Begin Again: New Year’s Resolutions for the New Liturgical Year

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual LifeTake Time For Him Book cover by Angela M. Jendro © 2019. Available on Amazon.  Order your own copy!

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First Sunday of Advent

Gospel of Matthew 24:37-44

Meditation Reflection:

Advent marks the beginning of a new year (liturgically speaking). We pause to praise God that we made it through last year on the wings of His grace, and to begin anew for the next. A lot can happen in a year, so we need to re-center ourselves in the Lord, to ground ourselves in His love, His strength, His Wisdom, and His peace. Yoked to Christ, we will be able to embrace unexpected joys and successes with humble gratitude and persevere through sorrows and failures without fear.

In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, Advent also provides the opportunity for Christians to step back, evaluate their lives, and make renewed goals for personal growth. Like most resolutions, we hope to imbue the next year with deeper meaning and healthier living (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). We can’t know when our lives will end or when Christ will come again, but we can be our best selves when it does and try to live with as few regrets as possible.

So how do we do this, especially in our complicated and fast- paced culture? Where do we even begin and what steps can we take? To start, we absolutely MUST make following Christ our first and highest priority. Jesus assures us in Matthew 6:33 that if we “seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness”, everything else will fall into place. The first habit we need to make, is turning to Christ EVERY day and to develop the ability to “Practice the Presence of God”i as Brother Lawrence famously termed it. It’s human nature to grow lax over time and most of us can’t avoid being overwhelmed periodically by daily life. In these moments, when we need prayer the most, it’s usually the first to be neglected. Instead, in your stress, make your prayer the rock that soothes your anxiety or sadness, that calms your anger, and dispels the clouds of confusion. By the same token, during times of success and feelings of happiness, we can easily be distracted from our connection to Christ or our underlying need for Him. Instead, rejoice with Christ, let Him share your joy especially since He was instrumental in achieving it. These annual pauses can reorient us in a positive way if we use our triumphs and our failures as fuel for richer discipleship.

Although goals need to be tailored to the individual, they endure the longest and bear the most fruit if done in community. For example, last year during faculty workshops leading up to the start of school (I’m a middle and high school teacher), a colleague and I decided to go for a walk during our lunch break each day. We lamented that our healthy summer living would be quickly replaced by the frenetic schedule of the school year and our summer habits of regular exercise would fade away leaving us tired and downcast. We resolved to walk together for an hour once a week after school. Plenty of reasons presented themselves every week to cancel the walk, but we stuck to our priority of that small bit of exercise (and friendship and spiritual conversation) together. This was the baby step that kept me in the habit each week and soon I added another day of exercise on my own. Not long after, a friend told me about an opportunity for a family gym membership that was affordable and a good way for our kids to burn off energy together.   When school began the following year, I smiled as I didn’t have to complain to my colleague about the impending physical atrophy and stress. Instead I felt amazing knowing I had been able to develop a much healthier balance in my life and knew I could take care of myself and keep up at work and home.

Like our bodies, our spiritual lives have a tremendous ability to bounce back with a little determination and perseverance. It’s tempting to look back with nostalgia at our previous achievements and make excuses for our current atrophy. Instead, find a friend and make a small, achievable goal to reinvigorate your spiritual life. Over the course of the year, similar to exercise, it will begin to bear greater and greater fruit, spurring you on to take more steps toward spiritual health and endurance. What sometimes begins as feeling laborious and painful eventually becomes something that feels so good you look forward to it and find ways to increase it.

Begin with the basics – go to Mass EVERY Sunday. No excuses. (Unless you are seriously ill of course). My kids and I have a tradition of getting doughnuts afterward to celebrate Sunday. As they’ve gotten older doughnuts are sometimes replaced with McDonald’s breakfast or as teens a mocha latte fun coffee drink. Whatever the treat, find a way to keep the celebration of Christ at Mass going afterward.

Pray, EVERY day. Start with saying thank you. Praise God and consider His goodness and greatness. Next, be honest with God about the day ahead and the help you will need to radiate Christ in the situations you will be in. Finally, intercede for others. Consider the needs of those around you, especially your family and people at work. Ask God for his help. Decide ahead of time when this conversation with God will take place. Know yourself and be realistic. For instance, as much as I wish I could end my day with prayer, as soon as I remotely begin to relax, I immediately fall asleep. I’ve considered a midday prayer, but I get distracted by everything in the day. However, when my kids were infants and toddlers, midday during their nap time was the only chance I had for scheduled time with God. Now that my kids are older and I am back at work, I choose morning to pray, when my mind is clear, and I can enjoy a cup of coffee with the Lord. Once I got into this habit however, it was so fruitful I yearned for more time with the Lord but struggled to get up earlier; the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak (cf. Matthew 26:41). So, when day light savings time began and I had to adjust my body to staying up later and getting up later, I decided to stay on the same schedule instead and the extra time for prayer was immediately available!

Next step, read a spiritual book about the faith. Unlike fiction or pop culture, spiritual books are best read a few pages at a time and may take a year or more to complete. A good book about the faith should inspire a movement of love and reflection in your heart and spur contemplation. Don’t get caught up in the progress of pages as much as the progress of personal transformation.

Praying with Scripture is always a great idea. You could read through a book of the bible, especially the Gospels, a chapter or so at a time. You could also read the daily readings for the Mass and reflect on the Gospel of the day. I find tremendous divine providence in these passages. You can go to usccb.org and click on the calendar on the right-hand side of the page to see the readings for the day. You could also pray with the psalms or even pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

Finally, if possible, try to set aside 5 minutes of silence with the Lord into your day. Lots of distractions will fill your mind but gently push them away and try to make 5 minutes of space for being in the presence of the Lord and listening.

Personally, I like to end prayer with 5 minutes of silence. I set a timer on my phone so I don’t have to check the clock. Other times, spiritual reading moves my heart and I pause in the middle of it for the 5 minutes.

