Behold, I Make All Things New

by Angela Jendro  Excerpt from Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal 20190328_204247219_iOSSpring 

Easter Sunday!

Gospel of John 20:1-9 NAB

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus is risen! Just when we think all is lost, He makes something new. Jesus took His most beloved disciples by surprise, and He takes us by surprise as well.

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25 RSV)

Death scares us by its finality, and the shroud of the mysterious unknown that surrounds it. Yet, in Christ we can be confident that with death comes resurrection. Jesus had warned, and promised:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24 RSV)

Every change, even welcomed ones, require us to leave the old behind in order to embrace the new. It takes courage to leave a familiar prison, to embrace an unfamiliar freedom. Today, we celebrate the victory of Christ, Who provides both the courage and the freedom we desire.

God’s love for us exceeds all our expectations. His intervention in our lives, especially when we surrender completely to His will, always surprises us. If we trust in Jesus each day, allowing Him to lead, He will bring richness, joy, peace, and deep love to our lives in ways we might not have foreseen.

Today we celebrate new life.   We celebrate God’s love. We celebrate God’s power and His victory over sin and death. We celebrate His victory in our own lives and within our own hearts. Our confidence can be renewed, that no struggle or suffering can stop Christ. If we place our trust Him, He will heal and transform us. Today, we celebrate our fresh start. During Lent, we endeavored to face our sins and bring our guilt before the Lord. Now, we get to leave that shame in the past, crucified with Christ, and begin something new.

Revelation 21:3-5 NAB “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.” 

Consider:

  • Consider Christ’s victories in your life.
    • How have you grown?
    • In what way do you experience greater freedom than before?
    • What were you afraid of before, that you no longer fear?
    • What virtues has Christ developed in you?
    • How has your love for God and others deepened?
  • How has God surprised you?
    • When did He give you something more than you asked for?
    • When did His plan lead you down an unexpected road?
    • When have you experienced His loving mercy when you didn’t think you should?
  • Reflect on Christ’s love for you and His strength.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Resolve to begin anew today. Make a concrete step to leave the old behind, no matter how comfortable it is, and allow Christ to lead you forward.Cross with heart 2

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Receiving Christ’s Gift Graciously

Palm Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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

Lenten Journey pic

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

By Angela M. Jendro

Gospel of Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 NAB

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

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

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God’s Treasure – Knowing Your Value

image by aint_he_faithful

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 

October 21st, 2017 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Gospel of Matthew 22:15-21 NAB

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Meditation Reflection:

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, whether in grade school or retired, 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 in 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.  Nevertheless, Jesus came to restore God’s image within us, and to elevate it to an even higher union and dignity by uniting our human nature with His divine nature through His Incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection.

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 back to Him His image.  We don’t earn heavenly currency, we become it and we receive it.

Jesus reveals 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 again of this truth just a couple of weeks ago when my sister and brother-in-law welcomed my baby nephew into the world.  Our whole family rejoiced at such a precious gift and my heart aches until I can visit and hold him in my arms. The only addition possible to this joy, was the preciousness of the love which my sister’s children showed toward their baby brother, and the sweet love my children expressed over him too.

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 yet 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 see” (John 1:39).

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

Consider:

  •  Think of the people you His vision.  Ask Him to enable you to see yourself and others as God does.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Each morning, “give to God what is God’s” – His image in you.  Pray for trust that “the One who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6)
Prayer by St. Cardinal John Henry 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.

  • 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.

Related Posts:

Becoming Rich: Investment Strategies From Christ

Preparing the Soil…Spiritual Receptivity

Finding Fulfillment in Self-Gift

Authentic Love

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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Christian Conflict Resolution

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

September 10, 2017; 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Gospel of Matthew 18:15-20 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”

Meditation Reflection:

Incorporation into the Christian community means being adopted into a family.  This in turn means we have a greater responsibility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus knows families can struggle with dysfunctional ways of dealing with things – from gossip, to triangulating, to manipulation or passive aggressive tactics, and more.  As the head of the Christian family however, He provides us with clear instructions about the best way to love our brother or sister in difficult situations.

