New and Improved: This Upgrade is Worth the Price!

5th Sunday in Easter

Gospel of John 13: 31-33A; 34-35 NAB

When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Meditation Reflection:

As consumers we regularly hear the pitch “new and improved” for every product from toothpaste to vehicles. Oftentimes we consider this prospective as something positive. Every time Apple comes out with a new iPhone my kids work to convince me of its superiority over the one I already own. However, although new cars, new appliances, or new clothes can seem appealing, learning a new technology seems more work than it’s worth unless the benefits are considerable. This attitude spills over into my spiritual life as well. I appreciate when God simply keeps things running smoothly as they are. When offered something new, though it sounds exciting, it also sounds like a lot of work. “New” has the allure of surprise and opportunity, but it also has the anxiety of unfamiliarity, making mistakes during the learning process, discomfort of discerning how to act in new situations, and the fear of the unknown. Today’s Gospel recounts the inauguration of the “New” Covenant. A savvy consumer would ask “how is it new” and “is it worth the price”?

During the Last Supper, Christ’s Passion began with Judas’ betrayal. Once Judas left to execute his plans, Jesus spoke to the other disciples about the New Covenant being inaugurated that night. A covenant refers to a solemn agreement between God and man, usually sealed in the blood of a sacrifice. God had made these types of agreements in the past through Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. His New Covenant however, on the night the Jews celebrated the Passover, was mediated through His Son, Who would also be the sacrificial lamb and Whose blood would bind us to the Father. Moreover, whereas God’s covenant with Abraham extended to Abraham’s family, the covenant with Moses extended to a nation, and the covenant with David extended to a kingdom, the New Covenant extended to all of humanity.

A marketing executive might take issue with Christ’s assertion that He gives a “new” commandment however when He instructed us to love one another. Jews treasured a passage in Deuteronomy as the heart of the Old Covenant. It’s called the Shema (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Jesus Himself referenced it in His teaching:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:28–30

Jesus’ “new” commandment sounds very similar – to love. Is this false advertising? The difference may seem slight on the surface but upon closer investigation it transcends the old model to a remarkable degree. Jesus did not eliminate the old, but he did present a new and improved model. In the new version Christ added the stipulation, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Christ set a new standard for love of God and neighbor – humble service marked by suffering and sacrifice. Put that on a billboard. Any buyers?

A faith that’s merely a get rich quick scheme – prosperity, reward, and status at no cost – is not the Gospel. Consider Jesus’ difficult teachings about discipleship:

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

The early Church verified this teaching by their lives and their instructions:

“[Paul and Barnabas] strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

Why does it have to be so hard? Human nature. As much as we idolize change in our culture, in practice we avoid it. Change as simple as healthy living often gets abandoned because of the sacrifice and discomfort one experiences in the beginning. Those who have made the change can attest that they feel more energetic, happier, and it would be painful to go back to their bad habits. However one can only experience this feeling if one perseveres through the initial pain of re-habituating one’s body and one’s lifestyle. Similarly, to love as Christ loved will feel uncomfortable and painful in the beginning. It means re-habituating one’s whole lifestyle – the measuring standard must be readjusted, and priorities re-evaluated. Many give up after a short while. However, those who persevere can attest that this new lifestyle makes one feel deeper joy, peace, and energy than before and it would be painful to return to their former habits.

At present, human free will presents a tension between sin and grace, which means we suffer – both interiorly as we wrestle between love of self and love of God, and exteriorly as we suffer from the sinful choices of ourselves and others.

Christ’s Paschal Mystery offers hope in that it did not end on the Cross but rather at the Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. Eventually, our conversion will be complete, and we will have interior peace. At some point this world will come to an end and those who choose love will spend eternity together with each other and with God.

Oftentimes I just want God to restore things to how they used to be, much like the Jews, who expected God would save them by restoring Israel to its former glory as a kingdom under David’s reign. God’s love exceeds our imagination though, and most of the time His answer is not to go back, but to offer something new and improved. St. John recounts in the book of Revelation:

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away…I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (see Revelation 21:1-5)

We can be confident that the time, discomfort, and sacrifice for this upgrade will be worth the effort, and Christ will be there to help. It will be new, surprising, beyond imagining, and exceed all expectations.

