Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone & Walking on Water

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19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Tunnel Vision

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17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus’ parables illustrate the attitude of people who have discovered the treasure of life with God. To be a citizen in His kingdom, a son or daughter of this good Father, is worth trading everything for. Both the landowner and the merchant shrewdly went all-in for this investment, knowing it was a sure bet and incomparably more valuable than anything else that they owned.

Discovering the love of Jesus Christ, experiencing His liberating grace and forgiveness, is an incredible feeling. It overwhelms a person with joy. Yes, Jesus’ kingdom has laws. He says, if you love me then follow my commands. But His commands are the way of love and the way of living to the highest degree of your dignity and will lead you to the fullness of your development.

On the one hand, we hate rules in our culture. We balk at phrases like “submission to authority” and only like a monarchy for the glamorous magazine photos, not as a political system. Our democratic ideals, although a fruit of our Christian heritage, can also color our vision of faith in a negative way. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy because it’s not akin to a political system governing equals, but rather a family governed by our Heavenly Father who has appointed His Son as king. God has revealed the laws of His kingdom, both through the natural moral law, and the divinely revealed law through Moses and through Jesus. We may resist the faith as an imposition of rules to control us, but it would be to assume those rules were imposed arbitrarily by someone without the right authority and for their own personal interest or gain.  However, God’s laws are at the heart and foundation of creation. He revealed the ultimate science behind our human nature and the instructions for how to flourish. Our adolescent view of our Father’s rules changes when we mature in the faith and realize His wisdom and His benevolence.

So, what must we sell to buy this field or this pearl, this “treasury of truth” as St. Augustine called it? We must relinquish anything that would edge out Christ or drain our spiritual resources. If we delight in the law of the Lord, as the Psalms often repeat, how can we meditate on them if media edges out our time for prayer?  If we wish to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us, how can we see their needs and humbly serve them if our busy schedules consume our thoughts and actions? How can we enjoy the fruits of purity if we are stuck in the mud of lust?  How can we enjoy fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ if we can’t let go of being overly competitive, cynical, or unforgiving?

We must say no to lesser treasures, to possess the greatest treasure. Without love this seems too much, similar to a single person who can’t imagine being tied down to one person their whole life, until they meet that person and suddenly they can’t wait. St. Augustine famously observed:

“Two cities, then, have been created by two loves: that is, the earthly by love of self extending even to contempt of God, and the heavenly by love of God extending to contempt of self. The one, therefore, glories in itself, the other in the Lord; the one seeks glory from men, the other finds its highest glory in God, the Witness of our conscience.”

Praise be to God that Jesus has cast His net to the whole world, inviting every single person into His kingdom. He has no immigration caps or limits. In the end, those who want to enter may, and those who do not may not. Love is total and generous. As a couple approaches marriage, they move from individual lives to a shared life. In their marriage vows they don’t parse percentages; they vow a gift of their whole selves for their whole lives together.  Christ has offered us His perfect love, total and sacrificial. The only proper response is joy, gratitude, and a reciprocal gift of self. You see this joyful abandonment expressed in the life of every saint, beginning with the disciples who “left everything and followed Him” (Luke 5:11).

Consider:

  • When have you experienced the joy described in these parables? When have you experienced the value of faith in Christ?
  • What have you had to sacrifice to follow Christ and to love as He loves? Is there anything presently that competes with your discipleship?
  • Consider the difference between a democracy and a monarchy. How is God’s kingdom different than our own governments? How does it resemble family structure?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Tell one person about a time you experienced Christ and felt tremendous joy.
  • Make a list of your daily and weekly tasks and goals. Look over them and prioritize them in light of the Gospel.
  • Pray a Psalm each day. They are prayers filled with praise and trust.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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When Your Work for Christ Feels Sabotaged

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16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:24-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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

Finding Yourself

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13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 10:37-42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

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Putting Your Sweat and Blood Into It

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Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Readings for this Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of John 6:51-58

Today we celebrate Christ’s gift of His Body and Blood. Consider the meaning of giving your body to another. Husband and wife express the intimacy and totality of their love in physical unity.  Every new life enters the world through the sacrificial gift of a mother, who offers her body and blood to her child. Fathers invest their sweat and blood in their children as well in the myriad of ways they meet their children’s needs. How many dads have gone to bed after a day of working to provide for their family, playing with their kids, building out part of the house to make room for more kids, or helping to finish their adult child’s basement saying, “my whole-body hurts!”? Even friendship is demonstrated in physical sacrifice. If you’ve ever called on friends to help you move or been the friend who said yes to that call, you know what I mean!