First, Jesus tells us to confront our loved one directly if they have hurt us in some way.  This means we cannot play the martyr, hope they read our mind, let it build up, or sweep it under the rug.  Jesus knows healthy relationships require honest communication and ongoing reconciliation.  We all sin and we all inevitably treat our loved ones unfairly or unkindly.  To move forward reconciliation is essential.  In our pride however, we sometimes don’t even realize we are hurting the one we love unless they tell us.  Jesus instructs, therefore, that Christian love should make the person aware of their sin.  The Church actually lists this as a Spiritual Work of Mercy called “admonish the sinner.”  It’s not meant to be mean or judgmental, but to help a person grow into Christian maturity.

If the person won’t listen, likely claiming that you are being unfair, then Jesus proposes you bring another witness or two.  The goal would be to open the person’s eyes to their sin so they can be healed and reconciliation can be restored.  Sometimes the perspective of a couple of people can help to establish with objectivity the truth of the situation.

It’s amazing how blind we are to our sinful attitudes and habits, especially toward our family!  Even when confronted, we hold on so tightly, and refuse to change.  We often rationalize, “This is how I am. My family should just love me unconditionally.”  However, because our family loves us unconditionally, we should try even harder to change because we want to give them the best version of ourselves not the worst.

In general, Jesus wants us to avoid the tornadic plague of gossip or the festering sore of passive aggressive retaliation.  He wants His family to be happy, healthy, and loving.  Direct communication and the ally of one or two close friends is usually enough for most problems.  However, there are some injustices which require wider assistance and, if not changed, are too destructive to let go on.  For instance, if a family member refuses to change his or her abusive behavior or treat an addiction, it needs to be brought to light for the whole community.  If the person still refuses to change, family members are sometimes forced to separate themselves from the person in order to protect themselves and others, and to, in love, withdraw from enabling the abuser or addict. It may seem extreme and even un-Christian, however Jesus came to conquer sin not to support it.  Paradoxically, separating from addicts or abusers can motivate change.  At the very least, it is a way of evangelizing.  It shows by your actions that the behavior is wrong.  Lastly, Jesus is teaching us that although we have a serious responsibility toward the souls of our Christian brothers and sisters, after we have gone through the process He laid out, we may feel sorrow for their situation but we are not responsible for their behavior.  At that point, we can have peace that we have done everything we could.  We must work tirelessly for the salvation of souls, but we must also know the limits placed on us by free will.

Thankfully, we can always be a blessing to others through prayer and sacrifice.  Even if we must separate from someone physically, financially, or even in communication, we can still pray for them.   Moreover, just as Jesus exhorted us to confront a person together, He also exhorts us to pray for others together.  As children of God, and heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), our prayers come before Him with all the force and influence a son or daughter can have on their father, especially when they plead with him as a family.

In conclusion, the vocation of marriage plays an important role in the formation of this mindset and the practice of applying Christian love to all different kinds of situations.  In his encyclical Familaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paull II called the family the first “school” of Christian love, from which persons develop the Christian self-giving necessary for mature interaction with the world as adults.  He writes:

The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self- giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society.

Familiaris Consortio par. 37

True love is more than an emotion.  It’s a decision to choose the good for one’s beloved.  The best course of action isn’t always easy and it isn’t always clear.  Thankfully, we are not alone in this.  We can look to Jesus and to our Christian family to show us the way.

Consider:

  •  Consider the gift of being God’s daughter or son.  Reflect on Jesus’ love for you as your Brother.
  • Consider how you handle conflict. What do you do well? What could you improve?
  • How might you apply Jesus’ instructions for resolving problems to a situation in your life?
  • When has someone shown “tough love” toward you? How did their loving honesty help you grow?
  • St. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is the best weapon we possess. It is the key that opens the heart of God.”   Consider the power of prayer.  Reflect on the gift of being able to actively fight for our brothers and sisters by praying for them to a God who loves us and will listen to us.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Apply Jesus’ process to a conflict in your life this week.
  • Resolve not to gossip this week.
  • Say a prayer every day for someone who bothers you.

