God’s Treasure: Knowing Your Value

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

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29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 22:15-21

Consider the value and meaning we place on money. First, there’s the cultural pressure to value ourselves based on our bank account. We call name brand clothes, luxury vehicles, the size and elegance of a home, or exotic vacations “status symbols” because they reflect our monetary power and therefore our personal value. Consider how many people struggle with low self-esteem, no matter what age, because they lack the apparent wealth of others.

Our perception of the value of our work can also be tied to the numbers. How many decisions do we make based on how much money it pays rather than based on whether it’s God’s will? How many opportunities do we miss because we are afraid of having less and worry that we will thereby be less?

Currency further identifies our national ties. Each country has its own currency with images of its leaders and heroes.  To buy or sell in another nation requires exchanging your local money for the proper foreign coins.

These habits of mind might belong in the kingdom of fallen man, but not to the Kingdom of God. God created everything from nothing and continues to govern it and hold it in existence. He imprinted His image on man and woman and placed a value of infinite worth on each. The only way to devalue this currency is to distort God’s image within us, which we all do through sin (except Jesus and Mary) since Adam and Eve. Jesus came to restore God’s image within us, and even elevated it to a higher degree and dignity by uniting our human nature with His divine nature through His Incarnation.

Jesus doesn’t condemn Caesar’s image on Roman coins because it’s an earthly currency for an earthly political system. Rather, Jesus reminds us that our citizenship in His kingdom transcends our human institutions.

God desires that we revere Him as the King of kings, worship Him as Creator, and love Him as Father and Redeemer. He has bestowed His royal dignity upon us and urges us to return to Him His image. We don’t earn heavenly currency, we become it and we receive it.

Jesus says that we are God’s treasure. If we want to chase the dollar, we should chase God’s dollar. Through deeper union with the Lord, His grace transforms us more and more into His likeness. We also begin to see God’s image in others and their corresponding value and beauty. Thus one person, no matter how broken, is worth more than as many images of Ben Franklin you could stack.

I was reminded of this truth again when my sister and brother-in-law welcomed my new baby nephew into the world. From everyone’s reaction you would have thought they had won millions of dollars in the lottery and just told us they would share it with everyone – from the grandparent’s jubilation down to the youngest of their newborn’s siblings and cousins. The mark of status for us became who got to see him first!

Love sees the whole person. When a family member or loved one becomes ensnared in a serious sin, addiction, or suffers under mental illness, we feel sorrow because we see how these things distort the image of the true person we know, and all they could be. We want the ones we love to flourish. We value them for simply them, not anything they have accomplished or not. I love family reunions just because I enjoy being around those I love. I have grown up with my brother, sister, and cousins for many years now.  I have seen us all go through ups and downs, great strides and tough struggles.  I love them all when they are doing well, and just as much when they are struggling. I hate anything that would hold them back from the fullness of Christ’s joy, and I also know that God can work all things together for good.

Money can buy temporary pleasures and momentary experiences. However, the more we image the Lord, the deeper we experience a well-spring of joy, and far richer experiences than we can find anywhere else. It can hardly be described in words, so I won’t even try. Christ doesn’t explain it either.  He simply says, “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39).

Come and see Jesus, and see your true worth in His eyes.

Consider:

  • Think of the people you love the most. Why do you love them? Why do their failings not make you love them less? How do you see them differently than they may see themselves?
  • We make decisions based on our priorities. Make a priority list based on what you value
  • Prayerfully ask God to show you how He sees you. Take 5 minutes of silent listening. (If distractions pop up just push them away. If you need an image to look at, meditate Then, compare the decisions you have been making to that list. How well do they match up? Where does there need to be some adjustments? What worldly values or fears are compromising your freedom to choose the higher good?)
  • Prayerfully consider, with the help of the Holy Spirit, if you tend to value things more than people, or people more than things? Do you take your identity in what you have or your job title, or in being a child of God and a brother or sister of the Savior?
  • Pray for Christ to give you His vision. Ask Him to enable you to see yourself and others as God

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning, “give to God what is God’s” – His image in you. Pray the Disciple’s Prayer by Cardinal Newman 
  • This week try to see yourself and others as God does. Pray for their freedom and yours from sin, fear, or addiction, and the gift of Christ-filled  joy.
Disciple’s Prayer by Cardinal Newman
 
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.

