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):

Follow bar

The Priority of Being Present

by Angela M Jendro

20150814_015150000_iOS

Gospel of Luke 10:38-42 NAB

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Meditation Reflection:

Theologians and spiritual writers often point to this passage as a teaching on the active life of service and the contemplative life of prayer.  I find it also provides rich insights into the life of family. Martha’s home – her welcoming love and hospitality – together with the company of her sister Mary and brother Lazarus, became a place of respite and comfort for Christ.

His relationship with their family began with Martha’s initiative as He entered their village.  Just prior to this passage, Luke recounted the many places and people that either failed to receive Jesus or rejected him outright.  Martha however invited Him into her home and served Him with gracious hospitality.

In family life, welcoming children begins with a similar openness toward receiving others whenever they arrive and a readiness to serve.  In fact, in Luke 9:48, Jesus lauded this service, promising: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Oftentimes however, parents become “burdened with much serving” like Martha.  Babies require constant care day and night, young children need continual help, pre-teens need a frenetic amount of chauffeuring, and teens still require guidance and massive food intake.

These daily battles don’t go unnoticed by Chirst and He appreciates every sacrifice we make.  He also understands how even the best intentions and sacrificial serving can go awry if we allow our work to become a source of untethered anxiety and worry, distracting us from the relationships that it was meant to nurture and undermining our own spiritual health.   Jesus did not scold Martha for working too hard, He voiced His concern for her anxiousness.  Her worry had sabotaged her ability to be present in the moment and began to skew her perspective.  When she tried to drag Mary into her frenzy Jesus prevented her and gently helped Martha see where she had crossed the line.

Pope Francis also noted this challenge to modern families in his apostolic letter The Joy of Love .  Citing responses he had received from the questionnaire he had sent out prior to the Synod on the Family, he acknowledged:

Many of the respondents pointed to the problems families face in raising children.  In many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal.  Distractions abound, including an addiction to television…Other responses pointed to the effect of severe stress on families, who often seem more caught up with securing their future than with enjoying the present.  This is a broader cultural problem, aggravated by fears about steady employment, finances, and the future of children.” (The Joy of Love  par. 50)

 

My watershed moment like Martha’s occurred at Christmas time several years ago.  My three kids were pretty young, and at the same time old enough for us to have established Christmas traditions of our own.  In addition, we were going to host the Christmas Eve celebration for our extended family. As a result, I had grand plans worked out into an organized to-do list so that we could accomplish everything from home-made frosted sugar cookies the kids and I would make together in Christmas shapes to the FoodNetwork recipes I would make for the family celebration.   That all came to an abrupt and painful halt when I became sick with the flu one week prior to Christmas day.  As the flu persisted and Christmas approached my stress level reached breaking point.  My mom called to say hi but instead had to methodically walk me back from my emotional cliff.  She went through my list with me one task at a time and asked the simple question over and over again: “and what would happen if that didn’t get done? And what if that didn’t get done…”

Although I had loving intentions behind each task, the element of service had been usurped by a ball of worry.  My mom, like Christ, gently gave me perspective.  Consequently, with the help of a great deal of divine grace, I surrendered our newly established Christmas traditions and accepted that we could do them next year.  I scaled back my expectations for hosting, humbly accepted help, and recalled that spending time together was the most important thing not the elaborate meal.    Since then, with the help of prayer and grace, I have worked to keep that perspective and peace.

Christian service is not an end in and of itself.  Rather, it’s a loving encounter with another person.  Whether it’s care for kids, elderly parents, a disabled relative, a nextdoor neighbor,  or dedication at one’s job, we all need to make sure we keep the persons we are serving at the center and resist letting the tasks distract us with worry from the people whom we are caring about in the first place.  Jesus loved visiting Mary, Martha, and Lazarus because of the warm hospitality and because of the personal love, faith, and fellowship that they offered.  Despite our technological advances, we have become busier as a culture rather than more relaxed.  It requires intentional effort and grace to put people first and to be present in the moment.  It’s no small task to order our lives in such a way that we can work hard and have time to stop and listen to those we love.  To a stressed out Martha, Mary appeared to just be sitting around doing nothing.  Jesus reminded her that personal attention is just as important a “task” as the others, if not more important.

