Tunnel Vision

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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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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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The Universal Search for God

Feast of the Ephiphany

Take Time For Him Book cover

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life (click to order your own copy from Amazon!  Remember to rate it and leave a review!)

Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12

Meditation Reflection:

Epiphany means “the manifestation of the divine.” God manifested the 350px-Edward_Burne-Jones_-_The_Adoration_of_the_Magi_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgSavior to the world: from the poor Jewish shepherds to the wise Magi from the East. All human persons seek God, whether they call their search one for the divine or not. It may begin as a movement toward God’s Goodness through the conscience, toward His Truth through the pursuit of wisdom, or toward His Beauty through captivation by His creation or art. It may be through a search for meaning or to answer the tug at the heart that whispers “there’s more to life than this.”

Even those who deny God’s existence, still witness to the reality of the spiritual world. Our pets don’t ponder, and they don’t wrestle with questions about whether God exists. Those who develop a direct antagonism for religion expressed in a defiant atheism, still reveal that they have grappled with the search, a search that requires spiritual pondering, evidenced by their conclusion. In addition, true atheism expresses a negative despair, rather than a fulfillment of life or joy. If God’s nonexistence were true, shouldn’t it satiate our nature rather than leaving us feeling depressed? If we are merely animals, shouldn’t we be content with food, security, and a nap? Why even address the question at all? And yet we are not content with the same things as our pets and we all experience this question in our hearts.

On the other hand, those who seemingly ignore the search due to idling in the superficial pleasures of the world, also reveal something of the human person’s natural inclination toward God. If a child shirked healthy food and exercise in favor of foods that pleasure the palette and sedentary entertainment, his body’s natural development would be harmed, evidenced by less development than normal and increased sickness. Similarly, those who neglect the healthy development of the soul suffer similar emotional and spiritual deformation, which evidences the reality of the soul and its needs.

The birth of Christ fulfilled the desire of all humankind. God created us with the capacity for love, destined for eternal life, and union with the divine. The Jews tasted this through His revelation in the Old Covenant and His many signs and miracles. The Gentiles also sensed this through their observations of creation and philosophy. As a result, the Jewish shepherds learned of Christ’s birth by the appearance of angels, and the magi from the East learned of Him through sighting a new star. Although the journey may begin in different places and a person may traverse by different means, nevertheless, all converge on Christ.

In addition to the universal search for God, humankind evidences a universal desire for redemption. Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman noted that we sense the eternal law in our conscience, as well as the pang of guilt for transgressing that law so many times and the feeling of helplessness to be able to perfect ourselves. For instance, we look to psychology, television, news, science, and nutrition, to discover the explanation as to why we do what we know we should not do. After finding an explanation we seek the cure – again through self-help guides or better diet. And yet we continue to feel guilt and unrest. We continue in behaviors we know are self-destructive and negative. We need a savior.

False gods and false prophets have always offered easy cures in exchange for their own personal gain, but those quick fixes always came up short. Similar to marketing scams, they do more to manipulate the person’s wound rather than heal it.

Christ operates differently. He received no personal gain, but instead He came poor and died poor. He lived a hidden life for thirty years and avoided vainglory by never staying too long in one place during His public ministry and often commanding those He healed to tell no one. Rather than lengthen His life, it was shortened. He proved on the Cross that He did not come to take from us, but to give selflessly and unconditionally to us.

“For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

Jesus is the Savior we yearn for and there is no gimmick. He did not come to manipulate; He did not offer false hopes or promises. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, who offers pure, loving, relationship. He alone satiates our search and nourishes our development. The magi searched for God and found Him. Jesus promises us as well, that all who seek Him shall find Him. Hopefully we, like the Magi, can have the courage to venture out in search of the Lord. Contemplating this mystery, Blessed Archbishop Fulton Sheen observed “No one who ever meets Christ with a good will returns the same way he came”.

Consider:

  • Reflect on your journey to God. What “pointed” you toward Him, like the star did for the Magi?
  • Has your search for God grown lax at times? How did your spiritual life atrophy afterward?
  • How might you reinvigorate your search for God? Could you increase your search through prayer, reading of Scripture, studying the faith, or fellowship with friends of faith?
  • Consider the gift of our savior. How has Christ freed and healed you? What do you need Him to free you from, or heal you of today?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way to reinvigorate your search for God
    • Ideas: Read a chapter of a Gospel each day; Read a book about Christ by an inspiring author, make time to visit with a Christian friend about the Lord, join a Bible study, read the lives of the saints and learn from their pursuit of Christ, talk with your family about Christ…

Additional Recommendations for Spiritual Reading:

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Joseph’s Steady Leadership When Faced With “It’s Complicated”

4th Sunday of Advent

Take Time For Him Book cover

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life (click to order your own copy from Amazon!  Remember to rate it and leave a review!)

Gospel of Matthew 1:18-24

Meditation Reflection:

Immanuel: God-with-us! We no longer must suffer alone, weak and afraid. The Lord has come and brought with Him the comfort, strength, and peace of His holy presence dwelling in our souls and working in the world with His transforming grace.