~ 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. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

Love Beats the Deadline

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

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28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 22:1-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

* 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. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

Love Shows Up

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

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26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 21:28-32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

* 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. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

To Err is Human, To Forgive Divine

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

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24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 18:21-35

The three essential phrases required in every relationship include: “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” We all need affirmation of love since our deepest desire as creatures made in the image and likeness of God is to love and be loved. As persons wounded by original sin, we also need to give and receive forgiveness.

The more we love, the greater the offense when we mess up. If I hold up the line at the grocery store because I forgot an item on my list, I will upset the people behind me, but they won’t take it personally. They may utter some unkind words or sigh loudly, but by the next day it’s forgotten. If however I hold up a family member or friend from getting somewhere together on time due to my forgetfulness it can feel more personal and a failure to love the way they deserve.

Moreover, if a person’s in a bad mood and snaps at her coworkers, they’ll be upset but shake it off. Whereas, if she brings that bad mood home and takes it out on her family then it can damage and chip away at those relationships.

Mistakes and stress are daily occurrences, thus the need to apologize quickly and acknowledge the mess-up or failure of character in order to reestablish right relationship. It’s amazing how simply taking responsibility for a mistake or bad behavior can put people in a much more forgiving disposition.

C.S. Lewis, in his essay On Forgiveness, made an important distinction between mistakes which are excusable and mistakes which require forgiveness. All offenses are not equal, and he notes that oftentimes when we attempt to apologize, we in fact try to excuse away responsibility. If something is excusable however then it really doesn’t require forgiveness. By definition, a reasonable excuse implies that the wrong was not your fault.  He observed,

“I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive.

This distinction applies to our view of forgiving others as well. By confusing excusing with forgiving, we may think that if we forgive someone, we are saying what they did was okay or accepting that they aren’t really responsible. In consequence it feels inauthentic or false. However, forgiveness does not excuse but rather acknowledges the real offense and mercifully gives reconciliation as a gift. This means surrendering bitterness and ill-wishes, but it does not mean you have to trust the person or like them. C.S. Lewis explains it like this:

[Many people] think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or no bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. They keep on replying, “But I tell you the man broke a most solemn promise.” Exactly: that is precisely what you have to forgive. (This doesn’t mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise.  It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart – every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.)

On the other hand, since forgiveness is a free act of mercy by the offended, it can be intimidating to admit guilt. What if you let down your guard and admit your fault in all truth? You will be in debt to that person and they could hold it over you. They could also look down on you. After all, the root of our sins are ugly – pride, vanity, foolishness, envy, baseness, etc. If I don’t want people to see my house in a wreck, why would I let them see my soul in a wreck?

Unfortunately, this fear of rejection can color our approach to God’s forgiveness too.  Pope Francis commented in The Name of God is Mercy, that most people haven’t experienced mercy in their own lives, so they assume they won’t receive mercy from God.  St. Faustina also decried this attitude as Jesus revealed to her that His greatest wound was a lack of trust in His mercy on the part of souls. He asked Faustina to have the Divine Mercy image painted, and Feast of Mercy established the Sunday after Easter. Pope St. John Paul II recognized the authenticity and timeliness of this message and created the desired feast day. C.S. Lewis described this anguish we feel approaching God for confession and encouraged his readers saying,

A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it, from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favour. But that would not be forgiveness at all.  Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowance have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.  That, and only that,  is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.

