The nativity scene of Jesus as a baby in a manger may be quaint, but it has nevertheless had world-changing and life-changing effects. The incarnation of Christ stands as the axis of history. When the Son of God became man, He raised the dignity of human nature higher than that of the angels. No other creature shares such intimacy with God!
Advent we take a step back to readjust our perspective. Unfortunately, the craze leading up to Christmas tempts us to step backward rather than forward. We can too easily become either stressed by the anxieties of Christmas celebrations or distracted by feasting and consumerism that we forget the impact and gift of Christ in our lives. God became man, that we might become God. Advent is a time to reflect on this mystery and invite Christ to bring to perfection this good work that He has begun in us
+ God’s intimacy through Christ is startling and should have a startling effect on your life. Thank God for how He has transformed your heart and your life. Invite Him to transform it even more.
Order the new set of guided meditations for this year’s Sunday Gospels!
Sometimes we become so accustomed to Jesus Christ’s humble poverty, that we forget His glorious majesty. The same Jesus Who gives Himself to us in the intimacy of the Eucharist, also reigns as king in Heaven.
It’s good spiritual practice to contemplate this reality once in awhile. After all, the fruit of humility is majesty, He raises up those who are bowed down.
Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in His holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
Who desires not worthless things.
+Pray for Christ’s kingdom to come in your own heart each day this week.
Order the new set of guided meditations for this year’s Sunday Gospels!
After Jesus exhorted the people work for the food that endures for eternal life, they responded with a smart follow up question, which in modern language could be phrased: “sure, but tell us the job description.” Jesus gave them a simple enough task – “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).
How is believing in Christ work though? If believing in Christ were merely an intellectual assent, then it wouldn’t be much work at all. However, believing in Christ means believing He is the Savior sent to transform our hearts and lives. This requires not merely an assent of the intellect, but the arduous work of aligning our will with His, and allowing Him to change our lives. Consider the life changing “yes” of Mary, Joseph, the Apostles, all the saints, and the transformation in lives of people you know who have accepted Christ and follow Him intentionally.
In his famous book, What’s Wrong with the World, G.K. Chesterton astutely stated the reason why so many people forsake believing in Christ and the reward that comes with it. He observed,
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Jesus did not say “I am the bread of life who will force feed you”. Instead, He offered that those who come to Him will never hunger. Still, you may ask, how hard is it to come to Christ? Well, how hard is it to make it to Mass every Sunday? How difficult is it to attend one or more daily masses a week? How hard is it to find 30 minutes to pray with Scripture? How hard is it to listen, with your full attention, to your child, spouse, or friend in need? How difficult is it to turn to Christ in prayer when you are feeling anxious, frustrated, or angry rather than escaping through t.v., drinking, or shopping?
Going to Christ and believing in Him is work, but like any job it gets easier as you get the hang of it. Imagine the career satisfaction you could experience in a job with that kind of reward. We all want happiness, especially the secure kind, and we go to great lengths to achieve it. Christ promised that if we are wise enough to put all of our efforts toward relationship with Him, we will be guaranteed an abiding happiness we can find no other way.
In your daily life, what is your biggest challenge to seeking Christ? (time, distractions, tiredness, disinterest, lack of ideas or opportunities)
What do you hunger for most? How do you try to fill that hunger? How long does it last before feeling hungry again?
When was a time you experienced delight, satisfaction, peace, or happiness from God?
Choose one way to be with Christ this week that has been difficult in the past. (wake up 30 minutes early to pray, spend 10 minutes with each of your kids, download a bible app to your phone, attend a daily Mass, make a holy hour at adoration)
Start a gratitude journal for God’s gifts to you each day. Before bed think back on your day and identify God’s grace at work in your heart and life.
The next time you feel anxious, frustrated, or angry, stop and sit in silence with God for 5 minutes. Find a quiet spot (even if it’s your car or bedroom), set a timer, and just turn your heart and ears toward God. Gently push away distractions and be in God’s presence. Let Christ fill your hunger and soothe your thirst.
