The Ascension of Christ & the Surprising Nature of the Kingdom of God

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The Ascension of the Lord

Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 and the Sunday Readings

Meditation Reflection

Christ is so humble in His Incarnation that we, like the apostles in today’s passage, can forget the awesome reality of His divinity.  For most of His earthly life, Jesus chose to veil His divinity.  He humbly lived among us as one of us, choosing a life of poverty and sacrifice. Even when condemned to crucifixion, He told Pilate that He was not powerless in the situation (cf. John 18:36). Jesus chose to be sacrificed to save us. He could have saved Himself, as those taunting Him urged, or defended Himself as Pilate suggested, but love kept Him on the Cross. Christ came down from heaven to be a ransom for our sins. Ascension of Christ_ Getty ImagesAt the completion of His mission however, He ascended back to heaven to reign in glory as the Son of God. Because of His humility during His earthly life, we overlook at times His divine dignity and His rightful place in Heaven. Beyond anything we could have imagined, He promised to prepare a place for us there as well!

Jesus kept surprising His apostles and He continues to surprise us. They imagined the savior as someone who would overpower their persecutors and restore things to how they used to be during the best time in Jewish history. It took a while for them to accept that He would die and rise again.

Confused and scattered at His crucifixion, they rejoiced in awe at His resurrection. Overwhelmed with joy that Christ was alive, and excited by His show of power they still imagined that they would enjoy the booty of His victory in an earthly kingdom. “Finally”, they must have thought, “now He will bring to fruition all our hopes and desires.” Thus, they ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 Jesus did not come to stay on earth however, but to bring us back to Heaven. He does not put new wine into old wine skins (Matthew 9:14-17). His kingdom exceeds our imagination. The experience the Jews had under King David provided a foretaste and glimpse of the kingdom of God. Jesus reveals that God has much more in store for us.

In order to receive the Holy Spirit and begin their new life in Christ, they had to let go of their previous hopes and plans. To rule in the Kingdom of God meant to surrender worldly power for the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms lives with saving grace, Truth, peace, and love.  No other nation or religion has had the same universal, enduring, transformative effect, of the Christian faith. The only explanation for this miracle is the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). As we celebrate the Ascension of Christ into heaven, we let go of our desires for Jesus to make things how they used to be, or how we wish them to be. Christ’s physical absence grieved the apostles and we too can be grieved by the absence of tangible comfort and security. However, by letting Jesus ascend to Heaven, they received Him back even more intimately and powerfully in their very souls on Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit.

Christian discipleship means sharing in Christ’s death that we might also share in His resurrection. But it doesn’t stop there. Discipleship means accepting the unanticipated, unimaginable “new” that Jesus has for us. He wants so much more for us than we can plan and blesses us with so much more than we deserve. By surrendering our grip on control in our Christian walk, we get to live in the freedom of gift. There are no words to describe this freedom and joy other than surprise; or as John puts it: “From his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16 RSV).

Consider:

  • When has God surprised you? How have His plans for your life exceeded your own expectations?
  • In what areas of your life do you struggle to surrender control? Consider what underlies your resistance.  Is it fear of the unknown or of change, distrust, lack of faith, perfectionism, pride and the desire to accomplish things yourself, or vanity and concern for what others will think?
  • Reflect on your life from the point of view of the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of earth. Re- value wealth and status from this perspective. What is truly valuable? What is true greatness?
  • Consider God’s love for you. He has prepared a place for you, provided the Way, opened the gates, and given you the Holy Spirit and the Church to guide you and empower you. He has done everything in His mighty power to be with you and shower His love upon you. What can you do to be with Him and love Him in return?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, be open to God’s surprises. In the morning, offer your day to God and surrender control to Him. In the evening, reflect back on the day and recount when you were resistant or when He surprised you.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Finding True Love

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6th Sunday of Easter

Gospel of John 14:15-21 and the Sunday readings

Meditation Reflection:

Every human person yearns for love, intimacy, and understanding. We may not need to be loved or understood by everyone, but we desire that connection with at least one person and preferably a whole community. Without it, we suffer an oppressive loneliness leading to depression, anxiety, and confusion.

