A Gift Well Received- Mary’s Immaculate Conception

Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Antolinez-inmaculada-bilbao public domain

Antolinez-immaculada-bilbao [public domain]

By a miracle of God, the Holy Spirit would overshadow Mary and Jesus Christ would be conceived in the womb of a virgin.  For this to happen, another miracle had to take place first.  The Son of God received His human nature from His Mother Mary, but since God and sin are incompatible it was necessary that she too be without the stain of sin. So today the Church prayerfully remembers and praises God for the other miraculous conception – Mary’s. Through His grace she was preserved from Original Sin from the moment of her conception.  Incredibly, this saving grace is the same grace merited on the Cross by Jesus which saves us, except that she received this gift from her beginning whereas we are cleansed from sin in Baptism.

Mary received this state of grace as a gift from God, but unlike Eve (and Adam), she remained faithful to God and this gift through every temptation.  Mary suffered difficulties, anxieties, troubles, danger, and excruciating emotional pain, especially at the foot of the Cross, yet she trusted God above all and surrendered always and completely to His will.

As we praise God today for His great love and mercy in the miraculous conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we look to her for motherly guidance and love.  She is both our mother and our role model.  We are cleansed from sin in Baptism, may we strive to remain faithful to that gift, trusting in God and glorifying Him as Mary did, in every circumstance.

Consider:

  • God’s miracles are a fruit of His power, mercy, and love.  Consider the gift of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and the beauty of human nature in the fullness God created it to be.
  • Consider the miracle of your life and the great dignity God has given you.  Take a moment to thank God for the gift of His grace in your life and freedom from sin at your Baptism. Consider the fullness of life God desires for you which He makes possible through His grace, and teaches through His commands.
  • Sin appears as freedom and pleasure but in fact only degrades us.  Examine your conscience for the ways you have fallen to temptations and sin, especially since your Baptism. Go to the Sacrament of Confession this Advent Season to receive Christ’s healing grace and to begin anew.

Make a Resolution:

~ Written by Angela M. Jendro © 2019

 

Keeping Christ in Christmas, and John the Baptist in Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent

Take Time For Him Book cover

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life (click to order your own copy from Amazon!  Remember to rate it and leave a review!)

Gospel of Matthew 3:1-12

Meditation Reflection:

 The image of John the Baptist, dressed in camel hair and eating locusts, preaching the message of repentance and authentic sorrow for sins, provides a stark contrast to the marketing images flooding us of jolly Santas, piles of presents, and delicious foods. I can understand why marketers find Santa and reindeer more appealing for sales than a desert ascetic speaking about sin, but the ubiquitous advertising easily obscures the serious spiritual work we are meant to do. People also feel ever more pressure to prepare for Christmas by finding the perfect gifts within the time constraints of frantic schedules and limited budgets. Nevertheless, the Gospel writers remind us that preparation for Christmas is ultimately preparation for the Incarnation of God our Savior. He brings the gift of heaven, but we must prepare ourselves to receive that gift through repentance.

The push to start Christmas sales has lamentably encroached on Thanksgiving and even cast a shadow over Halloween.  Even worse, it has completely usurped Advent in our culture, making it seem nearly impossible in the four weeks leading up to Christmas to make time for introspection, increased prayer, and sacrifice. On the flip side, by the time Catholics celebrate Christmas on the Eve of Christmas day and for the two weeks following it, the rest of the culture has already moved on and we feel we are celebrating alone.

So how can we balance living in the culture that we do, and still honor the important process of conversion Advent is meant to procure? We can no longer wait to buy a Christmas tree until December 23rd because there won’t be any left. We can’t leave them up for the duration of the Liturgical Christmas season because the tree will be a fire hazard at that point, plus we will have missed our road-side tree pick up provided by our garbage companies. Each person must determine how to be “in the world but not of the world” (cf. 1 John 2) in their own situation. For myself, I have surrendered the Christmas tree battle and get one the weekend after Thanksgiving. I love Christmas trees, and if I’m going to go to all the work of decorating it with the kids, I want it to last as long as possible! I also must admit that I look forward to the Hallmark Christmas movies that start up on Thanksgiving and, if possible, make a weekend of it during Advent with my mother and my daughter. Black Friday deals make Christmas gifts more affordable although I am too exhausted on Cyber Mondays to get online after work. However, I reserve some Christmas feasting for the real Christmas season. I play Christmas music all the way to the Epiphany even though secular stations have returned to their normal broadcasting. I keep my Christmas decorations out (except for the live tree). In my classroom at school I leave Christmas lights up in my room until Lent, reminding the kids that Jesus is the Light of the World.

Amidst the early holiday cheer and parties however, spiritual sacrifice, examination of conscience, and remorse for sins is harder to carve time for, and yet the most important. When the kids were little, I would do Bible crafts and the kids had fun placing a felt ornament on our Jesse tree corresponding to a daily Scripture passage we would read. Now that my kids are older, it’s harder to find a time we are all home to pray together. As a busy mom, I appreciate that the Church offers practical advice regarding spiritual preparation during Advent, and oftentimes opportunities organized by the parish to help us. Scripturally, spiritual preparation consists of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Parishes often offer Advent reflections, retreats, and youth ministry events to facilitate more introspective prayer during this time. I would recommend adding one of these events to your calendar just as you would any Christmas party invitation.