Lastly, Jesus’ exhortation on forgiveness includes the question of the ongoing repetitiveness of offenses. It’s one thing to forgive big sins, but oftentimes the need to forgive the petty daily jabs can get the better of us, especially from those who do not apologize. Jesus modelled this frustrating kind of love in that He first loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). So, if we are to follow His great commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34), we must bear wrongs patiently. We must graciously excuse the excusable, and mercifully forgive the inexcusable. By doing this, we evangelize about God’s mercy by our action encouraging the offender that if you can forgive them, God can too. We also acknowledge with humility that we too are sinners. We need the forgiveness and patience of others as well. Not only that, but our own forgiveness by God will be measured by our forgiveness toward others.

Consider:

  • Reflect on the difference between an excuse and an admission of guilt.
    • How do you excuse your guilt away? Why do you think that is?
    • On the other hand, how do you sometimes assume guilt rather than an excuse it when it comes to other people?
  • Take a moment to examine your conscience and come before God in prayer asking for forgiveness.
  • Consider who may need your forgiveness. How might you offer mercy to him or her – whether for a regular fault or for a major injustice?
    • Offer the “justice” or revenge you desire to God
    • Pray for his or her conversion
  • Consider that forgiveness is an opportunity. Since God has forgiven you so generously and joyfully, forgiving someone who has hurt you is an opportunity to do the same for someone else.
  • We need the help of grace to forgive.  Take a moment to ask Christ for the strength to have a merciful heart.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray Psalm 51 each day this week. It’s David’s psalm praying for God’s forgiveness and trusting in His mercy.
  • Bear wrongs patiently during the day.
  • Extend mercy and forgiveness to someone who needs it from you.
  • Let an old grudge go.

~ 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. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

You can find C.S. Lewis’ essay on Forgivenss in The Weight of Glory: A Collection of Lewis’ Most Moving Addresses

Following the Leader: Christian Discipleship and Leadership

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

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21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 16: 13-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone & Walking on Water

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19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33

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

petersinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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When Your Work for Christ Feels Sabotaged

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16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:24-43

weeds and wheatThese parables have been a rock of hope for me as a mother and teacher. I feel like I put so much time and effort into carefully forming my children and students in the faith only to be discouraged by the worldly attitudes that apparently pop up overnight like the weeds in Jesus’ first parable. Like the servants I exclaim with surprise, Lord did we not sow good seed in your field, where have the weeds come from?  One day we’re listening to Christian music in the car, and the next the kids are streaming explicit rap music on Spotify. Whereas before the kids couldn’t wait to read bible stories together, suddenly, they start dragging their feet and complaining. The values of prayer, service, and modesty now seem to be riddled with competing values of constant activity and entertainment – from sports to social media to video games, the goal of making lots of money, and popular clothing styles that degrade their God-given dignity.

For most people these weeds pop up as they near middle school and intensify in high school. Developmentally, kids sense their need to become independent and separate from mom and dad.  Unfortunately, the culture they reach out to for acceptance is riddled with weeds of atheism, hedonism, consumerism, a degraded definition of personhood, and individualism. The less Christian our culture has become, and the more virulently anti-Christian it has grown to be, the more it feels like our contribution as formators (whether as parents, teachers, aunts & uncles, youth ministers, counselors etc.) is as small as a mustard seed in comparison.

Woman praying by Barbara Jackson pixabay_comWhen I feel this surprise and frustration I’m encouraged by Jesus’ lack of surprise and calm confidence.  Jesus expected the weeds. He knows they didn’t come from us (well, maybe some of them – none of us are perfect yet!). He advises us to persevere with confidence because the mustard seed of our work, the hidden leaven of our efforts toward their formation, will grow with supernatural grace. In the end, Christ will be victorious, and the weeds will be separated out and tossed aside.  As St. Paul declared to the Philippians:

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6

St. Monica (331 AD – 387 AD) and St. Augustine (354 AD – 430 AD) provide the perfect example of this. St. Monica raised Augustine Catholic and prayed for him and her pagan husband diligently. Nevertheless, as Augustine got older, his experience at school and within the culture rooted weeds of pride and vain ambition. He abandoned the Catholic faith altogether deeming it unintelligent and unappealing. Instead he pursued the spiritual in a cult called Manichaeism and worked toward advancing his career as a rhetorician in Rome.