Consider:

  • Recall a time when you kicked a bad habit or developed a healthy habit. How long did it take? How did it feel afterward?
  • What healthy spiritual habits have you developed? Consider the work it took to establish them and the fruits you enjoy as a result.
  • What spiritual habits do you need to develop? How might you begin work on one today?
  • Consider what it means to love as Christ loved. In each circumstance below, can you think of a time that you either extended that kind of love to another or received that kind of love from someone else?
    • Humble service
    • Self-sacrifice
    • Suffering for someone’s good
    • Rejoicing at elevating someone else
    • Forgiveness and mercy, even toward an enemy
    • Patience and kindness toward someone who aggravates you

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Exchange a bad spiritual habit for a good spiritual habit. Make a plan: decide which habit to address and how to develop it. When, where, and how will you achieve it? Remember to pray for grace as you do! Transformation can only take place by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Opportunities to love as Christ loved are present every day in family life.
    • Intentionally practice Christ-like love toward family members today.
    • Spend some time each day reading a little bit of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortationThe Joy of Love, especially the chapters pertaining to family life.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Love and Mercy in Superabundance

by Angela Jendro

3rd Sunday in Easter

Gospel John 21:1-19 NAB

At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Meditation Reflection:

I was recently presented with the question, “How can we know that the Christian religion is the true one as opposed to others?” I responded that ours is the only one whose founder has risen from the dead.

The miracle of Christ’s resurrection affirms the truth of His teachings and the divinity of His truths. The apostles evangelized by bearing witness to this event, one that they experienced with their own eyes. Many struggle to trust in Jesus because we cannot see Him. However, the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and numerous Epistles all testify that our faith does not rely on mere ideology but rather the physical resurrection of our Lord witnessed by reputable persons who all suffered for their testimony. Not a single apostle recanted his position to avoid martyrdom. All of them endured severe trials and difficulties with no monetary or physical reward. They had no ulterior motive. They did not say they “believed” Jesus had risen from the dead, but rather that they had all “seen” the risen Lord.

God knows we struggle to believe without seeing. Despite our weak faith, He mercifully became incarnate that we might see Him when He redeemed us. Moreover, He exceeded all expectations of the imagination by liberating us Himself rather than sending someone in his place.

We have all heard stories of backpackers or journalists who cross an enemy line and become imprisoned in a dangerous or violent country. Imagine if you were that person, afraid in your cell as to what will come of you, praying that your president will learn of your state and send someone to save you. You might hope for a diplomatic solution or even military special ops to heroically liberate you. Consider your surprise however if the president himself were to show up in military gear and break you out of prison at his own personal risk.

Christ reveals the love of God that exceeds any possible expectation or imagination. He condescends to our limitations even though He deserves better. He liberates us at His own painful expense. Moreover, He gives us a share in His resurrection and a chance at new life.

The Christian life is a response to the love and mercy we have first received from our Lord. Peter fed the Lord’s sheep because of his love and gratitude for His mercy. Jesus did not throw away their friendship after Peter’s betrayal. Instead He gave Peter a second chance, an opportunity for contrition, forgiveness, and conversion.

Jesus gives each of us this same opportunity. He comes to wherever we are, offering us something to eat and an outstretched hand of friendship. He asks each of us the same question: “Do you love Me?” If the answer is yes, then He insists we respond in kind by extending a hand up to others and accompany them toward their conversion.

The love of Christ and the call to feed His sheep begins in our families. Jesus asks that if we love Him, we ought to give generously and tenderly to those placed by Him in our daily lives, beginning with our families and reaching out from there. Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love” addresses in a comprehensive way the joy of love in families – both the ideal as the gift God has given to us, and the painful “irregularities” that need careful healing. It’s a beautiful, rich document of encouragement based on the proceedings of the synod on the family and provides plenty of food for reflection. Although it’s quite lengthy Pope Francis encourages us in the opening pages to take our time reading it.

Christ has blessed us with His mercy and generous love. All He asks is that we pay it forward with mercy and love toward the people in our lives.