Given the rapid advances in communication, it would seem we should feel more connected than ever and therefore happier than ever. Yet, consider the high rate of depression and suicide in our culture, despite the unprecedented wealth and physical well-being compared to any other time in history. So, if we are relatively wealthy, healthy, and connected, why aren’t we happy?

Jesus reveals the answer in today’s Gospel passage.  The world offers superficial connection, defining love as self- gratification rather than self-gift. Self-centered love uses others to make oneself feel good or to advance one toward a personal goal. It might demonstrate a modicum of virtue, but only insofar as it provides personal reward. Intimate married love has been replaced with casual sex and pornography. Intimate family love through the gift of children has been replaced with pets (not that pets are bad, just that they are not kids). Intimacy of friendship or shared work carry some comradery, but disillusionment ensues when they are quickly exchanged for a personal advancement. All these experiences leave people feeling used and alone, rather than loved.

Pope Francis shed light on our pain by identifying the source of our wounds. He connected our pain with our disconnect from Truth and the experience of mercy. In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, he wrote,

“…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. And it’s not just a question of social ills or people wounded by poverty, social exclusion, or one of the many slaveries of the third millennium.  Relativism wounds people too:  all things seem equal, all things appear the same…

Pope Francis identified relativism as a wound because it disables our ability to determine right from wrong and truth from error. Christ forbids us from judging other people because only He knows what is in their hearts. However, we must be able to make moral judgements about actions and choices.  It’s just as important to know the dangers of sin to the spiritual life, as it is to know the dangers of gravity when leaping from high places.  I tell my boys all the time, especially in the summer when they are careening down the hill on their bikes or scooters, “Force = Mass times Acceleration – think about how fast you are going, because you could get hurt badly!”  The same truth becomes even more important as they get older. Now that my oldest has his driving permit and is nearing his license, I try to curb the teenage boy’s “need for speed” with the same physics lesson. I’m not being judgmental; I’m being loving by teaching him the truth. The same applies to the spiritual life. Sin wounds, hurts, and can even kill.  The Truth of Christ is a saving gift.

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches that Truth, Goodness, and Love are inseparable. Without truth and without virtue, we will miss out on love. Jesus said that He is the Truth (John 14:6), and those who love Him follow His commands. God is a relationship of three distinct Persons in one divine nature.

The three Persons of the Trinity share a unity that exceeds our understanding, but Jesus unveiled a glimpse of its experience. He speaks on numerous occasions of the unity of He and the Father. That unity comes from a relationship of love and obedience through an eternal self-gift. The Holy Spirit is described as the Love between the Father and the Son. For us to share in the intimate relationship of the Trinity, we must share in God’s love through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In-the-World-Not-of-the-World-DESKTOPWhen we place our faith in Christ, He sends the Holy Spirit that we may live by His Truth, following His commands, and thereby grow in intimate love.  Jesus told the apostles,

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

In other words, we must not only love in general but love like Christ – sacrificial, unconditional, and merciful. Merciful love means forgiveness, and it also means speaking the Truth instead of enabling someone in their self-deception or rationalization. It means never helping someone sin, but always helping them when they try to leave their sin.

To love in this way, we need supernatural grace which flows from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. AD 375 – 444), a bishop and Doctor of the Church, describes the Spirit’s transformative power in a beautiful way in a commentary he wrote on the Gospel of John:

“After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word. We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we would begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. This was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit…

Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, Abba, Father, make it easy for us to grow in holiness and, through our possession of the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us invincibly against the wiles of the devil and the assaults of men.

It can easily be shown from examples both in the Old Testament and the New that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell; he so transforms them that they begin to live a completely new kind of life…

Does this not show that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell and alters the whole pattern of their lives? With the Spirit within them it is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become men of great courage.”

The Holy Spirit infuses us with Divine Love which bears fruit in our lives. This love is so exceptional, that Jesus tells His disciples it will be evident to the world that they are His followers. The fruit of worldly love is loneliness, anxiety, and depression. The fruit of Christian love is intimacy with God and His followers, peace, and joy. Worldly wisdom wounds, but Christian wisdom heals. The great paradox of happiness, which Pope St. John Paul II re-iterated time and again, is that self-fulfillment can only be found in self-gift. Christians experience the intimacy of friendship in their shared vision of the Truth, the intimacy of true love in living their vocational call to sacramental married love, Holy Orders, vows of religious life, or the single vocation, and above all – the deepest, most intimate, abiding love of our Trinitarian God dwelling in our soul as His very own Temple. Happiness is loving and being loved, Truly.