Monica, left behind at their home in North Africa, cried torrents of tears for her son’s conversion. At the time Augustine spent his workday developing a rich lifestyle, and his free time partying and living with a woman he wasn’t married to. Nevertheless, Monica persevered. When Augustine had still lived in North Africa, she had endeavored to connect him with any priest or bishop she could find who would be willing to speak with him about the faith and try to convince him of the errors of Manichaeism. When Augustine ran away from home (he snuck out on a boat for Rome and only told his mother after the fact) she increased her prayer and sacrifice.  Augustine credits his mother’s sacrificial prayers for his eventual conversion.

Augustine would eventually be intrigued and persuaded by the preaching of a bishop, but it would be St. Ambrose in Milan. Ambrose’s teaching was a turning point and God continued to lead Augustine toward the truth. He eventually saw the errors in Manichaeism and the falsehoods at its foundation. He also encountered stories of lives of the saints as well as the example of the conversion of one of his colleagues, both of which stung at his conscience to convert as well. Eventually he made the turn, was baptized, and lived a reformed life becoming a bishop and one of the greatest saints and doctors of the Church.

After pulling the weeds in Augustine, God harvested all that intelligence, passion, and skill for the building up of His kingdom. At the end of Monica’s life she even had a beautiful mystical experience in prayer together with Augustine.

Afterward, she expressed to Augustine the feeling St. Paul did in Philippians, that God had brought to completion the good work He had entrusted to her. Moved by her love and faith, her husband had been baptized before his death.  Once her son was secured in Christ, she felt at rest and died shortly after.

St. Augustine’s youth resembles that of our own youth today. Even though his Confessions (the book he wrote about his conversion) was written in the 5th century, it resembles our own age in a remarkable way. We can take heart, as Monica did, that God’s work won’t go unharvested and to persevere in prayer and sacrifice.

It reminds me of the classic scenario where a child has one parent who only promises what he or she can deliver on and provides for the seemingly small but daily sacrifices the child needs, while the other parent neglects the daily work and present needs but compensates with big promises that they never keep. At the time, the big talker overshadows the real gifts the child is receiving. However, in time, the truth gets revealed and the value of those real gifts outshines the shadow of the imagined gifts.

The Truth is true. Eventually, the world’s false promises come up empty and Christ’s promises prove real. Hopefully some of our kids and loved ones will trust in Christ and resist the weeds to begin with, and they will experience the peace of Christ permeate their life early on.  Some of our loved ones will be more lured by the weeds and may experiment with the glamour of the worldly values. Yet, even this may lead them back to Christ as they begin to feel the anxiety and degradation that it produces.

For your part, keep on planting good seed. Keep praying, teaching, role modeling, and working on your own conversion. Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) did just that, and shortly after her death her atheist husband became Catholic, and later a Dominican priest! In her journal, Elisabeth wrote,

“Whatever suffering this [isolation of faith] entails, I offer for the souls who are so dear to me. Nothing is lost, not one grief or one tear.”

She was right. Like St. Monica, God blessed her tears and sacrifice with a rich harvest of the seeds she had planted and the leaven of her charity. Jesus said that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Elisabeth’s husband Felix testified to this saying of her life, especially in her final years as she was bedridden from illness:

She did indeed uplift all who surrounded or approached her, and it was a strange thing to see this woman, so modest, so humble of heart, condemned to practical immobility, shedding around her far and wide the light of her great influence.

One friend of theirs (also an atheist) said of Elizabeth after her death:

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

The culture may feel louder and stronger but persevere. Have hope in Christ and battle for your loved ones with prayer, sacrifice, and kindness. We already know the winning side and it’s Christ!

