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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Authentic Love

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

August 19th, 2017; 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 16:21-27 NAB

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

Meditation Reflection:

Peter loved Jesus.  He left everything to follow Him. Peter put his whole heart into the mission and his courage and zeal expressed themselves in extraordinary ways.  Moved by faith, Peter walked on water.  With his heart open to the Holy Spirit, he boldly answered Jesus’ questions to the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” by proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God.

Love inspires, emboldens, strengthens, and provides unique insights into the beloved.  Like the love between a husband and wife, a mother or father and their children, a beloved brother or sister, or a dearest friend, love wells up inside and can’t help but express itself exclamations of affection, physical closeness, and fierce protectiveness.

Due to our wounded, fallen nature however, our love can also be misdirected.  In this Gospel passage, Peter’s love mixed with his pride and with his worldly understanding to embolden him in a way that undermined, rather than supported, Jesus.

Our love needs conversion to be authentic and to be true to our beloved.  It requires ongoing formation in what is True and Good as God has revealed it, rather than as our emotions direct us or the culture.  It requires practice as well, to break bad habits and form good ones, or to overcome personal weaknesses that hurt the relationship.

Peter loved Jesus and was honored to be given the keys to the kingdom just one chapter prior to this.  However, his pride and ambition, together with his cultural assumptions about what that kingdom would look like, misdirected his love to preserving an earthly kingdom by preserving Jesus’ earthly life.  Just when Jesus needed the support of His disciples the most, as His “Hour” of Redemptive suffering for all mankind approached, Peter pulled Him aside and tried to dissuade Him.

Similar to Peter, our love needs Christ’s grace and truth to be authentic.  Consider the sentiment “I just want you to be happy.”  It can motivate noble sacrifice, but it can also rationalize weakness.  If we define happiness as merely earthly comfort, ease, security, and pleasure, we risk encouraging our beloved to turn from their cross rather than helping them carry it.  Yet, in trying to save their life, we could actually cripple them.

Consider the paradox inherent in parenting.  Kids need protection, nurturing, and comfort.  At the same time, to mature into adulthood, they also need to work through difficulties, setbacks, and pain.  The temptation to remove everything hard undermines the maturation process, whereas supporting them through the struggle without removing it for them can aid their maturation.  To know when to intervene and when to stand back is NOT easy!  It requires the counsel of the Holy Spirit and the grace of fortitude.  When Jesus’ life was threatened by King Herod, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to protect Him.  When Jesus was scourged and crucified however, Mary stood by Him, feeling every pain with Him, but knew it was necessary for His mission.

In marriage, family life, and friendship, authentic love needs conversion.  When we say “I just want you to be happy,” we have to be honest about which kind of happiness we desire for them.  Jesus is clear,

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

 

Those we love will struggle with sin.  It’s the battle of this life.  Authentic love won’t condone the sin or escaping it.  Rather, it will strengthen a person to speak the truth in love and support the beloved through the pain of conversion because true life and true freedom is found in the Lord. In the first reading for today (Jeremiah 20:7-9), the prophet Jeremiah expresses authentic love.  His human nature desired comfort and to simply be liked.  Nevertheless, his people had succumbed to habits of sin and needed to be corrected lest they die eternally from their destructive behavior and attitudes.  He didn’t want to speak out anymore because every time he did they met him with anger.  However, when he tried to remain silent, the truth welled up in him and he couldn’t hold it in any longer without suffering even greater pain.

True love can’t stand to see sin hurting it’s beloved.  Our friends and family need us to battle for their souls with the strength of prayer, God’s Truth, and the cross, not sentimentality.  And we need those who love us to battle for our souls in the same way.

To do this, we need to actively cooperate with the Holy Spirit that our love can be fully converted.  St. Paul states it well when he says,

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2

It will take time, effort, and support.  However, we can be encouraged by Peter’s example.  Peter’s conversion took time as well, but by the end of his life his love had become so perfect, that he accepted the cross and crucifixion for himself that he had once tried to dissuade Jesus from.

I’ll end with two quotes that I read often which give me hope:

Pope Francis   January 19, 2016

“there is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future

 

St. Josemaria Escriva

“A saint is a sinner that keeps trying.”