“And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” (v. 4)
Growing up we tend to take our family members for granted and mistreat the ones we love the most – particularly our siblings! A childish point of view sees siblings in competition with us – for resources, status, achievement, and affection. A mature perspective appreciates the gift of a sibling – someone who shares your history, someone who knows your whole story, whose achievements do not diminish yours but rather should give you pride.
The people in Jesus’ town were His extended family relations. They could not believe their eyes or ears which informed them that He was the long-awaited Messiah. Pride revolted complaining that Jesus was too ordinary for such a role.
Satan impresses the idea that we need to be big and important, powerful, famous, a person of clout to do any good work, and certainly someone from “out there in the world” not from “right here in town.” Yet, Jesus saved all of mankind through impoverishing Himself, living a hidden life for thirty years in a small family in a small town, and completing His public ministry with rejection, and a torturous crucifixion and death. The apostles’ pride and our own strains to believe such a mystery. In fact, the only reason we accept this path is because of its fruit – resurrection. As St. Paul said, (I Corinthians 15:17) had Jesus not risen from the dead, our faith would be in vain. But Jesus did, and we will too.
“Abba Anthony said, ‘I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’” Sayings of the Desert Fathers
The best vantage point for battle is sneaking behind enemy lines unnoticed and attacking by surprise or disrupting the supply chain. This role is best done unseen and quietly.
The pride of the world cannot accept the humility of Christ, yet it continues to cripple us. Jesus offers healing but He does not force it. “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (v. 5-6)
Christ began the beatitudes proclaiming, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Every saint and spiritual writer echo His insistence that humility is the foundation of holiness. Here are just a few quotes to consider:
“If then pride be the beginning of all sin, whereby should the swelling of pride be cured, had not God vouchsafed to humble Himself? Let man blush to be proud, seeing that God has humbled Himself. For when man is told to humble himself, he disdains it…The Lord Christ therefore vouchsafed to humble Himself in all things, showing us the way; if we but think meet to walk thereby.”St. Augustine
“For that persecutor, when first he was created, raised himself up in the haughtiness of pride, throwing himself into death and expelling Man from the glory o Paradise; but God did not will to resist him by His power, but conquered him by humility through His Son…So let anyone who wishes to conquer the Devil arm himself with humility”St. Hildegard of Bingen
Humility sprouts from authenticity – knowing one’s own littleness as a creature not the Creator, and at the same time one’s profound dignity as a child of God. It expresses itself in loving service, like Christ washing the feet of the apostles. A definition I once heard for humility (which really hit home!) was being teachable. Humility opens one up for so much growth and freedom because we aren’t held back by the obstinacy or critical resistance of pride.
Begin by encountering God in prayer. Then look around you – the secret to a life of greatness may be right in front of you, in your own family or your own town through loving service.
Consider how humble Jesus must have been for His extended family to find it so incredulous that Jesus would be anything but ordinary.
Humility can be like a weapon of stealth – it’s quiet, hidden, and undetected by pride. How does a humble approach disarm prideful conflict?
Consider the non-violent protests of Martin Luther King Jr. or of Gandhi.
How might you apply it to your own relationships?
Instead of being defensive, try to be understanding.
Small acts of love can soften hardened hearts.
Caring for children is a humble task yet one of tremendous influence.
Humility and Love are inseparable. Consider how humility springs from a love and appreciation for God, and how it inspires humble love toward others.
How has your relationship with your siblings (if applicable) changed over the years? How has it matured? How might it still mature more?
Pray the Litany of Humility by Cardinal Merry del Val
Make a gratitude list – one for God, and one for each of your family members.
Tell a sibling something you admire about him or her.
The Scriptures today confront our anger at God for death and suffering. Wisdom 1:13-14 reminds us however that neither of these came from Him:
“God did not make death, and He does not delight in the death of the living. For He created all things that they might exist.”
When we read the Creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, nowhere do we find disease, suffering, or death. Rather, God’s creation reflected His glory and so He commanded all the living things that He made to “be fruitful and multiply.”