Like building any new habit, you will have to make your own prudential decisions about what merits exceptions, versus the slippery slope of letting other things edge out your time with God. I have experienced both. For instance, when I would pray during my kids’ nap time I often felt pulled by the long list of things that needed to get done. I could easily excuse skipping prayer for doing dishes or cleaning up by considering my work as prayer. Although our work is prayerful if offered to God, actual time alone with the Lord is irreplaceable and a higher priority. On the other hand, I have also encountered situations where I was up all night with sick kids or unavoidable extra work at my job or in works of mercy that presented themselves. On those mornings I sometimes had to cut into my prayer time to get the necessary sleep I knew I needed to function for the Lord the next day. I try to be prayerfully prudent though to make sure I’m not letting other things come before prayer and try to say no to things that would interfere. Even on mornings I get a little extra sleep I make sure I still retain some time for prayer and not skip it altogether.

Don’t be afraid to adjust your new year’s resolutions to your current state in life. Things change from year to year, which makes Advent a perfect time to consider where you are now and what your next steps should be. Some periods of life are very peaceful, and you can plan structured times for prayer and methodically work on building needed virtues. Other times you may feel like you are in survival mode and leaning on the Lord takes a different form for the time being as you are in the trenches together. Whatever you decide, make the decision with Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Reach out to fellow Christians and accept the support of others and of grace. In this way, whenever Christ comes, He will find you ready – reaching for him.

Consider:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you need to grow.
    • How might you grow deeper in prayer?
    • How might you develop more virtuous habits?
    • How might you be more Christ-like toward others?
  • Consider past spiritual resolutions you have made. How have they born fruit in your life? Reflect on the effort it took to begin them and how they grew to become a
  • Where do you need more balance? What undermines higher priorities? How might you put boundaries on those things to keep your priorities better aligned?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make one prayer resolution. Decide when, how, and what you will do to deepen your prayer
  • Make one virtue resolution. Identify one way you would like to better imitate Christ and make a daily plan to grow in that
  • Make one detachment resolution. Choose one vice or sin to overcome. Ask others to keep you accountable about it, pray daily for grace to overcome it, and practice the opposite virtue.

 

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Looking For a Savior

by Angela M. Jendro

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri

Gospel of Luke 21:5-19 (click here for the readings)

Meditation Reflection:

Oftentimes we imagine being a Christian means merely letting Jesus smooth out the rough edges of our lives to make it happier and more beautiful. The Jews made this mistake by imagining that in fulfilling the law and the prophets, the Messiah would merely restore the Davidic Kingdom to its former earthly glory. To be fair, the Incarnation of the Son of God liberated us at an unimaginable level. God’s merciful love exceeds anything we have experienced or could expect. He also exceeds all expectations of philosophy and the wisdom of the Greeks. The Jews experienced a taste of God’s powerful action and the Greeks touched on the heights of God’s wisdom. Jesus, the power and wisdom of God, makes both of these accessible to all and redirects our efforts toward an everlasting destination.

Christ counsels us to view this life as a pilgrimage and a battle. We develop our faith, hope, and love, on earth which will bring a deep sense of joy but will never create an earthly utopia. If we hope to find fullness here we will be sorely disappointed. Just look at the reactions of people to political news. Although presidents and congressmen have a great deal of power, they are not omnipotent. Moreover, their policies certainly affect our daily lives, but the transformation of hearts and the development of culture is something only Christ can do through His grace and His followers. All leaders have significant flaws and though they may do some measure of good, none can be our savior. No election can ever be the beginning of building a utopia or the end of the world, depending on your perspective. Our reaction ought to be proportionate – working diligently for the common good within our democratic system but relying on Christ alone for the salvation of souls and the spiritual elevation of our country. We can find relative happiness here, but for our joys to be lasting we need to direct them toward their true end – the heavenly kingdom. Besides, the most significant work is often done by everyday individuals serving those around them with Christian love, it just doesn’t get the same news press.

Christ promises to equip us for both the physical and the mental battle. As long as we live in the tension of sin and its effects, we will have to struggle against ourselves and others who oppose Christ’s kingdom, even family and friends. Nevertheless, Jesus, the Wisdom of God, provides the supernatural insights to answer the world’s mistaken propaganda or the pressures applied by those we care about. He also strengthens His disciples with supernatural perseverance to endure the physical suffering or possible martyrdom inflicted by worldly combatants.

As Catholics, we enjoy beautiful churches that express the glory of God. Rightly so, we adorn them with gorgeous art, precious metals, and the finest materials. We do this as an act of worship, as demonstrating concretely to ourselves and the world the value of God and of His sacrificial love. Christian churches are an icon, a sign pointing to a heavenly kingdom much more enduring. The magnificence of the sight of God will make all earthly analogies disappear. We ought to enjoy earthly icons of beauty, goodness, and truth in churches, nature, and most importantly in persons. At the same time, we need to daily recall to where they point and adjust our expectations and priorities accordingly.  We should still aim for greatness, justice, and perfection, but remember that it will come to fulfillment in the eternal kingdom where Christ reigns victorious.

Consider:

  • At the end of your life, what do you hope will endure from it afterward? Consider the lives you have and might still change, the love with which you imbue the world, the truths you fought to defend, the family relationships you have built.
  • Imagine your life from the perspective of entering heaven. Though all is certainly a grace, what would you be proud of? What would you regret? How might you live each day with more eternal purpose and significance?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day by surrendering it to the Lord. Look for three opportunities each day to build the kingdom of God – by acts of mercy, service, defending truth, helping someone heal or find justice, sharing the good news of Christ, offering up personal disappointments or suffering as a sacrifice… At the end of the day write down the things that built the kingdom of God. Reflect on any missed opportunities and pray for the grace to act on them tomorrow.

