Becoming Rich: Investment Strategies From Christ

by Angela M Jendro

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 12:13-21 NAB

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Meditation Reflection:

Why is Jesus so hard on the man just looking for a fair division of inheritance, doesn’t God care about justice?  How about the farmer?  Shouldn’t Jesus be praising him for his hard work?  The man just looked forwrad to an early retirement, is that so bad?

Neither of these men did anything wrong on the surface, rather it was their underlying disposition of heart that concerened Christ.  Greed is defined as an inordinate desire for wealth.  Inordinate means the desire for wealth is either excessive or sought after in the wrong way.  It also refers to having your priorities out of order.  For example, wanting to earn a good living doing an honest job is noble.  Whereas making the accumulation of wealth your top priority or going after it through illicit means or making money a higher priority than God or others would be inordinate.  That’s why the virtue of generosity (of both money and time)  is so important to keep greed in check and wealth rightly ordered.

Greed takes many forms and we can be quite talented at excusing it with innumerable rationalizations.  The man in this encounter masked his greed with a case about justice.  We don’t know the circumstances surrounding the inheritance but Jesus, who knows the truth in each of our hearts, identified a greedy motive obscuring the actual facts of the case.  The farmer enjoyed a fantastic crop year.  However, his first thought/priority was of himself and his own pleasure.  A generous person would have been excited at the opportunity to give grain to others in need and provide for more of the poor in the area, reserving only an “ordinate” amount for his needs.  In terms of storing up riches in heaven, St. John Chrysostom remarked that the poor are a blessing to us from God as they are the bank tellers of heaven – meaning whatever we give to others lasts forever in eternity.

We often operate with the mentality of the farmer in Christ’s parable.  The modern equivalent would go something like this:  Work hard in school so you can get into a good college, so you can get a good job, so you can make a lot of money, so you will be secure and happy.  These goals have some prudence behind them, but without a view to stewardship or vocation, they, like the farmer’s view,  lack a vertical dimension.  They prepare for the needs of the earthly body, but not for the elevation needed by the soul.  Consider how many people follow this plan and find themselves burnt out, lonely, and suffering from health issues related to the stressful pace they had been keeping.  Ironically, we are both the richest country in the world and the most depressed. We keep a frenzied pace only to find ourselves exasperatedly sighing the same words of Ecclesiastes “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” (2:22).

It can feel like, “What is the point?”! We clean the house and it’s messy again in a matter of hours.  We finish a project at work and another lands on our desk the next day.  Our kids finish one sport’s season and another begins.  Days fly off the calendar, then weeks, then years. If all we’ve done is focus on tasks rather than loving service of God and neighbor, we miss out on relationship with God and people we love. Greed has a vicious way of undermining our relationships with God, each other, and even ourselves.  Everyone has to find a balance between work and life.  We have to be prudent, work hard, and plan for the future.  The problem is, it’s just sooooo easy to work and plan for more than we really need and miss out on the good stuff right in front of us.  Rather than plopping on the couch and watching a movie with our kids we run another load of laundry or get some work done on the computer.  Instead of going out with colleagues and deepening friendships, we put in a couple extra hours at work to get ahead.  Sunday finally comes around and the thought of getting up and going to Mass feels like just another thing on the calendar rather than an intimate encounter with the living God.

Jesus reminds us to work and plan for our eternal future too.  We are made for meaning, purpose, and love.  Moreover, we are spiritual beings made for eternity with God.  Work labored for greed will produce a temporary reward, but work offered in love and service to God will bring eternal joy.  It will likely bring a deeper earthly joy as well.  Having the respect of others because of your position can feel good but it can also feel empty, not to mention add paranoia that someone will try to take it from you.  Having the respect of God because of your character is priceless and immune from circumstances.

Every day we must pray and reflect on what really matters so we invest our time and efforts wisely. Through the grace of Christ, we have the opportunity to escape the crazed rat race and endless  gerbil wheel.  If we have the courage to surrender greed we can gain immeasurable wealth unaffected by the volatility of the stock market or our boss, and which produces deeper pleasure than money can buy.  Doing work that improves the lives of others or working a job that pays well so you have money for charitable works you care about will give you deeper satisfaction than a simple paycheck.  No matter what your profession, how you conduct yourself and to what end is up to you.