Consider:

  • Consider the relationship between Truth and Love. Why is honesty necessary for relationship? How does honesty deepen intimacy?
  • Have you ever had to make a decision that required you to choose between worldly wisdom and Christian wisdom? Which did you follow and why? What were the results?
  • Consider the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us. Have you experienced spiritual healing, transformation, or love through the Holy Spirit? Have you witnessed it at work in another person?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Grow in your relationship with Christ who is the Truth, by studying Scripture or studying the faith. Read a spiritual book, join a bible study, listen to Christian talk radio or podcasts, or visit with someone advanced in the faith who can teach you.
  • Invite the Holy Spirit to bear more fruits of love within you by connecting with Him in prayer and/or the sacraments. Add just 5-10 minutes of prayer to your day (or if possible, I highly recommend adding a daily Mass), and note the change in your reactions to others and to situations, or to the level of peace you feel amidst whatever is happening around

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

Hard To Believe

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2nd Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday

John 20:19-31 and the Sunday readings

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Get your own published papercopy of this year’s guided meditations!

Hi Everyone!Take Time For Him Book cover

By God’s grace, I have finally published a book of guided Scripture meditations for this year!  Check out Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life on Amazon!  

ORDER YOUR OWN COPY TO PRAY WITH!  Highlight passages you love and freely write notes and thoughts in the margins.  Keep on your shelf to look back and reflect on your year with the Lord.

This is my first book on Amazon, so please RATE and REVIEW it so more people can find it as they search for prayer tools.  If you feel moved to, please SHARE it on your social media page.

My hope is for us to grow in prayer together. I will be praying for you, and please pray for me!

Thank you all for your encouragement and requests over the years.  The idea came from a reader and each time I was tempted to quit the attempt, another reader would reach out with encouraging words at just the right moment.  This book is an effort to serve you better and to, through Christ, “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” (Hebrews 13:15 RSV)

May God embrace you in His Divine Love,

+Angela M. Jendro 

 

*I am also an amazon affiliate, so by clicking the link on this page I earn additional proceeds from the book.

Why Pray If God Already Knows?

Cima_da_Conegliano,_God_the_Father Attributed to Cima da Conegliano [Public domain]

Attributed to Cima da Conegliano [Public domain]

29th Sunday Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 18:1-8

Meditation Reflection:

If God is all-good, all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, why should we pray? Wouldn’t it be better to only offer prayers of thanksgiving or praise? If we pray for someone or for something, are we not assuming we can change God’s mind and that to change His mind means there’s something lacking in His divine providence?

Questions such as these arise in many human hearts. Jesus addresses it in this passage and points us toward some reasons we ought to pray, and more boldly, to pray for specific intentions. The great theologian Thomas Aquinas addressed these questions as well in the Summa Theologica (II.II.Q.83) Newadvent.org and offers some clear questions and answers for us to contemplate.

In article 2, “Whether it is becoming to pray,” he addresses this objection:

Objection 1: It would seem that it is unbecoming to pray. Prayer seems to be necessary in order that we may make our needs known to the person to whom we pray. But according to Matthew 6:32, “Your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.” Therefore it is not becoming to pray to God.”

This seems like a valid argument and even cites Scripture. If God knows what I need anyway, and certainly He knows it better than me, why should I pray at all? I myself have felt a little silly at times praying for intentions as I imagined God saying, “I know this already, move on.”

Yet, Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11), to call out to God day and night (Luke 18:7), that whatever we ask in prayer shall be given to us (MT 18:19, MT 21:22, MK 11:24JN 14:13, JN 15:7 and many more). Moreover, St. Paul says to pray without ceasing (1 Timothy 5:17). So why does God want us to pray for things if He already knows our needs?

Aquinas’ response provides insight for us:

“Reply to Objection 1. We need to pray to God, not in order to make known to Him our needs or desires but that we ourselves may be reminded of the necessity of having recourse to God’s help in these matters.”

First, we pray because we need to see the connection between our needs and God’s provisions. If we don’t pray, we often take God’s gifts for granted or assume they resulted merely from chance, good luck, or our own efforts. Through prayer, especially through persevering prayer, our disposition changes and we realize our total reliance on God’s graciousness.

