Climbing the Mountain of God by Way of the Valley of Humility

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Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy All Saints Day

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 5:1-12a

Mountains make us think of God. Their height, their beauty, and their majesty inspire a sense of our smallness, and of God’s greatness. Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to encounter God.

When the LORD had finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant, the stone tablets inscribed by God’s own finger. (Exodus 31:18)

He prayed and fasted for 40 days and nights, during which God spoke to Him “face to face, as a person speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). To form His People in wisdom, justice, and peace, God gave to Moses the Law, written by God’s own hand.

After this encounter, Moses’ face radiated such glory that Aaron and the other Israelites feared being near to him; so much so that Moses had to wear a veil over his face when in their presence (Ex 34:29-34).

Moses’ relationship with God and the immediacy of God’s interaction with him was unparalleled. At the end of Moses’ life however, he prophesied that God would one day send a New Moses.

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kindred, and will put my words into the mouth of the prophet; the prophet shall tell them all that I command.  (Deuteronomy 18:18)

Jesus ascended the Mount as the New Moses when He taught the Beatitudes. Christ affirmed the Law given to Moses, but he extended it further to its fullness intended by God. Through Moses, God had liberated the Jews from physical slavery and reformed their outward actions through the wisdom of the 10 Commandments. Through His Son, God now liberated His people from spiritual slavery to sin and, empowered by grace, directed them to conversion of interior intentions and desires.  As He set about the task of establishing the eternal Kingdom of God, the Beatitudes mark the fullness of God’s rule for His People – one of authentic love for God and one another.

The best teachers use examples to illustrate their lessons. The beatitudes are the heart of the New Law, but their application can be obscure. On All Saints Day the Church recognizes the lives of the saints throughout history to remember those concrete examples of how to live the beatitudes and apply them.  Saints, those who have been fully transformed in Christ, have come from every age, place, and walk of life. You can find examples of nearly every type of personality, spirituality, vocation, and occupation.

One such saint, St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), asserted that we ascend the mountain of God, by way of descending the valley of humility. She was a young, cloistered Carmelite nun in France who pursued sainthood by doing small things with great love; a theme St. Mother Teresa (1910-1997) took as inspiration in her own life. Through the humility and simplicity of Thérèse’s life, she lived the beatitudes in the confines of her small world, but God raised her up as a Doctor of the Church and her Story of a Soul gained worldwide readership after her death.

Using Thérèse ’s analogy of descending the mountain, let’s consider each beatitude as steps on the journey of sanctification.  The first step, poverty in spirit, establishes right relationship with God by recognizing one’s creatureliness and dependency. The poor in spirit surrender the illusion of self-sufficiency and accept their dependence on God as His creature and His child.

How often have you experienced the frustration of wanting to help someone, but they refused to be receptive to your advice or your aid? Common obstacles to accepting dependence on God stem from a desire for security located in things we think we can control – such as wealth, career, relationships, status, self-help, etc. If we cling to a desire to redeem ourselves, we will resist the mercy of our only Redeemer. The poor in spirit have hit rock bottom, they are in the valley.  Regardless of their wealth or accomplishments, they are keenly aware that only God can heal their wounds, release them from self- destructive addictions or thoughts, and provide them with security which isn’t dependent on the market, the weather, what other people think of them, or even their employer.

Once a person looks to God, who is full of mercy, whose Son demonstrated His sacrificial love, they are moved to sorrow. This sorrow wells up from an honest view of themselves and their sins – free of the rationalizations and false beliefs they had clung to in the past. They see sin for what it is: degrading, a trick they fell for, and ingratitude.

Having shed false pretentions about oneself, a person develops a beautiful authenticity which is characterized by meekness. Meekness is not weakness! Meekness means a person has greater compassion and patience toward others because they know that “but for the grace of God, there go I.” In consequence, surrender to God, gratitude for His mercy and comfort, and humble authenticity, causes one to bear much more fruit in their life and work.