Caravaggio ThomasThe Son of God became man, in every way. He invested His mind and heart, and His body and blood. He desires nearness to us in the most intimate of ways. Jesus spent thirty-three years living humbly, and bringing tangible, immanent love to those He encountered.  His sacrificial suffering and death of the Cross atoned for our sins, giving us new life as children of God for eternity.

grain of wheatJesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist for two reasons.  He established it as a memorial so that His sacrifice on the Cross would be made present again every time the Mass is celebrated so that we might be nourished by its graces. Secondly, because He wants to be as near to us as possible. When we receive the Eucharist at Communion, Jesus offers Himself in the most intimate and loving way, like that of a husband and wife. Through His Eucharistic presence, He continues to be with us in a tangible way.

Human beings need physical closeness, especially when we need comfort in sorrow or in expressions of love. Jesus Christ is, and will forever continue to be, both God and man. It’s easy to take His presence in the Eucharist for granted, especially when it requires the eyes and heart of faith. Today we take time to reflect as a Church on the beautiful and mysterious gift of Christ’s Body and Blood, to cherish our Lord, and to deepen our appreciation for the sweat and blood He puts into His love.

Consider:

  • Consider the many ways we express love physically. Why is physical love so important? How does it create intimacy in relationships?
  • Reflect on Christ’s physical expressions of love – during His hidden life, His public ministry, His sacrifice on the Cross, and His Eucharistic presence today.
  • This year the Solemnity of Christ’s Body and Blood falls the week before Father’s Day and some year’s it lands on Father’s Day. Consider the ways in which dad’s offer their bodies and blood for their family.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Visit Christ at Church this week. Spend time in prayer near the tabernacle, or at Eucharistic
  • Make a physical sacrifice of love for someone this week, in appreciation of Christ’s physical sacrifice.

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Finding Fulfillment in Self-Gift

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Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Readings for this Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection:

Trinity Consider for a moment this incredible fact: we are made in the image and likeness of the Trinitarian God. Although God’s essence exceeds our understanding, He has nevertheless chosen to reveal His nature to us and even given us an experience of it imprinted on our own human nature.

So what did God reveal about Himself?

God has revealed that He is Love (1 John 4:8) and that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).  From the Father, we observe that God is creative. From the Holy Spirit, we observe His immanent might and love operative in our souls.  And from the Son, we learn that God’s creative, mighty, love, is sacrificial.

What does this mean for you and me?

We live in a culture that forms us to be autonomous, independent, and self-seeking.  Humanitarian works and acts of kindness may be valued to the extent that they make life more pleasant in general, but not to the extent that it requires personal sacrifice – a real loss of some kind.

Human happiness does come through self-realization and self-fulfillment, but not in the way our culture defines those terms. The Trinity is a relationship of three divine Persons in mutual self-gift and love.  This means that, as creatures made in the image of the Trinity, we achieve self-fulfillment through self-giving love. It’s a paradox, but one that Christ emphasized over and over in both His teachings and His life.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.”  (Matthew 16:25 RSV)

Christian discipleship means living and being as Christ. In his book, Introduction to Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI described Jesus’ mission as being from the Father, for us. In other words, he says, Jesus’ whole “being itself is service”. Avoid imagining Jesus as just a nice guy, however. Pope Benedict isn’t referring to volunteering more. He means that Jesus’ whole existence is one of relationship, and a relationship of service. Thus, Christian discipleship transforms us from self- centered lives, to God and others-centered lives.

To be God-centered, from God and for others as Christ was, requires a radically different worldview than our secular culture. Pope St. John Paul II, as he examined God’s words in Genesis asserted that this relational character lies at the heart of our nature and our happiness.  He wrote:

When God-Yahweh said, It is not good that the man should be alone,” (Genesis 2:18) he affirmed that “alone,” man does not completely realize this essence.  He realizes it only by existing “with someone”– and even more deeply and completely – by existing “for someone.”     (Pope St. John Paul II. “General Audience of January 9, 1980.” The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan. Pauline Books and Media, 1997)

He’s not saying that we must become slaves with no individual identity. Rather, he’s saying that men and women find self-fulfillment through self-gift. Self-gift, by definition, means giving yourself to someone. It means we find happiness in loving sacrifice.