Fasting during advent is especially difficult, with so many Christmas parties and cookie exchanges taking place, but consider fasting from something simple and achievable, so that even during the celebration, you remain connected to Christ and honor the preparation for His coming that He deserves. I wouldn’t suggest giving up sweets altogether, but maybe you set a limit for yourself or give up something else that’s meaningful to you, especially something you tend to overindulge in. Maybe you decide you will only have one adult beverage at the Christmas party or one desert, or you resolve to bite your tongue when tempted to gossip about a coworker of family member.

Almsgiving may be the one aspect of Advent that lingers in our culture as generosity during the Christmas season seems to be a sentiment that still resonates in people’s hearts. Parishes, schools, offices, and neighborhoods band together for charitable causes and provide opportunities for us to give. We can participate with a spirit of giving to Christ who says, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40). Let’s not forget that Christmas also provides less visible opportunities for giving, like keeping our eyes open for family members, neighbors, or colleagues who are lonely and inviting them to our homes.

Fasting and almsgiving can further be applied in our interactions with one another. Christmas get-togethers bring out the best and the worst in people. The heightened social contact creates situations for enjoyable fellowship but also tense discord. Here we can practice the spiritual works of mercy. We can fast from gossip and give encouragement, fast from pettiness and bear wrongs patiently, fast from competitiveness and offer warmth. When we encounter someone, we find annoying, frustrating, or difficult to be around, we can reflect on the compassion of the Lord, who became man, for love of that same person. When we are moved by the generosity and love of others towards ourselves, we can praise Christ as we tangibly experience His love in our own lives.

Advent has become an uphill battle, but the view from the top makes climbing it worth all the effort it took to get there. This Advent I hope you can find a way to prepare your heart and your life for Christ a little more in some small way. I hope you experience the peace from repenting of sin to receive His generous healing. Let’s demonstrate our authentic gratitude for his grace through prayer and acts of love. Let’s try to keep Christ in Christmas, and John the Baptist in Advent.

Consider:

  • “Emmanuel” means God-with-us. Consider the gift of the Incarnation, that God became man, and dwelt among
  • How has your heart and life opened to Christ over the years? How has He dwelt more and more in your life?
  • Are there any areas of your life from which you keep Christ closed off? Are there any places, people, or activities you wouldn’t feel comfortable having Christ present?
  • Reflect on the people you will encounter this season. Consider them from Christ’s point of view. How might you be the hands and heart of Christ to them in your interactions?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way this Advent to pray, fast, and
  • Put a church sponsored Advent or Christmas event on your calendar, then attend
  • Fast from gossip and critical
  • Intentionally give to Christ, above your regular Choose a charity or a particular person and be generous to Jesus by being generous to them.

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Mid-week Christ Connection

Gospel of Matthew 15:29-30 NAB In-the-World-Not-of-the-World-DESKTOP

At that time:
Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee,
went up on the mountain, and sat down there.
Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.

Meditation Reflection:

Imagine walking with Jesus by the Sea, then sitting on the mountainside.  As you bring your needs before Him, no matter how impossible they seem, He calms you and provides for all your needs.

Consider:

Surrender to Christ all your worries, and difficulties.  Lay before Him the needs of those you love too.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Begin Again: New Year’s Resolutions for the New Liturgical Year

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual LifeTake Time For Him Book cover by Angela M. Jendro © 2019. Available on Amazon.  Order your own copy!

          • *Have the Sunday Gospel at your fingertips
          • *Highlight and write in the margins
          • *A place to keep your meditations for the year

First Sunday of Advent

Gospel of Matthew 24:37-44

Meditation Reflection:

Advent marks the beginning of a new year (liturgically speaking). We pause to praise God that we made it through last year on the wings of His grace, and to begin anew for the next. A lot can happen in a year, so we need to re-center ourselves in the Lord, to ground ourselves in His love, His strength, His Wisdom, and His peace. Yoked to Christ, we will be able to embrace unexpected joys and successes with humble gratitude and persevere through sorrows and failures without fear.

In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, Advent also provides the opportunity for Christians to step back, evaluate their lives, and make renewed goals for personal growth. Like most resolutions, we hope to imbue the next year with deeper meaning and healthier living (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). We can’t know when our lives will end or when Christ will come again, but we can be our best selves when it does and try to live with as few regrets as possible.

So how do we do this, especially in our complicated and fast- paced culture? Where do we even begin and what steps can we take? To start, we absolutely MUST make following Christ our first and highest priority. Jesus assures us in Matthew 6:33 that if we “seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness”, everything else will fall into place. The first habit we need to make, is turning to Christ EVERY day and to develop the ability to “Practice the Presence of God”i as Brother Lawrence famously termed it. It’s human nature to grow lax over time and most of us can’t avoid being overwhelmed periodically by daily life. In these moments, when we need prayer the most, it’s usually the first to be neglected. Instead, in your stress, make your prayer the rock that soothes your anxiety or sadness, that calms your anger, and dispels the clouds of confusion. By the same token, during times of success and feelings of happiness, we can easily be distracted from our connection to Christ or our underlying need for Him. Instead, rejoice with Christ, let Him share your joy especially since He was instrumental in achieving it. These annual pauses can reorient us in a positive way if we use our triumphs and our failures as fuel for richer discipleship.