As gratitude for God’s love, and experiential knowledge of the wisdom of His ways increases, a person begins to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  They desire even greater freedom and deeper joy, which they know with deep conviction, can only be found in Christ. This is a prayer to which God always says yes.

The joy of freedom in Christ’s love creates so much gratitude that it spills over in a person’s heart and they can’t help wanting to give back to Christ the kindness He has shown to them. Thus, they show mercy to others because they empathize with the struggle of sin and desire to follow the example of Christ who has shown them mercy in their weakness.

Union with Christ in the Beatific Vision is the essence of Heaven. Thus, those that have forsaken all for Him, whose heart is pure, begin to experience a taste of the vision of God. Reconciled to God through His son, they extend this peace to others as it radiates from their own interior peace from union with the Lord.

Finally, the more perfect a union one has with Christ, the more others will treat that person the same way they would of Him. Jesus warned His apostles that those of the world who persecute Him, will persecute them; and those that love Him, will love them (John 15:18-25). Thus, Christ ends the Beatitudes with the summation of the spiritual life – when one is persecuted because of Christ, they ought to rejoice, because it means they are finally living in union with Him and following in His example. In a sense, it’s confirmation that one is conformed to Christ. Others wouldn’t bother with you if you were worldly enough to leave their consciences undisturbed.

Jesus provides the Way by teaching us the Beatitudes and showing us how to follow them by His example.  Moreover, He provides the supernatural grace, virtues, and love we need to live such a profoundly spiritual life and the examples of the Saints to illustrate how it looks in everyday life.

The world offers countless distractions to discourage us from introspection, and our own pride can further resist taking an honest look inside our hearts. Christ exhorts us to bravely journey within, promising to accompany us and to conform what we find to His own perfect love.  If we descend the valley of humility through poverty in spirit, we will ascend the mountain of God and enjoy the beatific view from the top.

Consider:

  • Have you ever seen a mountain up close or hiked up one?  How did it affect your perspective?
  • Consider the immanence of God – His revelation to Moses and His revelation through Christ. In what way does His closeness make you somewhat afraid, like the Israelites? In what way, does it comfort or strengthen you to have Him so near?
  • God continues to dwell with us in an immanent way in the Eucharist. Consider how it has pleased God in every age, to draw near to us. In what ways, do you appreciate His gift? In what ways, do you sometimes take it for granted? How might you increase your appreciation?
  • Consider the spiritual journey laid out by the beatitudes. How does your spiritual life correspond to some of the stages?
  • Which beatitude touches you the most? Is there one that sticks out to you as the most moving?
  • How has your love for God grown through the years as a response of gratitude for His grace at work in your soul. What do you know is His work and not your own?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Reflect on one beatitude each day this week and try to live it out in an intentional way.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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God’s Treasure: Knowing Your Value

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29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 22:15-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Preparing the Soil: Spiritual Receptivity

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15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Because of Your Name…

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12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 10:26-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.”

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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

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

      Guides those who are lost back to You,

      And lifts lonely discouraged souls with Your Love.

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The Ascension of Christ & the Surprising Nature of the Kingdom of God

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The Ascension of the Lord

Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 and the Sunday Readings

Meditation Reflection

Christ is so humble in His Incarnation that we, like the apostles in today’s passage, can forget the awesome reality of His divinity.  For most of His earthly life, Jesus chose to veil His divinity.  He humbly lived among us as one of us, choosing a life of poverty and sacrifice. Even when condemned to crucifixion, He told Pilate that He was not powerless in the situation (cf. John 18:36). Jesus chose to be sacrificed to save us. He could have saved Himself, as those taunting Him urged, or defended Himself as Pilate suggested, but love kept Him on the Cross. Christ came down from heaven to be a ransom for our sins. Ascension of Christ_ Getty ImagesAt the completion of His mission however, He ascended back to heaven to reign in glory as the Son of God. Because of His humility during His earthly life, we overlook at times His divine dignity and His rightful place in Heaven. Beyond anything we could have imagined, He promised to prepare a place for us there as well!