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~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019 updated from Angela Lambert Jendro © 2016

Finding Perspective

by Angela M. Jendro
Fra_Angelico_Last_Judgment

Fra Angelico “The Last Judgment” (detail: Paradise)

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 20:27-38

Meditation Reflection:

As Christians, we profess a belief in life eternal with Christ in Heaven, yet we can sometimes operate in our daily lives forgetful of this mystery. Like the Sadducees we ask Christ silly questions about heaven. When we attach ourselves too much to earthly life, we fall into the trap of imagining heaven as merely an extension of the present but with a few more perks.

Jesus reminds us of the incomparable difference between our journey to God here, and union with God there. As St. Paul says: “But, as it is written,

     ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

     Nor the heart of man conceived,

     What God has prepared for those who love him,’” (I Corinthians 2:9 RSV).

Even the good things we experience here are merely a prelude to heaven. Here we experience a taste, there we will enjoy the feast.

Jesus proposes to the Sadducees that contemplating the life of the angels can provide some insight into this mystery. Like humans, angels are persons with rational intellects, free will, and the ability to love. Unlike humans they do not have bodies, are neither male nor female, and do not procreate. Each angel was individually created by God and is completely unique, so much so that some have compared it to being like different species from one another. Because they live in eternity, their choices are permanent. When God created them they each had the choice to either accept or reject God’s will for their life and His mission for them. Some said yes to God’s will and others rejected it. Those who rejected God’s will we call the fallen angels or demons. Human persons have more than one moment to choose or reject God, but that space of time does have limits. For us it ends when we die; at which moment our choice becomes permanent.

Consequently, the space of time in which we live on earth really is only a preparation for eternal life. During this short period, we either choose to grow our love for God or develop a disdain for Him. Only during our earthly lifespan can we develop and increase our capacity for God. At the moment of death the opportunity for change ends.

In addition, it’s our chance to aid others in their openness to heaven, even in its most basic form – the beginning of life itself. Whereas God created all of the angels at once, He creates human persons over a course of time and includes them in His work. As a result, openness to having children means openness to God’s creation of persons who will live eternally! For those called to spiritual motherhood or fatherhood, they contribute to this mystery as they minister to the birth and development of the child’s love for God which is also necessary for true life.

The Sadducees’ challenge to Christ with the hypothetical situation of a woman married seven times, merely exposed their ignorance of God. On earth marriage develops our capacity for love, self-gift, and sacrifice. It brings new life into the world as well as caring for the development of each family member. Marriage itself is not needed in heaven because no new life will be born there. It is the eternal life of those who already exist. Moreover, love will be perfected as we enjoy the perfect love of God and one another. The relationship of love experienced in marriage will remain a relationship of love in heaven. However, the title of husband or wife will be eclipsed by the fullness of the title son or daughter of God and sister and brother in Christ.

As the liturgical year comes to a close (Advent marks the beginning of the “New Year” in the Church), we contemplate the end times and remember that this experience of earthly life will eventually come to an end. We all get bogged down in our daily routine and anxious over matters that, if we considered our heavenly destination, shouldn’t really weigh us down. Moreover, we could make better use of our limited time if we consider things from an eternal perspective. This life is a preparation and an opportunity to participate in God’s work of spreading His kingdom. The more souls that come to accept His will and love on earth, the more that will join the wedding feast of love in Heaven for eternity.

Consider:

  • How does a heavenly perspective change your earthly perspective?
  • When feeling discouraged, remember that this life is a journey not the destination. Endless, secure happiness cannot be found here but the work to attain it in heaven can.
  • Through prayer, identify one area where you struggle to accept God’s will over your own.
  • Each angel has a mission from God. You also have a mission. How is God calling you to serve?
  • Consider first God’s vocational calling:
    • Is it to work for the salvation of your spouse through love and sacrifice and to possibly grow the human family by being open to life and to raising children in knowledge and love of the Lord?
    • Is it to administer the sacraments as a priest to bring eternal life to spiritual children?
    • Is it to spend your life in prayer and sacrifice for souls as a religious sister or brother?
    • Is it to devote your time and energy to God in a unique way as a single person, ready to do His will at every moment?
  • Consider next God’s occupational calling: How do you grow your love for God and develop it in others through your work?
    • Consider your special apostolate. Does God include you in His work of physical or emotional healing, protecting, providing, instruction of souls, encouragement, etc.?
    • How can you incorporate a heavenly perspective into your daily work? How do your daily activities and duties provide opportunities to detach from selfishness and develop greater love and compassion? How might you help others to heaven through your work?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day by writing down the tasks, challenges, and opportunities you anticipate that day. Next to each, write one way it can be directed toward helping yourself and others to heaven. For example, will it grow a virtue or minimize a vice if tackled with the help of grace? Is it an opportunity to help others journey to God – either by giving them physical life, sustaining their life, healing, protecting, or developing an aspect of their soul?
  • Identify where your will is most at odds with God’s and do one thing each day to offset it. It could be a refusal or fear to do something God asks of you or an unwillingness to let go of something and trust God in the situation.
  • Pray the Serenity Prayer or the Suscipe of St. Ignatius each day.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert Jendro © 2016 and edited © 2019

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Why Pray If God Already Knows?

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

Attributed to Cima da Conegliano [Public domain]

29th Sunday Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 18:1-8

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aquinas’ response provides insight for us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

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Gratitude for Our Reason to Hope

tHANKS TO jESUS.JPG

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:11-19 NAB

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Meditation Reflection:

On His way to Jerusalem, where He would be rejected and killed for our sins, Jesus encountered ten lepers. Since leprosy is highly contagious those who suffered with its physical harms additionally suffered from social isolation and rejection as well, banished to stay separate from healthy people. When the lepers saw Jesus they called out because they could not approach in their condition. Jesus’ instructions to show themselves to the priests required them to make an act of faith and hope. Faith believes God’s words and hope acts upon those promises before necessarily seeing them. At that time, if someone believed they had been healed from leprosy, they had to show themselves to the priests for examination before being cleared to reenter the community. The lepers did not question Jesus’ command but did as He instructed before they had been healed. They acted with hope based on belief in Jesus and His words. As they walked in hope, they were cured.