Consider:

  • How have you planted seeds of faith in others? How might you continue to do that in similar or new ways?
  • How can you add leaven to the dough through Christian acts of love? What are common situations in your daily life that offer opportunities for patience, gentleness, strength, or forgiveness?
  • Who has planted seeds of faith in you? Consider how they have grown over time and with age and experience.
  • What weeds of worldliness are growing alongside the wheat in you?
  • What are the present challenges against the faith in your family and friendships? How might you entrust them to Christ and battle with prayers and sacrifices?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • When confronted with frustration this week, turn to Christ with a prayer (such as Philippians 1:6), or battle by praying a rosary (St. Padre Pio called it his weapon because of its power against Satan and for conversion of souls), or asking the prayers of the guardian angels or a favorite saint.
  • Read about the lives of St. Augustine and St. Monica.
  • If you know someone who has made it to the other side of a struggle you are currently in, reach out to them and listen to their story to gain greater hope.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Share your thoughts or experiences in the comments to build each other up in hope!

Preparing the Soil: Spiritual Receptivity

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15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23

St. Paul tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). So why does the Word of Christ set some people’s hearts on fire while others pass it by with apathy or disdain? Does Jesus play favorites with who He invites to understand His message and who He lets go? How does He choose to whom “knowledge of the mysteries of heaven is granted”?

sowerJesus answers in a surprising way – He is the sower who offers Himself to everyone; whether it takes root depends on us. We are responsible for the extent to which we receive His Word.

It reminds me of my kids’ proverbial complaint that I’m not fair. Each one is certain that they have more chores than the others, and that they receive less than the others. I remind them that it only appears that way because they see their work but don’t see the work their siblings do. Either, because sometimes it occurs when they are not around, or because they just refuse to acknowledge it.  Similarly, the appearance of others receiving more stems from ingratitude and envy rather than a material difference. It’s easy to fall into the same trap spiritually as God’s children. God treats us all fairly, it’s our perception that tends to need adjustment.

Jesus’ parable illustrates the affect that attitude has on our faith. For God’s Word to be sown in our hearts and transformative, we must be receptive. Receptivity requires an attitude of gratitude, humility, and love. Resistance undermines the work God can do within us, and the fruit it can bear in our lives.

The seed that falls on the path has no effect because it’s met with apathy or hostility. Consider the things that deaden our hearts or fuel them with anger towards God.  Certainly secular culture, infused with hedonistic consumerism, dulls our desire for God by distracting us with instant gratifications and claiming that God is irrelevant to society. When things go wrong or we suffer however, our faith in God’s existence suddenly appears but only to blame Him. Anger and apathy make relationship impossible with anyone. Relationships require investment, interest, and openness. Much like the futility of reasoning with someone who’s already discounted you, if we don’t care about God except to shake our fist at Him, nothing He says or does will be convincing.

The rocky soil illustrates faith rooted only in sentimentality and emotions. It resembles the infatuation stage of a relationship. During that time, the couple is enamored with one another and experience strong feelings that say their love will last forever. Those feelings however, do not, as C.S. Lewis puts it, deliver on their promises. Feelings, by nature, come and go. Lasting love is a decision not an emotion. The infatuation stage in our relationship with God may include powerful feelings of love for the Lord and the desire for holiness. When a person encounters suffering or confusion, that love will either wither from shallowness, or go deeper to root down further in the soil. Fair weather friends make for rocky relationships, and the same goes for our relationship with God.

For those who make it past luke-warmness, and deeper than mere emotions, thorns still threaten to choke out faith with worldly anxiety and desires. To live in the world but not of the world is no easy task. Worry about our comfort, security, and what others think about us can quickly turn our gaze from God back to earth, crowding out room for His grace. We sit down to pray but our phone buzzes with a notification. Worry or desire pulls us away from Scripture and back into our technology.  Social events fill up the calendar and we think we are too busy to go to Church.  We might tell ourselves that we just have to prioritize these worldly things for a time, and then we will be able to relax and give God our whole selves. It tends to only be a trick we play on ourselves, like the carrot at the end of the stick – the donkey keeps walking but the carrot keeps moving at the same time he does.