Jesus kept surprising His apostles and He continues to surprise us. They imagined the savior as someone who would overpower their persecutors and restore things to how they used to be during the best time in Jewish history. It took a while for them to accept that He would die and rise again.

Confused and scattered at His crucifixion, they rejoiced in awe at His resurrection. Overwhelmed with joy that Christ was alive, and excited by His show of power they still imagined that they would enjoy the booty of His victory in an earthly kingdom. “Finally”, they must have thought, “now He will bring to fruition all our hopes and desires.” Thus, they ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 Jesus did not come to stay on earth however, but to bring us back to Heaven. He does not put new wine into old wine skins (Matthew 9:14-17). His kingdom exceeds our imagination. The experience the Jews had under King David provided a foretaste and glimpse of the kingdom of God. Jesus reveals that God has much more in store for us.

In order to receive the Holy Spirit and begin their new life in Christ, they had to let go of their previous hopes and plans. To rule in the Kingdom of God meant to surrender worldly power for the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms lives with saving grace, Truth, peace, and love.  No other nation or religion has had the same universal, enduring, transformative effect, of the Christian faith. The only explanation for this miracle is the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). As we celebrate the Ascension of Christ into heaven, we let go of our desires for Jesus to make things how they used to be, or how we wish them to be. Christ’s physical absence grieved the apostles and we too can be grieved by the absence of tangible comfort and security. However, by letting Jesus ascend to Heaven, they received Him back even more intimately and powerfully in their very souls on Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit.

Christian discipleship means sharing in Christ’s death that we might also share in His resurrection. But it doesn’t stop there. Discipleship means accepting the unanticipated, unimaginable “new” that Jesus has for us. He wants so much more for us than we can plan and blesses us with so much more than we deserve. By surrendering our grip on control in our Christian walk, we get to live in the freedom of gift. There are no words to describe this freedom and joy other than surprise; or as John puts it: “From his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16 RSV).

Consider:

  • When has God surprised you? How have His plans for your life exceeded your own expectations?
  • In what areas of your life do you struggle to surrender control? Consider what underlies your resistance.  Is it fear of the unknown or of change, distrust, lack of faith, perfectionism, pride and the desire to accomplish things yourself, or vanity and concern for what others will think?
  • Reflect on your life from the point of view of the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of earth. Re- value wealth and status from this perspective. What is truly valuable? What is true greatness?
  • Consider God’s love for you. He has prepared a place for you, provided the Way, opened the gates, and given you the Holy Spirit and the Church to guide you and empower you. He has done everything in His mighty power to be with you and shower His love upon you. What can you do to be with Him and love Him in return?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, be open to God’s surprises. In the morning, offer your day to God and surrender control to Him. In the evening, reflect back on the day and recount when you were resistant or when He surprised you.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

We All Need a Loving Gatekeeper and Filter: Christ Our Good Shepherd

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

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4th Sunday of Easter

Gospel of John 10:1-10 and the Sunday readings

Meditation Reflection:

Quite often as a mom I feel like a gatekeeper. When my kids ask to go somewhere, I need to know where, with whom, and for how long before I approve. Technology plagues me with even more gate-keeping work: parent controls, ratings evaluations, and download or streaming restrictions. The ever-multiplying accounts, passwords, devices, programs, and updates can feel like an interminable game of whack-a-mole. Christmas and birthdays used to be fun, now they feel like a migraine-inducing tidal wave of gate-keeping duties while excited, impatient children complain as I set the perimeters that I am being too slow, and of course too controlling. I’ve at least developed a one-line response to save my overtaxed brain from responding to the myriad of “logical” arguments and pleas of trust from my young teens. “It’s as simple as this,” I say, “You shall not have unfiltered access to the internet.” The Church could consider adding that as the 11th Commandment for the modern era.

