Love Beats the Deadline

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

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28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus often compares Heaven to a wedding feast. Weddings celebrate a sacred union in love of two persons. It means total gift of self and lifelong commitment.   Marriage best represents God’s invitation to relationship with us and His desire for mutual self-gift of mind, heart, and action.

God is both the almighty who existed before creation and exceeds our understanding, and the God Who sent His Son to become incarnate, walk the earth with us, and suffer and die for us. Even now His Holy Spirit dwells within us, and Christ is present to us in the Sacraments and His Mystical Body the Church. Moreover, our Trinitarian God has invited us through His Son into a participation of His self-giving love through a union akin to marriage.

Marriage begins with a wedding and weddings require enormous preparation – both for the event planning and for the relational development needed to become one. The Wedding of the Lamb, described in the book of Revelation, celebrates the fruit of this long process when our final union with Christ will become complete. Jesus has already opened the gates of Heaven for us and ascended there. For our part, our earthly pilgrimage from sinner to saint is our marriage prep. The kind of union the Trinitarian God intends for us is nothing short of total, relational, and loving. In consequence, our journey to the alter requires knowing Christ more deeply, trusting Him completely, and loving Him above all things. It means leaving behind our “single lives” for the gift of a shared life in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Weddings can be draining but when the day arrives it’s all worth it. Similarly, Revelation 19:7-9 describes the joy of our long- awaited union as well:

Let us rejoice and be glad
     and give him glory.
For the wedding day of the Lamb has come,
     his bride has made herself ready.
She was allowed to wear
     a bright, clean linen garment.
(The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.)
Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.”

Christ loves each and every person passionately. He pursues them, woos them, fights for them, and offers eternal union with Him in Heaven. In today’s Gospel however, He laments that not everyone says yes. They come up with excuses, put Him off, or avoid Him altogether. Eventually the door is shut. Harsh, you might say?

Jesus strikes at our complacency. We all too easily forget the gift of salvation, of our eternal destination, and our higher calling. The frenetic pace of life, the constant stream of tasks, or the allure of diversions become a dangerous siren call, singing that we are made for earth and we have all the time in the world.

However, every day we are one day closer to eternity. If we didn’t grow our love for the Lord, then we weakened it. Love needs ongoing nurturing. Relationships are work! Even a relationship with God.

Moreover, sometimes indecision is a decision. Deadlines are part of reality. If I stay undecided about my son playing basketball, eventually the registration closes. If I hem and haw about planning a family trip, eventually a year passes without travel and I have essentially said no. Lastly, if a couple is in a serious relationship of several years and one person drags his/her feet about marriage, eventually the other will need to move on from the relationship to find someone else to build a life with.

Thankfully Jesus waits patiently our entire life.  He reminds us today however, that death is the deadline. By that point we have said yes or no to the Lord and even our indecision reveals itself as a rejection of Christ.

But let’s not wait until the last moment.  I have heard people who put off kids, when they finally held their first in their arms say, “why did we wait so long?” Couples in love when they finally meet say “I wish I had met you sooner.” The more we love, the more we see how much greater it is than anything else we had previously thought to be more important. We will say the same of Christ – I wish I had let you in sooner.

We can ask ourselves, what holds us back from the wedding? What keeps me from union with the Lord? What do I need to do to prepare myself for this marriage? The King of Heaven and Earth has personally invited you. Drop everything, get dressed, and go!

Consider:

  • The Mass is a mystical participation in the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven.
    • What things or habits undermine getting to Mass or distract you during Mass?
      • Is it sleeping in, kids’ activities, running errands, going into work, exercising instead, watching news, or just relaxing?
    • What helps you enter more deeply into the Mass?
      • Getting to know the priest and parishioners so you feel more a part of the community, reading the Gospel ahead of time, learning about the Mass, participating as a musician, greeter, usher, or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, writing down key points from the homily?
  • Imagine you were to enter Heaven today.
    • What aspects of your heart and character would Jesus praise you for, as clothing you in garments for the king?
    • What vices or attitudes would He ask you to change in order to be properly dressed?
  • The lives of the saints illustrate the transformation possible with the grace of God.  Each began like you and me, but through relationship with Christ they were made perfectly ready for heaven by the end of their life. If you were to appear in a book of the Lives of the Saints, what would it say? Where would it begin, and how would you like it to end?
  • We cannot perfect ourselves, but we can cooperate with the grace of Christ and let Him purify our hearts.  Take a moment to offer a prayer of surrender the Lord. Offer to Him all your struggles, worries, imperfections, and desires.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Do one thing each day this week to prepare for the eternal wedding feast of heaven. Change out of one garment of vice or unforgiveness and put on a garment of virtue and love.  As St. Peter says:
Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. (I Peter 4:8)
  • Resolve to attend Mass every Sunday and make the necessary arrangements for that to happen.
  • Spend five minutes with Christ when you first wake up, midday, and in the evening. Invite Him into your life right where you are at that moment.
  • Read about the life of a saint. You could research a saint whose personality, experiences, or work is like yours. You could also just read about the saint of the day. Catholicculture.org gives a nice summary. Click on the tab “liturgical year” then select “today”.
  • Learn more about the Mass. Attend a “teaching Mass” where the priest explains each of the parts as he celebrates it. Read a book about the Mass. Read The Lamb’s Supper” by Scott Hahn which is about the relationship between the Mass and Heaven based on the book of Revelation.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Love Shows Up

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

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26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 21:28-32

Jesus knows us so well! How often do we pay lip service to God? How many spiritual goals and good intentions fall quickly by the wayside left undone? In the morning, the first words on our mind and lips should be an expression of gratitude to the Lord, entrusting the day to His care. Instead, we hit the snooze button and possibly let less godly words be the first on our lips. As the day progresses, opportunities arise at every moment to be at the service of the Lord. Do we embrace the tasks at hand and the duties before us, or do we try to avoid work and get by on minimal effort?

At the same time, if we hear God’s call, often it may seem outrageous at first, especially His insistence on forgiving others. God challenges us to live beyond our natural limits, to participate in His divine love.  Our first response may be no, but upon further reflection and with the softening effect of grace, we may rise to the challenge after all.

Inauthentic love disappoints. It makes big promises and grand plans only to fail to follow through on them. Real love acts. It proves itself by keeping promises, showing up, and responding to the needs of the beloved.

When St. Mother Teresa began her ministry to the poorest of the poor, she simply went out into the streets and showed up to comfort and aid those she met. For the children she found aimless and alone, she began to teach them by gathering them together and writing with a stick in the dirt. For the sick, she begged the pharmacist for medicine.  For the dying, she offered what comforts she could along with loving companionship. God grew the ministry; Mother Teresa simply went out into the vineyard each day to work.

Practical goals and intentional habits form a framework of love that infuses our day with charity. However, when we don’t know where to begin, Jesus reminds us to start by jut showing up when asked. It’s amazing how deep of an impression it can make.

When I consider who has touched my life, it has been those who laughed with me, shouldered burdens with me, encouraged me, or reached out in ordinary ways when I needed it. I remember when my mom chose to leave a law firm she enjoyed, so she could open her own and have more time available for her kids. It meant that despite the many responsibilities she had at her job every day, I could count on her to listen when I needed some advice, to cheer for me at school events, and to be there when I had a tough time. Even now as a grown adult, I can still count on my mom to show up no matter what.

Above all, the Lord shows up. He created our souls at the moment of our conception.   He became man, suffered and died on the Cross, and rose again for our salvation. His angels guide and protect us. His Mother intercedes for us. His very Spirit dwells within us as His Temple (1Corinthians 6:19). He is united to us as a Head to a body (Colossians 1:18), and as a vine to its branches (John 15:5).  God is always faithful.

“The LORD is my shepherd,
     there is nothing I lack” (Psalm 23:1)
“I will rejoice and be glad for thy steadfast love. 
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
     all you who wait for the LORD! (Psalm 31: 7, 24 RSV)
“Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.”
(Psalm 84:11)
“Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
     who seek him with all their hearts.” (Psalm 119:2)

Love is about showing up and being there for someone. Love for Christ answers yes to His call and shows up for prayer.

Love has the strength and perseverance to do the right thing even when it’s hard. It may not be glamorous, but following through on our daily duties, even if we resist at first, makes an eternal impression on God.