Although goals need to be tailored to the individual, they endure the longest and bear the most fruit if done in community. For example, last year during faculty workshops leading up to the start of school (I’m a middle and high school teacher), a colleague and I decided to go for a walk during our lunch break each day. We lamented that our healthy summer living would be quickly replaced by the frenetic schedule of the school year and our summer habits of regular exercise would fade away leaving us tired and downcast. We resolved to walk together for an hour once a week after school. Plenty of reasons presented themselves every week to cancel the walk, but we stuck to our priority of that small bit of exercise (and friendship and spiritual conversation) together. This was the baby step that kept me in the habit each week and soon I added another day of exercise on my own. Not long after, a friend told me about an opportunity for a family gym membership that was affordable and a good way for our kids to burn off energy together.   When school began the following year, I smiled as I didn’t have to complain to my colleague about the impending physical atrophy and stress. Instead I felt amazing knowing I had been able to develop a much healthier balance in my life and knew I could take care of myself and keep up at work and home.

Like our bodies, our spiritual lives have a tremendous ability to bounce back with a little determination and perseverance. It’s tempting to look back with nostalgia at our previous achievements and make excuses for our current atrophy. Instead, find a friend and make a small, achievable goal to reinvigorate your spiritual life. Over the course of the year, similar to exercise, it will begin to bear greater and greater fruit, spurring you on to take more steps toward spiritual health and endurance. What sometimes begins as feeling laborious and painful eventually becomes something that feels so good you look forward to it and find ways to increase it.

Begin with the basics – go to Mass EVERY Sunday. No excuses. (Unless you are seriously ill of course). My kids and I have a tradition of getting doughnuts afterward to celebrate Sunday. As they’ve gotten older doughnuts are sometimes replaced with McDonald’s breakfast or as teens a mocha latte fun coffee drink. Whatever the treat, find a way to keep the celebration of Christ at Mass going afterward.

Pray, EVERY day. Start with saying thank you. Praise God and consider His goodness and greatness. Next, be honest with God about the day ahead and the help you will need to radiate Christ in the situations you will be in. Finally, intercede for others. Consider the needs of those around you, especially your family and people at work. Ask God for his help. Decide ahead of time when this conversation with God will take place. Know yourself and be realistic. For instance, as much as I wish I could end my day with prayer, as soon as I remotely begin to relax, I immediately fall asleep. I’ve considered a midday prayer, but I get distracted by everything in the day. However, when my kids were infants and toddlers, midday during their nap time was the only chance I had for scheduled time with God. Now that my kids are older and I am back at work, I choose morning to pray, when my mind is clear, and I can enjoy a cup of coffee with the Lord. Once I got into this habit however, it was so fruitful I yearned for more time with the Lord but struggled to get up earlier; the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak (cf. Matthew 26:41). So, when day light savings time began and I had to adjust my body to staying up later and getting up later, I decided to stay on the same schedule instead and the extra time for prayer was immediately available!

Next step, read a spiritual book about the faith. Unlike fiction or pop culture, spiritual books are best read a few pages at a time and may take a year or more to complete. A good book about the faith should inspire a movement of love and reflection in your heart and spur contemplation. Don’t get caught up in the progress of pages as much as the progress of personal transformation.

Praying with Scripture is always a great idea. You could read through a book of the bible, especially the Gospels, a chapter or so at a time. You could also read the daily readings for the Mass and reflect on the Gospel of the day. I find tremendous divine providence in these passages. You can go to usccb.org and click on the calendar on the right-hand side of the page to see the readings for the day. You could also pray with the psalms or even pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

Finally, if possible, try to set aside 5 minutes of silence with the Lord into your day. Lots of distractions will fill your mind but gently push them away and try to make 5 minutes of space for being in the presence of the Lord and listening.

Personally, I like to end prayer with 5 minutes of silence. I set a timer on my phone so I don’t have to check the clock. Other times, spiritual reading moves my heart and I pause in the middle of it for the 5 minutes.

Like building any new habit, you will have to make your own prudential decisions about what merits exceptions, versus the slippery slope of letting other things edge out your time with God. I have experienced both. For instance, when I would pray during my kids’ nap time I often felt pulled by the long list of things that needed to get done. I could easily excuse skipping prayer for doing dishes or cleaning up by considering my work as prayer. Although our work is prayerful if offered to God, actual time alone with the Lord is irreplaceable and a higher priority. On the other hand, I have also encountered situations where I was up all night with sick kids or unavoidable extra work at my job or in works of mercy that presented themselves. On those mornings I sometimes had to cut into my prayer time to get the necessary sleep I knew I needed to function for the Lord the next day. I try to be prayerfully prudent though to make sure I’m not letting other things come before prayer and try to say no to things that would interfere. Even on mornings I get a little extra sleep I make sure I still retain some time for prayer and not skip it altogether.

Don’t be afraid to adjust your new year’s resolutions to your current state in life. Things change from year to year, which makes Advent a perfect time to consider where you are now and what your next steps should be. Some periods of life are very peaceful, and you can plan structured times for prayer and methodically work on building needed virtues. Other times you may feel like you are in survival mode and leaning on the Lord takes a different form for the time being as you are in the trenches together. Whatever you decide, make the decision with Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Reach out to fellow Christians and accept the support of others and of grace. In this way, whenever Christ comes, He will find you ready – reaching for him.

Consider:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you need to grow.
    • How might you grow deeper in prayer?
    • How might you develop more virtuous habits?
    • How might you be more Christ-like toward others?
  • Consider past spiritual resolutions you have made. How have they born fruit in your life? Reflect on the effort it took to begin them and how they grew to become a
  • Where do you need more balance? What undermines higher priorities? How might you put boundaries on those things to keep your priorities better aligned?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make one prayer resolution. Decide when, how, and what you will do to deepen your prayer
  • Make one virtue resolution. Identify one way you would like to better imitate Christ and make a daily plan to grow in that
  • Make one detachment resolution. Choose one vice or sin to overcome. Ask others to keep you accountable about it, pray daily for grace to overcome it, and practice the opposite virtue.