Related Posts:

Finding Peace Amidst Division

Authentic Love

Getting the Last Word…But Making it a Blessing

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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He Shared In Our Suffering, And Carries Our Cross…Gospel Meditation for Palm Sunday

by Angela Lambert

April 9th, 2017; Palm Sunday

(For the longer version of today’s Gospel, click this link: Matthew 26:14-27:66)

Gospel of Matthew 27:11-54

Jesus stood before the governor, Pontius Pilate, who questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?” But he did not answer him one word, so that the governor was greatly amazed. Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them, “Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed him over. While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him.” The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus. The governor said to them in reply, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They answered, “Barabbas!”

Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” But he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” They only shouted the louder, “Let him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.” And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.

And when they came to a place called Golgotha — which means Place of the Skull —, they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink. After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way.

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, ‘Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

Meditation Reflection:

Sin has a price.  During Holy Week, we contemplate Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation; the reason He became man and dwelt among us.  Jesus’ journey to the Cross began with His Incarnation in Mary’s womb.  Certainly, He ranks as the greatest Teacher in history, but He is much much more than that.  Divine Truth could not save us, without the gift of grace to transform us.  As St. Paul taught, the Mosaic Law condemns us.  Since we know the truth, we are all the guiltier when we transgress it.  The Mosaic Law provided the gift of wisdom, but it could not fortify a soul to follow it.  The thousands upon thousands of sacrificial lambs began the process of atonement for sin, but only the Lamb of God could justify us before the Lord.

Jesus knew every detail of His Passion before it occurred.  His human nature agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Eve of His crucifixion, even begging God that if it be His will, “to let this cup pass.”  Jesus willingly accepted His suffering and allowed Himself to be taken into custody, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crucified.  The Jews had tried to arrest Him several times before or stone Him for blasphemy, but to no avail.  They had no power of Jesus, only love and the cost for our redemption compelled Him forward.

Christ, though sinless Himself, entered into the messiness of our sinful human experience.  In doing so, He accomplished two things – first He redeemed us from our sins, and secondly, He drew near to comfort us in our struggles.  No one can say to the Lord, “you don’t understand, your God.”  Jesus experienced every humiliation that you and I suffer.  He grew up in poverty, His family had to flee persecution and live in exile for a period of time, the cultural elite looked down on Him and discounted His wisdom, He was often misunderstood – even by His closest companions, during His public ministry He had no home, some towns welcomed Him but others drove Him out of the city, on the hardest day of His life His friends fled and two betrayed Him, and at the end of His life it appeared that everything He had built was falling apart.  He experienced the fickle nature of human honors – being hailed as king as He entered Jerusalem with people waving palms shouting, “hosanna in the highest”, then the next day hearing the same crowd demand His execution shouting “crucify Him.”

When we cry out to God in our pain, weeping and begging as we ask “do you not see my suffering? Do you even care?”, we can be assured that He does, more than anyone else on this earth.  He became man so He could share in our suffering, carry our cross with us, and paying the price of our sins so we could live in the freedom of grace.  It may seem at times that God is silent, and we may struggle at His inaction.  Jesus experienced this too.  He asked in the Garden if there was another way.  On the Cross, He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me.”  Yet, He maintained complete confidence in God’s love and mercy.  He surrendered to God’s will at each step.  Even His final cry was one of hope.  He was quoting Psalm 22 which begins in anguish but ends in confidence that God will save. Jesus knew that His death would bring resurrection, for all men.  In the same way, we can be confident that we are never alone in our suffering, and with any death we experience, God will bring from it resurrection to new life.