The virtues of faith and hope direct one toward the highest of all virtues – charity. Charity is the love of God above all things and love of neighbor out of love for God. Only one leper demonstrated this higher virtue. Jesus, who knows the hearts of all men, indicated that the man who returned had a deeper and more fruitful faith than the other nine. Why? He returned to Jesus to say thank you.

Consider how many of us quickly forget God’s miraculous work in our lives shortly after the crisis is over. We fall back into our regular routines and grow complacent or even complain about mundane things. Even worse, when the next crisis upsets our lives, we sometimes forget God’s power and fall to discouragement and negativity. How can we avoid this common mistake?

A simple thank you and a disposition of gratitude express, as well as develop, the essential virtues of the spiritual life. Every day, and many times throughout the day, we have to choose our attitude. We regularly experience the temptation to succumb to negativity, skepticism, disgust, and even despair. However, with faith in Christ’s promise and hope in His transformative love, we can work through this crisis with the aid of the Holy Spirit and supernatural grace.

If everything depended on us alone, then discouragement and despair would be a sensible response. Take for example the Gospel passage. The lepers would have considered their future to consist merely of painful physical deterioration and utter loneliness. Their lives took a completely new trajectory when they encountered Christ. This surprising, unexpected event, liberated them their illness and gave them new hope for their future.

Propping up hope that man can save himself, then deepening discouragement at the realization that we can’t, are two common ways the devil tries to lead us away from the Lord. We can benefit from doing a daily attitude check and remembering that when we encounter Christ, surprising, unexpected things can happen and change our lives and our world.

A favorite author of mine and Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, wrote an essay entitled “The Six Ages of the Church”which gives me a hopeful perspective for our current situation as a Church. In this essay he proposed that throughout the course of its 2000 year history, the Church has (and continues) to experience a cycle of three stages: crisis, response, and flourishing. With each challenge the Church experiences setbacks and loss. In response, new apostolates arise and face the challenge resulting in a time of flourishing and achievement. The next crisis sets the Church back again but new responses emerge again as well, and so on and so forth.

Viewing history from this perch inspires hope as we consider every age poses its challenges and Christians have felt the same confusion, disillusionment, and fear that we do. Yet, in every age the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of God’s people and inspired them with new ways to meet those challenges, adapt, and overcome.

This cycle applies to our individual lives as well. We will encounter challenges that leave us feeling confused and helpless. Nevertheless, if we call out to Jesus and walk forward in faith and hope, He will transform our lives and we will indeed flourish. During times of peace, the challenge is to remain grateful and to return to the Lord, remembering that He is the source of our health. We are always dependent on Him. During times of crisis, we need to remember God’s power to transform, possibly even through us. Thanksgiving, counting our blessings, and confidently surrendering to the Lord should be our daily response. No matter what our crisis – individually, locally, or nationally – there are always things for which to be grateful and always hope for renewal. As St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5: 18 In all circumstances, give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Consider:

  • Reflect back on times that God helped you through a difficulty. Consider the feelings you experienced beforehand and the joy afterward.
  • Consider how your faith, hope, and charity have grown over the years. How have your encounters with Christ in your daily life deepened your convictions?
  • When do you feel discouraged, pessimistic, and negative? What areas of your life are particularly vulnerable to this attitude? How might you change your perspective? What might you be overlooking or taking for granted in the situation? How might you make a positive difference in it?
  • If you have children, consider what kind of formation they will need to be Christian leaders in our present culture. What virtues could you help them develop? What persons or saints could you point them to for inspiration? How might you nurture and develop their faith and their conscience? How can you teach by example in your own life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a gratitude list. Each day reflect and thank God for three things from that day.
  • Do one thing this week to make a positive contribution or change where you are usually negative.
    • (examples: bring a treat for everyone to a meeting you would rather avoid and choose to smile; pray for our leaders each day this week; tell someone thank you each day for something; if you don’t like the music at church, volunteer your musical talents; if you don’t like what your spouse cooks for dinner, cook something yourself for everyone; if you keep having negative encounters with your child, proactively plan an activity or time together that will be positive; etc.)
  • Reduce discouraging messages this week (either via media or negative friends), and increase encouraging messages (read Scripture, listen to uplifting music or inspiring biographies).

 

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016 and edited © 2019

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Toughening Up

taking up cross

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:5-10 NAB

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

Meditation Reflection:

We live in a culture rife with an entitlement attitude. Generation Y-ers get the worst rap for this and to be fair university studies have provided proof of its epidemic. Generation Z is too young to tell for certain but doesn’t appear likely to be much different. (I myself am on the very beginning edge of Gen Y, although I was somewhat sheltered from an entitlement perspective thanks to my mother’s tireless efforts to curb my attitude).

Merriam-Webster defines this attitude as: “the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).” A NY Post article “The worst generation?” from May 10, 2010 cited a University of New Hampshire study which concluded that: “Gen Yers are characterized by a ‘very inflated sense of self’ that leads to ‘unrealistic expectations’ and, ultimately, ‘chronic disappointment.’” ). Granted, not every Gen Yer suffers from an inflated sense of self, it does seem to be a cultural trend and it impacts our relationships and sense of satisfaction at work, in our families, and in our faith.

Because of the effects of Original Sin, we all tend toward a self-centered narcissism and will continue to spiral down if our trajectory isn’t changed by grace, parenting, or other formative agents. Jesus’ interaction with the apostles in this passage reminds me of interactions I’ve had with my own children. When asked to do the dishes, clean a bathroom, or fold laundry I am met with attitudes of “why me?” On other occasions a child of mine actually notices things that need to be done around the house. Rather than simply pitching in and taking care of the problem, they see it as a job opportunity for which they should be rewarded. The conversation looks something like this –

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I unload the dishes?”

Me.: “Clean dishes on which to eat.”

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I clean the cat’s litter box?”