Mary chose the better part.  We too must pray for the grace to choose to spend time doing what feels like nothing with our kids, parents, and family; to just enjoy being with one another.  Similarly, we must choose to make time to just be with Christ so that our work remains in service to Him imbued with His love.  No one claims they treat their family and friends the best when they are stressed out and anxious.   By “practicing the presence of God”, as Brother Lawrence’s spiritual classic teaches, God will provide the peace we need to practice the presence of others as well.  It will be counter-cultural, and you will have to let go of competing with the super-moms and the super-colleagues, but Jesus assures us that choosing to be present to the people we care about over a frenzied attitude over work that needs to be done is the better part and we shouldn’t let anything take it from us.

Consider:

  •  Prayerfully consider how present you are to Christ.
    • Do you make time to sit with Him and listen?
    • Do you think of Him during the day or while at work?
    • Do you enjoy silent prayer or struggle with the feeling that you are “doing nothing”?
  • Prayerfully consider how present you are to your family.
    • When are your favorite times to connect?
    • What special moments do you recall with your parents or kids where you felt loved and listened to?
    • What things undermine your peace and your ability to focus on those around you?
    • What causes you to become stressed and distracted?
    • How could you re-order your life or adjust your expectations so you can resist unnecessary anxiety and give your loved ones the best version of yourself?
    • What do you need to take care of yourself so you can be a peaceful, present person?
      • How much sleep do you need? Be honest!
      • How and when do you relax?
      • What are your quirks or limitations it would help to acknowledge? (For example – running late makes you stressed so make an effort to arrive 5 minutes early or you need a bite to eat every couple of hours so make time for good food, etc.)
    • Pray for an increase in the virtue of Hope. Consider how worry can be combated by trust in Jesus. Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added” (Matthew 6:33).  Pray for the grace to prioritize your life according to God’s will, then allow Him to make sure everything else gets worked out.
    • Reflect on the reality of our limitations: limitations of time in a day, energy, the need for rest and food, etc. It takes humility to live within our limitations but being more realistic about what we expect from ourselves and others as well as what we say yes or no to can greatly reduce unnecessary stress.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a list of priorities. Then make a list of your schedule and activities.  Prayerfully evaluate if they align and make adjustments. Schedule in time for God, time to take care of yourself, and time for serving your family and at work.
  • Each day choose one person to whom you will be present and attentive. If possible decide who, when, and how. (It can be as simple as asking someone at work about their day at lunch or visiting with your kids at the dinner table.)

Comments: 

  1. You can help encourage one another by sharing your own example of a “Martha” or “Mary moment.
  2. Share your resolution for the week! How are you going to apply today’s meditation to your life?  Then let us know how it’s going.

For further reading click here to buy them from Amazon!

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook @taketimeforhim

 

(16th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

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

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

 

Excuses, Excuses…Be Brave! Be Determined!

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 9:51-62

When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Meditation Reflection:

Being a Christian means following Christ, wherever and whenever He goes. Full discipleship requires 100% commitment, not the made-to-order or pick and choose buffet we are accustomed to in our culture. Consider Jesus’ own example. He needed to journey to Jerusalem. Notice the attitude He chose – resolution and determination. Followers of Christ need the same resolution and determination. In fact, St. Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic and doctor of the Church, emphasized repeatedly the need for determination in order to advance in the spiritual life.

As Jesus journeyed, doing the Father’s will, those He encountered each had an opportunity to join Him. The Samaritans received messengers from Christ but rejected the Lord before He even arrived when they learned accepting Christ meant surrendering their bitterness toward Jerusalem.