St. Mother Teresa said that everyone has an opportunity to love as Christ did, and therein find happiness. To find that someone we simply need to look around us.  As we celebrate the Blessed Trinity today, let us celebrate the gift of relational love. Mary always perceived the needs of others around her, let us pray for her intercession to see opportunities for self-gift around us as well, even when it requires personal sacrifice.

Consider:

  • Consider the eternal relationship of love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • Imagine the joy of heaven, where the saints share in that relationship of love.
  • Reflect in a prayer of gratitude for each experience of loving relationship God has gifted you with.
  • Pray for reconciliation in relationships that need healing.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, find one way to concretely show love to another person.  Ask for Mary’s intercession.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Finding True Love

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6th Sunday of Easter

Gospel of John 14:15-21 and the Sunday readings

Meditation Reflection:

Every human person yearns for love, intimacy, and understanding. We may not need to be loved or understood by everyone, but we desire that connection with at least one person and preferably a whole community. Without it, we suffer an oppressive loneliness leading to depression, anxiety, and confusion.

Given the rapid advances in communication, it would seem we should feel more connected than ever and therefore happier than ever. Yet, consider the high rate of depression and suicide in our culture, despite the unprecedented wealth and physical well-being compared to any other time in history. So, if we are relatively wealthy, healthy, and connected, why aren’t we happy?

Jesus reveals the answer in today’s Gospel passage.  The world offers superficial connection, defining love as self- gratification rather than self-gift. Self-centered love uses others to make oneself feel good or to advance one toward a personal goal. It might demonstrate a modicum of virtue, but only insofar as it provides personal reward. Intimate married love has been replaced with casual sex and pornography. Intimate family love through the gift of children has been replaced with pets (not that pets are bad, just that they are not kids). Intimacy of friendship or shared work carry some comradery, but disillusionment ensues when they are quickly exchanged for a personal advancement. All these experiences leave people feeling used and alone, rather than loved.

Pope Francis shed light on our pain by identifying the source of our wounds. He connected our pain with our disconnect from Truth and the experience of mercy. In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, he wrote,

“…humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them. And it’s not just a question of social ills or people wounded by poverty, social exclusion, or one of the many slaveries of the third millennium.  Relativism wounds people too:  all things seem equal, all things appear the same…

Pope Francis identified relativism as a wound because it disables our ability to determine right from wrong and truth from error. Christ forbids us from judging other people because only He knows what is in their hearts. However, we must be able to make moral judgements about actions and choices.  It’s just as important to know the dangers of sin to the spiritual life, as it is to know the dangers of gravity when leaping from high places.  I tell my boys all the time, especially in the summer when they are careening down the hill on their bikes or scooters, “Force = Mass times Acceleration – think about how fast you are going, because you could get hurt badly!”  The same truth becomes even more important as they get older. Now that my oldest has his driving permit and is nearing his license, I try to curb the teenage boy’s “need for speed” with the same physics lesson. I’m not being judgmental; I’m being loving by teaching him the truth. The same applies to the spiritual life. Sin wounds, hurts, and can even kill.  The Truth of Christ is a saving gift.

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches that Truth, Goodness, and Love are inseparable. Without truth and without virtue, we will miss out on love. Jesus said that He is the Truth (John 14:6), and those who love Him follow His commands. God is a relationship of three distinct Persons in one divine nature.

The three Persons of the Trinity share a unity that exceeds our understanding, but Jesus unveiled a glimpse of its experience. He speaks on numerous occasions of the unity of He and the Father. That unity comes from a relationship of love and obedience through an eternal self-gift. The Holy Spirit is described as the Love between the Father and the Son. For us to share in the intimate relationship of the Trinity, we must share in God’s love through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In-the-World-Not-of-the-World-DESKTOPWhen we place our faith in Christ, He sends the Holy Spirit that we may live by His Truth, following His commands, and thereby grow in intimate love.  Jesus told the apostles,

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

In other words, we must not only love in general but love like Christ – sacrificial, unconditional, and merciful. Merciful love means forgiveness, and it also means speaking the Truth instead of enabling someone in their self-deception or rationalization. It means never helping someone sin, but always helping them when they try to leave their sin.