Death entered not through God, but through sin. Satan and the fallen angels sinned against God and chose an eternity of suffering for the sake of prideful rebellion over an eternity of joy at the cost of humble obedience. Adam and Eve did not experience suffering or death until they joined Satan in sin and disobeyed God as well. In consequence, Genesis 3-9 relays the sad story of the proliferation of sin and suffering beginning with this first Original Sin. Toil, pain in childbirth, marital struggles, sibling rivalry, murder, polygamy, sickness, and death each begin with the decision to sin by the free will of individuals. As much as we want to blame God, the truth is most of our suffering stems from our own poor choices or the choices of others.
Sure, you might say, we are at fault but can’t God do anything about it? Why does He sit back in silence? Doesn’t He care? YES! From the beginning, God offered a merciful helping hand to sinful humanity. When Adam and Eve realized they were naked, He gave them clothes. When He confronted them about the consequences of their sins, He also promised to one day send a Savior (Genesis 3:15). He made covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and so on. Finally, His only begotten Son left the glory of Heaven to take on a lowly human nature, freely divesting Himself of His divine privileges to live the life of a creature so as to carry our Cross and personally meet us in our need. St. Paul describes it well in 2 Corinthians 8:9:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.”
God literally has skin in the game. Not only did Jesus offer healing, in today’s Gospel we see how much He cares when He heals. He accompanied the grief-stricken father to attend to the dying little girl. When He entered the room He didn’t want people gawking or treating it like magic. Instead Jesus sent everyone out but the parents and a few of His apostles.
When Jesus heals it’s a personal encounter. Jesus understands our pain and our needs because He lived it. Being man, He has shared our experience. Being God, He has the power to re-create us and restore us with a Word. By His divine power, Jesus commanded the girl to get up, thereby empowering her to do so. “Little girl, I say to you, arise”(v.41). From His human experience, He commands the little group with Him to give her something to eat. What a great little detail! I imagine her family and the apostles were just standing there in shock when she came back to life. Jesus moved on to the practical need at hand – after getting well from a long sickness a person is ravishingly hungry. Therefore, He instructed them not to talk about it but instead to give her something to eat.
This encounter with the grieving father and dying girl has all the drama of a great script. Except, a fiction writer would not have interrupted the momentum with the seemingly tangential account of the woman with a hemorrhage – an encounter with competing drama that would be a distraction to a story. But this is not a fictional story, this is real life. I learned early on as a mom that once you have kids you can say goodbye to uninterrupted focus on any task. Nothing, not even dishes, can be completed without interruption. Even now, although my kids are teens, I was interrupted yesterday by all three texting and calling and needing something even though I had said I was travelling for a few hours and would have spotty cell service. I recall one time in particular that illustrates the mulit-tasking of relational living. At the time my kids were little. I was driving home from visiting my dad and my brother caught a ride with me. As we were talking in the front seat kids asked for snacks, water, help with the dvd, and so on. I just kept talking, driving, and handing things back or fixing the dvd player with one hand, all while keeping my eyes on the road. My brother just stopped and laughed and said, “how are you doing this?”. With my first child I was a rookie for sure, but by three I had practice.
Jesus lived real life and cared for real people. While helping one family, a woman reached out in faith and needed His help too. People’s needs are rarely convenient but love always makes time. As God, Jesus could easily have healed her as He walked along, somewhat like my brother’s astonishment as I tended the needs of three children while we travelled. Here again however, Jesus underscored the relationship between faith, healing, and personal encounter with Him. He’s not a magic wand or a machine. The woman with the hemorrhage was healed because of His power and her faith. At the same time, He stopped what He was doing to pause and encounter her personally. In asking who touched Him, He invited her to not only receive His healing power, but to be received by Him personally. He didn’t want her to feel like a desperate beggar, so He gave her the opportunity to bravely step forward, and then affirmed her in front of everyone for her faith. How many people must have avoided her for so many years due to her bleeding? And here Jesus received her and invited her back into communion with God and with society.
We live in a culture that wants a quick fix with a pill to remedy any ailment. Thankfully, we live in a time when medicine has produced a pill to fix a myriad of things. However, some things cannot be alleviated so simply. Christianity is not a pill that will make you instantly happy and take away all your problems. It is however a personal encounter with Christ Who is both God and man and cares for you. Suffering and death come from sin. Life and joy come from God. Faith does heal. Sometimes He heals in a moment, other times it takes years of relationship with Him to allow His work to fully take root in our souls. The Gospel affirms that no matter how dire the situation, Jesus will answer. We only need to ask in prayer or to reach out to Him and touch Him. Be prepared though. After suffering for so long, health can seem foreign. When Jesus commands you to arise and be at peace, you must leave your sickness behind and live as a new creation.