The next person took the initiative to seek Jesus and requested to be in His company. Jesus, who knows the hearts of each one of us, warned the man that being near to Christ would bring spiritual security and comfort but not necessarily the feeling of physical security and comfort.

The next two men Jesus invited to follow Him, but both requested to do something else first. Their requests seem valid and even noble. In fact, burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy and honoring your father and mother is the 4th commandment. Is Jesus asking us to neglect our duties? Does Christian discipleship excuse neglecting our families? Does God contradict Himself? No. Do we sometimes rationalize our cowardice or weakness by twisting God’s commands against Him? Yes. Many of us (including myself!), often excuse our lack of time for prayer by pitting it against the active life of charity. It sounds something like this: “I don’t have time to sit and pray because I need to do…which God would want me to do.” A practical example would be, “I could ‘just’ sit and pray, or work an extra hour to provide for my family, or do a load of laundry and dishes, or run an errand. God wants me to care for my family, that is my prayer.”

Sometimes that might be the case. But, in truth, there’s usually time for both. In addition, without prayer, even our loving activities can tend to be more self-loving rather than other-loving. Jesus knew the hearts of the two men who wanted to return to their families before following Him. Rather than contradicting His command that we love one another, especially our families, He may have been calling them out on their rationalizations. It reminds me of when I gather my kids for family prayer. My two boys will often try to get out of it by appealing to my earlier request that they get outside for awhile or they were just about to start a chore I had assigned. In reality, they had time for both those things before and after prayer, it just sounds like a better excuse.

Let’s face it, we have an inner desire for God and we may even have authentic zeal for discipleship, but we also struggle with attachments that hold us back. The good news is that if we open ourselves up to Christ in prayer, He will reveal those attachments to us and provide the grace to overcome them. It requires resolution, determination, and being honest with ourselves, but with God all things are possible.

Consider:

  • Like the Samaritans, how many of us hold on to bitterness, anger, or un-forgiveness? Prayerfully ask Christ to reveal if any of these are holding you back from following Him. Pray for the grace to surrender it to the Lord.
  • Like the man who proclaimed he would follow Christ wherever He goes, consider why you are a Christian. Is your love for the Lord intermixed with some self-love as well? Do you complain when you encounter trials? Are you impatient or upset when you experience discomfort?
  • What rationalizations do you use to delay responding to Christ or to responding more generously? What rationalizations have you overcome on your spiritual journey?   How has that experience strengthened your will to follow the Lord?
  • A favorite book of mine called “The Fire Within” by Fr. Thomas Dubay provides some great steps for identifying and overcoming attachments. Prayerfully read my summary of Fr. Dubay’s steps and see if you can identify one attachment and make a plan for rooting it out: identifying attachments

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week thank God for one deterrent He has helped you overcome or from which He has freed you, and invite Him to reveal and free you from a current hindrance you may or may not realize you have.
  • Pray for an increase in resolution and determination. Choose one concrete thing you can do this week to apply it. (e.g. pray 15 minutes each morning or evening, say something kind to your spouse when you want to say something critical, hug your child when you want to throw your hands up in exasperation, choose a daily Mass to attend and do what it takes to get there, go to Confession…)
  • Using Fr. Dubay’s steps, identify a current attachment and do one thing each day to root it out.identifying attachments

 

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

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

The Most Marvelous Mystery!

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Gospel of John 16:12-15 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me,because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”

Meditation Reflection:

The mystery of the Trinity transcends our comprehension and its reality cannot be rightly conceived in our imagination. At the same time, God desired that we know something of His nature and being. Christ revealed this truth during His public ministry since we could not have known it otherwise. Still, we lack understanding without supernatural help and so Jesus explains to His apostles, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” When the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles at Pentecost, He opened their eyes of faith, elevated their understanding, and fortified their courage to believe and proclaim such extraordinary truths.

The Holy Spirit continues His work today in our own hearts as well. We know from Genesis that we image God, but because of sin we struggle to know what that looks like. Through Baptism however, the Trinity comes to dwell in our very souls.   His image grows within us and begins to radiate more and more brightly in our minds and in our lives to the extent that we cooperate with His gifts.