To love in this way, we need supernatural grace which flows from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. AD 375 – 444), a bishop and Doctor of the Church, describes the Spirit’s transformative power in a beautiful way in a commentary he wrote on the Gospel of John:

“After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word. We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we would begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. This was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit…

Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, Abba, Father, make it easy for us to grow in holiness and, through our possession of the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us invincibly against the wiles of the devil and the assaults of men.

It can easily be shown from examples both in the Old Testament and the New that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell; he so transforms them that they begin to live a completely new kind of life…

Does this not show that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell and alters the whole pattern of their lives? With the Spirit within them it is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become men of great courage.”

The Holy Spirit infuses us with Divine Love which bears fruit in our lives. This love is so exceptional, that Jesus tells His disciples it will be evident to the world that they are His followers. The fruit of worldly love is loneliness, anxiety, and depression. The fruit of Christian love is intimacy with God and His followers, peace, and joy. Worldly wisdom wounds, but Christian wisdom heals. The great paradox of happiness, which Pope St. John Paul II re-iterated time and again, is that self-fulfillment can only be found in self-gift. Christians experience the intimacy of friendship in their shared vision of the Truth, the intimacy of true love in living their vocational call to sacramental married love, Holy Orders, vows of religious life, or the single vocation, and above all – the deepest, most intimate, abiding love of our Trinitarian God dwelling in our soul as His very own Temple. Happiness is loving and being loved, Truly.

Consider:

  • Consider the relationship between Truth and Love. Why is honesty necessary for relationship? How does honesty deepen intimacy?
  • Have you ever had to make a decision that required you to choose between worldly wisdom and Christian wisdom? Which did you follow and why? What were the results?
  • Consider the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us. Have you experienced spiritual healing, transformation, or love through the Holy Spirit? Have you witnessed it at work in another person?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Grow in your relationship with Christ who is the Truth, by studying Scripture or studying the faith. Read a spiritual book, join a bible study, listen to Christian talk radio or podcasts, or visit with someone advanced in the faith who can teach you.
  • Invite the Holy Spirit to bear more fruits of love within you by connecting with Him in prayer and/or the sacraments. Add just 5-10 minutes of prayer to your day (or if possible, I highly recommend adding a daily Mass), and note the change in your reactions to others and to situations, or to the level of peace you feel amidst whatever is happening around

~ 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.

Hard To Believe

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2nd Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday

John 20:19-31 and the Sunday readings

Meditation Reflection:

Christ is risen, He has won victory over sin and death. As He said to the Father from the Cross, His redemptive work “is finished.”  Jesus has done His part, now we must do ours. When Jesus appeared to the apostles, He offered them Peace and forgiveness of sins; sending them out to extend His peace and forgiveness to the world.

Thomas missed the opportunity to encounter the risen Christ. However, the apostles shared the Good News with him and offered the peace and hope that Christ had shared with them. Thomas refused to accept it. He refused to accept the authoritative word of the apostles and refused the joy and graces of the resurrection. Despite the numerous prophecies of Jesus that this would happen, or Thomas’ witness of Jesus’ power to raise the dead (even very recently with Lazarus), and ignoring the unanimous testimony of his fellow apostles, Thomas demanded to see it for himself before he would submit.

St. John shares with us that Thomas was also called “Didymus”, or “twin.” How many of us could claim to be Thomas’ twin? We might be passionate about serving Christ, crying out “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16), but we struggle to resurrect with Christ. Maybe we can accept that He has poured out His mercy in the lives of others, but we need to see it to believe it to accept it for ourselves.

When we truly realize the gravity of sin, especially our own sin, our feelings of shame and regret can challenge our trust in Jesus. It’s easy to say, “Jesus died for our sins”; it’s much harder to believe “Jesus forgives me of this particular sin.” That shame and regret then spirals further, making it seem impossible to begin anew.  “There can be no fresh start for me”, we say, then fruitlessly endeavor to redeem ourselves or despair altogether and give up.