Consider:

  • It’s easy to be discouraged by our failures. Consider the encounter of Peter with Christ. What failure would weigh heavy on your heart if you faced the Lord? How would you respond to His hand up and His offer of mercy?
  • Who in your life needs your mercy? How might you offer him or her a hand up?
  • Consider how Christ can be recognized by His superabundance. When the apostles pulled in such a large catch, John knew immediately it was the Lord.
    • When has Christ surprised you by exceeding your expectations?
    • Ask for the gift of surrender and openness. Rather than giving Christ a list of tasks you would like Him to help accomplish, surrender the logistics to Him and do the tasks He sets before

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Offer mercy toward someone each day this week. (See this link for a list of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy:Work of Mercy )
  • Offer Christ your work week. Give him one week of being in charge and trust Him to accomplish His will. Just do the tasks He sets before you and let Him bring things together.
  • Begin reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of Love

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Receiving Christ’s Gift Graciously

Palm Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Open Arms of the Father…Guided meditation for the 4th Sunday of Lent

Lenten Journey pic

Excerpt from Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring

By Angela M. Jendro

Gospel of Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 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 Jesus addressed this parable: “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 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:

We often live in denial of ours sins and this can make it easy to imagine God as loving since we see ourselves entitled to His affections. However, when our hearts are really struck by the realization of a failure, when shame settles in our stomach at our weakness or self-centeredness, we can mistakenly assume God views us as a failure too and wants nothing to do with us. Jesus corrected this false view by describing God’s unconditional love in His Parable of the Prodigal Son, also known as the Parable of the Merciful Father.

In this parable, the father had freely given his sons everything he could – life, love, nurturing their growth, and even inheritance of his estate. The first son responded with obedience, loyalty, and service. The second son responded with ingratitude, an entitlement attitude, and complacency. When he arrogantly wished his father dead and demanded his future inheritance, his father not only allowed him to leave but also gifted to him the undeserved future inheritance. Mistaking license for freedom, the son lived foolishly for pleasure and self-gratification. Eventually however his funds ran out and the difficult times that followed revealed the short sightedness of his choices. The glamour of evil wore off when he found himself desperate enough to take a job caring for pigs (considered unclean by the Jews) and even more desperate when he felt tempted by his insatiable hunger to ask for some of their slop but was denied. As he hit rock bottom, he finally realized the generosity and goodness of his father.

Some Christians take their faith for granted. The spiritual gifts they had enjoyed from the sacraments, living in Christian fellowship, and possibly growing up in a Christian home seem less glamorous and more restrictive than worldliness. At first, missing mass on Sunday to sleep in, put in an extra day at work, travel, or any number of things might not seem that big of a deal. Next, spending time with worldly friends begins to outweigh Christian friends. As seeming independence and success increase, a person may feel he or she no longer needs God. They too mistake license for freedom and, taking their gifts from God, leave.

Over time however they begin to experience life without grace. The absence of God’s peace, the kindness of His followers, the richness of Scriptures wanes and they begin to hunger. When hard times hit, without that spiritual connection to God, a person finds themselves starving and desperate. Where can one turn for help? A person who uses others, finds themselves being used by others. Alcohol or drugs lose their ability to satiate and only make matters worse if not out of control. All former numbing mechanisms – shopping, eating, gaming, gambling, travelling, even over-working cannot help but rather become enslaving.

When one hits rock bottom, crawling back to God can seem unthinkable and disingenuous. How could you ask God for help now when you so brazenly rejected Him earlier or slothfully let Him fall by the wayside. Don’t you deserve to be miserable? Maybe God is saying “I told you so.”

Jesus tells us otherwise. Our pride imagines God reacting this way. Jesus reveals that God is watching the horizon, waiting hopefully, and running to embrace us when we return. The father in this parable doesn’t accept the demotion suggested by his son. He embraces him, and raises him back to the dignity he had left behind; transforming him from servant of pigs to a son.