So what is the Trinity? What did God reveal about Himself? What are we supposed to image? The Church explains it in this way:

“The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”.83 The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire…” (CCC 253)

“The divine persons are really distinct from one another. “God is one but not solitary.”86 “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.”87 They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.”88 The divine Unity is Triune.” (CCC 254)

The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another” (CCC 255)

Understand? Great! Just kidding. I can explain…kind of. First, we must accept that we cannot fully comprehend or imagine the Trinity so let go of that goal. However, it does not mean that we can know nothing of the Trinity. God revealed His Trinitarian reality and so we ought to accept and contemplate this mystery with the help of the Holy Spirit.

First, God is one. He has one divine nature. We tend to imagine it divided into three parts but this is where our imagination fails us. Each person of the Trinity is wholly God.

Secondly, God is three. Our imagination tries to reconcile this with His oneness by imagining God as having three different modes or faces but being essentially the same. Not the case. God is three distinct persons.

So how can God be one and three? In heaven you will see the face of God and something of this mystery. This incredible vision will be the source of joy so great that you will have to be supernaturally empowered to take it in without being overcome. Live a holy life so you can one day have this awesome opportunity! From Christ’s teachings we know that God’s oneness and threeness reveal that His essence is one of relationship. God is a relationship of Three Persons. I mentioned in a prior post that when God created us in His image, He created a family. A man and a woman become “one flesh” and a child is born who is both of their nature and yet distinct as well. The union of persons in life-giving love images God who is also a union of persons in life-giving love. Is it no wonder that Satan’s primary attack against God is directed at His image; thus Satan’s efforts to promote a self-centered individualism in contrast to the other-centered gift of self required for an intimate union of persons.

We cannot imagine God’s Triune nature but we can contemplate it and try to live as an image of it with the help of the Holy Spirit and the graces of the Sacraments. Baptism unites us to God and each other, the Eucharist nourishes that unity, and Confession reconciles us when we have separated ourselves through sin. The more we open ourselves to God the more we will see Him. That process begins on earth and the joy that accompanies it begins here as well. We can look forward with hope and anticipation to the day that God enables us to see more of Him in heaven and we will be free to sing endless songs of praise and love.

Consider:

  • Consider your relationship with God the Father.
    • What does it mean to be a son or daughter of God?
      • Consider your dignity as an heir of heaven where your Christ your brother reigns as king and Mary your mother reigns as queen.
      • In a family, each member is irreplaceable. You are an irreplaceable member of God’s family. You matter to God and to every member of the Christian family.
    • How does that affect the way you see yourself?
    • How does that affect the choices you make?
  • Consider your relationship with God the Son.
    • God became man so you could encounter Him directly. He shared in the human experience so He could be closer to you. Reflect on times you have encountered Christ.
    • Consider the mysteries of His life – how has He experienced similar sufferings to yours?
    • He still draws near to you today through the Eucharist and His Mystical Body the Church. Reflect on the immanence of Christ in your daily life.
  • Consider your relationship with the Holy Spirit.
    • The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see Christ and enlightens our understanding to appropriate His teachings.
    • When was a time the Holy Spirit brought comfort and peace to your soul?
    • When was a time He gave you fortitude and perseverance in your Christian walk?
    • When was a time He gave you wisdom to discern the right choice to make when faced with a difficult decision? Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your decisions today as well.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Take a moment today to appreciate God’s creation.
  • Visit Christ present in the Eucharist.
  • Pray to the Holy Spirit each day to reveal God more to you, and to transform your heart that your life might reveal God more to someone else.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2016  edited ©2019

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

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

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

 

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

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

 

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

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

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.

Lenten Journey is available for purchase in our Online store  as an e-book (free will offering) or in print ($15).

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

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 🙂

 

For printed booklet – visit our Online store tab or purchase below:

 

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.

$15.00