If you struggle with overcoming shame and self-doubt by accepting the mercy of Christ, you are not alone. Despite Thomas’ disbelief, Jesus mercifully appeared to him that he might believe and receive the gift of peace and life. In 1931 Jesus appeared to a humble Divine MercyPolish nun, St. Faustina, asking her to spread the message of His mercy anew. Jesus lamented to Faustina that distrust on the part of souls caused His greatest suffering. Jesus burns with love for us and sacrificed to save us, but we cannot be saved if we refuse His love and mercy. He appeared to her many times after that, with a message of mercy He wanted made known. He asked for an image to be painted of Him, with two rays coming forth from His side – white and red – representing the water and blood which poured out of His side from the Cross, and the words “Jesus I Trust in You” beneath. We receive Jesus’ redemptive mercy through the sacraments when we are washed in the waters of baptism and united to Him in the sacrament of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. He also asked that a Feast of Mercy be instituted, to be a day of extraordinary graces and an opportunity for us to make an act of trust and abandon so that He could be free to pour out His transformative love.

St. John Paul II perceived the truth and wisdom of Jesus’ message to St. Faustina. He affirmed her sanctity when he canonized her in the year 2000 and established the requested Feast of Divine Mercy as the Sunday following Easter. St. John Paul II witnessed the misery and despair caused by atheism – promoted by communism in his youth, and consumerism in his older age. He worked tirelessly to the very end, to exhort us to trust in Jesus. Even when Parkinson’s reduced him to a wheelchair and frustrated his speech, he proclaimed the Good News that Christ loves us and can purify us.

I remember the last time I saw John Paul II. I attended a Wednesday audience at St. Peter’s in 2002. The formerly vibrant, strong, energetic, outdoorsy pope had to be wheeled out on stage. He personally delivered his message even though his words slurred making it difficult to understand, and bits of drool forced their way down his mouth. I remember thinking, “what courage, what humility, what determination!” No matter how hard his body fought against him, John Paul II proclaimed the Gospel of Christ with conviction. George Weigel fittingly titled JPII’s biography as Witness to Hope. Even on his death bed, thousands gathered outside the window to his room and millions (including me) held vigil while viewing it on TV.

St. John Paul II knew our struggle to accept Christ’s mercy and did everything he could to make that merciful love felt. Pope Francis also perceived this problem and called a Jubilee Year of Mercy (2016) to renew the message in a powerful and universal way.

Like Thomas, many of us want to see mercy to believe it. Jesus wants us to believe without seeing. Yet, He graciously gives us something akin to sight periodically, as He did for Thomas, condescending even further to meet our weakness. Moreover, the more we, His Mystical Body, show kindness to others, the more visible Christ’s mercy will be to the world.

Today, on this Feast of Divine Mercy, let us be strengthened by the witnesses of hope that Christ has sent to us. Let us take a leap of faith, and trust Christ with total abandon. He invites us to receive His mercy in the sacraments of Confession and Communion where His blood is poured out in our soul to free us from sin and free us to love.

Consider:

  • When have you experienced mercy?
    • In prayer or at church, did you experience the peace of Christ?
    • After Confession, have you experienced the feeling of joy?
    • Have you experienced emotional or material support from someone when you were in need?
  • Do you find it difficult to accept help from others? Why do you think that is?
  • Do you find it hard to accept unconditional love from Christ? Do you struggle with feelings of needing to earn His love or be perfect before you can be saved? Pray about what underlies that resistance:
    • Is it pride – you want to feel worthy of friendship with the Lord?
    • Is it despair – you don’t believe Christ can accept you as you are?
    • Is it past wounds that need healing – you have been denied mercy by others or your understanding of your dignity has been chipped away by abuse or patterns of toxic thinking?
  • Reflect on the freedom and joy of unconditional, merciful love.
    • Offer prayers of praise and thanksgiving if you have experienced this.
    • If you haven’t experienced it, consider the example of people you know who have. What do you notice about how it affects their perspective, their choices, their demeanor, and the quality of their life?
  • Who might you extend merciful love to? What relationships in your life have too many conditions?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, pray the words “Jesus I Trust in You,” multiple times throughout the day.
  • Read a psalm of praise each day, strengthening and proclaiming your belief in God’s love for you. (Try beginning with Psalm 139).
  • Resolve on one way to be a person of mercy each day. Decide on who, what, when, and where you can be an encounter with Christ’s merciful love to them.

 

~ 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.