 

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Get your own published papercopy of this year’s guided meditations!

Hi Everyone!Take Time For Him Book cover

By God’s grace, I have finally published a book of guided Scripture meditations for this year!  Check out Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life on Amazon!  

ORDER YOUR OWN COPY TO PRAY WITH!  Highlight passages you love and freely write notes and thoughts in the margins.  Keep on your shelf to look back and reflect on your year with the Lord.

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My hope is for us to grow in prayer together. I will be praying for you, and please pray for me!

Thank you all for your encouragement and requests over the years.  The idea came from a reader and each time I was tempted to quit the attempt, another reader would reach out with encouraging words at just the right moment.  This book is an effort to serve you better and to, through Christ, “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” (Hebrews 13:15 RSV)

May God embrace you in His Divine Love,

+Angela M. Jendro 

 

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Looking For a Savior

by Angela M. Jendro

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri

Gospel of Luke 21:5-19 (click here for the readings)

Meditation Reflection:

Oftentimes we imagine being a Christian means merely letting Jesus smooth out the rough edges of our lives to make it happier and more beautiful. The Jews made this mistake by imagining that in fulfilling the law and the prophets, the Messiah would merely restore the Davidic Kingdom to its former earthly glory. To be fair, the Incarnation of the Son of God liberated us at an unimaginable level. God’s merciful love exceeds anything we have experienced or could expect. He also exceeds all expectations of philosophy and the wisdom of the Greeks. The Jews experienced a taste of God’s powerful action and the Greeks touched on the heights of God’s wisdom. Jesus, the power and wisdom of God, makes both of these accessible to all and redirects our efforts toward an everlasting destination.

Christ counsels us to view this life as a pilgrimage and a battle. We develop our faith, hope, and love, on earth which will bring a deep sense of joy but will never create an earthly utopia. If we hope to find fullness here we will be sorely disappointed. Just look at the reactions of people to political news. Although presidents and congressmen have a great deal of power, they are not omnipotent. Moreover, their policies certainly affect our daily lives, but the transformation of hearts and the development of culture is something only Christ can do through His grace and His followers. All leaders have significant flaws and though they may do some measure of good, none can be our savior. No election can ever be the beginning of building a utopia or the end of the world, depending on your perspective. Our reaction ought to be proportionate – working diligently for the common good within our democratic system but relying on Christ alone for the salvation of souls and the spiritual elevation of our country. We can find relative happiness here, but for our joys to be lasting we need to direct them toward their true end – the heavenly kingdom. Besides, the most significant work is often done by everyday individuals serving those around them with Christian love, it just doesn’t get the same news press.

Christ promises to equip us for both the physical and the mental battle. As long as we live in the tension of sin and its effects, we will have to struggle against ourselves and others who oppose Christ’s kingdom, even family and friends. Nevertheless, Jesus, the Wisdom of God, provides the supernatural insights to answer the world’s mistaken propaganda or the pressures applied by those we care about. He also strengthens His disciples with supernatural perseverance to endure the physical suffering or possible martyrdom inflicted by worldly combatants.

As Catholics, we enjoy beautiful churches that express the glory of God. Rightly so, we adorn them with gorgeous art, precious metals, and the finest materials. We do this as an act of worship, as demonstrating concretely to ourselves and the world the value of God and of His sacrificial love. Christian churches are an icon, a sign pointing to a heavenly kingdom much more enduring. The magnificence of the sight of God will make all earthly analogies disappear. We ought to enjoy earthly icons of beauty, goodness, and truth in churches, nature, and most importantly in persons. At the same time, we need to daily recall to where they point and adjust our expectations and priorities accordingly.  We should still aim for greatness, justice, and perfection, but remember that it will come to fulfillment in the eternal kingdom where Christ reigns victorious.

Consider:

  • At the end of your life, what do you hope will endure from it afterward? Consider the lives you have and might still change, the love with which you imbue the world, the truths you fought to defend, the family relationships you have built.
  • Imagine your life from the perspective of entering heaven. Though all is certainly a grace, what would you be proud of? What would you regret? How might you live each day with more eternal purpose and significance?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day by surrendering it to the Lord. Look for three opportunities each day to build the kingdom of God – by acts of mercy, service, defending truth, helping someone heal or find justice, sharing the good news of Christ, offering up personal disappointments or suffering as a sacrifice… At the end of the day write down the things that built the kingdom of God. Reflect on any missed opportunities and pray for the grace to act on them tomorrow.

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~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019 updated from Angela Lambert Jendro © 2016

Finding Perspective

by Angela M. Jendro
Fra_Angelico_Last_Judgment

Fra Angelico “The Last Judgment” (detail: Paradise)

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 20:27-38

Meditation Reflection:

As Christians, we profess a belief in life eternal with Christ in Heaven, yet we can sometimes operate in our daily lives forgetful of this mystery. Like the Sadducees we ask Christ silly questions about heaven. When we attach ourselves too much to earthly life, we fall into the trap of imagining heaven as merely an extension of the present but with a few more perks.

Jesus reminds us of the incomparable difference between our journey to God here, and union with God there. As St. Paul says: “But, as it is written,

     ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

     Nor the heart of man conceived,

     What God has prepared for those who love him,’” (I Corinthians 2:9 RSV).