The older son’s jealousy reveals a hint of the same mistaken view as the younger son. Although he made the loyal choice, he still considered his brother’s prodigal lifestyle as glamorous. As a result, it appears to him that his brother was rewarded for leaving so disrespectfully and rewarded for returning so degraded. However, the father and the younger son know the terrible poverty, anxiety, and shame his choices had brought upon him. The older son, though working in the fields all those years, also enjoyed the peace and dignity of living as his father’s son. He did not experience the “glamour” of debauchery nor did he have the impoverishment of it either. Fr. Dubay, in his book The Fire Within, summarizes this misconception well:

“Contrary to what the world thinks, attachments are killjoys. The worldly man and woman take it for granted that the more they can multiply experiences and accumulate possessions, the more they shall be filled with contentment. They so want to believe this that they will discount a constant stream of evidences to the contrary. Boredom at parties, hangovers after bouts of drinking, heartburn after overeating, aftereffects of drug abuse, emptiness after loveless sexual encounters and failure to find fulfillment in fine fashions or in expensive excursions make it abundantly clear that sense pleasures are not joy. No matter how intense they may be for the moment, they inevitably leave in their wake a vacuous disillusionment. Where one does find genuine joy is in the heart and on the lips of those who have generously given up all else to have Christ.”[1]

God loves us as a merciful father. He pours out blessings in our lives even if we will eventually take them for granted. A little time on our own however and we realize how much we rely on God’s supernatural aid and relationship. He assures us that He is waiting anxiously for our return, running to meet us if we come back to Him and offering us the peace and protection of His home.

Consider:

  • When have you felt truly sorry about something? What motivated the regret?
  • Have you ever experienced the gift of forgiveness from someone?
  • Is there someone you need to forgive?
  • Reflect on the father in the parable looking out at the horizon and seeing his son in the distance. Consider how God is waiting for you with the same longing.
  • Have you ever fallen for worldly deceptions? How did they turn out differently than what you first expected?
  • How does your dignity as God’s son or daughter outweigh and outshine the false beauty of the world?

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one sinful attachment to surrender and turn to God.
  • Read Psalm 51 each day this week.
  • Examine your conscience each night and pray an act of contrition.
  • Return to God in the sacrament of Confession.

 

[1] Dubay, T. (1989). Fire within: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and the Gospel-on prayer. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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Living in Denial

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

3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Luke 13:1-9 NAB

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

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

 Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final part of the process he writes, is:

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

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

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

 Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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

[2] Ibid.

New Book – Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring by Angela Jendro

 

Lenten Journey_Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring by Angela M Jendro

Make a spiritual pilgrimage this Lent with guided meditations on theLenten Journey pic Sunday Gospels by Angela M Jendro, complete with real life applications and ideas for translating your meditation into action.

  • Download for free to your pdf reader for easy access on the go, or print to paper to make your handwritten notes.
  • No price for e-book,  Free Will Offering accepted via Paypal and/or Prayers for the author 🙂

 

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Printed Booklet – Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring

Free shipping within the U.S. 48 pages Guided Scripture meditatins for each Sunday of Lent through Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Encounter Christ in a new way with reflections that relate to your daily life, considerations to take to prayer, and ideas for concrete application.

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Mercy – The Freedom of Love

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 6:27-38 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

Meditation Reflection:

We most experience love, when we experience mercy. Love expresses itself the deepest in forgiveness, in patience with another’s faults or inadequacies, in tender care during times of physical or emotional weakness, in the desire for one to have even more than they deserve. God is Love (1John 4:8), and His incarnate Son revealed God by His mercy – through the humility to share our burdens, through His tender touch of healing, through His words of Truth, and through His suffering and death on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Jesus gave the New Commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you”(John 13:34) and exhorted us to “be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful,” (Luke 6:36) instructing that we will be judged by how much we loved saying “whatever you did to the least of these you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). As Jesus’ disciples therefore, we too are called to reveal the Father’s love through lives of mercy.

Mercy doesn’t mean enabling sin or saying that abusive behavior is okay. Rather, mercy requires that we acknowledge sin as sin, otherwise we could not forgive. Mercy acknowledges human limitations and chooses to bend down and humbly meet the person where they’re at. Entitlement is not mercy but justice. Giving someone their due is simply what’s owed. That’s why Jesus doesn’t find it particularly extraordinary. It’s precisely within the context of justice however, that mercy can be freely given – and it’s the freedom of the giving that is the essence of love. Mercy means giving someone what isn’t their due. As Pope Francis asserted:

“[Justice and mercy] are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love.” Misericordiae Vultus April 11, 2015 [1]

Jesus teaches us how to love by teaching us how to show mercy. As the Mystical Body of Christ, He is the Head and we are the Body. Each person will have to face judgment, but the judge is Jesus Christ. Oftentimes, we want justice for others but mercy for ourselves. Jesus reminds us that we cannot be hypocrites. The measure we apply to others will be the measure we receive. We can’t have it both ways. Either we all receive mercy, or we all receive strict justice.