Spend some time in silence, reaching out to Christ like the father of the little girl or the woman with the hemorrhage. Bring your troubles and worries to God…be humble like the woman to admit you need help.
Set a reminder on your phone or with sticky notes to pause throughout the day and encounter Christ. Bring your needs of the moment before Him, no matter how small, and offer Him thanks for His presence and help.
The mystery of the Trinity is so sublime, any words of reflection feel like an injustice. The revelation of the inmost reality of God, His very essence, far exceeds the scope of our limited human experience. Any attempt to imagine or explain Gods’ Triune nature feels inadequate and even irreverent. Yet Christ revealed this ineffable mystery to us and commanded the apostles to preach this truth to the whole world. In consequence, with the utmost humility, we ought to contemplate this essential mystery of the Christian faith, and the Triune God in Whose image we have been made.
Christ came to restore God’s image in us, which had been wounded by sin. He provided both the sacrifice for our salvation and the perfect example of how to live as children of God. Christ demonstrated concretely how to align our will with the Father’s and how to act with the love of the Spirit.
At every turn, Jesus remarked that He had come to do the Father’s will. Even in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, His human will resisted the impending Cross, but resigned “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). During the first thirty years of His life, Jesus even obeyed the will of Mary and Joseph and followed all the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law (Luke 2:51). Rather than usurp their authority (the only teen who really was smarter than His parents), He obeyed them and respected God’s ordering in the family. Jesus did not have to offer sacrifice in the Temple because He had never sinned, but He chose to because He wanted to share in our suffering.
This flies in stark contrast to our highly individualistic culture, fixated on self-assertion. However, despite all the attempts to do away with any personal or relational limits, definitions, and even the laws of human nature, our secular culture seems to only sink deeper into depression, anxiety, loneliness, and slavery to addictions.
Jesus illuminated the difference between license and freedom. License means doing whatever arbitrary thing we feel like. Freedom is the ability to choose the good. License leads to impulsivity and selfishness, but freedom is best expressed in self-giving love and obedience to the Father. St. Paul urges us to have the same attitude as Christ:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” Philippians 2: 5-9
To assume the attitude of Christ we begin by humbly surrendering our adolescent pride which thinks we know better than our Heavenly Father, and our foolish rebellions against His guidance and “rules”. When we allow ourselves to be taught by God and developed under His authority, we mature and blossom like a child who assents to his parents loving care through the turbulent periods of growth into adulthood. No adult looks back and says, “I wish my parents had been more weak and let me raise myself.” Most often, the opposite is true.
Aided by divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the maturing soul increasingly appreciates the depth of God’s love and comes to see His Wisdom, making unity easier. At 15 many kids consider their parents’ rules overbearing and their views outmoded. At 25 they begin to thank their parents for those rules and see the wisdom in their advice.
Union with God produces greater unity within the human family as well. As God’s love fills the soul, the fruits of His Spirit emerge in one’s life: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). If trying to align our mind and heart with God, who is perfect, is so hard, how much more difficult to accomplish mutual respect with imperfect humans! Impossible. Thankfully, Christ assures us that what is impossible for man is possible for God (Matthew 19:26). These fruits of the Spirit are necessary for it to happen.
Union of mind and will can only be achieved in mutual love with the help of grace. Forced submission through violence or manipulation is not union, only domination. No political system, media blast, educational model, or diet can produce the mysterious reality found in the Christian union of mind, will, and heart, in freedom, joy, and love. The only place we can experience the peace we long for is in the Mystical Body of Christ, of which Christ is the Head. United in Christ, however, we exercise all the diversity of personality given to us by our marvelously creative Father while at the same time working toward the same end in harmony and mutual respect.
There’s no greater happiness than true love, and no greater love than that between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Lord invites us into that love and into His blessed happiness. The Father sent the Son, the Son redeemed us and sent the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us and fills us with the love of God, and we are then sent to share that saving love with others. What an incredible mystery!