As a teacher, I am reminded of this at graduation parties.  My bonus, though not monetary, comes in the form of seeing kids I’ve helped develop turn into amazing human beings.  It’s the emails from college or stopping by my classroom to tell me everything they are up to or how something I taught them has stuck with them that uplifts my heart and reinforces the purpose of my work. Similarly, I know wealthy individuals who find great joy in putting it at the service of the Lord and seeing the fruits of those spiritual endeavors. They find happiness in generosity.  God promises in 2 Corinthians 9:6 “Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  Be generous with God and labor to sow what matters so you can be “rich in what matters to God.”

Consider:

  • Reflect on what matters most in your life. Consider what gets in the way of those things versus what develops them.
  • Prayerfully consider what is “enough” for you. What would be sufficient and what work is necessary to meet that goal?
  • Ask God to reveal any desires that have become excessive or obsessive. Is there anything you are grasping after or worried about that prevents you from enjoying the gifts God has already given you?
  • What kind of work or charitable contributions brings you a feeling of satisfaction?
    • Do you find meaning in aspects of your job?
    • Do you enjoy providing for your family and seeing them thrive?
    • Do you have charitable projects you care about?
    • Do you contribute to the Church?
  • Has greed ever undermined your relationship with God? With another person?  With being true to yourself?
  • How might you grow in generosity?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Evaluate your investments in God, others, and yourself.  Decide on one thing you could do for each category to enrichen that relationship in your life.
  • The opposite virtue of greed is generosity. Do something generous this week.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

 

Becoming Rich: Investment Strategies From Christ

by Angela Lambert

 

 

July 31st, 2016; 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 12:13-21 NAB

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Meditation Reflection:

Greed comes in many forms and we can be quite talented at excusing it with innumerable rationalizations.  The man in this encounter masked his greed with a case about justice.  We don’t know the circumstances surrounding the inheritance but Jesus, who knows the truth in each of our hearts, shows greater concern from the man’s motive than the actual facts of the case.

Greed has a vicious way of undermining our relationships with God, each other, and even ourselves.  We often operate with the mentality of the farmer in Christ’s parable.  The modern equivalent would go something like this:  Work hard in school and be successful in a bunch of extracurricular activities so you can get into a good college, so you can get a good job, so you can make a lot of money, so you will be secure and happy.  Yet, how many people follow this plan and find themselves at 40 years old burnt out, lonely, empty inside, and suffering from health issues related to the stressful pace they have been keeping for decades.  Ironically, we are both the richest country in the world and the most depressed. We keep a frenzied pace only to find ourselves exasperatedly sighing the same words of Ecclesiastes “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” (2:22).

What is the point?! We clean the house and it’s messy again in a matter of hours.  We finish a project at work and another lands on our desk the next day.  Our kids finish one sport’s season and another begins.  Days fly off the calendar, then weeks, then years.  Everyone has to find a balance between work and life.  We have to be prudent, work hard, and plan for the future.  The problem is, it’s just sooooo easy to work and plan for more than we really need and miss out on the good stuff right in front of us.  Rather than plopping on the couch and watching a movie with our kids we run another load of laundry or get some work done on the computer.  Instead of going out with colleagues and deepening friendships, we put in a couple extra hours at work to get ahead.

Jesus reminds us to work and plan for our eternal future too.  We are made for meaning, purpose, and love.  Moreover, we are spiritual beings made for eternity with God.  Work labored for greed will produce a temporary reward, but work offered in love and service to God will bring eternal joy.  It will likely bring a deeper earthly joy as well.  Having the respect of others because of your position can feel good but it can also feel empty, not to mention add paranoia that someone will try to take it from you.  Having the respect of others because of your character is priceless and immune from circumstances.

Greed is an inordinate desire for wealth.  Every day we must pray and reflect on what really matters so we invest our time and efforts wisely and in the right order.  Through the grace of Christ, we have the opportunity to escape the crazed rat race and endless running on what feels like a gerbil wheel going in circles.  If we have the courage to surrender greed we can gain immeasurable wealth unaffected by the volatility of the stock market or our boss, and which produces deeper pleasure than money can buy. Working for your kids will mean more than working merely to afford fashionable clothing which will quickly be out of fashion, or a beautiful boat which won’t be as much fun without kids there to enjoy it with you, or the perfect house which will just be outdone by the Jones’ house that will be built next door in a year.  Doing work that improves the lives of others will give you deeper satisfaction than a simple paycheck.  No matter what your profession, how you conduct yourself and to what end is up to you.

As a teacher, I am reminded of this at graduation parties.  Our bonus, though not monetary, comes in the form of seeing kids we helped develop turn into amazing human beings.  It’s the emails from college or stopping by our classrooms to tell us everything they are up to or how something we taught them has stuck with them that is worth more than any zeros on a check. Similarly, I know wealthy individuals who find great joy in putting it at the service of the Lord and seeing the fruits of those spiritual endeavors. God promises in 2 Corinthians 9:6 “Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  Be generous with God and labor to sow what matters so you can be “rich in what matters to God.”