Consider:

  • Consider each of Jesus’ sufferings.
    • His agony in the Garden – taking upon Himself the weight of our sins, fighting the human impulse to flee pain, the apostles asleep in His hour of need, the betrayal by Judas
    • His condemnation by the Sadducees and then by Pilate.  Standing silent without retort.
    • Hearing the crowd reject Him, even though He had done nothing but show them love.  Hearing them demand His crucifixion.  The vicious envy of the Jewish leaders and the shallowness of the people in the crowd who were so easily influenced.
    • The bloody scourging, which bruised and tore His flesh and resulted in losing a great deal of blood.
    • The mocking of the guards and the crown of thorns.  Choosing to endure rather than to argue back or overpower them.
    • Carrying the heavy cross, after a sleepless night and so much blood loss.  Fighting the weakness of His body with each step, and the shock of pain with each fall under its weight.  The chaos of the crowds pressing in on Him.
    • The humiliation of being stripped of His clothes.
    • The brutal crucifixion.
  • Consider the cost of your sins.  In what ways do others pay a price for your sin?  Are there persons particularly affected by your impatience, envy, pride, competitiveness, desire for attention, gossip, or other shortcomings?
  • In what ways do you pay a price for the sins of others?  How can imitating Christ’s example of forgiveness lift someone up with whom you struggle?
  • Consider your darkest moments and your deepest pain.  Reflect on how Christ has shared that same experience and suffered the same emotions – anxiety, humiliation, rejection, loss.
  • Consider the immense, unconditional love that Christ has for you.  Consider the lengths to which He willingly went, to protect and save you – to give you life and joy to the fullest.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, ask Christ to show you someone who is suffering.  Comfort that person in some way, so as to offer comfort to Christ in His sufferings.

Related Posts:

The Easter Triduum…Entering the Mystery

Receiving Christ’s Gift Graciously…Gospel Meditation for Palm Sunday (2016)

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Getting the Last Word…but Making it a Blessing

by Angela Lambert

 

February 18th, 2017; 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Meditation Reflection:

In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II was shot by a Turkish assassin Ali Agca.  The attempt occurred on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and JPII credits Mary for “guiding the bullet” which just barely missed a major artery.  Even while in the ambulance, JPII voiced his forgiveness of the assassin.  Later after he had recovered, he visited Agca in prison and offered his forgiveness in person.  Agca had not offered an apology and only inquired as to why he wasn’t dead.  This encounter however had an impact and later when he was released from prison, Agca travelled to St. Peter’s to place roses on John Paul II’s tomb.

Forgiveness and love is the mark of Christ, and therefore the signifier of His followers.  John tells us that “God is Love.”  The term “perfect” means “full, or complete.” When Jesus refers to His Heavenly Father’s perfection therefore, He means that God’s love lacks nothing and is total.  By contrast, “even tax collectors” love their friends, but their love is imperfect because it is incomplete.  Total love includes those who love us and those who do not.

But how we can love someone who hates us or hurts us?  Does Jesus mean we must be friends with people who wish us harm or take advantage of us?  No.  Love is defined as “willing another person’s good.”  Thankfully, this does not require feelings of love, or even reciprocal friendship.  It doesn’t even mean trusting the person. It simply means choosing not to act in revenge or anger, and instead doing that which promotes the good of the other.  Thus, we can pray for our enemies, in which we petition God on their behalf for graces to be bestowed upon them.  We can speak kindly, act respectfully, and do the right thing toward others, not because they necessarily deserve it, but because it’s the kind of person we want to be.

Authentic love sometimes means tough love.  It can require choices that appear unloving but are in fact healthy boundaries.  Loving an addict for instance or someone with mental illness will require tough love, but will be more effective toward their health than enabling them in their sickness.  Disciplining children is tough love, but it helps the child grow in goodness.

Christ calls His followers to imitate His mercy.  This demand goes above and beyond natural strength and even natural wisdom or common sense.  It only makes sense considering the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection for our salvation, and it can only be accomplished with the aid of His divine grace.

Christ loved us while we were yet sinners.  He willed our good and worked for our salvation even when we were mired in sin and rejected Him.  As His disciples, we can work for the salvation of others, even when they too are mired in sin and working against us.