Take a few minutes to simply rest in the presence of the Triune God.
Consider in awe the immensity of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Consider how you are a fruit of God’s love.
Consider how the closer you have become with the Lord, the more purified your love has become for your neighbor.
Consider how the fruits of the Spirit produce loving union in human relationships as well.
What often undermines developing a mutual understanding or working in alignment? (pride, anxiety, fear, stubbornness, hate, selfishness, over-ambition, self-assertion, etc.) Contrast these with the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Christ is the Head of the Mystical Body, and we are its members (I Corinthians 12). Consider times or ways in which you try to be the head and lead Christ, rather than the other way around.
Make the sign of the Cross slowly and thoughtfully as a prayer to the Triune God at the beginning and end of the day.
Exercise the fruits of the Spirit to bring greater unity in your family.
The health of a culture can be measured to some extent by its general effects in society – positively or negatively. For example, the culture of despair heavy in post-war Europe together with materialist individualism resulted in an astonishing decline in birth rate. George Weigel described it as literally “demographic suicide” and sourced its illness to a spiritual crisis in his book The Cube and the Cathedral.
In American culture today, we see record levels of anxiety and depression rampant through all ages, income levels and geographic regions. In teens and young adults, the suicide rate has jumped dramatically over the last 10-15 years, making it the second leading cause of death for that age group.
How much we need Jesus and His words today: “Peace be with you”!
Pope St. John Paull II’s opening words of his pontificate, and the recurring theme of his many teachings was Jesus’ command: “Be not afraid.”
Certainly mental illness plays a real and significant role in the overall sickness plaguing our society. At the same time, we can’t overlook the toxins present in our culture that either make us more vulnerable to such illnesses, or at least exacerbate them. Remedies should include professional therapy and possibly medication. At the same time, we also have a responsibility to change the culture – to restore youthful optimism in our youth, respect the dignity and meaning of every human life, honor the little way that builds a strong society rather than celebrating only the famous.
If we want full recovery though, not just surviving but thriving, then we need to “Receive the Holy Spirit”(v.22).
Even the apostles were stricken with fear and anxiety in the upper room. They had just seen Jesus crucified and knew they might be next. All they had believed in, all they had sacrificed for, appeared to be for naught. Then, “Jesus came and stood among them,” resurrected! “He showed them has hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (v. 20). This is the source of Christian hope – seeing our risen Lord. Suffering and apparent failure no longer mean death, but rather new life through Christ. When we feel like all is lost, we too need to look at the risen Lord, confident in His ability to redeem.
How much our culture needs this hope, how many people need this! Generational studies expert Dr. Jean Twange, in her book iGen, attributes much of young people’s failure to launch to fear of failure. Their obsession with being safe and with perfection cripples their ability to develop by trying new things and taking reasonable risks. Many don’t even have their drivers license by the age of 18 because they are afraid of failing the test!
In Christ we have our hope and through the gift of His Spirit we receive the necessary peace and courage to live in that hope. Before Pentecost, one of the twelve had committed suicide and the other eleven were hiding in fear. After Pentecost, they left the room on fire for Christ and preached the Gospel with power and zeal – baptizing, healing, and even accepting martyrdom themselves.
To live in this same peace, we too need the Holy Spirit. We receive the indwelling of the Spirit in Baptism, a strengthening of His action in our hearts through Confirmation, and the ongoing animation of His works in our soul through nurturing our relationship with Him in prayer and the Eucharist.
When I feel discouraged, the best antidote is to spend time to friends and family who are encouraging. When I’m anxious and worried, being in the presence of someone filled with confidence and strength eases me. When I’m feeling sad and alone, spending time with a loved one restores my heart. Being in the presence of the Holy Spirit effects all of these. When I feel overwhelmed or defeated, sitting in the stillness of prayer, the Spirit replenish me and even bears a fruit or two (see Galatians 5:22-23).
“‘If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” John 7:37-39
Jesus has risen, He has been glorified, and He has sent His Spirit among us for the salvation of our souls. Praise be to God! Let us receive Him today in our hearts and in our culture.