We experience something of this peace and strength in family life. Being with our parents makes us feel secure HolyFamilybyGutierrez_wikipediaand protected. Being with our children brings us joy and comfort. The Holy Family experienced this at a supernatural level through Christ and have extended an invitation into their family as spiritual sons and daughters. Jesus’ saving work began with the cooperation of Mary and Joseph. Mary’s fiat, her “yes”, made the Incarnation possible and therefore the redemption of all mankind. Joseph’s fiat, his “yes”, made the Holy Family possible.

Joseph acted on faith when He accepted the role of earthly father over Jesus despite the surprising and shocking form in which He was conceived. His decision to take Jesus and Mary into his home and make them His own family was the fruit of God’s grace in concert with his virtues. This required serious discernment and prayer, both of which he models for all Christians.

Joseph was a just, or righteous man. This does not mean he was without sin whatsoever, but it did mean he consistently strove for virtue, followed the Mosaic Law, and lived his faith. Early Christian writings not included in the Bible, such as the Protoevangelium of James, indicate that Mary’s parents consecrated her to God and so she would serve God in the temple and take a vow of virginity. As a result, she grew up in the Temple from the age of 3 until she was of marrying age. It was a Jewish practice that at that point she would be entrusted to the care of a guardian who would protect her and would respect her vow of virginity by taking a vow of celibacy himself. Oftentimes this would be a man who was older and widowed. Some think this explains why Joseph had died by the time of Jesus’ public ministry. According to the Protoevangelium of James, from among the men who wished to take Mary as their wife, Joseph was chosen as Mary’s husband by a miraculous sign. After such a holy betrothal, imagine his surprise, confusion, and disillusionment, when he learned she was pregnant before they lived together in marriage. His response to the situation is so admirable, strong, and level- headed. He’s a model for anyone who must make difficult decisions in complicated and emotional situations.

Let’s examine what he did. Joseph made a prudent decision, based on who he was and his faith. Purity and honor being important virtues, he decided he could not take her into his home as his wife. (At the time, betrothal was a solemn contract with the weight of marriage but preceded living together as husband and wife). At the same time, he was a compassionate and merciful man. Matthew tells us Joseph was “unwilling” to expose her to shame. I imagine he had plenty of men and women urging him to exact the full measure of the Jewish law against her, to publicly humiliate her, and to get sweet revenge for embarrassing him. Joseph would not. He was unwilling. Joseph made an intentional decision to do the right thing, quietly. In the RSV translation, it says he “resolved to send her away quietly.” To be resolved indicates a decision made with prudence, strength of will, and determination, intentionally detached from pettiness and emotion.

Joseph focused on how to thoughtfully and prayerfully do the next right thing. Because of this, God guided his discernment. The RSV translation says, “But as he considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him”. The word “considered” is important. The spiritual life is ultimately one of love, fidelity, and receptivity. We are followers of God, not leaders of God. God guided Joseph’s considerations for his family, just as God guides every father who will invite the Lord into his discernment. When God spoke, Joseph faithfully and lovingly followed through with God’s will.

Immanuel: God-with-us. How might we as mothers and fathers invite God to be with us in our families and our decision-making? How might we say yes to the Father and welcome His Son? How might we accept the family that God has entrusted to us, rather than the one we imagine for ourselves? God works in surprising and shocking ways. This Advent, taking a moment to consider who we are and what we believe, may St. Joseph pray for us to have the kind of steady and faith-filled approach to life’s complications that he did.

Consider:

  • Joseph’s yes made it possible for Jesus to have a family. Consider what a gift it was for him to grow up with Mary as His mom and Joseph as His foster-father.
  • Consider Joseph’s prayerful leadership. How might you imitate St. Joseph’s discernment in your own life?
  • Do you take time to “consider” things and “resolve” to follow through?
    • What things, habits, or people undermine that, urging you to react immediately and emotionally?
    • What things, habits, or people could help you develop deeper consideration and stronger resolve?
  • Ask Joseph to lead you and your family, as He did for Jesus and Mary. Pray for his protection, guidance, and love.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Teresa of Avila and numerous other saints recommend devotion to St. Joseph and credit his powerful intercession for answers to their prayers. I too can attest to this from my own life. This week ask St. Joseph to pray for you and for your family.
  • Do you know someone who is like St. Joseph? Spend more time with that person and learn from his example. Take him to coffee and ask him lots of questions and take his advice.
  • Surrender a complicated decision to the Lord in quiet prayer. Consider who you are, what our Christian faith says about the situation, and resolve to do the next right thing with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Additional Recommendations for Spiritual Reading:

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The Man Who Changed the World, And Can Change Me

3rd Sunday of Advent

Take Time For Him Book cover

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life (click to order your own copy from Amazon!  Remember to rate it and leave a review!)