A person who has found Christ, realizes that in Him they have everything. A humble heart, open to the Lord, fills with gratitude as it receives grace upon grace.  Apathy turns to zeal, sentimentality to conviction, and the constant grasping after the next thing is replaced with spiritual fulfillment and peace. In this rich soil, the soul begins to bear fruits of faith, hope, and love, along with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).

When we find ourselves saying, “Why doesn’t God speak to me? I pray but don’t hear anything?,” or “I just don’t feel like praying or going to Church, I don’t get anything out of it,” or “My life always feels so out of control no matter what I do, why can’t I ever just find peace?”; we can take a step back and evaluate the soil in our souls.  The Word of God has come to us in the flesh and remains with us, what can we do to better receive Him?  Begin with asking for His help.

Consider:

  • When do you struggle with feelings of not caring about God or your faith? What or who fuels that hardening of heart, and what/who softens your heart toward God?
  • Despite my love for flowers and home-grown vegetables, I’m a terrible gardener because I’m not attentive enough about keeping things watered or clearing away weeds. How can you be more attentive to the garden of your soul? What does it need to be watered, and what weeds need clearing away?
  • Pray about how deeply your faith is rooted. Is it guided primarily by emotions or by principle? Consider how your relationship with God is similar to, or different than, your relationships with others.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the thorns in your spiritual life. Prayerfully consider what competes with your prayer time, Mass, your generosity with the Lord, or your openness to His teachings. Ask for Christ to remove the thorns and replace them with greater devotion.
  • Mary exemplifies perfect receptivity to the Lord, rooted in deep love and enduring the hardest tribulations. Ask for her intercession to soften your heart and to “open your eyes to see and your ears to hear” as she did.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Work on preparing the soil for Christ.
    • If you need more gratitude: each night list 10 things you are thankful for from the day.
    • If you need more humility and detachment: Pray the Humility Prayer each day.
    • If you need more openness: Read Scripture for 5 minutes each day. It could be the daily readings (which can be found at usccb.org), a devotional, or simply opening one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Finding Yourself

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13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 10:37-42

I would think of this passage often when my kids were little. After finally getting them tucked into bed, just as I would sit down to finally relax, I would hear a little voice call out “Mooooooooom. I’m thirsty.” Fighting the frustration in my thoughts and body, I would remind myself, “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink…”

Following Christ means loving Him above all things, including all people, and most importantly above ourselves. If He were only a man this directive would be ridiculous and arrogant. Jesus gives this command because He is God. St. Augustine famously wrote in The City of God:

“There can only be two basic loves… the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self, or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God.”

As much as we may try to avoid this decision, the limits imposed on us by time and space force a choice. Sometimes it means a clear fork in the road, while at other times it may mean small daily sacrifices.

Discipleship applies to every vocation – priest, religious, married, and single. Priests and religious give a clear witness of total gift of self to God. Their remarkable vows and their counter-cultural lives attest to their faith in eternal life since they must sacrifice worldly goods for heavenly.  For example, a friend of mine who’s a nun, came by with three sisters to take some furniture I was giving away. That same day two workmen were at the house working on taping and mudding the basement that was being finished. As they came upstairs to take a break, they saw three nuns in full habit and me carrying a large bookshelf out of the house.  Imagine their surprise! One offered to help when he saw us struggle to lift it to the truck. Later one of the sisters asked him to help us tie down the furniture and he generously assisted. I have no doubts that will be a sight they remember forever, and a story they will tell for some time.

Married and single persons blend into society more since even non-believers marry or remain single.  However, it doesn’t take long for Christians to stand out even in these vocations. The disciple of Christ remains faithful to marriage vows even when the culture dismisses them.  Catholic families notoriously stand out as they tend to (though are not required to) exceed the usual one girl and one boy trend. Every mother I know who has more than three kids, has recounted to me rude comments made to them about the number of children they have.  These comments come from family members as well as complete strangers in places as random as the grocery store.  Openness to life necessitates losing your “life” to receive it back from Christ. It affects your body, your sleep, your emotions, your free time, your career choices, your travel, your finances, and so on. Once when I was congratulating a couple I know who were pregnant with their sixth child, the father conveyed his struggle that now they would have to get a 12-passenger van. Many a parent has lamented the min-van transition, but this step was tough for him to swallow. That is sacrifice. However, any mother or father will tell you, when you hold that baby in your arms you realize it’s completely worth it.