This can be tricky, but my mother offered me advice about these situations that I have found to be a guiding principle. When tempted to react vengefully when faced with difficult people and situations, she would say, “don’t let their behavior change who you are.”  Her wisdom strengthened my resolve and shed light on how to decide what to do.  No matter what others are doing or how low they sink, the truth is, if we just fire back we sink to their level too.  Jesus wants us to rise above, with the help of His grace and the light of His example.  Whether it transforms the other person or not, it will definitely transform us.

Loving our enemy is necessary to stop the cycle of violence, and our only hope for human unity.  When we are the ones caught up in it, we want to get the last word in or throw the last punch.  When we are the observer however, we just want it to stop.  As a mom, I get tired of hearing my kids bicker. Both claim it’s the other’s fault and point the finger at who started it.  Both go on and on and on, despite my attempts to break it up because they are obsessed with having the last word.  I wonder if God views our bickering in the same way.  Maybe the other person did start it, so what?  Why can’t we just stop?  No one can move on unless we do and everyone is miserable.

Loving our enemy is a supernatural virtue.  To cultivate charity, we need to connect to God and His stream of grace in prayer and the sacraments.  We must meditate on the Gospels to develop our sense of what Jesus would do.  We need to make time for fellowship with Christians walking the walk and learn from their insights and examples.  In this way, we can grow in love until it fills every gap in our heart and reaches the fullness of perfection like that of our Father in heaven.

Consider:

  • Who do you find easy to love and why?
  • Who do you find difficult to love? Who could you identify as your enemy?
    • In what way do they provoke you to strike back?
    • How might you react with love instead? How could you “will their good”?
  • Consider how we love our children even when they disobey, say hurtful things, or work against us. Do you ever feel anger toward your kids, but choose/will what’s good for them?
  • Consider God’s perspective as our Father and us as His children. How does He view our bickering, feuds, back-biting, and competitiveness?  What would He say to you about how you treat your brother or sister in Christ?
  • We can pick our friends but we can’t pick our family. Consider how loving our natural siblings can cultivate the virtues needed to love our spiritual siblings.
  • Read the story of St. Maria Goretti and reflect on her example of tough love, forgiveness, and the transformation it caused in her assailant.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pick one person who makes your life difficult.
    • 1) Begin each day with a sincere prayer for them. (not a list of all their flaws that God should fix, but rather for God’s blessing upon them!)
    • 2) Resolve each day this week to refrain from snide remarks to them or about them, gossip, or any kind of action that would anger or hurt them.
    • 3) Do one kind thing for them.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Keeping it Real

by Angela Lambert

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February 11th, 2017; 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment. “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”

 Meditation Reflection:

Freedom in Christ, is founded on freedom from being fake.  We are masters at the false front.  By an early age most of us can pull off “I’m fine” to anyone who asks, no matter how untrue it may be.  Keeping up appearances, looking successful, and seeming to be more than we are occurs in every time period and culture.   Social media amplifies today’s version, as we can literally craft our public persona via selective posts and pictures.

We not only mask our imperfections, we often mask our sins as well.  From the back-handed compliment, to disparaging remarks prefaced by “God bless her soul, but…”, to shallow mantras like “You only live once” or “it’s not like it’s against the law”, we rationalize our viciousness in countless ways.  Like addicts, we deny we have a problem with sin and we excuse and blame our behavior on everyone and everything but ourselves.

Just has sobriety can only be achieved through facing reality, so human freedom from sin can only be wrought from an utter realness about ourselves.  When Moses asked God to reveal His Name, God responded that it is “YHWH” or “I AM”.  God revealed that He is.  God is being and existence.  Thus, union with God requires utter realness and authenticity.

