our faith in a box that we only take out on Sundays or Christmas, we put a bushel over the light of Christ and make it impotent, leaving the world to suffer rather than to offer it hope.

I love Jesus’ analogy to salt. Maybe because I love salt on everything! It’s so basic, but it makes everything taste so wonderful. Our faith is the salt that makes life seasoned and enjoyable. If we offer the world a bland form of our faith, what is the point? We wouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable, but we would also deny them the chance to taste something remarkable.

Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He teaches us the path to follow and provides the necessary grace needed to make the journey. When we live in relationship with Him, our life can’t help but radiate His peace, love, and wisdom. If we can have the courage to follow Christ beyond our comfort zone, Christ promises that we can be a light for others shining the truth they need to be free, and the salt that seasons their life with His joy.

Consider:

  • What do you find comfortable about your Christian faith? What’s easy or natural for you?
  • What do you find uncomfortable? What teachings seem “too much”? In which areas of your life, or among which people, do you try to downplay your faith?
  • How might you live your faith more deeply or more authentically?
  • Reflect on the effect of salt and light. Fast from salt for a day and consider the difference without it. Try functioning with only the aid of natural light rather than light bulbs. How does it limit your work and your experience?
  • Consider each aspect of your day – home, work, activities, etc. Reflect on how you can live your faith in each

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • At the beginning of each transition in your day, begin with a prayer for Christ to teach you, and help you, live as His disciple in that part of your
    • The prayer can be a spontaneous prayer of your own words, or a written prayer you recite at each transition. Ideas: Our Father, Glory Be, Hail Mary, Memorare, a verse from a Psalm, a prayer to the Holy Spirit, the Disciple prayer by Cardinal Newman,
    • I personally like the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas: “Grant O Merciful God, that I may ardently desire, prudently examine, truthfully acknowledge, and perfectly accomplish, what is pleasing to Thee, for the praise and glory of Thy Name”

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~ Written by Angela M. Jendro © 2019

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The Relevance of Ritual

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Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Gospel of Luke 2:22-40

Meditation Reflection:

 “This is my life, my dream, my job, or my kids.” How quickly we can turn receiving a gift from God, to jealously withholding it for our personal plans. Worship and even ritual provide opportunities to keep this wily attitude in check and remind us of the purpose God has for them all.

The Presentation in the Temple is a religious practice of the Jews that began with the establishment of the Levitical priesthood. The firstborn son of the family had been designated by God to serve as priest, but when it changed to the tribe of Levi serving as priests, families would “redeem” the son from service by exchanging something. This offering provided for the Levites, whose priesthood allowed for more consistency in religious practices.

The image of the Presentation also serves as a reminder that our lives are not our own, and neither are our children’s, or any “baby” (be that a work, talent, or ministry, etc.) we possess. Everything belongs to God and ought to be offered back to Him. Our natural lives are a gift from the Creator, and our supernatural lives came at a cost paid by our Savior. The practice of reminding ourselves periodically in a formal or intentional way can help curb our tendency to grasp at things.

Organized religion often gets derided in the media and cultural conversation, even by some Christians. Yet, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus participated faithfully in the Jewish religion. Though an exceptional family, they never asked to be an exception to the rules. When Jesus instituted the New Covenant, He maintained formal worship through the Mass and the sacramental life. God doesn’t need our worship, we need it. We need to offer ourselves and our work to Him, to praise Him with gratitude and make supplication for our needs.

Making time for sacrament preparation can prove difficult for busy people and families. Whether it’s classes for Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, or Matrimony, the Church provides a process of preparation that, though time consuming, orients our lives in Christ in an essential way.

Presentation of Jesus_Fra_Bartolomeo_Wikimedia

Fra Bartolomeo Wikimedia

Through these experiences, God can surprise us. Mary and Joseph presented Jesus like any Jewish couple would. The day had personal significance for them like any parents, but they didn’t stand out in the crowd. Nevertheless, this encounter with God in ritual yielded spiritual insights and fruits.

First, God blessed Simeon and Anna – two people who had faithfully sought God in prayer their whole lives and came to Him in the Temple regularly. Their example encourages us to persevere in the practice of our faith, even when it seems dry.

Secondly, Simeon’s prophecy articulated the nature of Mary’s vocation to motherhood, especially motherhood to Christ. Every mother and father looks at their infant and wonders who he or she will grow up to be, and seeing how special their child is, senses the child will be amazing. Simeon confirmed that Jesus would be a glory for Israel. However, he also warned that Jesus would experience conflict and rejection. Similarly, as children get older parents know the pain of seeing their child accepted by some but ignored or ridiculed by others. Finally, Simeon predicted a sword would pierce Mary’s heart too. Her Son is the Sacrifice for our Salvation, and she felt His pain in her own heart, like every mother and father who suffers to see their child in pain.