Let’s face it, even adults, as children of God, need filters. We too can be easily allured by promises of pleasure, freedom, status, or adventure from false advertisers; and I don’t just mean commercially.    Despite having everything, Adam and Eve fell prey to Satan’s proposition that God’s single rule (not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) was controlling and denying them fun out of selfish motivations. Satan continues to deceive us through similar false promises.

Christ the shepeherdJust as predators try to find ways to get around parents to manipulate children, spiritual “thieves and robbers” try to get around Christ to attack us, God’s children. First, they try to separate us from His influence by undermining our trust in Him, His Word, or His Church. Common attempts sound something like: “Christ’s teachings hold you back. If you want to get ahead in life you have to be willing to get your hands dirty”, or “It’s not that you are going against Christ’s teachings, you are just modernizing them.” In regards to those difficult passages in Scripture, the ones that really strike at your conscience, you will be urged to simply pass over them or interpret them in a more relaxed way – “Forgive others, yes, but forgive her?, I don’t think He meant that…” Jesus stresses that we must die to ourselves in this life and deny ourselves. Instead we rationalize that He only meant that symbolically, or at least in a modest way – like going on a diet or not aiming too high. Finally, the Church, Christ’s living voice of authority, is the clearest voice of our Shepherd and therefore the harshest recipient of worldly criticism.

We are children of God, in need of a loving gatekeeper. Christ’s commands, given through Scripture and the Church, can seem restrictive and controlling if we have an adolescent view. However, as we develop in spiritual maturity, we begin to appreciate the wisdom and the love underlying them.

When I’m tempted to brush off a Church teaching or a little pull at my conscience, I stop and recall that Christ loves me more than I love myself, and He is far wiser than me. Who am I going to trust? Any other false shepherd – whether secular culture, another person, or my own impulses – eventually drains rather than fills and proves a destructive, rather than uplifting force.

Christ, our Good Shepherd, leads to green pasture. He refreshes our souls and leads us beside peaceful waters (Psalm 23). Jesus lamented to St. Faustina that distrust on the part of souls causes Him the greatest pain.  As a mom of teens, I know what He means.   I want my kids to trust me too, and so I repeat the prayer He gave to St. Faustina, “Jesus I trust in You.”

Consider:

  • When have you been steered wrong – by others, by cultural norms, or by your own impulses? What was the reason? What did you learn?
  • When have you been steered right by Christ? How has His wisdom brought deeper joy and fullness of life, even amidst suffering, than these other voices?
    • Have you ever had to be the gatekeeper for loved ones? Consider the love it takes to be strong and the need for them to trust you.
  • How can you trust Christ more and listen to His voice more often? Could you attend Church more regularly? Could you invest more time into Christian friendships? Do you make time to study your Bible, read quality devotionals, or learn more about your faith?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way to listen more to the voice of Christ this week.
    • Ideas: Add 10 minutes to your prayer time, pray the rosary in the car, listen to Christian radio, listen to Christian podcasts, read the daily Scriptures (these can be found at usccb.org), post inspirational Scripture quotes in places you will see them often, meet with a Christian friend.
  • Consider adding a filter, rating restrictions, or accountability software to your personal technology.

 

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Walking With The Lord

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

Remember to rate and review it!

3rd Sunday of Easter

Gospel of Luke 24:13-35 and the Sunday Readings

Meditation Reflection:

 We are an Easter people.  Christians celebrate the Lord’s day on Sunday, the first day of the Jewish week, the day of Christ’s resurrection and the beginning of our new life in Him. The first day Christ rose from the dead, He visited His people, and He continues to visit us today. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our journey of faith includes moments of inspiration and awe, as well as confusion and discouragement. At times, Christ’s teachings strike our hearts with the force of truth and His deeds inspire us to marvel at the miracles He works in our daily lives. At other times He seems hidden; or the Church, His Mystical Body, seems defeated by the world. Like Cleopas, we struggle to understand how the promise of freedom can be accomplished through suffering rather than political strength.