Consider:

  • Reflect on Mary’s love for Jesus.  Consider her fierce protection when He was young.  Consider her fierce loyalty to His mission on the Cross, despite both of their suffering.
  • Consider the words “I just want you to be happy.”  Pray about what true happiness is, where it can be found, and how it can be attained.
  • When has Christian love required you to carry a cross?  Who supported you?  Who tried to dissuade you?
  • When have you had to stand by someone while they carried a cross?  In what ways were you tempted to encourage them to leave the cross?  How were you able to support them in their pain or struggle and make the burden easier?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Do one thing each day for “the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
    • Spend 5 minutes with Scripture
    • Read a good Christian book
    • Listen to Christian podcasts
    • Visit with a Christian friend
  • Support a friend on their spiritual journey who is struggling with a sin or with a cross.
    • Pray and sacrifice for them; Speak truth in love; Visit them; encourage them with Scriptures of hope and resurrection after the Cross.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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Preparing the Soil…Spiritual Receptivity

by Angela Lambert

July 16th, 2017; 15th Sunday Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:

 “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them. “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. “

Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Meditation Reflection:

St. Paul tells us that “Jesus is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  So why does the Word of Christ set some people’s hearts on fire while others pass it by with apathy or disdain?  Does Jesus play favorites with who He invites to understand His message and who He lets go?  How does He choose to whom “knowledge of the mysteries of heaven is granted”?

Jesus’ answers in a surprising way – He is the sower who offers Himself to everyone; whether it takes root depends on us. We are responsible for the extent to which we receive His Word.

It reminds me of my kids’ proverbial complaint that I’m not fair.  Each one is certain that they have more chores than the others, and that they receive less than the others.  I remind them that it only appears that way because they see their work but don’t see the work their siblings do.  Either, because sometimes it occurs when they are not around, or because they just refuse to acknowledge it.  Similarly, the appearance of others receiving more stems from ingratitude and envy rather than a material difference.  It’s easy to fall into the same trap spiritually as God’s children.  God treats us all fairly, it’s our perception that tends to need adjustment.

Jesus’ parable illustrates the affect that attitude has on our faith.  For God’s Word to be sown in our hearts and transformative, we must be receptive.  Receptivity requires an attitude of gratitude, humility, and love. Resistance undermines the work God can do within us, and the fruit it can bear in our lives.

The seed that falls on the path has no effect because it’s met with apathy or hostility.  Consider the things that deaden our hearts or fuel them with anger towards God.  Certainly secular culture, infused with hedonistic consumerism, dulls our desire for God by distracting us with instant gratifications and claiming that God is irrelevant to society.  When things go wrong or we suffer however, our faith in God’s existence suddenly appears but only to blame Him.  Anger and apathy make relationship impossible with anyone.  Relationships require investment, interest, and openness.  Much like the futility of reasoning with someone who’s already discounted you, if we don’t care about God except to shake our fist at Him, nothing He says or does will be convincing.

The rocky soil illustrates faith rooted only in sentimentality and emotions.  It resembles the infatuation stage of a relationship.  During that time, the couple is enamored with one another and experience strong feelings that say their love will last forever.  Those feelings however, do not, as C.S. Lewis puts it, deliver on their promises.  Feelings, by nature, come and go.  Lasting love is a decision not an emotion.  The infatuation stage in our relationship with God may include powerful feelings of love for the Lord and the desire for holiness.   When a person encounters suffering or confusion, that love will either wither from shallowness, or go deeper to root down further in the soil.   Fair weather friends make for rocky relationships, and the same goes for our relationship with God.

For those who make it past luke-warmness, and deeper than mere emotions, thorns still threaten to choke out faith with worldly anxiety and desires.  To live in the world but not of the world, is no easy task.  Worry about our comfort, security, and what others think about us can quickly turn our gaze from God back to earth, crowding out room for His grace. We sit down to pray but our phone buzzes with a notification.  Worry or desire pulls us away from Scripture and back into our technology.  Social events fill up the calendar and we think we are too busy to go to Church.  We might tell ourselves that we just have to prioritize these worldly things for a time, and then we will be able to relax and give God our whole selves.  It tends to only be a trick we play on ourselves, like the carrot at the end of the stick – the donkey keeps walking but the carrot keeps moving at the same time he does.

A person who has found Christ, realizes that in Him they have everything.  A humble heart, open to the Lord, fills with gratitude as it receives grace upon grace.  Apathy turns to zeal, sentimentality to conviction, and the constant grasping after the next thing is replaced with spiritual fulfillment and peace.  In this rich soil, the soul begins to bear fruits of faith, hope, and love, along with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).