Me: “I’ll let you keep having the cat as a pet.”

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I help with the laundry?”

Me: “Clean clothes.”

Child: “Ackh. Mooooom. Forget it.”

5 mintues later:

Child: “I’m bored.”
Me: “Then do the dishes.”
Child: “That’s boring too. What can I do that’s fun?”

Me: “I’m not your cruise ship captain. Do the dishes and maybe boredom won’t seem like such a bad thing.”

If only we could say our conversations with God didn’t look remarkably similar. How often do we take an entitlement attitude with the Lord? It looks something like “Look Lord, I went to Mass on Sunday! What do I get?” Or, “I put a few dollars in the collection plate, what will you give me?”

The entitlement attitude affects our expectations for the work to reward ratio as well and may be somewhat analogous to the passage for today’s Gospel. The same NY Post article cited another study which summarized the expectations of entitled employees:

According to another study, which will be published in the Journal of Management in September. Co-author Stacy Campbell, an assistant professor of management at Kennesaw State University, says the study revealed that when it comes to work, the two things Gen Yers care most about are a) high salaries, and b) lots of leisure time off the job.

‘They want everything,’ says Campbell. ‘They want the time off. They want the big bucks.’

To reach their conclusions, Campbell and co-author Jean Twenge — a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of “Generation Me,” a book examining discontent among members of Gen Y — worked over the data from an ongoing survey of high school students conducted annually since 1975 by the University of Michigan. Among their findings was that while both Gen Y and Gen X want sizable salaries, Gen X workers show greater awareness that a hefty paycheck comes with a hefty workload.

As Christians, we ought to evaluate our own expectations of working for the Lord. We can forget that it’s a privilege to work as a laborer for the Lord in bringing in His harvest and that it’s a blessing to have a job. When we feel like complaining, “What do I get for “carrying this cross?”, we can remember that we get to carry a cross. We get to work. We get to be near to Christ in the most intimate and meritorious moment of His work of salvation. We even get to help. We also gain numerous other rewards from carrying our cross and laboring with the Lord, taking His yoke upon our shoulders. Growing up, whenever I would feel sorry for myself or want pity, my mom would respond with a singular word that I detested: “Tough”. Sometimes she would even lengthen her response a little to: “Toughen up”. I loathed these words and swore I would never be so unfeeling toward my own children. Of course, you can guess, there came one fateful day when those same words came issuing from my own mouth in response to my own child’s self-pity moment. I realize now that my mom’s approach helped inoculate me from an entitlement attitude and in fact, made me tougher. In one word she exposed my self-pity for being an “unrealistic expectation” and reset my expectations to something more along the lines of reality. Crosses have a similar effect. Sometimes we whine to God and it feels like He is coldly ignoring our need and simply retorting “tough.” However, sometimes those very crosses strengthen us and enable us to increase in faith as well as hope and love.

If we want the Lord to increase our faith we need not look much further than prayer, sacraments, fellowship, and picking up our cross daily and following Him. Yet, we often expect huge returns for minimal effort. Christ reminds us today that we are blessed to labor in His kingdom. We are blessed to be near Him in the cross. The faith and satisfaction we will gain from hard earned sweat and blood in the field will give a much more satisfying feeling than the superficial reward of a participation trophy.

God provides the supernatural strength we need to follow Him, we just have to adjust our expectations and persevere when things get tough. St. Paul reminds us in second letter to Timothy, that God enables us to toughen up through His grace that we might be courageous and noble:

“Beloved: I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control… bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” 2Timothy 1:6-8

Consider:

  • What kind of attitude do you have toward God? How has it grown and matured over the years?
  • Reflect on the gift of working side by side with Christ as He brings in the harvest. Jesus says, “the harvest is ready but the laborers are few.” Have you had the chance to be a part of someone’s spiritual journey? How did it feel to see the seeds of faith grow into noble discipleship?
  • In what way could you adjust your expectations of discipleship? Do you suffer from an impulsiveness that needs instant gratification or are you able to delay gratification?
  • My mother’s discipline, though apparently counter-cultural at the time, inoculated me from suffering the poison of entitlement mentality (as much as I tried to get her to cave into the idea!). Who has been courageous enough in your life to lovingly adjust your perspective even if you fought them on it?
  • When have you felt deep satisfaction in work itself rather than the reward at the end? How does this relate to work as a disciple?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray and reflect on the prayer of St. Francis this week.
  • Call or write a thank you to someone who has saved you or healed you from an entitlement attitude.
  • If you have children, grandchildren, or work with children, reflect each day on your interactions with them and consider if there is an analogy to your own interactions with the Lord.

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016

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prayer of st francis

Sometimes the Small Stuff Matters

by Angela Jendro

 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 16:10-13 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Meditation Reflection:

Few things of importance are gained overnight with little to no effort. As tempting as the get rich quick scheme can be, it never proves to be reliable or lasting. The temptation appears in many forms but inevitably produces the same results. Diets that promise to drop weight fast only leave you gaining it right back because they don’t involve long-term lifestyle changes. New clothes, cars, or homes you hope will boost your self-confidence leave you with the same empty feeling at night if you haven’t become the person you can be proud of on the inside. Stress might be soothed by pills or substances temporarily, but only the hard work of managing stress through healthy ways will actually change your situation or give you authentic contentment.

True change comes through the hard, slow, daily process of building character. The Plato and Aristotle_Raphaelphilosopher Aristotle, in his famous book on Ethics, defined virtue as a habit of doing the good. He taught that a person only acquires a virtue after having chosen it regularly over a long period of time and in many circumstances. For instance, if I tell the truth once, it doesn’t make me a truthful person. To say that I have the virtue of honesty means I have told the truth regularly for many years. As Jesus points out in this passage, a person’s character is shown as much, if not more so, in the small matters as in the larger ones. A truthful person will be pained by lying, even in small exaggerations. On the other hand, a person who lies easily about daily matters to avoid responsibility or make things easier, will certainly lie when the stakes are much higher.