It’s especially difficult to surrender to God’s plan when we or our loved one must suffer. Jesus promised that to be His follower we must take up our cross and follow Him. This also entails allowing our loved one to take up their cross too. We can’t prevent every suffering nor ought we dissuade them from a sacrifice to which God is calling them (like Peter when he rebuked Jesus for saying He must die). We can however share the burden like Simon of Cyrene and be present to them like Mary and John.

Much of discipleship consists in the humdrum of regular prayer, work, and worship: starting the day with a Gospel reading and meditation, going about the tasks of your workday, attending Mass on Sunday, volunteering in the parish, and celebrating the sacraments with loved ones.

Aspects of worship may feel at times monotonous, but they are in fact irreplaceable touchstones with God; reminders that we and all that we love belong to Him. Moreover, in these moments, like Mary and Joseph at the Presentation, you may find yourself surprised by the Spirit.

Consider:

  • Imagine the rhythm of daily life for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as faithful Jews.
  • How does the rhythm of daily prayer, Sunday worship, and liturgical seasons provide a needed framework for your faith life?
  • How might you enter more deeply into prayer or the sacramental life of the Church?
  • What has God entrusted to you as your “baby” or “babies”? Offer it back to Him in prayer and dedicate it to His plans by His graces with the cooperation of your work.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • If you are still forming the habit of regular prayer or church attendance, resolve to attend Mass every Sunday and pray every day. Decide where, when, and how.
  • Offer your life, your work, and your loved ones to God in prayer each day this week.

©Angela M Jendro 2019

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Christ’s Kingdom Come

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3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 12:12-23

Meditation Reflection:

John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ both by announcing His immanent coming, and by calling people to conversion. John’s extreme asceticism illuminated consciences to common attachments which hinder people from receiving the Lord. His lonely, austere, desert living, provides a sharp contrast to our often-inordinate desire for luxury, status, and concern for keeping up with the Jones’. His fast of locusts and honey, casts light onto our indulgence in food and drink; and his camel-hair clothing convicts our consciences of secret vanity. Lastly, his rejection of fame and power set an example of 384px-Matteo_Rosselli_Jesus_and_John_the_Baptisttrue Christian discipleship. He rejected the title of Messiah for himself and insistently pointed to Jesus as the Christ. He spoke the truth to peasants, religious leaders, and even political leaders, despite the risk of arrest and even death. When the Lord finally came, he gracefully stepped to the side, saying “He must increase; I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30).

Matthew situates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with the waning of John’s. Jesus had been baptized and spent 40 days in the desert fasting, praying, and being tempted. John had just been arrested and Jesus, His preparation finished, now began His work. He commenced by preaching the same message as John, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Only this time, the kingdom is not coming, but rather has come in the Person of Jesus Christ.

What is the kingdom of God? Put simply, it refers to God’s rule over the hearts of its citizens/children, and the peace and security they gain in return through union with Him. It’s a kingdom established through the free and reciprocal gift of love between God and those who respond. To accept the rule of God, we must first reject the rule of other monarchs. Thus, repentance is a necessary first step, in which we acknowledge the sins and desires that we have allowed to rule us, and we ask for God to be our liberator. The Lord’s kingdom is a monarchy, but one that governs free individuals. The Lord does not annex land through force, but He does liberate people who are enslaved and, through the merits and mercy of His Son, grant them citizenship. Moreover, this citizenship is more akin to adoption into a loving family than a mere nation-state.

Imagine Christ’s joy as He could finally roll up His sleeves and begin preaching the Gospel, healing the wounded, and most importantly – forgiving sins. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, God had patiently waited for the time when we would be ready to receive Him, and He could heal all our wounds and strengthen us with His grace.

Jesus went to Galilee to begin gathering up God’s scattered and lost sheep. The havoc of disunity caused by human sin, would be undone through union in Christ. He rebuilt God’s people by building His Church. He first called two sets of brothers who had spent their days fishing, caring for their family, and a800px-The.Calling.of.the.First.Apostleswaiting the Messiah. They, like Christ, obeyed God in humble tasks of everyday life until He called them forth. When asked to follow Him, they immediately left the security of their routines and their community, to say Yes to the Lord and His will.

We can learn from this encounter how to prepare for, and respond to, the coming of the kingdom of God in our own lives. We can begin by answering the call of John the Baptist to repent. We can ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our sins and our blind spots. I can say from experience, He will. Next, we watch and wait. We live our daily lives open and receptive to God’s will. St. Thomas taught that “grace builds on nature.” This means that being a Christian doesn’t make us less ourselves or just robots following commands. Rather, grace makes us the best version of ourselves. It actually makes us more ourselves and raises our natural state in life to a super-natural level. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen. In the kingdom of God, they become fishers of men.