When we find ourselves saying, “Why doesn’t God speak to me?  I pray but don’t hear anything?,” or “I just don’t feel like praying or going to Church, I don’t get anything out of it,” or “My life always feels so out of control no matter what I do, why can’t I ever just find peace?”; we can take a step back and evaluate the soil in our souls.  The Word of God has come to us in the flesh and remains with us, what can we do to better receive Him?  Begin with asking for His help.

Consider:

  • When do you struggle with feelings of not caring about God or your faith?  What or who fuels that hardening of heart, and what/who softens your heart toward God?
  • Despite my love for flowers and home-grown vegetables, I’m a terrible gardener because I’m not attentive enough about keeping things watered or clearing away weeds.  How can you be more attentive to the garden of your soul?  What does it need to be watered, and what weeds need clearing away?
  • Pray about how deeply your faith is rooted.  Is it guided primarily by emotions or by principle?  Consider how your relationship with God is similar to, or different than, your relationships with others.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the thorns in your spiritual life.  Prayerfully consider what competes with your prayer time, Mass, your generosity with the Lord, or your openness to His teachings.  Ask for Christ to remove the thorns and replace them with greater love.
  • Mary exemplifies perfect receptivity to the Lord, rooted in deep love and enduring the hardest tribulations.  Ask for her intercession to soften your heart and to “open your eyes to see and your ears to hear” as she did.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

Work on preparing the soil for Christ:

  • If you need more gratitude: each night list 10 things you are thankful for from the day.
  • If you need more humility and detachment: Pray the Humility Prayer each day.
  • If you need more openness:  Read Scripture for 5 minutes each day.  It could be the daily readings (which can be found at http://usccb.org), a devotional, or simply opening up one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).

Related Posts:

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Sharing the Burden, Lightening the Load

by Angela Lambert

July 9th, 2017; 14th Sunday Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Meditation Reflection:
If many hands make light work, how much lighter if one of those hands belongs to Jesus!

Being yoked together assumes a commitment and a partnership. Both can’t pull in opposite directions or at different times. They must work together. Being yoked to Christ means we must surrender our self-determined ways for a Christ-determined way. Jesus assures us, however, that He won’t be a tyrant or arrogant about it. Instead, He is meek and humble of heart. We can trust Him. We can be vulnerable with Christ and lean on Him in our weakness without being afraid of being betrayed or taken advantage of.

Christ strengthens us to act with greater courage and perseverance than we can on our own. He counsels us, enabling us to make wise decisions. He opens our understanding, especially through meditating on His divine words in Scripture. He comforts us in our sorrow, drawing near when His loving presence is the only balm for grief. He rejoices in our happiness, elevating our joy.

We all try to carry our burdens alone too often, and for too long.  Today is the day to lay them down.  So, today’s reflection is short, and the Consider singular – Lay your burdens before the Lord. Name each one, surrender it to Him, and let Him carry it with you.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning, offer the day to the Lord and ask to be yoked to Him in each thing ahead. At the end of each day, reflect back, give thanks for His help, and ask for grace where you were resistant.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017
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Putting your sweat and blood into it…

by Angela Lambert

June 18th,2017;  Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

 Gospel of John 6:51-58

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Meditation Reflection:

Today we celebrate Christ’s gift of His Body and Blood.  Consider the meaning of giving our body to another.  Husband and wife express the intimacy and totality of their love in physical unity.  Every new life enters the world through the sacrificial gift of a mother, who offers her body and blood to her child.  Fathers invest their sweat and blood in their children as well in the myriad of ways they meet their children’s needs. How many dads have went to bed after a day of working to provide for their family, playing with their kids, building out part of the house to make room for more kids, or helping to finish their adult child’s basement saying, “my whole body hurts.”  Even friendship is demonstrated in physical sacrifice.  If you’ve ever called on friends to help you move, or been the friend who said yes to that call, you know what I mean!

The Son of God became man, in every way.  He invested His mind and heart, and His body and blood.  He desires nearness to us in the most intimate of ways.  Jesus spent thirty-three years living humbly, and bringing tangible, immanent love to those He encountered.  His sacrificial suffering and death of the Cross atoned for our sins, giving us new life as children of God for eternity.

Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist for two reasons.  He established it as memorial so that His sacrifice on the Cross would be made present again every time the Mass is celebrated so that we might be nourished by its graces.  Secondly, because He wants to be as near to us as possible.  When we receive the Eucharist at Communion, Jesus offers Himself in the most intimate and loving way, like that of a husband and wife.  Through His Eucharistic presence, He continues to be with us in a tangible way.  Human beings need physical closeness, especially when we need comfort in sorrow or in expressions of love.  Jesus Christ is, and will forever continue to be, both God and man.  It’s easy to take His presence in the Eucharist for granted, especially when it requires the eyes and heart of faith.  Today we take time to reflect as a Church on the beautiful, and mysterious gift, to cherish our Lord, and to deepen our appreciation for the sweat and blood He puts into His love.

Consider:

  • Consider the many ways we express love physically.  Why is physical love so important?  How does it create intimacy in relationships?
  • Reflect on Christ’s physical expressions of love – during His hidden life, His public ministry, His sacrifice on the Cross, and His Eucharistic presence today.
  • This year the Solemnity of Christ’s Body and Blood falls on the same Sunday as Father’s day.  Consider the ways in which dad’s offer their bodies and blood for their families.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Visit Christ at Church this week.  Spend time in prayer near the tabernacle, or at Eucharistic Adoration.
  • Make a physical sacrifice of love for someone this week, in appreciation of Christ’s physical sacrifice.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Real Super-Powers…Meditation on Pentecost

by Angela Lambert

June 4th, 2017 Pentecost

 (First Reading) Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

Meditation Reflection:

Not only is God’s kingdom surprising in nature, He empowers us to do surprising things.  Just when we think we have God figured out, that we have the rituals down and expectations met and relax into comfortable religion, He surprises us again.  Jesus’ requests can seem boring at times – Jesus had told the apostles not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5).  They waited 10 days, from the time Jesus ascended into heaven, before the Holy Spirit came.  Imagine if they had given up, gotten antsy, decided to re-interpret what Jesus said, or do things their own way.  Instead, they faithfully waited together, spending their time in prayer.

Their trust in Christ’s word produced great fruit.  They received the gift of the Holy Spirit and unexpected abilities.  They could speak in different languages despite never having learned them.  Peter, a fisherman, could understand Scripture at new depths and articulate the connection between the events of Christ’s life with the Old Testament prophecies.  In the Name of Jesus, the apostles healed many people, and by the authority given to them by Christ, began baptizing and forgiving sins.  On Pentecost day alone, about 3,000 people were baptized.  Christ’s kingdom had finally come and all who believed received freedom in the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit continues to be operative in the Church and in the souls of every baptized individual.  It’s easy to theorize about the Holy Spirit without realizing just how immanent and active He is.  If we open ourselves up to Him, we may be surprised at just how much He empowers us.  To make a modern analogy, consider our cultural love for super-heroes.  Most of them are humans with an added power which enables them to do super-natural things.   While super hero stories make for great entertainment (and t-shirts), the super powers of the Holy Spirit are real.  Real people have been given the power to turn away from addictions and sins to live in the freedom of Christian virtue.  Real people have forgiven hated enemies and found reconciliation.  People paralyzed by anxiety and fear have found peace.  People in sorrow or depression have found comfort and joy.

The lives of the saints evidence the super-heroic power of the Holy Spirit in generous souls.  Some have endured torture and martyrdom with boldness, singing hymns of praise as they were killed.  Others have plumbed great depths of Scripture and Theology.  Still others have been given the mystical gift of the stigmata, suffering with the wounds of Christ.

Recent saints such as Pope St. John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Gianna Molla, and St. Padre Pio show the myriad of ways the Holy Spirit works in persons of faith in every vocation and state in life.  Each of them needed super-natural fortitude to persevere through the trials they encountered.  Each needed infused faith to stay close to God when all seemed lost.  Each brought healing, mercy, and super-natural love to those God had placed in their lives.  And each was enabled by the Spirit to sacrifice their lives in a heroic way out of Christian love.  Every saint testifies that the heroic things they do come from the Holy Spirit.  They too marvel at the miracles wrought through them, because they know more than anyone their own limitations.