Imagine the risen Lord, standing before you, His pierced hands outstretched, and saying to you personally, “Peace be with you”.
Consider these words of Christ below regarding the Holy Spirit:
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:26-27)
How is the peace of Christ different than the peace of the world?
How can we “not let” our hearts be troubled? What must you do to stay near the Holy Spirit and maintain this source of peace?
How does the resurrection change everything? Offer to Christ your present failure, struggle, or loss for Him to redeem. Remember that He resurrects us to new life though, not the old.
Develop your relationship with the Holy Spirit
Pray to the Holy Spirit throughout the day, ask for His help and guidance.
Read the Scriptures
Reflect on the fruits and gifts of the Spirit.
Listen to Catholic podcasts or read good books about the Holy Spirit.
Try to live as a person of peace. Ask the Spirit for help!
Today as a Church we remember Christ’s Ascension into Heaven when He returned to His rightful glory. Jesus our king had left the comfort and majesty of His throne, to battle sin and death for His subjects, which could only be accomplished as one of us. He entered the war zone at the Incarnation. The Son of God Who is infinite in His divinity accepted the burden of the limitations our human nature. In addition, as if human kingship would not already be a far cry from His experience as Divine king, He chose instead the most difficult circumstances in human society – poverty and social rejection. Our king is someone Who walks among His people, rolls up His sleeves and works side by side with us in our most difficult struggles.
He does not stand aloof laughing at our weakness. Rather He empowers us to battle with Him and reign with Him as children of God. After His Ascension Jesus sent His Spirit Who dwells in the souls of all the baptized and enables them to share in the work of Christ and become His Mystical Body. Jesus also modelled the way. His glory began with His self-emptying (the fancy theological word for it is kenosis) and so our final glory requires this same emptying of self, service of others, and humble obedience to the Father’s will. St. Paul describes it beautifully in his letter to the Philippians:
“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Philippians 2:1-4 NAB
Jesus took on the hardest and lowest jobs. He was born in a barn, lived as a refugee in Egypt for the first years of His life, grew up with manual labor as His “career”, and walked wherever He travelled. During the three years of His public ministry He faced rejection by His own townspeople who tried to throw Him off a cliff, the Pharisees and Sadducees plotted against Him even though He is the Word of God they supposedly protected, His own friends betrayed Him, and He died with an unjust conviction under false claims in the most humiliating and torturous way the Romans had contrived – naked on a Cross. The night before His death, He prepared His apostles to reign in His stead by washing their feet – the most disgusting task which would traditionally be assigned to whomever was lowest on the totem pole – of the servants the slaves and of the slaves the foreign slaves.
So, who wants to reign with Christ? Doesn’t this sound fun?! If Christ’s life ended on the Cross, then NO. Absolutely not! But it didn’t end on the Cross. Because He humbled Himself, the Father exalted Him above every name and at His Name, every knee should bend. Jesus rose from the dead and 40 days later He ascended to unmatched glory in Heaven. He assures us that if we follow Him, the way will be hard, but it will culminate in unending joy.
“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23: 11-12 NAB
Christian disciples share in the mystery of Jesus’ Royal Poverty. Rather than looking side to side to see what everyone else is doing, we look up and down – up to Christ in glory and to His will, and down to where we might humbly serve. If we keep our glance up and down, down and up, we will discover harmony within the tension of humble service and risen glory – the royal poverty that can only be found by abiding in the One who accomplished it – Jesus Christ.
So, let us wait in eager anticipation for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (next Sunday). He empowers us to serve and to reign, to obey and to be glorified, and most importantly to love as Christ loved us.
Meditate on how Christ became your Brother. What does it mean to be a brother? What does it mean to be His brother or sister in return?
Ask Christ how you might empty yourself more. What holds you back from following Him? What task feels too low to take up, or what feels too good to give up?
Humbling ourselves is a tremendous risk. We live in a competitive culture of self-assertion. If we don’t exalt ourselves, we worry we will be walked all over. Pray for the grace to step out in faith, trusting that if we humble ourselves, God will take care of the exalting.
How much do you look side to side – comparing yourself to others or the standards of the world? How might you look up and down more in those situations?
Each day this week acknowledge someone’s humble, loving service and thank them.