Consider:

  • How can you make yourself more available to God? How can you hear His call more acutely and act more faithfully?
    • In times of prayer – when, where, and how do you pray.  How much do you listen in prayer?
  • In the duties of family life – what do your spouse, children, or parents need from you?
  • In the duties of your work life – how might your work become more of an offering to God?
    • Ask God what He desires from you and spend a few minutes listening to Him.
    • Is He asking you for greater diligence, or do you need better boundaries on your work?
    • Is He asking you to reign in some of your conversations with co- workers, or is He asking you to make a greater effort at reaching out to them?
  • How do you respond to the work God asks of you each day?
    • What often derails you from following through with your commitments? Is it distractions, tiredness, apathy, fear…?
  • Reflect on the times God has shown up for you. When has He proven His faithfulness in a time of need?  What blessings has He showered upon you?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • The Psalms sing God’s praises, especially of His faithful love. Pray one Psalm in the morning, one midday at lunch, and one at night.
  • Identify one thing you have said “no” to God about and do it today.
  • A great resource for learning to hear God’s voice is St. Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment. Fr. Timothy Gallagher has an excellent podcast series explaining each one and giving practical examples.  You can listen to them HERE
  • I also recommend the spiritual classic, The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence. It’s a small, thin book but a little goes a long way.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Following the Leader: Christian Discipleship and Leadership

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

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21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 16: 13-20

Generally speaking, our culture loathes the word “authority.” It appears to undermine our values of autonomy, self- expression, independence, and freedom.  Moreover, the idea of monarch-rule seems archaic and undemocratic. In consequence, our cultural norms and assumptions can hinder our understanding and appreciation of the Kingdom of God.

God’s Chosen People first became a kingdom under Saul, then famously David. David’s authority however came from God. He was chosen by God and anointed king by God’s prophet Samuel. In addition, David’s success as a leader corresponded with his fidelity to the Lord.

The Kingdom of Israel served as a glimpse or foreshadowing of the Kingdom Jesus would establish. However Jesus, the New David, did not begin His reign by assigning authoritative positions to protect the physical security of His people, lands, and finances. Instead, He assigned authority to leaders He wished to protect the souls of His people, the Truth He came to reveal, and the path He opened for our salvation. These positions he assigned to Peter, the first pope and His steward/vicar on earth, and the twelve apostles and their successors the bishops.

The Pope, like David, is a human being. This means he will falter at times, sin, and struggle with human limitations. We must be careful however, not to project our cultural norm on our understanding of his role. Our leaders our voted upon to represent our views. They operate at a natural human level, with the responsibility to protect our physical security, rights, lands, and commerce. The Pope’s position, begun with Peter, has a different role. Christ chose Peter. Christ bestowed His authority upon Peter to be Christ’s representative, not the representative of popular opinion. Lastly, no matter what the pope’s natural gifts or limitations may be, the Holy Spirit empowered Peter and his successors to always be able to answer questions about the divinely revealed faith with certainty of truth by supernaturally empowering them to discern correctly answers about Christ. The first controversial question is recorded in Acts of the Apostles. The apostles held a council to address the question of whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised along with baptism or not. Peter was given the grace by Christ to know the answer was no to circumcision.

Moreover, the Pope is called to shepherd people on the way to salvation which means he also has the authority to make rules for His spiritual children that he believes will be important for their development. This resembles a family structure more so than a political one. I am grateful to God to live in our democracy. In my opinion, despite its flaws, it’s still the best, and most free, country in the world. Nevertheless, I don’t run my family like a democracy. If decisions were made by vote we would eat doughnuts every morning, live way outside our means, and discipline would devolve to mob rule.  Much to my children’s chagrin, our family is run as a monarchy. Though they push against the rules, we have much more peace, justice, and love as a result. In this monarchy, God is our king, and my husband and I are His stewards.

At times, my kids have accused me of being either overly strict or overly protective when I said no to something they wanted to do. To encourage me to soften, they would make life difficult for me, then add “no one really cares Mom, it’s not that big of a deal.” Even though I felt for them, and in a secular culture what they said was true, I also knew I had to hold the line because, at the end of the day, I would be held responsible before God.  So, I often respond to them, “I have to do what’s right for you, because it’s my responsibility and I will have to answer to God one day.” And when I fail to hold the line, and am a weak parent, I ask God for forgiveness and the grace to be stronger.