Even the good things we experience here are merely a prelude to heaven. Here we experience a taste, there we will enjoy the feast.

Jesus proposes to the Sadducees that contemplating the life of the angels can provide some insight into this mystery. Like humans, angels are persons with rational intellects, free will, and the ability to love. Unlike humans they do not have bodies, are neither male nor female, and do not procreate. Each angel was individually created by God and is completely unique, so much so that some have compared it to being like different species from one another. Because they live in eternity, their choices are permanent. When God created them they each had the choice to either accept or reject God’s will for their life and His mission for them. Some said yes to God’s will and others rejected it. Those who rejected God’s will we call the fallen angels or demons. Human persons have more than one moment to choose or reject God, but that space of time does have limits. For us it ends when we die; at which moment our choice becomes permanent.

Consequently, the space of time in which we live on earth really is only a preparation for eternal life. During this short period, we either choose to grow our love for God or develop a disdain for Him. Only during our earthly lifespan can we develop and increase our capacity for God. At the moment of death the opportunity for change ends.

In addition, it’s our chance to aid others in their openness to heaven, even in its most basic form – the beginning of life itself. Whereas God created all of the angels at once, He creates human persons over a course of time and includes them in His work. As a result, openness to having children means openness to God’s creation of persons who will live eternally! For those called to spiritual motherhood or fatherhood, they contribute to this mystery as they minister to the birth and development of the child’s love for God which is also necessary for true life.

The Sadducees’ challenge to Christ with the hypothetical situation of a woman married seven times, merely exposed their ignorance of God. On earth marriage develops our capacity for love, self-gift, and sacrifice. It brings new life into the world as well as caring for the development of each family member. Marriage itself is not needed in heaven because no new life will be born there. It is the eternal life of those who already exist. Moreover, love will be perfected as we enjoy the perfect love of God and one another. The relationship of love experienced in marriage will remain a relationship of love in heaven. However, the title of husband or wife will be eclipsed by the fullness of the title son or daughter of God and sister and brother in Christ.

As the liturgical year comes to a close (Advent marks the beginning of the “New Year” in the Church), we contemplate the end times and remember that this experience of earthly life will eventually come to an end. We all get bogged down in our daily routine and anxious over matters that, if we considered our heavenly destination, shouldn’t really weigh us down. Moreover, we could make better use of our limited time if we consider things from an eternal perspective. This life is a preparation and an opportunity to participate in God’s work of spreading His kingdom. The more souls that come to accept His will and love on earth, the more that will join the wedding feast of love in Heaven for eternity.

Consider:

  • How does a heavenly perspective change your earthly perspective?
  • When feeling discouraged, remember that this life is a journey not the destination. Endless, secure happiness cannot be found here but the work to attain it in heaven can.
  • Through prayer, identify one area where you struggle to accept God’s will over your own.
  • Each angel has a mission from God. You also have a mission. How is God calling you to serve?
  • Consider first God’s vocational calling:
    • Is it to work for the salvation of your spouse through love and sacrifice and to possibly grow the human family by being open to life and to raising children in knowledge and love of the Lord?
    • Is it to administer the sacraments as a priest to bring eternal life to spiritual children?
    • Is it to spend your life in prayer and sacrifice for souls as a religious sister or brother?
    • Is it to devote your time and energy to God in a unique way as a single person, ready to do His will at every moment?
  • Consider next God’s occupational calling: How do you grow your love for God and develop it in others through your work?
    • Consider your special apostolate. Does God include you in His work of physical or emotional healing, protecting, providing, instruction of souls, encouragement, etc.?
    • How can you incorporate a heavenly perspective into your daily work? How do your daily activities and duties provide opportunities to detach from selfishness and develop greater love and compassion? How might you help others to heaven through your work?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day by writing down the tasks, challenges, and opportunities you anticipate that day. Next to each, write one way it can be directed toward helping yourself and others to heaven. For example, will it grow a virtue or minimize a vice if tackled with the help of grace? Is it an opportunity to help others journey to God – either by giving them physical life, sustaining their life, healing, protecting, or developing an aspect of their soul?
  • Identify where your will is most at odds with God’s and do one thing each day to offset it. It could be a refusal or fear to do something God asks of you or an unwillingness to let go of something and trust God in the situation.
  • Pray the Serenity Prayer or the Suscipe of St. Ignatius each day.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert Jendro © 2016 and edited © 2019

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Why Pray If God Already Knows?

Cima_da_Conegliano,_God_the_Father Attributed to Cima da Conegliano [Public domain]

Attributed to Cima da Conegliano [Public domain]

29th Sunday Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 18:1-8

Meditation Reflection:

If God is all-good, all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, why should we pray? Wouldn’t it be better to only offer prayers of thanksgiving or praise? If we pray for someone or for something, are we not assuming we can change God’s mind and that to change His mind means there’s something lacking in His divine providence?

Questions such as these arise in many human hearts. Jesus addresses it in this passage and points us toward some reasons we ought to pray, and more boldly, to pray for specific intentions. The great theologian Thomas Aquinas addressed these questions as well in the Summa Theologica (II.II.Q.83) Newadvent.org and offers some clear questions and answers for us to contemplate.

In article 2, “Whether it is becoming to pray,” he addresses this objection:

Objection 1: It would seem that it is unbecoming to pray. Prayer seems to be necessary in order that we may make our needs known to the person to whom we pray. But according to Matthew 6:32, “Your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.” Therefore it is not becoming to pray to God.”