The more we have received mercy, the more we love to give it in return. Those who have come to terms with the reality of their own sin and had the courage to bring them before the Lord in Confession and receive His forgiveness and healing, then see others in the same light with eyes of tenderness and a thirst for their salvation too. Sin is suffering, even if it seems pleasurable or glamorous at the time. It always results in a degradation of the human person and the painful feelings that accompany that reality. Only the person who has not received mercy sits in judgment, wanting justice and not realizing that sin can be its own punishment. In Luke chapter 7, Jesus dined with a Pharisee. While there a sinful woman entered and washed his feet with her tears. Jesus explained to the astonished lawyer, that those who have been forgiven much love much.

There’s nothing timid about mercy. It doesn’t mean being a pushover or a relativist. Mercy requires the greatest strength of character, more than we even have on our own. Authentic mercy in its real application in your daily life toward the people in your life, takes grace. Only the love of Christ in our souls can fructify into the kind of patient, resilient, self-sacrificing, love that Jesus expects of His disciples.

Even Mother Teresa testified that she and her sisters could not do the kind of work they did every day without prayer and the graces that flowed from it. Serving the poorest of the poor in India was her calling, but she often taught that each of us is called to show the same kind of love in our families and neighborhoods.

Let us make our homes real places of love so that we can overcome any hatreds. Love begins at home – everything depends on how we love one another at home. Do not be afraid to love until it hurts, because this is how Jesus loved.” Mother Teresa Thirsting for God: Daily Meditations ed. By Angelo D. Scolozzi, M.C. III.O.

A beautiful example of just such love, can be found in the life of Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914). Her husband, who was the love of her life, was also an ardent atheist. Their circle of friends in the upper level of society in France shared his rationalist distaste for faith and Catholicism in particular. Nevertheless, her character and love drew their affections and even the desire for her guidance. In the end, her husband Felix had a conversion to faith and became a Catholic priest after her death. He credited her example, prayers, and suffering on his behalf for his change of heart. Her patience, calm, generosity, and love went so deep that in her greatest trials it proved supernatural to him. He writes of her during her final illness,

When, having left her in the afternoon, I returned home in the evening, I was aware, as I approached her bed, of a calmness in her welcoming smile that would have been impossible in myself. For my own part, I knew well what kind of an invalid – intolerable to myself and to others – I would have been, instead of the source of serenity that she was to all around her; and I bowed down before the grandeur of the spirit that sustained and uplifted her.” The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur

When I asked my students how they see Christian love in their home the answers they gave were revealing. One girl said she appreciated how her mother made a nice dinner every night, even though it was a long day at work. In addition, she noticed that her mom would often call her dad and ask him to pick something up on his way home and he always did. These little acts of kindness resonated with her. Other students commented on how much it meant to have a listening ear, help studying for a test, a ride to activities, and words of encouragement. All of these little daily things added up to lot for them.

I still remember today, several decades after the fact, an act of mercy on my own mother’s part. She had just had the (white) carpet cleaned. We ordered pizza for dinner and when the doorbell rang I answered it. Excitedly I ran up the stairs with the pizza, tripped, and the whole thing fell face flat on the newly cleaned white carpet. I stopped breathing. The natural reaction should have been to scream or be angry. Instead, my mother calmly stated, “accidents happen.” I knew this acceptance of my clumsiness was mercy. In consequence, when one of my children or students makes a similar bumble, I react with patience and mercy because when I was in their place that is what I received.

Jesus wants to shake us out of our pettiness and call us to magnanimity. Rather than bickering siblings, He exhorts us to mature into loving, giving, adults. There’s no need to point fingers, Jesus sees and He will judge. We only need to focus on the measure He will use to judge us by. The more generous we can be on earth the more generous He can be with us in Heaven. Moreover, the more we can be patient and kind in response to the daily annoyances we encounter, the more we can reveal the Father’s love. Our culture can be highly critical and competitive. Gentle love and merciful kindness is sorely needed and a true testament of the reality of grace.