Each day look up in prayer, then down for an opportunity to serve.
Life in Christ is all about connection. Jesus emphasized it over and again: “Abide in me and I in you,”(v.4), “I am the vine, you are the branches” (v.15), “Take my yoke upon you…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29), “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), “Come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21), “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age”(Matthew 28:20) “ No longer do I call you servants,… but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
The Word of God which created us in love, wishes to re-create us by grace. He personally heals wounds, corrects faults, frees from oppression, and inspires to higher greatness. Parents don’t give birth to their children and then consider the relationship over. Instead they devote themselves in love to the development and flourishing of their child throughout his or her entire life. Their ability to do this depends on how much connection the child is willing to reciprocate. That connection strengthens their foundation in who they are, anchoring them against the confusion of the world’s conflicting messages and pressures. Similarly, connection to Christ anchors us in our true selves, beloved children of God Who has a plan and a purpose for our lives.
There are paths to holiness, steps one could say that mark advances on the road. Nevertheless, each person’s sanctification is unique and includes steps forward, setbacks, bumps in the road, etc. It’s more of a winding, curvy road than a straight shot. Sanctification isn’t a to-do list with a report card at the end. Rather, it’s the deepening of a relationship with the Lord through His Son and a richer experience of our authentic self. St. Josemaria Escriva encouraged people to just keep turning back to Jesus, Who we find is already there to guide us.
“In this adventure of love we should not be depressed by our falls, not even by serious falls, if we go to God in the sacrament of penance contrite and resolved to improve. A Christian is not a neurotic collector of good behavior reports…Jesus understands our weakness and draws us to himself on an inclined plane. He wants us to make an effort to climb a little each day. He seeks us out just as he did the disciples of Emmaus whom he went out to meet.” ( Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing By: Homilies)
Jesus is the life of our soul. He guides the seed of faith to sprout, grow, blossom, and bear fruit. We remain connected to the vine through prayer and the sacraments. Intimate union with Christ through a strong interior life keeps the flow of nutrients and hydration from the roots flowing into the branches. Jesus also prunes away useless or harmful growth which drains nutrients and fruitlessly redirects them. This may be sin, unholy attachments, or even unhealthy people or places in our lives.
Developing an interior life of prayer, of constant connection to Christ, takes time and effort, but will eventually become second nature. Josemaria encouraged, “Although it is not a question of sentiment, little by little the love of God makes itself felt like a rustle in the soul.”
St. Francis de Sales offered wonderful spiritual counsel for how to remain attached to the vine of Christ in his work, Introduction to the Devout Life. First, he distinguished the difference between true and false devotion. Essentially, true devotion is marked by a generous love for Christ that is quick to act when it perceives something that will delight Him, much like a couple in love takes pleasure in doing things that make the other happy. Next, he laid out the purgations necessary to detach us from weeds that choke our relationship, a pruning we do not do by ourselves, but rather intentionally cooperate with the Lord in doing as He cuts them away. Finally, He spends a great deal of time directing how to develop an interior disposition wherein Christ remains always present to our hearts.
“I especially counsel you to practice mental prayer, the prayer of the heart, and particularly that which centers on the life and passion of our Lord. By often turning your eyes on him in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with him.”
In this way we abide in Christ, and by spending so much time with Him we inevitably become like Him. In truth we all pick up the habits and attitude of those we are around – for better or worse. If we want to become proficient in something, we particularly need to spend time with someone accomplished in it and allow them to train us. Similarly, de Sales asserted, by abiding in Christ through cultivating meditation on His life, we will pick up His habits:
“…just as little children learn to speak by listening to their mothers and lisping words with them, so also by keeping close to our Savior in meditation and observing his words, actions, and affections we learn by his grace to speak, act, and will like him.”
I have found this to be so very true in my own life. When I get too busy for prayer or quiet with Christ, my virtues quickly wither along with my joy and love. I become easily agitated, distracted, and far less productive. When I begin with connection to Christ, and recollect Him throughout the day, I feel like the tree planted by running water (cf Jeremiah 17:7-8).
What fruits do you experience from spending time with Christ in prayer?