 

“He’s Not a Tame Lion”

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5th Sunday of Lent

Gospel of John 11:1-45

Meditation:

Jesus is reliable, but He’s not predictable. C.S. Lewis, in his fiction novel The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, illustrated this through his description of Aslan the lion (the Christ figure in his Narnia series).  When asked if Aslan is a safe lion, Mr. Beaver responds, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”   Jesus isn’t safe either. If you choose to follow Him, He will lead you down uncomfortable and even scary roads at times, He will purify sinful habits by detaching you from them, and He will transform you into the best version of yourself but one you couldn’t even have imagined. So, He’s not safe but His goodness means He can always be trusted.  Much like Psalm 23 assures,

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

     I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

     your rod and your staff comfort me.”

 Or as I say, “I would rather walk in darkness holding God’s hand, than in broad daylight by myself.”

A paradox presents itself regularly in discipleship. On the one hand, Jesus approaches us in the humblest and human of ways. Like the apostles and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, He develops a true friendship with us, one of mutual love and abiding connection. In His nearness however, we can forget His Divine Lordship. As Lewis described, we might try to “domesticate” Him, expecting Christ to fit neatly into the limits of our reason. However, Christ is also God, and came to reveal that which includes, but also surpasses, natural reason. Moreover, some of Christ’s knowledge and power exceed even divine revelation and are known to God alone. In consequence, sometimes Jesus makes perfect sense, like the comfort of visiting your home.  Other times He speaks and acts in utterly surprising ways, like a person setting off to a foreign land.

Christ truly offers friendship, but it’s not a friendship of equals.  Similarly, Lewis writes of Aslan,

“He’ll be coming and going” [Mr. Beaver] had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

How should we respond if we can’t really predict what Christ will do? When the path Christ takes seems imprudent, we can begin by saying it to Him in prayer, like the disciples who questioned going to Jerusalem since the Jews had just tried to kill Him. We can also bring it to a spiritual director or a spiritually wise friend. Sometimes God speaks to us through natural prudence, and other times He needs us to trust His supernatural prudence – which takes into account God’s will and God’s power. Like Thomas, we can press forward zealously, thinking if Christ wants to die I guess I’ll just die with Him.  We can surrender to Christ’s wisdom, trusting Who Christ is above our own understanding like Martha did. We can come to Jesus with our tears like Mary. She trusted Jesus and didn’t resent Him not being there, nevertheless, the situation was still sad and she poured her feelings out to Him. Whichever person you relate to more, the important thing is to turn toward Christ and not against Christ. He’s not “tame” but He is good.  If we allow Christ the freedom to be Himself, like a good friend ought to do, then we also allow within our own experience the possibility of being astounded beyond all expectations. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead! This had NEVER been done before. No one could have expected it, and it became the event that solidified many followers and provoked His enemies to move forward with their plot to kill Him.

Of course, Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus from the dead back to natural life, pointed to the resurrection of the dead to eternal life. In Jesus we are made NEW. Not refurbished but transformed. Grace builds on nature, a nature given by God and, through Christ, elevated by Him. Marveling at God’s superabundant grace which places us in an even higher state of being, Pope St. John Paul II copied this prayer in His journal (from the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost):

Almighty ever-living God, who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you, pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.

God wants to give more than we can even “dare to ask.” Knowing our sins we feel ashamed to think that we could be sons and daughters of a God so perfect and loving. Nevertheless, God wills it and Christ has made it possible.

Baptism changes us interiorly, putting us in relationship with God and orienting us toward Him. The Spirit sanctifies us through a daily working of grace in the circumstances of our lives. These transformations are nothing short of miraculous and the lives of the saints all witness to heroic virtue made possible by grace in the everyday lives of His followers.

The resurrection to new life after death will exceed our experience on earth beyond comparison.  God made the human person with both a body and a soul. In consequence the resurrected human person will retain their soul and their body.  However, just as the Spirit has transformed and elevated the soul, the Spirit will also transform and elevate the body.  St. Augustine, in The City of God, explained it this way:

For the [resurrected] body will not only be better than it was here even when in perfect health; it will also be better than those bodies which the first human beings had before they sinned… the first human beings were created in such a way that, if they had not sinned, they would not have been sundered from their bodies by death. Rather, they would have been granted the reward of immortality for maintaining their obedience, and would have lived eternally with their bodies. Further, the saints will at the resurrection possess those very bodies in which they have here labored; but their condition will then be such that no corruption or distress will befall their flesh, nor will their blessedness be marred by any sorrow or unhappiness.