Secondly, because of the transformative effect petitioning God can have on our faith and our relationship with God, sometimes God wills that something happens only if we pray for it. Aquinas puts it this way: “Divine providence disposes not only what effects shall take place, but also from what causes and in what order these effects shall proceed.” (II.II.Q.83A.2)

Aquinas points out that God’s divine providence desires not only certain good effects, but the prior causes of those effects as well.  In other words, part of God’s plan for providing, may include someone having prayed for it first. Thus, He may provide a particular thing only if you pray for it because He wills that it be caused by your prayers!

If we ought to pray, then for what should we pray and for what shouldn’t we pray? For example, early in my faith journey I was surprised at how God answered prayers and I noticed something. I usually prayed for a particular solution to a problem, whereas God saw the problem itself and provided a much more creative and profound solution than I could have imagined. As a result, I try to refine my prayers of petition to presenting the problem to the Lord and trusting in Him to provide the resolution rather than telling God how it ought to be solved. Thus, my faith deepens as I see Him at work in His way rather than merely a response to my requested logistics.

Aquinas offers insights into a couple of common questions in this regard that are helpful. In Article 5 he presents this objection: “Now according to Romans 8:26, “we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Therefore we ought not to ask for anything definite when we pray(Obj.1). The objector in this case cites Scripture correctly but draws the wrong conclusion. It’s true that our prayers are often misguided, like my earlier example. Nevertheless, as Aquinas points out, Scripture also says, that the Holy Spirit will enable us to pray as we ought. He writes, “Although man cannot by himself know what he ought to pray for, “the Spirit,” as stated in the same passage, “helpeth our infirmity,” since by inspiring us with holy desires, He makes us ask for what is right. Hence our Lord said (John 4:24) that true adorers “must adore . . . in spirit and in truth”(Reply 1)

God is a patient and kind guide. He accepts the true prayers of our hearts no matter how bungled the words we use to express them. In addition, the more we invite the Holy Spirit to direct our prayer, the deeper and more authentic our prayers become.

In Article 6, Aquinas tackles the even harder question of whether we ought to pray for temporal things, i.e. the needs of our earthly well-being. He makes an insightful distinction between prayers for our needs verses disordered wants, “order” being the key word. When it comes to praying for specific things we ought to petition God, but to have them appropriately prioritized. For example, of highest importance would be those needs relevant to the salvation our souls, the souls of those we love, and the advancement of God’s kingdom. Next in order would be our daily needs – food, clothing, shelter, friendship, etc. Last would be our wants (for example, “If you feel like treating me Lord,_____would be awesome!”)

Prayer is not a letter to Santa. It’s not a childish wish list. Prayer is relational. We converse with God and deepen our relationship as our loving Father listens to our needs and provides for them. We converse with the saints and with each other as we unite in prayer before the Lord for a petition. Thus we see the beauty of the Christian family and experience a deepening of unity with the people of God as we rely on each other’s prayers as well as our own. God wills our good, and He also wills at times for that good to come through prayer. As a mother I often anticipate my children’s needs, but I appreciate when they humbly ask and acknowledge the connection between their need and my generosity. God loves us dearly and provides so many things for which we never even asked or dreamed. Yet, He desires to partner with us and to bring about good through our cooperating efforts both in action and in prayer and sacrifice.

Consider:

  • Have you ever tried to struggle with something on your own for a long time before finally asking God for help? Were you surprised at how quickly He helped you once you asked?
  • Pray to the Lord for the needs of your soul. What sins do you need His grace to overcome? What virtues do you desire to grow? What desires would you like the Lord to give you?
  • Pray to the Lord for the needs of the souls of those you love. With what are they struggling? Where do they need conversion? What holy desires do they need from the Holy Spirit?
  • Pray for the needs of the souls of you enemies. Pray for conversion in their hearts and gifts of grace. Pray for blessings in their lives.
  • Pray for your needs – material, physical, emotional, relational.
  • Pray for your wants from a spirit of joy in God’s generosity.

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a prayer intention list in your prayer journal. Write the date or make a check mark next to the ones He answers. (remember some might be answered soon others may require time and perseverance)
  • Pray a prayer of surrender each day to God’s divine providence and openness to what surprises He may send you.