When has Christ pruned something in your life away? How did it cause greater growth afterward? What might He be pruning now?
Pray with the image of the vine and branches, of Jesus’ connection to you in such a personal way.
Build in reminders and opportunities for yourself to turn inwardly to Christ throughout the day.
This could be index cards with Scripture passages taped in frequented spots, wearing a crucifix so you see it each time you glance in a mirror, having a piece of religious art in your common view to remind you of Christ, a small spiritual book you can carry along with you and read for a few minutes periodically, a rosary in your car to pray as you drive, or your music preset to a Christian radio station or playlist.
Upon meeting someone new, two questions commonly start the conversation: learning the person’s name followed by asking what they do. Why? Since our work occupies most of our day it reveals something of our values, our unique personality and talents, and it shapes us too over time.
I’m a wife, mom, teacher, and writer. This reflects my value for family and my love of learning and the development of persons. I also have a knack for explaining things and a zany side that works well with kids. My roles have also shaped me. After teaching for so many years, I catch myself conversing in a Socratic way in every-day conversation. Before sharing something, I ask if the person happens to know the answer. As they talk, I ask more questions. By the end, I might recommend a book or article to read. At the grocery checkout or fast food restaurant, I can’t help but see teen employees as students (of course, sometimes they are!). I catch myself gently guiding them as they navigate taking my order. The mom in me is here to stay too. I was at a Master’s class and noticed one of my classmates fighting a runny nose and cough. As I took notes and listened to the lecture, I instinctively grabbed Kleenex out of my purse and passed it down. Afterward as she thanked me, she laughed and said, “I should have known you’d have Kleenex with you. You’re such a mom.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus identified Himself and His work as the Good Shepherd. It reveals that He values the care of His flock with nurturing and protective love. He lives with them, guides them, feeds them, and protects them at all costs. Moreover, His sheep belong to Him. The hired hand works transitionally – for the day and for income. He may be providing for a family or saving for a pasture of sheep of his own, but the flock he watches temporarily is not his love nor his own. In consequence he will not risk or sacrifice much for it. Christ on the other hand, knows each sheep by name and would sacrifice His own life to save even one.
“I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own.” John 10:17-18
We are not just a number to Christ nor is He a distant king. Rather, He dwells here in our midst, in our mess, in our lowliness – and He loves it. He cares for even the smallest details of our lives.
Pope Francis emphasizes this as well in his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate:
“the Lord is ever mindful of you; he never forgets you. So it makes sense to ask him to shed light on the smallest details of your life, for he sees them all.” no. 153
Before His Ascension into Heaven, Jesus entrusted His flock to Peter – not as a hired hand or a babysitter – but as a steward in Jesus’ name loving His flock with the love of Christ.
“Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ A second time He said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” John 21:15-16
At baptism each of us receives a calling from Christ, a flock to tend. Although He works personally in hearts through grace, He also personally cares for His sheep through His Mystical Body the Church – you and me. Jesus asks each of us to love Him by loving those He has entrusted to our care. This includes your family, co-workers, and the particular ministry to which God has called you.
“The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts…We are called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness.” (Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate no. 11) “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.” (no. 19)
To love with the heart of Christ, He shapes us in prayer. He pours His love into us, from which we receive the generosity and joy to serve. He opens our eyes to see others with the love in which He sees them, and to see their needs as He does, down to the smallest detail.
Holiness is about loving our Good Shepherd and in turn loving the sheep whose care He shares with us. Wherever God has placed us, we can witness Him to others through our sacrificial love. After learning to trust Jesus’ little shepherd, they might take a leap of faith and trust the Good Shepherd Himself.
Reflect on Christ’s love for you, down to the smallest detail of your life. Take a moment to lay your worries and your hopes before Him and to rest in His care.
Pray for your little flocks. Who has Christ placed in your life? How might you serve them with love and joy?
Meditate on the love of Mary, who cares for everyone who belongs to her Son and consecrated her whole life to His mission.
Pray Psalm 23 each day this week.
Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for an increase of Trust in Christ’s Merciful Love.
Read the Biography of Blessed Stanly Rother – an American priest who returned to his mission in Guatemala to die with his people so they wouldn’t die without him.