C.S. Lewis writes about this mystery in a brilliantly imaginative way in his book “The Great Divorce.”  The divorce in this case refers to the divide between heaven and hell, and describes the process of purgation for those still travelling to heaven.  He describes inhabitants of hell, drawing from scriptural imagery, as phantoms.  On the opposite spectrum, he calls those in heaven “solid people.” The main character arrives at a gray bus stop, phantom-ish, and his journey toward heaven is one of becoming more solid – or more “real”.  To do this he must surrender all that he keeps false within himself.  I won’t give away more than that, as I highly recommend this read!  I will only offer this teaser – Lewis creates numerous characters whose struggle to move from ghostish versions of themselves to the authentic provides deep insight into the rationalizations with which most of us struggle, the pain of conversion, and the joy of authentic freedom.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us interior conversion and introspection.  In today’s Gospel passage, He directly calls us out on how we tip toe around the truth and avoid real virtue and, in consequence, real love and relationship.

How many times have we heard the excuse, “well, it’s not like I’ve killed anyone.  I’m a decent person.”  Yet, harboring anger can be deeply destructive and emerge in violence that might be more subtle, but no less real.  Passive-aggressive behaviors, online bullying, slander, gossip, critical remarks and callous attitudes prevent relationship and they hold us back from heaven.  Jesus states clearly, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”  (MT 5:20) and “be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (MT 5:48)  A man who loves his wife, doesn’t look lustfully at other women.  A woman who loves her husband, doesn’t flirt with other men.  Does it matter whether or not it’s technically adultery?  Jesus calls out the dishonesty.  Either way, it certainly feels like cheating to the other spouse.  Why?  Because love is total, exclusive, and lifelong.  Our love for our spouse should mirror love for God. In fact, God created the first man and woman in the state of marriage because as two persons in a relationship of life-giving love, they imaged the Triune God.

Authenticity begins by simply letting our Yes be yes, and our No be no.  Drop the exaggerations and minimizations.  Leave the white lies.  Take down the false fronts.  It feels like going a day without make-up at first, but not forever.  As we become more at peace with ourselves, we become more comfortable in the truth.  Eventually the fake-ness we clung to in the past will feel like too much make-up, caked on, that you can’t wait to wash off at the end of the day.

Jesus wants us, not the façades we create.  He accepts us as we are and helps us become the truest version of ourselves.  When this happens, we can begin to experience the real relationship, and real love necessary for heaven.

Consider:

  • List your most common struggles in a day, then pray about what interior attitude or disposition underlies it.
    • consider the 7 capital sins for ideas (pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, and gluttony)
  • What is your most common/tempting rationalization?
  • In what ways have you grown in authenticity over the years? Reflect on how good it feels to be yourself.
  • Who is someone you can be completely yourself around; who knows the “real” you?
  • Consider how honesty is necessary for relationship.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Tackle one rationalization this week.  Be direct with yourself and with God.  Name the struggle, occasions of temptation, and the rationalization you use.  Decide on how you will avoid the temptation or create a counter-mantra to repeat when you hear yourself rationalizing.
    • Example:
      • Daily struggle: Crabby toward your spouse and kids
      • Occasions of temptation: Getting out the door in the morning, right after a long day at work, or when interrupted during a project.
      • Rationalizations: “They’re my family and should love me unconditionally – this is just who I am”; “I work hard to care for my family, and it just means I will be stressed out”
      • Counter-mantras: “They’re my family – they deserve my best behavior”;  “I need to find balance in my life so I can be a peaceful person to my family”
      • Avoiding temptation – Begin the day 10 minutes earlier so you aren’t stressed about running late (even better, begin with a prayer!); create transition time between work and home – listen to Christian music on the drive and count your blessings so you arrive with a positive attitude; adjust expectations for completing projects – expect to get interrupted by kids and be grateful for them, try to include them in the project if possible

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Tough, Gentle Mercy

by Angela Lambert

 

littleacts-of-kindness

October 29th, 2016; 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 19:1-10

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Meditation Reflection:

As Jesus’ disciples, we too share in His mission to seek and save the lost.  During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has exhorted us to be more proactive in this mission – to intentionally practice mercy daily through concrete actions and to make efforts to see those in need of help around us.  People who are lost, by definition, don’t know their way back home.  Thus, we need to seek them out, to find them where they are drifting, and to gently walk the journey back with them.