It can be tempting to compartmentalize our life, especially our faith life, and not uncommon in our culture for a person to think they can act one way at work, another at home, and another at church. However, our choices become our habits and our character. Like the fast, easy, changes marketed to us, compartmentalization is only a temporary illusion. If you swear around your friends often, you will eventually let a swear word slip at work or in front of your children. If you are dishonest at home with your spouse, you will be dishonest with your boss. We can’t sit in the pew and believe ourselves to be disciples of Christ, if we distort His Gospel the rest of the week by not following Him at work and home too.

Jesus wants to bring us interior peace and this requires being authentic. We build Christian virtues by practicing them daily in all situations. We make choices based on what we care about most. This is why we can’t serve God and the world. Those daily choices build a path one way or the other, like everything else in life. Jesus lived this teaching as well.  He did the Father’s will in everything. Then when in the Garden of Gethsemane He feared His impending crucifixion, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

If we love God and if we truly believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then we will try to imitate Christ in every choice no matter where we are. The beautiful result is that the more Christ like you grow, the more He will shine in every work you do. The Church calls this “sanctifying the temporal world.” It may be the slow, difficult, unglamorous path, but it will certainly be more lasting and, thankfully, Jesus gives us His Spirit and grace to help us.

Consider:

  • What virtues would your family or friends confirm that you have already? What kind of person do you try to be?
  • What virtues would you like to acquire that you presently struggle with? How might you begin working on them?
  • In what way do you compartmentalize your faith? Are there places, persons, or circumstances you hide your beliefs or act contrary to your faith?
  • Consider how you might apply Jesus’ teaching to your everyday responsibilities and the people you interact with. Mother Teresa touted the greatness of doing small things with great love. How might you incorporate that into your daily work?
  • Aristotle was right about the necessity of practice to build virtue. However, we often still struggle to overcome our own weakness and we can’t become truly Christ-like without the aid of grace. Consider the power of prayer, reading Scripture, and the sacraments through which the Holy Spirit can strengthen and change your heart.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Focus on faithfulness to God in the small matters this week. Be especially diligent in the everyday little tasks or interactions to act Christ-like.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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How can God be both Justice and Mercy?

by Angela Jendro

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 15:1-32 NAB

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing

490px-Bernhard_Plockhorst_-_Good_Shephard

by Bernhard Plockhorst

one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.  When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and

552px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project

Return of the Prodigal Son By Rembrandt

I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.  He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

Meditation Reflection:

Justice versus mercy. How can God be both? And how can we imitate Him when we need to apply concretely a mystery that surpasses our understanding?

In this Gospel Christ illuminates something of this mystery. First, we should remember that we live in a highly competitive culture. Consequently, we feel justice – giving each person his or her due – is necessary to keep things “fair.” Secondly, as St. Augustine pointed out in The City of God, if we are earthly-minded and focused on building the “city of man”, then we often find ourselves at war with one another as we vie for limited resources.

The resources and goods in the “city of God” however, Augustine notes, are unlimited. Moreover, rather than being reduced when given away they multiply, and rather than being limited to temporary gain, they last eternally.

Our human tendency to want justice applied to others but mercy applied to us, often relates more to our striving to build the city of man rather than the noble cause for justice itself. Justice is important, and God is justice as well as mercy. However, we have to be aware of our own prejudices and since we suffer the effects of original sin, we tend to rationalize our double-standard.

The truth is, when God weighs our own faults and violations of divine and natural law, none of us will be able to balance the scale and achieve a just state. We know God cares about justice because for us to rightly spend eternity with Him, the scale had to be balanced and so He sent His only Son to suffer and die for our sake, to tip the scale for us. By helping us reach a state of justice, He acted mercifully.

To even begin to understand something of this mystery, of the harmony between Justice and Mercy in God, Jesus uses comparisons we can relate to – a shepherd looking for a lost sheep and a woman searching for a coin. In each case you or I may not have cared. They care because they view the sheep and the coin as their belonging. When lost, they were impoverished in some way and in finding it their possessions became complete. We belong to God. You or I may not care about a particular person but God does. He views each human person as His own treasure, and to lose one results in a loss, and to regain that person creates completion.

To clarify and impress this on us further, Jesus follows with the Parable of the Prodigal Son (verses 11-32). Whereas in our work life if an employee or colleague leaves it may be disappointing but that person can be replaced by a new hire and eventually life goes on. We see this in every realm of society – politics, business, entertainment, sports – except one, the family. If a child rebels and leaves his or her family, there remains a hole and a lingering pain for as long as the child remains estranged. The family cannot simply find a replacement and move on with life. It will always feel like a loss and incomplete.

The relationship between justice and mercy therefore can only be understood in light of relationship. In the parable of the prodigal son, the rebellious child left home and eventually experienced the reality of the choices he had made. With the money gone, he finally received his due, and this provoked conversion. When he returned home, repentant and interiorly changed, his father was ecstatic to incorporate him back into the family. The older son, focused on the earthly resources, became bitter at the apparent injustice. It wasn’t fair. Had he viewed it from a spiritual perspective, he would have seen that he had become enrichened. Rather than focusing on the fattened calf he felt he “lost” to the feast of his wayward brother, he ought to have focused on the brother he regained.

The deeper we grow in love, the more we begin to understand God’s ways. Rather than seeing him merely as a judge, we need to see that He is foremost a father. He will do what it takes to keep his family together and to help His children flourish. Fathers and mothers make countless material sacrifices for their children and oftentimes with joy. From the outside others might rightly marvel at how this could be. Those who have children however, know by experience the deeper sense of satisfaction and pleasure one gains from these acts.

When considering justice and mercy, Christ exhorts us to view it in light of being God’s possession, His children, and love.