Although these examples seem extraordinary, the Church teaches that the Holy Spirit makes sainthood possible for each of us if we allow Him.  The Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit transform us and allow us to live as sons and daughters of God.  The only thing holding us back, is resistance by our own self-will.  The more we surrender to the Holy Spirit the more operative He can be within us.  When I neglect prayer, even for industrious reasons, I see my natural self and how easily I become frustrated, impatient, selfish, anxious, unfocused, or short-tempered.  On the other hand, when I make time for prayer a priority, my whole day I experience fruits of the Spirit that make me the best version of myself, or you could say the “super-natural” version of myself.  When tempted to skip prayer “to get more done”, I ask myself, “What do my kids, students, family, and friends need more from me – peacefulness or a longer checklist”?  Paradoxically, when I make time for prayer, more actually gets done as well, or at least the most important things.

We are saved by the merits of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, but we are sanctified (which means to be made holy) through the Holy Spirit.  Christ sent the Spirit on Pentecost to continue His work of Redemption.  We are forgiven in Baptism, and we are transformed over the course of our lives more and more through the working of the Spirit within us.  Jesus proclaimed that His kingdom was not of this world, meaning it exceeds the natural.  With the gift of the Holy Spirit, He has enabled us to live in the freedom and truth of His kingdom – to live super-naturally.  Maybe we all love super-hero stories, because we sense in our hearts that we are all called to be super-heroes too.

Consider:

  • Our culture tries to compartmentalize faith to something reserved for Sundays, or reduce it to a natural level like a social club or charitable works.  Consider to what extent you are affected by this tendency.   Do you compartmentalize your faith or reduce it to a natural level?
  • Consider the living, real, Person of the Holy Spirit.  Reflect on the incredible gift of baptism that He dwells within your very soul.
  • When have you experienced the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in your soul?
    • Gifts of the Holy Spirit enable us to fight for our faith and follow Christ’s command to love as He did (which goes above and beyond natural love – thus requires super-natural help).
    • The 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit are: Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety, Fear of the Lord.
  • When have you seen the Fruits of the Holy Spirit in your life?
  • Jesus said that you can tell a tree by its fruits.  Similarly, when we are docile to the Holy Spirit and unite ourselves to Him through prayer, He bears fruits in us.
  • The Fruits of the Spirit can be found in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
  • Simply by adding a few minutes of prayer each day, you could grow in each of these fruits.  Imagine if you added 10 minutes of prayer or more!  Imagine if you sprinkled a couple of minutes of prayer throughout your day, inviting the Spirit to bear fruit in you.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Reflect on one Gift or Fruit of the Holy Spirit a day.  Pray for an increase in it and greater awareness of the Holy Spirit working in your soul.
  • Pray the Prayer to the Holy Spirit each day:
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. And kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you will renew the face of the earth. Lord, by the light of the Holy Spirit you have taught the hearts of your faithful. In the same Spirit help us to relish what is right and always rejoice in your consolation. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Related Posts:

Holy Spirit Help Me!

The Most Marvelous Mystery! Gospel Meditation for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Love and Mercy in Superabundance

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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

by Angela Lambert

May 28th, 2017; The Ascension of the Lord

 Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

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 (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.  At 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 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 for them to receive the Holy Spirit and to 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 which 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 fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

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 Lambert © 2017

* 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.

Related Posts:

Longing for Nearness to the One We Love…Scripture Meditation for the Solemnity of the Ascension

Behold, I Make All Things New

The Spiritual Merry-Go-Round

 

We All Need a Loving Gate-Keeper and Filter…Christ the Good Shepherd

by Angela Lambert

May 7th, 2017 4th Sunday of Easter

 

Gospel of John 10:1-19

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them. So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Meditation Reflection:

Quite often as a mom, I feel like a gate-keeper.  Before my kids go somewhere I need to know with whom, who the parents are, and approve.  Technology plagues me even more, with parent controls, ratings evaluations, and restrictions. The ever-multiplying accounts, passwords, devices, programs, and updates can feel like an interminable game of whack-a-mole.  Christmas and birthdays used to be fun, now they feel like a migraine-inducing tidal wave of gate-keeping duties, with impatient children complaining as I set the perimeter that I am being too slow, and of course, too controlling.  I’ve at least developed a one-line response to save my overtaxed brain from responding to the myriad of “logical” arguments and pleas of trust from my young teens. “It’s as simple as this,” I say, “You will not have unfiltered access to the internet.”  The Church could consider adding that as the 11th Commandment for the modern era.

Let’s face it, even adults, as children of God, need filters.   We too can be easily allured by promises of pleasure, freedom, status, or adventure from false advertisers; and I don’t just mean commercially.    Despite having everything, Adam and Eve fell prey to Satan’s proposition that God’s single rule (not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) was controlling, and denying them fun out of selfish motivations.  Satan continues to deceive us through similar false promises.