Consider:

  • When have you experienced mercy? Did you receive forgiveness? Tender loving care when you were ill? A hand up when you were down or starting out?
  • How can you show mercy in your home through acts of love? Where could you add patience and understanding? What are your loved ones shortcomings and how could you be merciful in their weakness? How can you be of service – what are the daily needs in your home?
  • Oftentimes judgment expresses itself as gossip, slander, and detraction. Consider how you could avoid participating in gossip or try to withhold critical comments about others. Think of someone you find most easy to criticize and think of an equal number of things you could compliment them about.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Thank God each day for the mercy He has shown to you. Think about the events of the day and be specific if you can.
  • Do something kind, loving, or of service each day toward those in your everyday life. Look for opportunities to show patience.
  • Read about the life of a saint and their example of practical mercy and love in the circumstances of their life.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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[1] http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_bolla_20150411_misericordiae-vultus.html

Let Go and Let God

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 4:21-30

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Meditation Reflection:

Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of Christ in this passage.  All too often so-called friends or groups of admirers show their fickle nature by turning on us at the first instance we upset them, let them down, don’t meet all of their expectations, or they simply become distracted by something else.  The home-town crowd listening to Jesus turned from amazement at His gracious words to anger, impelling them to hurl Him down a cliff in what seems like a moment.

The daily Gospel readings this past week shed light on the situation however, that can help sooth our disillusionment.  Jesus responded to both praise and rejection with the same calm demeanor.  He knows human nature and refrains from getting worked up about the opinion of the masses.  His mission is to do the will of the Father not to poll focus groups.  Moreover, Jesus teaches that all any of us can do is the will of the Father, the results are in God’s hands not our own.  This works both ways – when we seemingly do great works, and when we seemingly fail.  

In Thursdays Gospel reading from Mark 4:1-20 Jesus told the parable of the Sower and the Seed.  As a teacher and mother this is one of my favorite passages.  Jesus, and His servants, have the responsibility to sow the seeds of the Gospel wherever God sends.  How those seeds grow depends on the soil, or the disposition, of the receiver.  Jesus’ words quite often fell on hearts that were hardened toward Him or too distracted by greed or anxiety.  Why should we be surprised if we experience the same thing?  Sometimes Jesus’ words fell on generous hearts and the Holy Spirit was able to work wonders through His followers.  Again, can we really take all the credit when our work bears rich fruit? Some of the credit belongs to the person of faith willing to “hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk 11:28).  Thus, Jesus places higher honor on two foreigners over God’s own children the Israelites because they were willing to do something in response to God’s word.  Finally, credit ultimately belongs to God.  In Friday’s Gospel from Mark 4:26-32 Jesus reflected on how a farmer plants seeds and harvests the crops but the entire process of growth in between is due to the mystery of God’s work in nature.

This Gospel should give us peace that God is in control.  He opens people’s ears to hear and eyes to see if He chooses.  He decides which persecutions He will allow toward His servants and which He won’t.  In this Gospel Jesus calmly and effortlessly passed through the angry crowd, demonstrating God’s total control over the situation.  During His Passion however, the Father allowed His Son to be taken by the angry crowd in the Garden of Gethsemane and eventually crucified.  Yet, by the power of God Jesus also rose from the dead.  

Disciples of Christ can take comfort in Jesus’ words He so often speaks:  “Peace be with you” and “Be not afraid”.  We can let go and let God because our only task is to do the will of the Father and let Him bring our work to fruition.  We have the joy of being His instrument, but the music played through us belongs to Him.

Consider:

 Have you ever had an experience like Christ’s where a friend or an acquaintance turned on you?  What did it teach you about relying on the opinion of others?
 How much do you worry about what other people think of you?
 Do you trust your children to God or do you put all the pressure for their good on yourself?
 In John 15:1-5 Jesus asserts that our fruitfulness depends upon our connection to Him.  

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

 

o How often do you begin your work with prayer?  
o Do you pray for the people in your life?  
o Do you pray for God to guide little decisions and everyday tasks in addition to the larger ones? 
o How has bringing things to prayer enrichened your experience or the outcome?    

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

 Whatever your work may be, take time in prayer to surrender it to Christ each day.  Ask for Him to guide the process as well as the outcome. 
 Choose a time in the middle of your day to connect with Christ.  Decide on when, where, and how – even if it’s as simple as 5 minutes of silent prayer or reading Scripture at your desk during lunch.