This seems like a valid argument and even cites Scripture. If God knows what I need anyway, and certainly He knows it better than me, why should I pray at all? I myself have felt a little silly at times praying for intentions as I imagined God saying, “I know this already, move on.”

Yet, Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11), to call out to God day and night (Luke 18:7), that whatever we ask in prayer shall be given to us (MT 18:19, MT 21:22, MK 11:24JN 14:13, JN 15:7 and many more). Moreover, St. Paul says to pray without ceasing (1 Timothy 5:17). So why does God want us to pray for things if He already knows our needs?

Aquinas’ response provides insight for us:

“Reply to Objection 1. We need to pray to God, not in order to make known to Him our needs or desires but that we ourselves may be reminded of the necessity of having recourse to God’s help in these matters.”

First, we pray because we need to see the connection between our needs and God’s provisions. If we don’t pray, we often take God’s gifts for granted or assume they resulted merely from chance, good luck, or our own efforts. Through prayer, especially through persevering prayer, our disposition changes and we realize our total reliance on God’s graciousness.

Secondly, because of the transformative effect petitioning God can have on our faith and our relationship with God, sometimes God wills that something happens only if we pray for it. Aquinas puts it this way: “Divine providence disposes not only what effects shall take place, but also from what causes and in what order these effects shall proceed.” (II.II.Q.83A.2)

Aquinas points out that God’s divine providence desires not only certain good effects, but the prior causes of those effects as well.  In other words, part of God’s plan for providing, may include someone having prayed for it first. Thus, He may provide a particular thing only if you pray for it because He wills that it be caused by your prayers!

If we ought to pray, then for what should we pray and for what shouldn’t we pray? For example, early in my faith journey I was surprised at how God answered prayers and I noticed something. I usually prayed for a particular solution to a problem, whereas God saw the problem itself and provided a much more creative and profound solution than I could have imagined. As a result, I try to refine my prayers of petition to presenting the problem to the Lord and trusting in Him to provide the resolution rather than telling God how it ought to be solved. Thus, my faith deepens as I see Him at work in His way rather than merely a response to my requested logistics.

Aquinas offers insights into a couple of common questions in this regard that are helpful. In Article 5 he presents this objection: “Now according to Romans 8:26, “we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Therefore we ought not to ask for anything definite when we pray(Obj.1). The objector in this case cites Scripture correctly but draws the wrong conclusion. It’s true that our prayers are often misguided, like my earlier example. Nevertheless, as Aquinas points out, Scripture also says, that the Holy Spirit will enable us to pray as we ought. He writes, “Although man cannot by himself know what he ought to pray for, “the Spirit,” as stated in the same passage, “helpeth our infirmity,” since by inspiring us with holy desires, He makes us ask for what is right. Hence our Lord said (John 4:24) that true adorers “must adore . . . in spirit and in truth”(Reply 1)

God is a patient and kind guide. He accepts the true prayers of our hearts no matter how bungled the words we use to express them. In addition, the more we invite the Holy Spirit to direct our prayer, the deeper and more authentic our prayers become.

In Article 6, Aquinas tackles the even harder question of whether we ought to pray for temporal things, i.e. the needs of our earthly well-being. He makes an insightful distinction between prayers for our needs verses disordered wants, “order” being the key word. When it comes to praying for specific things we ought to petition God, but to have them appropriately prioritized. For example, of highest importance would be those needs relevant to the salvation our souls, the souls of those we love, and the advancement of God’s kingdom. Next in order would be our daily needs – food, clothing, shelter, friendship, etc. Last would be our wants (for example, “If you feel like treating me Lord,_____would be awesome!”)

Prayer is not a letter to Santa. It’s not a childish wish list. Prayer is relational. We converse with God and deepen our relationship as our loving Father listens to our needs and provides for them. We converse with the saints and with each other as we unite in prayer before the Lord for a petition. Thus we see the beauty of the Christian family and experience a deepening of unity with the people of God as we rely on each other’s prayers as well as our own. God wills our good, and He also wills at times for that good to come through prayer. As a mother I often anticipate my children’s needs, but I appreciate when they humbly ask and acknowledge the connection between their need and my generosity. God loves us dearly and provides so many things for which we never even asked or dreamed. Yet, He desires to partner with us and to bring about good through our cooperating efforts both in action and in prayer and sacrifice.

Consider:

  • Have you ever tried to struggle with something on your own for a long time before finally asking God for help? Were you surprised at how quickly He helped you once you asked?
  • Pray to the Lord for the needs of your soul. What sins do you need His grace to overcome? What virtues do you desire to grow? What desires would you like the Lord to give you?
  • Pray to the Lord for the needs of the souls of those you love. With what are they struggling? Where do they need conversion? What holy desires do they need from the Holy Spirit?
  • Pray for the needs of the souls of you enemies. Pray for conversion in their hearts and gifts of grace. Pray for blessings in their lives.
  • Pray for your needs – material, physical, emotional, relational.
  • Pray for your wants from a spirit of joy in God’s generosity.

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a prayer intention list in your prayer journal. Write the date or make a check mark next to the ones He answers. (remember some might be answered soon others may require time and perseverance)
  • Pray a prayer of surrender each day to God’s divine providence and openness to what surprises He may send you.