Finally, single persons stand out in their discipleship too. The Christian who lives chastely and temperately, puts others before themselves, and makes decisions prayerfully, shines a bright light in a culture that glamorizes promiscuity, partying, and self-advancement. They use their freedom to give of their time generously rather than selfishly. A single woman I know put it this way to me – she said that she was totally free for the Lord to call at any moment. Whereas others served God through their obligations to their family or religious order, she said, God needs some people who can be available any time anywhere.  I hadn’t thought of it like that before.  Of course she had to go to work and take care of her home, but she recognized that she had tremendously more “free” time and flexibility than the other vocations and intentionally chose to consecrate that time and freedom to God.

Discipleship comes at a cost but it’s a solid investment. Things of this world will always be insecure. Jobs can be lost, stock markets dive, beauty and health get marred by illness, and so on. Every investment we make in the Lord however will merit glory in heaven forever.  When I drag my tired body off the couch to give my thirsty daughter a cup of water at night, it remains treasured by God forever along with every sacrifice of love that we make.

We can’t be in two places at once and there will always be only 24 hours in a day. We must make choices. Jesus encourages us to be strong against temptations no matter where, or from whom, they come. He also sent the Holy Spirit to provide the gifts of fortitude and counsel we will need to make those decisions prayerfully and follow through on them courageously. He also gave us the gift of the Church to guide us and inspire us.

Jesus pointed out that you can tell a tree by its fruits. Even though self-love appears prudent, in our culture it has produced the highest levels of depression, “anger issues”, and suicide in history. Love of God above all things is only prudent from an eternal perspective, it requires faith. However it has produced thousands upon thousands of saints, the first mark of which is Joy.

Consider:

  • When have you chosen yourself over God? How did you rationalize it? How did you feel afterward?
  • When have you chosen God over yourself? How did God provide for you in that decision and bless you afterward?
  • Reflect on Jesus’ paradoxical words that we find ourselves in losing ourselves. Pope St. John Paul II expressed the same idea saying that we find self- fulfillment through self-gift. Others have expressed this phenomenon by saying that when they volunteered somewhere, they received more than they gave.
  • Who has been a witness to you by their Christian discipleship?  What struck you about them?
  • In what ways do you witness to Christ in your life? What makes it difficult? What makes it rewarding?
  • How can you practice works of mercy in your everyday life and your vocation?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for an increase in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, and Fear of the Lord), and the grace needed to follow Christ
  • Intentionally practice one work of mercy each day this week. Do small things with great love for your family members, coworkers, friends, or neighbors.

 

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Because of Your Name…

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12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 10:26-33

Because of Christ’ Name, we suffer.  But by His Holy Name, we are saved.

If you remain lukewarm in your faith, keep it private, and compartmentalize it from the rest of your life, you will likely enjoy peace with the world.  If you proclaim Jesus to be a great teacher like Buddha, but refrain from calling Him God, people will respect you and your “spirituality.” If you acknowledge Christ as one way and not The Way, most people will put up with your belief, since they afford everyone a little bit of foolishness.

One problem…to proclaim a nice moral teacher who isn’t God and isn’t the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is not to proclaim Jesus Christ. As C.S. Lewis famously put it: Jesus claimed to be God, that means He is either a Liar (He knew He wasn’t God but said He was), a Lunatic (He wasn’t God but really believed He was), or Lord (He is God). The first two do not make for good moral teachers, the third deserves our worship and obedience.