 

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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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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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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

 

Receiving Christ’s Gift Graciously

Palm Sunday

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

Gospel of Luke 22:14-23:56 NAB full version. Luke 23:1-49 NAB shortened version and reprinted here below.

The elders of the people, chief priests and scribes, arose and brought Jesus before Pilate. They brought charges against him, saying, “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Christ, a king.” Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds, “I find this man not guilty.” But they were adamant and said, “He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea,
from Galilee where he began even to here.”

On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time. Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at length, but he gave him no answer. The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly. Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, “You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”

But all together they shouted out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” — Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder. — Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” Pilate addressed them a third time, “What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.” With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed. The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.

As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed.

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal. “Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.

The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts; but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.

Meditation Reflection:

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week with Palm Sunday. The Gospel follows Christ through the events of His Paschal Mystery beginning with His final entrance into Jerusalem and culminating in His death.

Recall the Pope’s theology of sin. He teaches that the process of conversion begins with acknowledging our sin, confessing it with contrition to the Lord, then trusting in Christ’s mercy to forgive and heal us. As we unite ourselves to Christ this week, remembering the events of His suffering let us contemplate the third aspect of conversion – trusting gratitude for Christ’s mercy.

In the Office of Readings for today, a sermon by St. Andrew of Crete (d. 740), a bishop, offers a beautiful idea for how to honor Christ today…

“So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.”

This response inspires us to approach holy week with an attitude of deep appreciation; to follow the footsteps of the suffering Christ and feel the grace of His mercy accomplished through His sacrificial love. Numerous Gospel accounts tell of Pharisees or Sadducees wanting to kill Jesus but being unable. Christ could have escaped the Cross, it was within His power. He chose to surrender Himself which was the only reason they could apprehend Him. He chose to suffer as the sacrifice for our sins for the sole purpose of our redemption – to be freed from slavery to sin and death, to experience healing and supernatural strength, to experience union with God as His beloved children, and that our “joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Reflecting on Christ’s suffering however, especially if we have the courage to connect it to our own weakness and personal sins, requires more than a small amount of humility. It means we realize our dependence (something we hate in our culture) and our unworthiness. Christ endured things we could not, and when asked to offer something back in return, even trivial things, we often fail.   How many of us sigh at the length of the reading on Palm Sunday, and yet how much easier to read it than to live it! How much longer it was for Christ to actually endure the events we recall!

Distracted thoughts and limited attention spans will always burden us due to our weakened nature from original sin. We can work to minimize our distractions however and lengthen our attention by changing our habits. For instance, we can replace some of our thoughts about worldly matters with thoughts of spiritual matters through regular Scripture reading, good Christian books and conversation, or listening to Christian talk radio. We can replace worldly images in our imagination with images of Christ through praying the psalms and listening to Christian music. Rather than secular songs interrupting our prayer, over time we might find Christian songs interrupting our mundane tasks instead.

This Holy Week let’s do our best to, as St. Andrew suggested, lay our transformed selves before Christ. Let us ease His suffering with songs of praise and thanksgiving. Let us offer Him hope on the Cross by demonstrating that His sacrifice will bear much fruit.

 Consider:

  • Take time to reflect on those things Christ has conquered in your life – sin, addiction, lies you had believed, fears, pride, loneliness, despair…
  • Examine areas of your life in need of Christ. Imagine His blood washing over them and healing them. Invite Him to free you in that area as a grace of this Holy Week. Resolve to cooperate with Him in this effort.
  • Sacrifice is the proof of love. Christ would have suffered every pain for you alone.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray the Stations of the Cross.
  • Pray a psalm of thanksgiving each day for God’s help.
  • Pray psalm 21, the psalm Jesus quoted from the Cross when He said, “My God My God, why have you abandoned Me.”
  • Listen to Christian radio on your drive or as you get ready in the morning.
    • Ideas: local Christian music stations; download the Relevant Radio app and listen to Catholic programming.
  • Offer encouragement to someone who is suffering.
  • Offer mercy to someone in thanksgiving for Christ’s mercy to you.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Living in Denial

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

3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Luke 13:1-9 NAB

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

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

 Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final part of the process he writes, is:

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

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

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

 Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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

[2] Ibid.