 

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Gratitude for Our Reason to Hope

tHANKS TO jESUS.JPG

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:11-19 NAB

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Meditation Reflection:

On His way to Jerusalem, where He would be rejected and killed for our sins, Jesus encountered ten lepers. Since leprosy is highly contagious those who suffered with its physical harms additionally suffered from social isolation and rejection as well, banished to stay separate from healthy people. When the lepers saw Jesus they called out because they could not approach in their condition. Jesus’ instructions to show themselves to the priests required them to make an act of faith and hope. Faith believes God’s words and hope acts upon those promises before necessarily seeing them. At that time, if someone believed they had been healed from leprosy, they had to show themselves to the priests for examination before being cleared to reenter the community. The lepers did not question Jesus’ command but did as He instructed before they had been healed. They acted with hope based on belief in Jesus and His words. As they walked in hope, they were cured.

The virtues of faith and hope direct one toward the highest of all virtues – charity. Charity is the love of God above all things and love of neighbor out of love for God. Only one leper demonstrated this higher virtue. Jesus, who knows the hearts of all men, indicated that the man who returned had a deeper and more fruitful faith than the other nine. Why? He returned to Jesus to say thank you.

Consider how many of us quickly forget God’s miraculous work in our lives shortly after the crisis is over. We fall back into our regular routines and grow complacent or even complain about mundane things. Even worse, when the next crisis upsets our lives, we sometimes forget God’s power and fall to discouragement and negativity. How can we avoid this common mistake?

A simple thank you and a disposition of gratitude express, as well as develop, the essential virtues of the spiritual life. Every day, and many times throughout the day, we have to choose our attitude. We regularly experience the temptation to succumb to negativity, skepticism, disgust, and even despair. However, with faith in Christ’s promise and hope in His transformative love, we can work through this crisis with the aid of the Holy Spirit and supernatural grace.

If everything depended on us alone, then discouragement and despair would be a sensible response. Take for example the Gospel passage. The lepers would have considered their future to consist merely of painful physical deterioration and utter loneliness. Their lives took a completely new trajectory when they encountered Christ. This surprising, unexpected event, liberated them their illness and gave them new hope for their future.

Propping up hope that man can save himself, then deepening discouragement at the realization that we can’t, are two common ways the devil tries to lead us away from the Lord. We can benefit from doing a daily attitude check and remembering that when we encounter Christ, surprising, unexpected things can happen and change our lives and our world.

A favorite author of mine and Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, wrote an essay entitled “The Six Ages of the Church”which gives me a hopeful perspective for our current situation as a Church. In this essay he proposed that throughout the course of its 2000 year history, the Church has (and continues) to experience a cycle of three stages: crisis, response, and flourishing. With each challenge the Church experiences setbacks and loss. In response, new apostolates arise and face the challenge resulting in a time of flourishing and achievement. The next crisis sets the Church back again but new responses emerge again as well, and so on and so forth.

Viewing history from this perch inspires hope as we consider every age poses its challenges and Christians have felt the same confusion, disillusionment, and fear that we do. Yet, in every age the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of God’s people and inspired them with new ways to meet those challenges, adapt, and overcome.

This cycle applies to our individual lives as well. We will encounter challenges that leave us feeling confused and helpless. Nevertheless, if we call out to Jesus and walk forward in faith and hope, He will transform our lives and we will indeed flourish. During times of peace, the challenge is to remain grateful and to return to the Lord, remembering that He is the source of our health. We are always dependent on Him. During times of crisis, we need to remember God’s power to transform, possibly even through us. Thanksgiving, counting our blessings, and confidently surrendering to the Lord should be our daily response. No matter what our crisis – individually, locally, or nationally – there are always things for which to be grateful and always hope for renewal. As St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5: 18 In all circumstances, give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Consider:

  • Reflect back on times that God helped you through a difficulty. Consider the feelings you experienced beforehand and the joy afterward.
  • Consider how your faith, hope, and charity have grown over the years. How have your encounters with Christ in your daily life deepened your convictions?
  • When do you feel discouraged, pessimistic, and negative? What areas of your life are particularly vulnerable to this attitude? How might you change your perspective? What might you be overlooking or taking for granted in the situation? How might you make a positive difference in it?
  • If you have children, consider what kind of formation they will need to be Christian leaders in our present culture. What virtues could you help them develop? What persons or saints could you point them to for inspiration? How might you nurture and develop their faith and their conscience? How can you teach by example in your own life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a gratitude list. Each day reflect and thank God for three things from that day.
  • Do one thing this week to make a positive contribution or change where you are usually negative.
    • (examples: bring a treat for everyone to a meeting you would rather avoid and choose to smile; pray for our leaders each day this week; tell someone thank you each day for something; if you don’t like the music at church, volunteer your musical talents; if you don’t like what your spouse cooks for dinner, cook something yourself for everyone; if you keep having negative encounters with your child, proactively plan an activity or time together that will be positive; etc.)
  • Reduce discouraging messages this week (either via media or negative friends), and increase encouraging messages (read Scripture, listen to uplifting music or inspiring biographies).

 

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016 and edited © 2019

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Toughening Up

taking up cross

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:5-10 NAB

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

Meditation Reflection:

We live in a culture rife with an entitlement attitude. Generation Y-ers get the worst rap for this and to be fair university studies have provided proof of its epidemic. Generation Z is too young to tell for certain but doesn’t appear likely to be much different. (I myself am on the very beginning edge of Gen Y, although I was somewhat sheltered from an entitlement perspective thanks to my mother’s tireless efforts to curb my attitude).

Merriam-Webster defines this attitude as: “the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).” A NY Post article “The worst generation?” from May 10, 2010 cited a University of New Hampshire study which concluded that: “Gen Yers are characterized by a ‘very inflated sense of self’ that leads to ‘unrealistic expectations’ and, ultimately, ‘chronic disappointment.’” ). Granted, not every Gen Yer suffers from an inflated sense of self, it does seem to be a cultural trend and it impacts our relationships and sense of satisfaction at work, in our families, and in our faith.