The apostles model Christian discipleship, which is simply receptivity to the Lord in our daily lives. It means saying “yes”, and following wherever He leads. True peace, justice, and happiness come through Christ alone. Only He can free us from our worst enemy – our own sins, fears, weakness, and pride. Only He can provide security. When we experience the gift of being His disciples, we will understand John the Baptist’s passionate zeal for pointing others to the Lord as well.

Following Christ can look very ordinary on some days, and on others it can completely surprise you. Whatever might be holding you back when Christ says to you, “Come and see,” let it go. Drop your nets and set out after Him.

Consider:

  • Ask the Lord for a spirit of repentance. Invite the Holy Spirit to show you what, or who, comes between you and
  • Reflect on the Christ’s call “Come Follow ”
  • How has God called you to be faithful in your everyday life? In your family, at your job, in your community?
  • How has grace “built” on your nature. How has encountering Christ made you a better version of yourself? Where might Christ still want to work in your life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day this week by saying, “Yes Lord, I will follow You.” Repeat it throughout the day.

 

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Praying for the Unborn and Mothers in Crisis…Meditations on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary

Rosary for Life

 praying for unborn

Sign of the Cross

Lord we offer this rosary in prayer for the protection of every unborn child. We pray that You will renew in our hearts a deep love and appreciation for every precious child that You so generously and tenderly create to share in Your life and happiness.

Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.  I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.

For an increase in Faith:

Lord, grant us the gift of faith, to believe all that You have revealed about the sanctity of life and our duty to protect and nurture life.

Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

For an increase in Hope:

Lord, give mothers and fathers the gift of hope that they may be enabled to trust in You and Your divine providence.

Hail Mary…

For an increase in Charity:

Lord, each human person is called to friendship with You. May we love and protect the unborn because they belong to You and may every mother and father care for the children You have given them in gratitude for Your generosity and mercy toward each one of us.

Hail Mary…

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

agony in the garden

Lord, You suffered tremendous anguish as the weight of mankind’s sin was placed upon Your innocent shoulders. One of those sins was the sin of abortion and we can only imagine the pain You must have felt at seeing the lives of Your little ones taken when they are most vulnerable as well as the suffering of the mother in that difficult choice. Forgive us for the times when we were too weak or apathetic to stand up for what is right or did nothing to help the mother in need. Forgive those who have chosen to abort an unborn child or have pressured or assisted a mother into aborting her child. May Your mercy open their eyes to the truth and Your love, and grant them the humility and courage to turn to You for healing and forgiveness.
  • Our Father…
  • Hail Mary…(10x)
  • Glory be…

Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

scourging of Jesus

Lord, when You embraced the pillar to be scourged again and again, You held us in Your embrace and suffered the blows for us due to our sin. Out of love and gratitude for Your sacrifice, may we follow Your example and protect Your most vulnerable loved ones despite the cost. Pour out a special grace upon pregnant mothers who suffer physical and emotional pain to nurture new life as they imitate Your love for us.
  • Our Father…
  • Hail Mary…(10x)
  •  Glory be…

Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning of Thorns

Jesus and Pilate

Lord You were given a crown of thorns as the soldiers mocked You and spat upon Your kingdom in disbelief. Give courage to all pregnant mothers, especially those tempted to have an abortion, and those fighting for an end to abortion as they suffer from mockery and discouragement. Strengthen their faith and hope that the crown of thorns they receive in this life may blossom into a crown of jewels in the next.
  • Our Father…
  • Hail Mary… (10x)
  • Glory be…

 Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross

titian-christ-carrying-the-cross

Lord, by the time You carried the Cross to Calvary, You had already been beaten to near death and were exhausted. On the journey to Your crucifixion You fell three times and Simon of Cyrene had to help You carry the cross. Be especially near to mothers exhausted by the many pressures to abort their unborn child and the anxieties they feel in their conscience. Encourage them to carry their cross even if they fall and give us the opportunity to help them carry their burden as Simon helped You. May Your Holy Spirit fill them with the consolation of Your love, strength, and peace and may they know that they are not alone.
  • Our Father…
  • Hail Mary…(10x)
  • Glory be…

 Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion

pieta

Lord, You humbled Yourself to come down from heaven so as to suffer and die for us. Yet, through Your suffering and death You also brought resurrection to new life. Give mothers and fathers the faith, hope, charity, and courage to sacrifice for their unborn child. In a culture that values self-gratification, open their eyes to the beauty and joy of self-gift. May we too reflect that joy and belief that “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.”
  • Our Father…
  • Hail Mary…(10x)
  • Glory be…

 Hail Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life our sweetness and our hope. To you do we cry poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, mourning, and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Pray for us O holy Mother of God,

That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Amen.

jesus with baby

 

© Angela M. Lambert 2016