So, contrary to our cultural norms and assumptions, I have seemingly Medieval parenting methods to my children.  Yet, as parents we all know that raising kids to be mature adults is different than running a nation-state. Kids need us to exercise our authority, especially in decisions that they are too young to make. We are in a better position to discern what is safe from what is too risky, truth from lie, and wisdom from folly. Of course, unlike Christ we are not all-knowing, so oftentimes we need the Holy Spirit to guide us in our position and enable  us by His grace to make the right choices.

Discipleship means that Christ is our king. We can embrace this monarchy because our king is also our loving, self- sacrificing, and divine Savior.  As king, He chose to bestow His authority upon some of His subjects to govern for Him on earth and promised to safeguard it until the end of the world.

Upon Peter, and every pope thereafter, He bestowed the authority to say who Christ is, and gave them the supernatural ability to be correct. The role of pope is to preserve, protect, and promulgate the Deposit of Faith given by Christ. In addition, when confusion over Christ’s revelation occurs, for the sake of unity someone must be the authority that determines which response is correct and which is false. During the first councils of the early church the question of whether Jesus is God, Man, or both was a long, heated, argument. If determined as a vote, our doctrine would be that of Arius’ interpretation – Jesus was only a man but the highest possible one.  The pope recognized Athanasius’ response as the true one – that Jesus is both God and man.

In the vocation of marriage, Jesus bestows His authority on mothers and fathers over their children. Thus, as children we have an obligation to obey our parents. And as parents, we have the responsibility of exercising our authority in a Christian manner.  It’s not always easy.  When kids are fighting I would rather just yell “stop bickering” (which is never really effective), than get up, intervene, and if necessary, impose consequences for bad behavior. Crafting Christian rules takes time and effort, both of which are in short supply. Enforcing the rules with appropriate consequences means suffering the rebuffs and anger of resistant kids. As kids get older, knowing what decision to make in given circumstances becomes even more difficult.  They require even more prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, we can find peace and confidence in our divine monarch, Jesus Christ. He reigns in our souls with supernatural power and grace.  Despite our natural limitations, He transforms us into one Body, one family in God. His Holy Spirit guides us – enlightening our minds, strengthening our wills, and inflaming our hearts with love. Our unity in Christ can be seen visibly in the family and in the Church. Our trust is not in ourselves, but in Him who enables us to complete the mission He entrusted to us.

Consider:

  • To what extent does Jesus reign in your heart and in your life? When do you let Him lead, and when do you resist His commands?
  • Our culture tends to value being a leader over a follower. How does this influence our discipleship? Do we value being followers or wish only to lead?
  • In what ways has Christ appointed you His steward? In your vocation – who has He entrusted to your care? In your occupation – who or what has He entrusted to you and what fruit do you think He expects to see from it? In His Creation – what does He ask of you for its care?
  • How do you respond to the authority of Christ’s vicar on earth, the pope? Do you accept his guidance on matters of faith and morals, or do you resist? Is your faith strong enough to see not just the human, visible reality of the Church, but the divine, invisible reality as well? What has made this either easier or harder for you?
  • Consider the relationship between authority and unity. How are the two related and necessary?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • If there’s a teaching of the faith that you presently ignore, begin practicing it instead and try to learn more about why the Church teaches it.
  • Each morning look ahead at the day. Invite Christ to lead you in each aspect, and for the grace to follow. Even if you are called to lead others, let Christ lead you first.
    • Examples:
      • If you make a to-do list at work or home, prayerfully consider first how Christ would prioritize the items rather than how you want to prioritize them.
      • What expectations would Christ want to see in your family? Are there any that need greater implementation?
      • What expectations does Christ have for you at work? Do you honor Him by respectful, honest, and edifying language, free from vulgarity or slander? Do you honor Him in action through diligence in your work and mercy towards your co- workers?
  • Pray the Suscipe prayer by St. Ignatius or the Serenity Prayer.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone & Walking on Water

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19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33

Exhilaration, adventure, a leap of faith – we get brave and step out onto the water…outside our comfort zone. For a brief moment, his eyes fixed on Jesus, Peter did just that. Then, a gust of wind distracted him, and Peter’s gaze turned to the strength of the wind rather than the strength of the Lord. His faith sank and so did he.  Yet, as quickly as he had turned from the Lord, he turned right back. He immediately reached out to Christ for help.  Jesus did not delay, He caught Peter as soon as he asked. Jesus didn’t let Peter flounder in the water gasping for air as He lectured him. He cast no words of spite, no “I told you so”, or “that’s what you get for not believing in Me more.” Jesus came to reveal the Father’s love, and on this night He demonstrated the Lord’s compassionate mercy for our weak nature.

petersinking

Discipleship calls us beyond our comfort zone, and even beyond our natural limits. Yoked to Christ, He enables us to walk on water. Like Peter, we might step out of the boat in total confidence in our Lord. Once on the water however, we become fearful as we realize our total dependence on His supernatural help. It’s much easier to have faith floating on the water in a boat, than walking on water barefoot.