Because of the effects of Original Sin, we all tend toward a self-centered narcissism and will continue to spiral down if our trajectory isn’t changed by grace, parenting, or other formative agents. Jesus’ interaction with the apostles in this passage reminds me of interactions I’ve had with my own children. When asked to do the dishes, clean a bathroom, or fold laundry I am met with attitudes of “why me?” On other occasions a child of mine actually notices things that need to be done around the house. Rather than simply pitching in and taking care of the problem, they see it as a job opportunity for which they should be rewarded. The conversation looks something like this –

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I unload the dishes?”

Me.: “Clean dishes on which to eat.”

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I clean the cat’s litter box?”

Me: “I’ll let you keep having the cat as a pet.”

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I help with the laundry?”

Me: “Clean clothes.”

Child: “Ackh. Mooooom. Forget it.”

5 mintues later:

Child: “I’m bored.”
Me: “Then do the dishes.”
Child: “That’s boring too. What can I do that’s fun?”

Me: “I’m not your cruise ship captain. Do the dishes and maybe boredom won’t seem like such a bad thing.”

If only we could say our conversations with God didn’t look remarkably similar. How often do we take an entitlement attitude with the Lord? It looks something like “Look Lord, I went to Mass on Sunday! What do I get?” Or, “I put a few dollars in the collection plate, what will you give me?”

The entitlement attitude affects our expectations for the work to reward ratio as well and may be somewhat analogous to the passage for today’s Gospel. The same NY Post article cited another study which summarized the expectations of entitled employees:

According to another study, which will be published in the Journal of Management in September. Co-author Stacy Campbell, an assistant professor of management at Kennesaw State University, says the study revealed that when it comes to work, the two things Gen Yers care most about are a) high salaries, and b) lots of leisure time off the job.

‘They want everything,’ says Campbell. ‘They want the time off. They want the big bucks.’

To reach their conclusions, Campbell and co-author Jean Twenge — a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of “Generation Me,” a book examining discontent among members of Gen Y — worked over the data from an ongoing survey of high school students conducted annually since 1975 by the University of Michigan. Among their findings was that while both Gen Y and Gen X want sizable salaries, Gen X workers show greater awareness that a hefty paycheck comes with a hefty workload.

As Christians, we ought to evaluate our own expectations of working for the Lord. We can forget that it’s a privilege to work as a laborer for the Lord in bringing in His harvest and that it’s a blessing to have a job. When we feel like complaining, “What do I get for “carrying this cross?”, we can remember that we get to carry a cross. We get to work. We get to be near to Christ in the most intimate and meritorious moment of His work of salvation. We even get to help. We also gain numerous other rewards from carrying our cross and laboring with the Lord, taking His yoke upon our shoulders. Growing up, whenever I would feel sorry for myself or want pity, my mom would respond with a singular word that I detested: “Tough”. Sometimes she would even lengthen her response a little to: “Toughen up”. I loathed these words and swore I would never be so unfeeling toward my own children. Of course, you can guess, there came one fateful day when those same words came issuing from my own mouth in response to my own child’s self-pity moment. I realize now that my mom’s approach helped inoculate me from an entitlement attitude and in fact, made me tougher. In one word she exposed my self-pity for being an “unrealistic expectation” and reset my expectations to something more along the lines of reality. Crosses have a similar effect. Sometimes we whine to God and it feels like He is coldly ignoring our need and simply retorting “tough.” However, sometimes those very crosses strengthen us and enable us to increase in faith as well as hope and love.

If we want the Lord to increase our faith we need not look much further than prayer, sacraments, fellowship, and picking up our cross daily and following Him. Yet, we often expect huge returns for minimal effort. Christ reminds us today that we are blessed to labor in His kingdom. We are blessed to be near Him in the cross. The faith and satisfaction we will gain from hard earned sweat and blood in the field will give a much more satisfying feeling than the superficial reward of a participation trophy.

God provides the supernatural strength we need to follow Him, we just have to adjust our expectations and persevere when things get tough. St. Paul reminds us in second letter to Timothy, that God enables us to toughen up through His grace that we might be courageous and noble:

“Beloved: I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control… bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” 2Timothy 1:6-8

Consider:

  • What kind of attitude do you have toward God? How has it grown and matured over the years?
  • Reflect on the gift of working side by side with Christ as He brings in the harvest. Jesus says, “the harvest is ready but the laborers are few.” Have you had the chance to be a part of someone’s spiritual journey? How did it feel to see the seeds of faith grow into noble discipleship?
  • In what way could you adjust your expectations of discipleship? Do you suffer from an impulsiveness that needs instant gratification or are you able to delay gratification?
  • My mother’s discipline, though apparently counter-cultural at the time, inoculated me from suffering the poison of entitlement mentality (as much as I tried to get her to cave into the idea!). Who has been courageous enough in your life to lovingly adjust your perspective even if you fought them on it?
  • When have you felt deep satisfaction in work itself rather than the reward at the end? How does this relate to work as a disciple?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray and reflect on the prayer of St. Francis this week.
  • Call or write a thank you to someone who has saved you or healed you from an entitlement attitude.
  • If you have children, grandchildren, or work with children, reflect each day on your interactions with them and consider if there is an analogy to your own interactions with the Lord.

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016

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prayer of st francis