Consider Jesus’ resurrected body. He kept the scars of His crucifixion, but not the various scars He may have accrued as an active little boy. Moreover, the scars caused Him no pain; they served to show the glory of His sacrificial love. Similarly, our resurrected bodies will be in perfect form, but they will still be our bodies, the ones we labored in sacrificial love for the Lord. For example, I really don’t need the scar from the apple core remover I fumbled as a child, but I would like to retain the scars from all the IV’s I endured during my pregnancies.

Another key difference described by both St. Paul and St. Augustine, is that the resurrected body will be maintained by the power of the Spirit. Adam and Eve had to eat for nourishment and relied on fruit from the tree of life to stave off decay and death.  Resurrected bodies will have the power to eat but will not have the necessity of eating, nor will they require fruit from the tree of life to live forever, since the Spirit will maintain their health. Earthly bodies require food, water, rest, etc.  Our heavenly bodies will be maintained by the power of the Spirit, so it no longer has a necessity, only enjoyment. Think about it, God holds our bodies in existence even now, couldn’t He do that in heaven too? The same God who created ex nihilo (out of nothing), can re-create from our earthly bodies, a heavenly one. St. Augustine explains it in this way:

Man will then not be earthly, but heavenly: not because his body, which was made of earth, will no longer be itself, but because, by heaven’s gift, it will have been made fit to dwell in heaven: not by losing its nature, but by changing its quality.

Authentic discipleship is full of risk, change, and surprise, but if we persevere in trusting our Lord, we can count on His goodness to surpass any expectations we had safely and comfortably made for ourselves.  Committing to your vocation (whether marriage or religious vows, priestly ordination, or consecrated single life), saying yes to a change of job or ministry, accepting children, accepting a call to move, losing a friend  or career or health, all can be used by Christ for our sanctification and be worked for good for the glory of God (cf Romans 8:28 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ) as Jesus did with the death (and resurrection) of Lazarus.

We can’t control Jesus, but we can trust Him. We can’t fully understand all that He does, but He makes Himself near and present. We can’t hold Christ back, but we can hold on to Him in friendship. His determination inspires us like Thomas, deepens our theological understanding like Martha, moves us to tears like Mary, resurrects us like Lazarus, and more.

Consider:

  • Imagine the sorrow Mary and Martha felt at Lazarus’ passing, especially when Christ didn’t get there in time. Have you ever felt like Jesus was taking too long to answer your prayer?
  • Jesus wept. Consider how He feels your pain and has compassion on your suffering.
  • Imagine their surprise when Jesus said “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus did. Has Christ ever answered your prayer in a way you didn’t expect? Has He ever taken a situation that seemed like a loss and made it into something amazing?
  • Do you struggle with doubt or with trying to control Jesus by demanding things be a certain way? Consider C.S. Lewis’ description of Aslan as not a tame lion, and as not safe but good.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Read a brief bio on the life of a saint each day. You can find them easily online or as an app.  Reading about a saint each day can inspire you with accounts of how Christ worked all things for good to a surprising end for them and can for you
  • Reach out to other Christians in your walk of life. Schedule a get together – whether coffee with a friend, a double date with your spouse and another Christian couple, host a gathering in your home, or join a group that’s already

~ 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.

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The Better Deal

March 27th, 2020

Today’s first reading from Wisdom 2:21-22,  reminds me of a quote by C.S. Lewis in his famous essay The Weight of Glory.  Both point to the truth repeated by every saint to us who wrestle with giving so much up for God – you feel like you are losing something but in fact you are being freed to receive so much more.

The crux of the problem is that we can’t understand the difference until we experience it, and we can’t experience it without making that leap of faith.  Thus Jesus says, “Come and see” . But to follow Jesus, we must leave our present location – it requires a movement and a decision.  When tempted to remain in the lesser pleasures we know, reflect on the deeper pleasures offered by God; or has Lewis puts it – exchange the mud pies for a beach vacation!

Wisdom 2:21-22

These were their thoughts, but they erred;
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they knew not the hidden counsels of God;
neither did they count on a recompense of holiness
nor discern the innocent souls’ reward. 

C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory

It would seem Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.  We are too easily pleased.”

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2020