How do we do this?  It depends on the relationship and the situation.  The one consistent in every attempt however, is prayer.  Since we follow Christ, we must begin by listening to Him and letting Him lead.

Each person and each situation require prudence and a tailored response.  I can propose some general ideas and lessons I’ve learned, but every lost or drifting soul must be cared for on a prayerful and individual basis.

Seeking the lost begins at home with the people God has entrusted to us.  It’s much easier to dote on our children than to discipline them and to complain or criticize our parents or spouse than to gently correct them.  Yet, those closest to us can drift away and get lost if sins get left unchecked.  Although people make their own choices, we must do what we can to seek them out when they begin to pull away from God or goodness.

For parents, this means doing the work of discipline.  For young children, it teaches them self-control, right from wrong, and starts them off on the right track with good habits.  For teens, it can be trickier.  Their struggles are heavier, more embarrassing at times, and better hidden.  Discipline has to not only reform their habits but also their minds and hearts.  How to reach a child’s heart is a daunting task to attempt and one prone to failure, nevertheless we have a Christian and parental duty to try the best we can out of love.  We must endeavor to be bold, suck it up, and lovingly try to help them get back on track just as our heavenly Father does for us.

“But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!”  Wisdom 11:26-12:2

When another adult in one’s family begins to stray, it requires just as much care and prudence.  It also requires greater understanding, compassion, and forgiveness on our part since we will likely be affected ourselves by their choices or we may struggle with feelings of disappointment or betrayal.  If we can be patient and prayerful however, knowing them so well can work in our favor to gently move them in a way that resonates with them personally.

Friends and acquaintances may be less open about their struggles but we can do small things to let them know we see they’re hurting and we are here to help.  Pray about whether to have a direct conversation or to indirectly point them through example, invitations, or suggestions.  Ask Mary to help you see their need and do what you can to meet it.  It may be material needs that can be met with physical gifts, emotional needs that can be met with a listening ear or a word of encouragement, loneliness which can be soothed through invitation to coffee or dinner, or spiritual need which might be aided by being brave enough to share your own faith openly with them or to pray with them.

little-acts-of-love-2

Consider:

  • When have you received merciful love? How did it change you?
  • How have the challenges you have faced enabled you to recognize the same struggle in others and better equipped to help?
  • Who do you find the most difficult to love and who do you find it easiest to care for?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for Christ to show you an opportunity to offer mercy to someone each day this week.Works of Mercy
  • Consider joining with others to help: volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center, lead a bible study, volunteer at a food shelf, organize meals for a neighbor or colleague who is sick…

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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How can God be both Justice and Mercy?

by Angela Lambert

justice-and-mercy

September 11th, 2016; 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 15:1-32 NAB

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

  • Consider the difference between being an employee or member in comparison to being someone’s child. As we mourn the loss of so many lives 15 years ago today, 9/11, we feel pain not because we lost so many skilled workers, but because we lost sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers.  We feel sorrow at tragedies around the world too, but there is a particular pain associated with losing “our own”.  Consider that God views every one of us in this way.  You are God’s own.  You are God’s child.
  • Consider how love moves one to mercy and the more loving persons are, the more merciful they become.
  • Consider how you felt when you received mercy or when you gave mercy.
  • Reflect on how justice and mercy relate with one another. Sometimes being just enables one to be merciful.
  • Spend 5 minutes in silent prayer, just gazing on God who is Justice and Mercy.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

*Additional meditations on forgiveness and mercy: https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/04/09/love-and-mercy-in-superabundance/

https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/04/02/divine-mercy-can-you-believe-it/

https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/03/12/the-life-changing-power-of-grace-and-mercy/

https://taketimeforhim.com/2015/12/12/prepare-for-the-coming-of-christs-mercy-by-giving-mercy/

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* 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.