Gospel of Matthew 11:2-11

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus is the Christ for all mankind, and His coming marks the very climax and axis of history; everything prior had been preparing for this moment, and everything after would be altered – transformed by His liberating grace. Blessed Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his book Life of Christ, observed:

“What separates Christ from all men is that first he was expected…A second distinguishing fact is that once he appeared, he struck history with such impact that he split it in two, dividing it into two periods: one before his coming, the other after it. Buddha did not do this, nor any of the great Indian philosophers.   Even those who deny God must date their attacks upon Him, A.D. so and so, or so many years after His coming.”

Jesus was expected. In addition to the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament (all which Jesus fulfilled, a statistical near impossibility), Archbishop Sheen further asserts that prophecies pointing to Christ can also be discerned from the Romans, Greeks, and even the Chinese. Sheen explains the logic behind this universal prescience:

Automobile manufacturers tell their customers when to expect a new model. If God sent anyone from Himself, or if He came Himself with a vitally important message for all men, it would seem reasonable that He would first let men know when His messenger was coming, where He would be born, where He would live, the doctrine He would teach…

In consequence, when John the Baptist sent his followers to inquire of Jesus as to whether He was the awaited Messiah, Jesus responded by citing His works, which even at the beginning of His public ministry, already fulfilled a host of long-awaited prophecies.

John the Baptist is considered the last of the Old Testament prophets. “Testament” means “Covenant” and John represents the fullness of God’s covenant with Israel, at its height and its end. This end, however, was not an eradication but rather a new beginning. Jesus made this clear when He said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). John’s mission to prepare the way for the messiah also prepared the way for the New Covenant, one which fulfills and exceeds the Old to such an extent that the “least in the kingdom of heaven” will exceed the “greatest” in the old.

Up to this point, since the Fall of Adam and Eve, all of humanity suffered under the weight of sin, guilt, discord, injustice, flight from God, failure, and death. God’s preparation took time and patience to ready the human heart to receive His incarnate Son. God began small but personal. He began by initiating a relationship with one man, Abraham, and his family. Through that relationship, God revealed key aspects of His character – His truthfulness, fidelity, power, and love. Later, God formed Abraham’s descendants into a nation when He freed them from slavery in Egypt to be a free people, gave them a mighty prophet and leader – Moses, Laws to govern them – written by the finger of God, and the promised land where they could nurture their hope for a new garden of paradise. Finally, God allowed them to become a formal kingdom and promised a man from the line of king David would always be on their throne. Nevertheless, even the chosen people of God had to struggle along without the aid of supernatural grace. They knew the law and yet failed to follow it. They knew where to find happiness yet chased after futile and false pleasures. Their unified kingdom split and eventually their sin caused them to be conquered and scattered by foreign invaders.

With the incarnation of Christ, the painful wait for a redeemer had finally come to an end. The angels could sing at His birth,

Glory to God in the highest,

     and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

As Isaiah prophesied:

The people who walked in darkness

     have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1),

and Jesus proclaimed of Himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). With the advent of Christ came the advent of grace and the possibility of transformation, strengthening, and healing. Now every person can confidently face the trials of life. St. Paul boldly testifies from his own experience, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, RSV).

Being the light of the world is no small thing. We rely on it more than we realize. For example, at my son’s basketball tournament one day, the lights in the entire complex went out. At first the deafening noise became instantly silenced as we all felt startled. Within seconds however, iPhone flashlights lit up the gymnasium and kids began laughing, chatting, and shooting hoops while they waited. I grew up in a time before iPhone flashlights, when sudden darkness meant an indeterminate amount of time searching for a source of light, hoping someone had a lighter or flashlight stored somewhere. Whereas I felt a bit unnerved when the gymnasium went dark, the kids weren’t all that worried because their fears were instantly assuaged. Kids today experience a blessed security by always having a light source on them and around them constantly. I thought of the gift of Christ’s light within us, which even though it’s often taken for granted, it still provides an underlying sense of peace and security as it permeates our culture and our consciousness. Prior to Christ, like prior to the iPhone, that light was more difficult to come by and less stable.

We are beyond blessed to be living “in the year of the Lord” (Anno Domini, or A.D.). We live in an age of grace where Christ has made possible the forgiveness of our sins, peace in our souls, and the sight of God Himself, made visible in His Son.

Christ has come, and it has changed everything. This is why belief in Christ, as the Son of God made man, our Redeemer, has endured for over 2,000 years and persuaded peoples over the entire earth in every culture. Jesus changes us and we are witnesses to it.

Consider:

  • How has Jesus changed your life? In what way(s) are you different now than before?
  • Consider the impact Christ has had on the world. Reflect on His power to transform hearts, minds, and lives in every place and in every
  • Reflect on Christ being the Light of the World. Consider how light provides sight, warmth, peace, and protection.
  • Jesus, the Word of God through Whom all things were made, is also man. He is related to all of us as our brother.
  • Consider how the most important moment in history hinged on the “yes” of Mary.
  • Consider the things God has done through you because of your “yes” to Him.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, share the gift of Christ’s light with another person. It can be through word or deed. (remember the works of mercy)
  • Pray and work for the conversion of someone you know. Pray for Christ to enter his or her life and to change it

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