Consider:

  • Consider the difference between being an employee in comparison to being someone’s child. You are God’s own. You are God’s child.
  • Consider how love moves one to mercy and the more loving persons are, the more merciful they become.
  • Consider how you felt when you received mercy or when you gave mercy.
  • Reflect on how justice and mercy relate with one another. Sometimes being just enables one to be merciful.
  • Spend 5 minutes in silent prayer, just gazing on God who is Justice and Mercy.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray each day for the conversion of someone who has left the faith. If possible, reach out to him or her through acts of kindness and mercy.
  • In light of the parable of the prodigal son, forgive someone who has returned to you apologetically.
  • If there is someone who has made serious changes (for the better) in his or her life, pray about giving them a second chance and incorporating them back into your life.
  • Practice one corporal work of mercy and one spiritual work of mercy each day this week.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Following Christ At All Costs

by Angela M. Jendro

Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India in October, 1979.

Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India in October, 1979. Jean-Claude Francolon | Gamma-Rapho | Getty Images

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 14:25-33 NAB

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Meditation Reflection:

How can Christ, whose new commandment to us was to “love one another as I have loved you” simultaneously ask that we hate our family members? As we celebrate the feast day of St. Mother Teresa this week, we can look to her example to illuminate this paradox. Jesus’ challenge that “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” proved a difficult task and one that required great love, detachment, and grace for Mother Teresa who left her home, her family, and even her beloved convent to serve the poorest of the poor in the streets in India. Jesus rightly warns to count the cost before we set out on a project lest we find ourselves giving up midway. Discipleship calls for a total gift of self, in response to the Lord who made the ultimate gift of self for us through His Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection.

In a perfect world, or at least in heaven, loves do not compete with one another and we aren’t painfully pulled in opposing directions. In our current fallen state however, we come to crossroads where we must choose between two loves. It’s one thing to forsake the love of a material good or a sinful habit, but the hardest love to forsake is that of someone with whom we have a relationship but refuses to share us with Christ and gives us an ultimatum.

This ultimatum may not sound as direct as “it’s me or Christ!” but it will likely pit some aspect of following Christ against something the person wants of you. Following Christ results in a life of sacrifice that’s counter-cultural. Authentic Christians don’t blend in and that bothers people who don’t want to stir the waters. Living your faith, even quietly, can prick the conscience of another and result in lashing out to ease his or her own angst. Similar to Jesus, Christians offer love unconditionally to others. Unfortunately, the same is not always true on the other end and the painful choice between following Christ or making the person you care about happy must be made.

This choice takes as many forms as there are relationships. For a teen it can be a couple breaking up because one chooses purity over promiscuity or being left out of social gatherings because of a refusal to drink. For a young adult it can be a person choosing the religious life despite the discouragement of parents, or moving away from family and friends for a service they are called to by Christ. For parents it can mean getting the silent treatment from a child because you refuse to condone their wrong behavior. For a spouse it can mean suffering the anger of the other because one refuses to compromise living out his or her faith to appease the other’s sin. No one wants a rift in their family – whether between parents, children, or spouses. At the same time not everything is in our control except our own decision to follow the Lord. Navigating these situations can be confusing and spiritual direction should be sought to sort out how to authentically love in particular situations.

Mother Teresa desired to follow Christ and to give her whole life in love to Him. First it meant leaving her family to join the Sisters of Loreto as a nun and serve in India as a teacher. Next, she received her “call within a call” to go out into the streets and serve the poorest of the poor. She was happy as a nun and asked Jesus if she could just serve Him more devoutly in the way she already was. Each time however He repeated His request for her to satiate His thirst for souls by ministering to the poor and destitute. He would ask her each time, “Wouldst thou refuse Me?”

Mother Teresa felt torn between two loves. Her love for the other sisters, her students, and her life in the convent was certainly a noble love, but discipleship called her to follow Christ to a place that meant she would have to choose between the two. Ultimately, Mother Teresa could not surrender her love for Jesus to anything else and so she gave up and gave in to the Lord. As she followed Christ, Mother Teresa surrendered everything to Him – material goods, physical comforts, family, and even the convent walls. She went into the most destitute streets with nothing but a sari and a passion for Jesus.

Contrary to cultural demands, Christians cannot compartmentalize their faith. We are followers of Christ at church, at home, at work, when alone, or when with friends. We have to be prepared that some people, even some we for whom we care deeply, may not tolerate our discipleship and choose to leave us. In these instances, we can look to Christ for the grace and grit to carry our cross, a cross which He promises will end in a resurrection.

This Sunday, may we count the cost and, with the grace of Christ, decide to follow Him to the end. The joy of Mother Teresa, and the light of love and mercy her life became, serves as a witness for us of the glorious destination of discipleship – a project worth completing!

Consider:

  • Are you a disciple of Christ? If the answer is yes, what moves you to love Him and to follow Him? If the answer is no or not yet, what attracts you about Christ or piques your curiosity?
  • In what ways has discipleship caused you to live counter-culturally? Has it strained any of your relationships?
  • How has carrying your cross produced resurrections and blessings in your life? What have been some of the fruits of your discipleship?
  • What cross are you carrying right now? In what way does it resemble Jesus’ cross? How does it bring you closer to Him as you share in His experience?
  • It feels good to accomplish something hard that required grit and perseverance. Consider how it will feel to “finish the race” as St. Paul says, and to have followed Christ (with the help of His grace) to the end.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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Expressions of Feminine Self-Gift Part III: Setting the World on Fire (Highlights and quotations from my talk at “Devoted” at St. John the Baptist.)

What a gift to speak at St. John the Baptist tonight with the women of “Devoted”!  I was privileged to spend the evening with such remarkable ladies at such a beautiful event. Below are some highlights and the quotations I referenced.   

Red heart shaped tree

St. Catherine of Siena “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire”

God can and DOES do INCREDIBLE things through His children. The life of every saint testifies to God’s mighty work through their little “yes”.

 Who does God mean for your to be? – First: a Woman

Women have particular gifts from God to set the world ablaze with His transformative Truth and Love.