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016; edited © 2018 Angela Jendro

January 1st: Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

theotokos

by Angela Jendro

Gospel Luke 2:16-21 NAB

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.  When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Meditation Reflection:

“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  When it comes to their children, mothers are contemplatives; they treasure and reflect on every little thing and never tire of gazing at their children in love.  I will never forget the first night I spent with my son in the hospital. The nurse urged me to sleep after an exhausting birth, but I couldn’t stop holding him and staring at him.  I was overcome with a love there is no vocabulary to describe, and in awe of this mystery beyond comprehension.  With each subsequent child, I experienced the same awe.  Moreover, rather than dividing my love, each child multiplied it by expanding my heart with love for each of them individually.

As Mary gazed with love on her child, she gazed not only on her son, but the Son of God.  Mary was the first person to contemplate the mystery that Jesus is both God and man, creator and savior, born to die that we might live.  She is the first to love Him with her whole heart and the only to have the privilege of loving Him with a mother’s heart.

When God the Son took on a human nature, He allowed Himself to become weak and vulnerable.  He experienced human development and the daily process of growth and maturation we all go through.  Mary and Joseph were not merely day care providers for Jesus.  They were the first disciples of Christ and lived their vocation as His family to the fullest.  As God, Jesus had all the divine attributes.  As man, He shared DNA with Mary, He adopted Mary and Joseph’s mannerisms, He received a formation within the context of His family.

Though He is both God and Man, Jesus is one Person.  As a result, since Mary is the mother of Jesus she is rightly called Mother of God.  This does not mean she is the origin of the Trinity.  However, we must remember that mothers are mothers of people, not merely bodies.  It would be strange to say that I am the mother of my son’s body but not the mother of my son the person.  In the same way, to bifurcate Mary’s motherhood as merely that of part of Jesus would be to bifurcate Jesus Himself.  Jesus is one Person, the Second Person of the Trinity, who, since the moment of His incarnation, is forever simultaneously both God and Man.

Mary revered our Lord as both.  She nurtured His human needs and she worshipped His divinity.  She, like Him, obeyed the Father in all things.  She was the first human to live fully God’s plan for all mankind – union with God of heart, mind, and will.  Moreover, she is the only human to love Him as her Son and to be loved by Him as His mother.

This deep, pure, motherly love of Mary extends to each one of us as well.  From the Cross, as Christ suffered and died for our redemption and rebirth, He entrusted Mary as mother to St. John.  In doing so, He gave all of us to her as her children.  In baptism, we are united to Christ as His Mystical Body.  In consequence, we are also united to Mary as our mystical Mother.  Rather than dividing her love, each person who accepts her as mother, multiplies her love and experiences the same tender attention she gives to each of her children.  Christ shares our nature, and He has also shared His Heavenly Father and His earthly Mother with us.  Through Christ we become adopted sons and daughters of God and cherished children of Mary.  Through Christ’s humble love to become our brother, He has invited us into His own family.

Mary is the mother of God because God became man.  Mothers never tire telling anyone who will listen about their children.  Moreover, mothers love their children simply for who they are, not merely what they do.  If we ask Mary, she will share with us about her Son and teach us how to love and follow Him for Who He is, and not merely what He can do for us.

“She is so full of love that no one who asks for her intercession is rejected, no matter how sinful he may be. The saints say that it has never been known since the world began that anyone had recourse to our Blessed Lady, with trust and perseverance, and was rejected.”

St. Louis de Montfort

Consider:

  • How has meeting someone’s mother taught you something new about a person?
  • What do you cherish about your mother’s love?
  • If you are a parent, consider the mystery of your love for your children.  Imagine Mary’s love for Jesus at each of the stages of growth your kids have experienced.
  • Adoptive parents repeatedly report that they love their adoptive kids as if they were theirs biologically.  Consider Mary’s motherly love for you as her adoptive child, whom she loves as her very own.
  • Reflect on Christ’s love for Mary as His mother.
    • Consider the deep feelings of admiration and appreciation He has for her.
    • Reflect on their relationship and connection as mother and son.
    • Consider the comfort and strength He drew from her during His public ministry, knowing He had one person who understood His mission and supported Him no matter what.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • This week, read and reflect on the words of Mary in Scripture.
  • Ask Mary to be your mother and go to her each day with your needs. Ask her to tell you about Jesus and teach you how to follow Him.
  • Pray a decade of the rosary each day.  Consider using the Scriptural rosary if you can.
    • (I have never prayed the rosary without experiencing some kind of grace.  Mary always brings us to Jesus.)
    • Pope St. John Paul II said, “To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and His mother.”