I remember the excitement of getting my first teaching job, and the enthusiasm of teaching students about God. Then, the first day of class arrived and panic struck. “Yikes!” I thought, “How I am I going to get through the day? What I am I going to say for a whole class period?! What if a student misbehaves? What if I’m a terrible teacher?…”  I also remember the joy of holding my first child in my arms the day he was born. It was absolutely surreal. Two days later the nurse walked us out to the car and waved goodbye.  As we put my son in the car seat and drove away anxiety erupted, “They’re just letting us take him?!  We don’t know anything! What if I’m a terrible mother? What if I say or do something that scars him for life?!…” Lastly, when I do speaking engagements or workshops, I’m exhilarated at the opportunity to share the joy of God’s saving love with others. A half hour before the talk however, worried thoughts begin to percolate up, “Why did I agree to do this? It would be far more comfortable to be at home watching Netflix. What if I fail? What if everyone is bored? Who am I to do this, I’m a sinner like everyone else?”  Like Peter, I begin to sink but then I cry out to the Jesus. He reminds me that I teach, mother, and speak because He has called me to.  He assures me that though I am not worthy, He is, and He is with me. He also pushes me by filling my heart with so much gratitude for His love in my life that I can’t resist sharing it with others.

The challenge of discipleship is living at a level only sustainable if Christ and His grace is real. It requires taking a risk, so much so that if Christ is not real, you would be at a loss. Consider how many times God tells us in Scripture to be not afraid. Pope St. John Paul II chose these words for his first statement as Pope, knowing how much we fear as we look around at the dangers that surround us.

When I begin to sink in fear a few verses come to mind that strengthen me.  First, I think of 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

“Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”

St. Paul felt too weak to face a challenge on his own. Rather than remove the difficulty, Jesus promised to provide the strength. St. Paul realized therefore, that the weaker he is, the more God’s power must be at work in him to accomplish God’s will. He moved from anxiety to total confidence, and writes in his letter to the Philippians 4:13,

“I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me”

We can trust Jesus to come through for us.  We can answer His call, even if it means going beyond our natural limits. When we struggle to take that leap of faith beyond our comfort zone, Christ urges us to simply reach out and He will be there for us as He was for Peter.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” Matthew 7:7

Ask, seek, knock, and you just might walk on water.

Consider:

  • How has following Christ stretched you beyond what you expected?
  • When has Christ made an endeavor more fruitful than it would have been by your own merits?
  • Have you ever felt like Peter, walking on water, in awe of Christ’s divine power?
  • Have you ever faltered because of fear, worry, or anxiety?
  • What Scripture verses or memories reassure you of Christ’s aid?
  • Is Christ calling you to something outside your comfort zone right now? What holds you back? What inspires you forward?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Take one risk each day for your faith.
    • Ideas: Inviting your spouse to pray together, praying as a family, saying “God bless” to someone on the phone or a at work, speaking up when someone is criticizing the Church or using God’s name in vain, sharing your faith with someone in need of comfort, going to the Sacrament of Confession, responding to God’s call in your vocation or job…

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Tunnel Vision

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

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17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus’ parables illustrate the attitude of people who have discovered the treasure of life with God. To be a citizen in His kingdom, a son or daughter of this good Father, is worth trading everything for. Both the landowner and the merchant shrewdly went all-in for this investment, knowing it was a sure bet and incomparably more valuable than anything else that they owned.

Discovering the love of Jesus Christ, experiencing His liberating grace and forgiveness, is an incredible feeling. It overwhelms a person with joy. Yes, Jesus’ kingdom has laws. He says, if you love me then follow my commands. But His commands are the way of love and the way of living to the highest degree of your dignity and will lead you to the fullness of your development.