Fra_Angelico_-_Christ_the_Judge_-_WGA00679Jesus promises that “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” To do that however, we must proclaim the God Who became Man, that He is the fullness of Revelation – Divine Truth, the Savior of all mankind, and Love incarnate. To proclaim a myth of our own making, and worse to belittle Christ by using a weakened, distorted, version of Him as our inspiration, is to deny Christ. Jesus warns “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

 To proclaim Christ takes serious guts, and I don’t’ just mean speaking about Christ. Simply living your faith in everyday life will incite criticism and even personal attacks by others.

If you go to Church every Sunday despite competing demands for your time, you may be accused of being too rigid or too zealous. Those who would prefer you prioritize them over God will accuse you of being uncharitable or having an unhealthy scrupulosity. Those whose own church attendance looks lackluster in comparison will more likely try to find fault with your devotion rather than to imitate it.

If you believe that Jesus is the Truth – the Word of God, prepare to be accused of intolerance, close-mindedness, and archaic thinking. Even if you do not “push your beliefs on others”, your simple rejection of the religion of Relativism will offend its many followers (note: Relativism states that there is no objective truth – except, paradoxically, Relativism. It maintains that there’s no real right or wrong, just subjective beliefs). Moreover, no matter how hard persons try to rationalize sins, their God-given consciences sense the truth and can’t help but react at reminders. People who want to live in darkness hate the light. It happens at every age. Teens who don’t drink or engage in pre-marital sex, get left out of parties and certain social groups. Adults who put God and family first, get left out of some events or opportunities at work, or in neighborhood gatherings.

It’s hard to follow Christ, especially when it means staying up at night with a newborn, while colleagues or friends fly off to sunny vacations. It takes humility to make time for Mass and soccer games, knowing others will “get ahead” in their career because of their willingness to work all hours and days.

And what do you get for your sacrifice and virtue? Consider, how did Cain react toward Abel? How did Joseph’s brothers treat his piety? You will be honored by God and those who are Godly, but you will be scorned by those of the world.

Jesus is the Truth, and Satan is the father of lies. Those who live by Truth will threaten those lies. In retaliation, just as Satan spread lies to Adam and Eve about God, and just as he continues to spread lies about Jesus, Satan will spread lies about Jesus’ followers too. We can feel helpless in these situations because it’s hard to defend ourselves when the other person fights dirty. Jesus knows our struggle and has experienced our pain.  Thus, He assures us beforehand to “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed.” Jesus promises that the Truth will conquer in the end. It requires more patience, a lot of faith, and Holy Spirit courage though.

It’s hard to suffer unjust treatment and unwarranted animosity, especially when you are simply trying to live your own quiet Christian life.  Take heart however, people don’t get bothered by the lukewarm or the mediocre; whereas greatness is always challenged. The more you are treated like Christ (the real Christ, not the mythical nice guy in sandals), the more it means you are becoming Christ-like. So, as Pope St. John Paul II repeated again and again, “Be not afraid.” Let Christ’s love in you soften hearts, even if they scream at you first. Let the light of Christ radiate in you and cut through the darkness. As the prophet Jeremiah witnessed in today’s first reading (Jeremiah 20:11),

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:

my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.”

Consider:

  • When did Jesus experience the most criticism and rejection? Consider how His mighty works of healing and love, were met with envy and anger by some of the Jews.
  • Consider the mystery of the Cross. Christ suffered out of love for us and was rejected. Yet He rose again to new life and brought about our salvation. How might we offer our pain and suffering from others’ rejections for their salvation, like Christ has done for us?
  • Reflect on a time when you “preferred darkness to light.” How did you rationalize your sin or your way of thinking? How did you react toward someone whose life shined a light on it?
  • Reflect on a time when you preferred light to darkness. When have you experienced joy and freedom when the Truth in someone else’s life freed you from a lie in your own?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, pray an Our Father or a Hail Mary for someone who is persecuting you.
  • Each day this week, pray Psalm 69.
  • Offer this prayer each day:
    • Lord, I don’t want my light to be so dim as to not make a difference.

      I beg You to make Your Divine Light shine through me with such radiance,

      That it frees with Your Truth, those held captive by lies,

      Guides those who are lost back to You,

      And lifts lonely discouraged souls with Your Love.

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