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro© 2018

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Christmas Day! Up Close and Personal: God Dwells Among Us

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

Gospel of John 1:1-18

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'” From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.

 Meditation Reflection:

There’s a reason why parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends greet children of every age with “I can’t believe how big you’re getting!”  The miracle of human life never ceases to astound.  My first pregnancy I remember marveling that a person who recently never existed, now did, and would for all of eternity.  It hit me that God had done a creating act of my child’s soul in my very womb.   The intimate closeness of God’s activity, and the reality of this miracle which was now kicking inside of me exceeded my understanding and overwhelmed my heart.  To this day, I look at my children and think, “You used to not exist, and now you do, and you are amazing.”

Holding my son for the first time, I finally experienced what it meant to be a contemplative.  I had learned about contemplation and how Mary was the perfect example as she gazed on Jesus and loved Him.  The catechism relates this description of contemplation from one of St. John Vianney’s parishioners:

Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. CCC 2712

Although I admired this kind of prayer and certainly desired it, I also felt it was unattainable for me.  “How can I just sit and stare at Christ?”, I wondered.  I would do my regular prayers then get on with serving Christ actively but had to leave contemplation to the advanced Christians, or so I thought.  Then I held my newborn son for the first time.  Exhausted from a difficult pregnancy and even more difficult birth full of complications, I nevertheless couldn’t stop staring at him, my heart overflowing with love.  The nurse asked several times if I would like her to take him so I could get some rest.  It was no use, I was wide awake and deep in contemplation. Moreover, this gaze of love changed the way I viewed everyone. From that moment forward, I understood the fierce love and compassion I have for my son is the same fierce love and compassion God has for each of His children.  In consequence, I see people through the Father’s eyes instead of my own.

At Christmas, we encounter the astounding miracle of the Incarnation.  God, Who was completely transcendent and beyond us, became man and lived intimately among us.  He shares our human experience.  He had a human mother, grandparents, cousins, an address.  He grew out of his clothes and sandals like my children are constantly doing.  Finally, whereas in the past God spoke through prophets, now He spoke directly to us.  The Word of God literally resonated through the air and to the ears of listeners.  It continues to resonate through the Church He endowed with His Holy Spirit and the Scriptures as well as in our own prayer through the indwelling of the Spirit as a gift of Baptism.

Contrary to popular cultural myth – God is not dead, not silent, not absent, and not remote.  Today we celebrate His birth, His Word dwelling among us, closer than any Person can get.

During this Christmas season, let us seek Him.  Contemplative prayer is possible for everyone.  We seek sight of those we love – whether through physical presence, facetime on the phone, or photographs on our desk.  It’s a movement of the heart.  God became man, that we might be intimately close to Him.  The catechism teaches:

Contemplative prayer seeks him “whom my soul loves.” CCC 2709 and Song of Songs 1:7; cf 3:14

Let us seek Christ spiritually in prayer and Scripture, physically in the Eucharist and Confession, and in each person we meet.

Consider:

  • When was a time you experienced the miracle of life?  How did it  make you feel closer to God?
  • Reflect on how intimately Jesus walks with you. Consider how He shares your experiences – the joys and the pain.
  • Imagine what it must have been like to be Jesus’ grandparents or extended family?  Imagine what it was like for Mary and Joseph to love Jesus with a mother and foster-father’s love.

 Make a Resolution:

  • Spend 10 minutes a day reading and reflecting on a Gospel passage.  Encounter Christ in His Word.  (I recommend Matthew 5-7 if you don’t know where to start.)
  • Spend 5 minutes in silent prayer.  Set a timer, close your eyes, and try to simply gaze on Jesus in your heart.  Don’t worry about distractions, just push them away and turn your gaze back if they pop up.
  • Encounter Christ in others each day this week.  Try to see them as God the Father does, and care for them as a physical opportunity to care for Christ.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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