Just as predators try to find ways to get around parents to manipulate children, spiritual “thieves and robbers” try to get around Christ to attack us, God’s children.  First, they try to separate us from His influence by undermining our trust in Him, His Word, or His Church.  Common attempts sound something like: “Christ’s teachings hold you back. If you want to get ahead in life you have to be willing to get your hands dirty”, or “It’s not that you are going against Christ’s teachings, you are just modernizing them.”  In regards to those difficult passages in Scripture, the ones that really strike at your conscience, you will be urged to simply pass over them or interpret them in a more relaxed way – “Forgive others, yes, but forgive my ex?, I don’t think He meant that…”  Jesus stresses that we must die to ourselves in this life and deny ourselves.  Instead we rationalize that He only meant that symbolically, or at least in a modest way – like going on a diet or not aiming too high. Finally, the Church, Christ’s living voice of authority, is the clearest voice of our Shepherd and therefore the harshest recipient of worldly criticism.

We are children of God, in need of a loving gate-keeper.  Christ’s commands, given through Scripture and the Church, can seem restrictive and controlling if we have an adolescent view.  However, as we develop in spiritual maturity, we begin to appreciate the wisdom and the love underlying them.  When I’m tempted to brush off a Church teaching or a little pull at my conscience, I stop and recall that Christ loves me more than I love myself, and He is far wiser than me.  Who am I going to trust?  Any other false shepherd – whether secular culture, another person, or my own impulses – eventually drains rather than fills and proves a destructive, rather than uplifting force.

Christ, our Good Shepherd, leads to green pasture. He refreshes our souls and leads us beside peaceful waters (Psalm 23).  Jesus lamented to St. Faustina that distrust on the part of souls causes Him the greatest pain.  As a mom of teens, I know what He means.   I want my kids to trust me too, and so I repeat the prayer He gave to St. Faustina, “Jesus I trust in You.”

Consider:

  •  When have you been steered wrong – by others, by cultural norms, or by your own impulses?  What was the reason?  What did you learn?
  • When have you been steered right by Christ?  How has His wisdom brought deeper joy and fullness of life, even amidst suffering, than these other voices?
  • Have you ever had to be the gate-keeper for loved ones?  Consider the love it takes to be strong and the need for them to trust you.
  • How can you trust Christ more and listen to His voice more often?  Could you attend Church more regularly?  Could you invest more time into Christian friendships?  Do you make time to study your Bible, read quality devotionals, or learn more about your faith?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Choose one way to listen more to the voice of Christ this week.
    • Ideas:  Add 10 minutes to your prayer time, pray the rosary in the car, listen to Christian radio, listen to Christian podcasts, read the daily Scriptures (these can be found at usccb.org), post inspirational Scripture quotes in places you will see them often, meet with a Christian friend.
  • Consider adding a filter, rating restrictions, or accountability software to your personal technology.

Related posts:

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Hope…When Least Expected

by Angela Lambert

woman at well

March 19th, 2017; 3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of John 4:5-42

 Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.— Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.  Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”

At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

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.

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 rationalize our choices.

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 awhile 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 were 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 through 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 there.
    • 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. You cannot 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.
  • Do an examination of conscience this week.  If possible, meet Christ in the sacrament of Confession.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Determined Discipleship

by Angela Lambert

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

March 5th, 2017; 9th First Sunday of Lent

Gospel Matthew 4:1-11

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

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 us will face, is with ourselves and the enemy loves to bite at our heels as we do.  Thus, Jesus prepares for His ministry by enduring all the temptations you and I experience, and overcoming them.

Satan first tempts 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 work day (especially when kids require discipline or help with homework)? How many opportunities do we miss because we would rather stay in our comfort zone?  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.

After 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 it’s discipleship, marriage, family, or work, many people give up when things get hard.  Our culture of instant gratification further softens our resolve, along with the false 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 alms-giving.  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.  Moved by love however, they eventually stopped trying to change Christ, and instead accepted Christ.  If we take time for Him, our love for Him will deepen, and we too will be more conformed to our Lord, and able to joyfully celebrate His final victory at the Resurrection on Easter.

Consider:

  • Which comforts or pleasures tempt you the most? Sleep, soda, alcohol, television, food, desserts, gossip, sports, 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 life.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning, begin with the prayer by St. 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 Lambert © 2017

* 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.