On the one hand, we hate rules in our culture. We balk at phrases like “submission to authority” and only like a monarchy for the glamorous magazine photos, not as a political system. Our democratic ideals, although a fruit of our Christian heritage, can also color our vision of faith in a negative way. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy because it’s not akin to a political system governing equals, but rather a family governed by our Heavenly Father who has appointed His Son as king. God has revealed the laws of His kingdom, both through the natural moral law, and the divinely revealed law through Moses and through Jesus. We may resist the faith as an imposition of rules to control us, but it would be to assume those rules were imposed arbitrarily by someone without the right authority and for their own personal interest or gain.  However, God’s laws are at the heart and foundation of creation. He revealed the ultimate science behind our human nature and the instructions for how to flourish. Our adolescent view of our Father’s rules changes when we mature in the faith and realize His wisdom and His benevolence.

So, what must we sell to buy this field or this pearl, this “treasury of truth” as St. Augustine called it? We must relinquish anything that would edge out Christ or drain our spiritual resources. If we delight in the law of the Lord, as the Psalms often repeat, how can we meditate on them if media edges out our time for prayer?  If we wish to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us, how can we see their needs and humbly serve them if our busy schedules consume our thoughts and actions? How can we enjoy the fruits of purity if we are stuck in the mud of lust?  How can we enjoy fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ if we can’t let go of being overly competitive, cynical, or unforgiving?

We must say no to lesser treasures, to possess the greatest treasure. Without love this seems too much, similar to a single person who can’t imagine being tied down to one person their whole life, until they meet that person and suddenly they can’t wait. St. Augustine famously observed:

“Two cities, then, have been created by two loves: that is, the earthly by love of self extending even to contempt of God, and the heavenly by love of God extending to contempt of self. The one, therefore, glories in itself, the other in the Lord; the one seeks glory from men, the other finds its highest glory in God, the Witness of our conscience.”

Praise be to God that Jesus has cast His net to the whole world, inviting every single person into His kingdom. He has no immigration caps or limits. In the end, those who want to enter may, and those who do not may not. Love is total and generous. As a couple approaches marriage, they move from individual lives to a shared life. In their marriage vows they don’t parse percentages; they vow a gift of their whole selves for their whole lives together.  Christ has offered us His perfect love, total and sacrificial. The only proper response is joy, gratitude, and a reciprocal gift of self. You see this joyful abandonment expressed in the life of every saint, beginning with the disciples who “left everything and followed Him” (Luke 5:11).

Consider:

  • When have you experienced the joy described in these parables? When have you experienced the value of faith in Christ?
  • What have you had to sacrifice to follow Christ and to love as He loves? Is there anything presently that competes with your discipleship?
  • Consider the difference between a democracy and a monarchy. How is God’s kingdom different than our own governments? How does it resemble family structure?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Tell one person about a time you experienced Christ and felt tremendous joy.
  • Make a list of your daily and weekly tasks and goals. Look over them and prioritize them in light of the Gospel.
  • Pray a Psalm each day. They are prayers filled with praise and trust.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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The Better Deal

March 27th, 2020

Today’s first reading from Wisdom 2:21-22,  reminds me of a quote by C.S. Lewis in his famous essay The Weight of Glory.  Both point to the truth repeated by every saint to us who wrestle with giving so much up for God – you feel like you are losing something but in fact you are being freed to receive so much more.

The crux of the problem is that we can’t understand the difference until we experience it, and we can’t experience it without making that leap of faith.  Thus Jesus says, “Come and see” . But to follow Jesus, we must leave our present location – it requires a movement and a decision.  When tempted to remain in the lesser pleasures we know, reflect on the deeper pleasures offered by God; or has Lewis puts it – exchange the mud pies for a beach vacation!

Wisdom 2:21-22

These were their thoughts, but they erred;
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they knew not the hidden counsels of God;
neither did they count on a recompense of holiness
nor discern the innocent souls’ reward. 

C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory

It would seem Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.  We are too easily pleased.”

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2020

Stating the Facts & Facing the Conclusions

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4th Sunday of Lent

Gospel of John 9:1-41 

Meditation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Determined Discipleship

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1st Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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

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5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:13-16

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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~ Written by Angela M. Jendro © 2019

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The Relevance of Ritual

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Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Gospel of Luke 2:22-40

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

Presentation of Jesus_Fra_Bartolomeo_Wikimedia

Fra Bartolomeo Wikimedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

©Angela M Jendro 2019

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