Examples of Women in the Gospels:

  • Mothers: Mary, Elizabeth
  • Prophetess: Anna
  • Some accompanied him on His journey Some provided for them out of their means (Luke 8:1-3) Joanna, Susanna
  • Mary, Martha – friends of Jesus
  • Jesus holds up the poor widow as a model of generosity “This poor widow has put in more than all of them”
  • Most profound teachings given to women
    • Woman at the well
    • Martha about resurrection from the dead
      • “This conversation with Martha is one of the most important in the Gospel” John Paul II On the Dignity of Women 15
    • Mary Magdalene – the first to see the risen Christ; Thomas Aquinas calls her the “apostle to the apostles”

 The Feminine Genius is needed now more than ever

The Second Vatican Council proclaimed:

“The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved.   That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.”

The Council’s Message to Women as quoted in John Paul II’s On the Dignity and Vocation of Women

Special Genius of Women 

  • Theological insights from feminine perspective
    • Pope Francis remarked that we need more women theologians
    • Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)  English anchorite; Her work is based on a series of 16 visions she received in 1373
      • Meditates on Jesus’ motherly care for us
        • Compares His passion to pregnancy and birth
        • The Eucharist to nursing a baby (“He feeds us with Himself”)
        • The tenderness of a mother holding her child to Christ bringing us close to Him through His Church
      • 4 women doctors of the Church
        • Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic;
        • Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
        • Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
        • Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)
      • Contemporary Catholic theologian – Edith Stein, a.k.a. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (1891-1942)
  • Gift for Acknowledging the Person
“Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance growth is her natural maternal yearning.” Edith SteinWoman
  • Building relationships and society – humanizing vs. technocratic and efficiency only
“Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” John Paul II Letter to Women 1995
  • Antidote to individualism – motherhood as a white martyrdom
Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism. “Individual” means “what cannot be divided”. Mothers, instead, “divide” themselves, from the moment they bear a child to give him to the world and help him grow… Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero said that mothers experience a “maternal martyrdom”. In the homily for the funeral of a priest assassinated by death squads, he said, recalling the Second Vatican Council: “We must be ready to die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this honor…. Giving one’s life does not only mean being killed; giving one’s life, having the spirit of a martyr, it is in giving in duty, in silence, in prayer, in honest fulfilment of his duty; in that silence of daily life; giving one’s life little by little. Yes, like it is given by a mother, who without fear and with the simplicity of the maternal martyrdom, conceives a child in her womb, gives birth to him, nurses him, helps them grow and cares for them with affection. She gives her life. That’s martyrdom”.

Pope Francis Wednesday Audience January 2015

Obstacles

 Edith Stein noted that our gifts can also become distorted by sin.

  • Concern for the person can get out of control and turn into meddling and gossip
  • The desire to integrate everything can also lead to getting spread too thin and dabbling in too many things
  • A heart of service that sees the needs of others can turn into a dominating or controlling “help” – the “nagging wife” or “helicopter mom”

There is hope in our struggles!

  • Romans 8:28
    • “God works all things together for good for those that love Him”
  • Philippians 1:6
    • “I am sure that He Who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

 Your expression of self gift will also include your PERSONAL circumstances, vocation, temperament, talents, opportunities

Family Life

  • Innate wisdom to guide the family – including the husband and wife
    • “She craves for an unhampered development of her personality just as much as she does to help another toward that same goal.   And thus the husband will find that she can give him invaluable advice in guiding the lives of the children as well as of themselves.” Edith Stein Woman

Making a house a home

  • “Part of her natural feminine concern for the right development of the beings surrounding her involves the creation of an ambience, of order and beauty conducive to their development.” Edith Stein Woman

Spiritual Motherhood 

  • Example of Elisabeth LeSeur 1866-1914
    • Her husband Felix remarking on the days approaching her death (after which he converted to Catholicism and later became a priest!):
“She did indeed uplift all who surrounded or approached her, and it was a strange thing to see this woman, so modest, so humble of heart, condemned to practical immobility, shedding around her far and wide the light of her great influence.”

An atheist friend after her passing:

“Some beings are a light toward which all turn who need light to live by!”

Work Life

Edith Stein notes that some jobs naturally align with feminine genius more than others.  However, women have something unique to offer every kind of work and in every case they bring their interpersonal gifts to the culture of the workplace.

“Thus the participation of women in the most diverse professional disciplines could be a blessing for the entire society, private or public, precisely if the specifically feminine ethos would be preserved.” Edith Stein Woman

Work-life balance

“Her professional activity counterbalances the risk of submerging herself all too intimately in another’s life and thereby sacrificing her own; however, an exclusive preoccupation with her professional activity would bring the opposite danger of infidelity toward her feminine vocation. Only those who surrender themselves completely into the Lord’s hand can trust that they will avoid disaster between Scylla and Charybdis.   Whatever is surrendered to Him is not lost but saved, chastened, exalted and proportioned out in true measure.”

Edith Stein Woman

Public Life

“In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favors some, it pushes others to the margines of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human.   In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that ‘genius’ which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensititivty for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! – and because ‘the greatest of these is love’ (cf. 1 Cor 13:13)”

John Paul II On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman

 

Progress usually tends to be measured according to the criteria of science and technology. Nor from this point of view has the contribution of women been negligible. Even so, this is not the only measure of progress, nor in fact is it the principal one. Much more important is the social and ethical dimension, which deals with human relations and spiritual values. In this area, which often develops in an inconspicuous way beginning with the daily relationships between people, especially within the family, society certainly owes much to the “genius of women”.

John Paul II Letter to Women 1995

Closing:

Jeremiah 29:11

“Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, the LORD declares, plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

MUSTARD SEED

Matthew 13:31-32

“He put another parable before them, ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches”

The greatest example of feminine genius is Mary. Her yes brought about the incarnation of God and our salvation!

Mary models perfect discipleship. Each of us are being called by God.  We need only be our true selves to set the world on fire with His love!

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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