As disciples of Christ, we can sometimes grow too comfortable in our relationship with the Lord and forget His divine glory and transcendence. Christ meets us in our most vulnerable state. He makes Himself close to us, even in our humanity. At times, He veils His divinity, that we might approach Him. Yet, we need to remember that Christ is the Lord and that His immanence proceeds from His loving desire to relate to us. St. Paul proclaims this mystery to the Philippians when he writes,

“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God,

     did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

     Rather, he emptied himself,

     taking the form of a slave,

     coming in human likeness;

     and found human in appearance,

     he humbled himself,

     becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:5-8

The Christian journey, like the Road to Emmaus, requires faith in the Person of Jesus Christ.  It means trusting Him who is both man and God. This means that we will have times of elation where our hearts burn within us, and times of confusion.  We must remember, as Isaiah prophesied:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

nor are your ways my ways.” Isaiah 55:8

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn these moments, we can follow the example of the two disciples in today’s Gospel. First, they considered everything that had happened in fellowship together. We too should turn to Christian friends for spiritual guidance and comfort.

Second, they listened to Christ when He appeared, even though they didn’t realize it was Him at first. If we keep our hearts open as we do our daily duties, He can speak to us as well even without us realizing it at first. Third, Jesus turned them to Scripture to understand what had happened, and His Holy Spirit can open our minds to understand Scripture more deeply. Their bible-study walk with the Lord opened their minds to see God’s plan in a way they had not before. We too should try to get into our bibles, even reading a bible-study book or listening to Christian podcasts. Fourth, as the walk came to an end, Jesus did not push Himself on them. Rather He provided an opportunity for them to separate from Him politely by pretending to be going on. Thankfully, the two disciples invited Him in for dinner and pressed Him to stay. Christ makes Himself available to us, and even takes the initiative in our relationship, nevertheless He desires that we invite Him in further. Seemingly valid excuses will always present themselves to leave our Lord and go off to do something else. We must resist letting our Lord walk on without us and press Him to accompany us in each aspect of our day.

Finally, the disciples recognized Christ in the breaking of the bread. He made Himself known to them at Sunday Mass. The Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of our faith” because it is the Sacrament of Christ’s Real Presence – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The Son of God, who became incarnate, and “pitched his tent among us” (cf. John 1:14), continues to dwell with us in an immanent way in the Eucharist. He makes Himself available in every tabernacle, in every Catholic Church, around the world.  All we need to do, is come and break bread with Him.

Our Christian faith is not merely a philosophy. It’s an encounter with our Lord. Founded on relationship, our faith grows deeper through time spent with Him in the Eucharist, in conversation, in Scripture, and in our daily walk. Jesus suffered for us and with us. His Cross is a mystery we will revisit throughout our Christian journey. In times of confusion, we can take heart that He is near, He will bring understanding in His time, and that He is victorious.

Consider:

  • Reflect on what it means to be an Easter people. How does the joy of the Resurrection, shape your worldview?
  • When have you experienced the humility of Christ? When has He seemed especially near, compassionate, or merciful?
  • When has your faith required trust in the Person of Christ rather than human wisdom?
    • Have you ever been discouraged during a time of suffering when it appeared as if Christ remained silent or refused to act?
    • In retrospect, how did that suffering become a means of resurrection and freedom?
  • Imagine walking on the Road to Emmaus with Jesus. Who would be the Christian friend with you on the journey? What might you be saying to one another? What would your reaction be when He revealed Himself in the breaking of the Bread?
  • How might you walk with the Lord each day?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day inviting Christ to walk with you and eat with you.
    • Think through your schedule for the day – offer each thing to the Lord. Pray for the grace to shine His light to all those you meet, offer your work as a sacrifice of praise, and pray for the graces needed to meet any challenging people or tasks ahead of you.
  • Visit the Lord in the breaking of the bread by spending time with Him at Eucharistic adoration, praying before Him in the tabernacle at your Church, or attending a daily Mass.
  • Make time for spiritual conversation with a Christian friend.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.