Consider:

  • Reflect on what matters most in your life. Consider what gets in the way of those things versus what develops them.
  • Prayerfully consider what is “enough” for you. What would be sufficient and what work is necessary to meet that goal?
  • Ask God to reveal any desires that have become excessive or obsessive. Is there anything you are grasping after or worried about that prevents you from enjoying the gifts God has already given you?
  • What kind of work or charitable contributions brings you a feeling of satisfaction?
    • Do you find meaning in aspects of your job?
    • Do you enjoy providing for your family and seeing them thrive?
    • Do you have charitable projects you care about?
  • Has greed ever undermined your relationship with God? With another person?  With being true to yourself?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Evaluate your investments in God, others, and yourself.  Decide on one thing you could do for each category to enrichen that relationship in your life.
  • The opposite virtue of greed is generosity. Do something generous this week.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

 

Loving Confidence in Prayer

by Angela Lambert

Jesus teach prayerjesus-fasting-in-wilderness-desert

July 24th, 2016; 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 11:1-13 NAB

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; 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. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.  “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), He says. In contrast, pagan gods tended to be images of the visible traits of humankind.  Thus, they tended to mirror fallen man’s tendencies toward power, greed, lust, and narcissism.

This answered man’s nagging questions about the origins of good and evil but it also left him subject to the whims of unpredictable powers.  Be it Greek, Roman, or Babylonian gods, people tried to satiate the needs of their deities to avoid calamities and possibly manipulate them for favors.  This explains, for instance, why the Romans did not care who a person worshiped provided they did their part to appease the Roman gods too and why they blamed Christians for the fall of Rome.

This appeasement of the gods should not be mistaken for relationship.  It would be more apt to describe it as mutual manipulation.   In some places it spiraled into superstition bordering on the obsessive-compulsive.  For instance, some farmers would address one god for the successful tilling of soil, another for the planting of seed, another for the growth of the seed, another for the harvest, and so on.  Even well after the West became Christianized this practice proved difficult to root out since it had become so ingrained in the culture and in fallen man’s temptation to control rather than to trust.  In modern times, we must resist the secular attempt to lump Christianity with all of the other religions into one vague spirituality.  The history of pagan worship differs in an absolute way from Judeo-Christian worship. God has distinguished Himself from every other faith from the moment He revealed Himself to Abraham to the death and Resurrection of His Son and the sending of His Holy Spirit.

This difference is most notable in the way in which Christians pray.  Rather than the “multiplying of words” to appease or manipulate, Christian prayer is grounded in familial relationship.  When Jesus teaches the apostles to pray He shares with them His own prayer.  Through Baptism we become incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, receiving adoption and becoming children of God (see John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, Romans 8:15-16).  We cannot make ourselves someone’s child.  The intimacy and privilege of familial relationship comes to us as a gift – either through nature or through the will of the parents by adoption.  God has willfully adopted us and Christ has made that possible through His sacrifice. Thus, He teaches us to address God as Father and enter into a relationship of sonship or daughterhood with the Lord.  Consequently, we should begin prayer by simply meditating on the gift of God’s fatherhood and the reliable, selfless, pure love that it bestows.  Even one moment of contemplation of this sublime gift moves our hearts to praise God and so Jesus instructs our next words to be “hallowed be Your Name.”

In pagan practices, calling on gods by name provided connection and sometimes a power over them. This can be true to some extent even in our human relationships.  On the positive side, by knowing someone’s name a person can network, get in contact with him or her, or continue the relationship.  On the negative side, it can also mean identity theft, access to personal information for the purpose of fraud, etc.  Christ instructs His disciples to avoid these tendencies with God’s name.  God desires authentic relationship.  He knows every person’s hearts and He cannot be manipulated.  Thus, Jesus warns, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven (MT 7:21)

As a result, authentic relationship with God recognizes Him as the true Good and petitions: “Your kingdom come.”  God ought to rule our lives, not the other way around.  How does God do this?  How does His kingdom of love, joy, and peace come to reign in our hearts?  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Consequently, Jesus teaches us to ask God for our daily bread and explains directly after that God will always increase the Holy Spirit if we ask: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Lastly, since sin and hatred are incompatible with God, Jesus tells us to give forgiveness and ask for forgiveness that we may be reconciled with God and one another.  Moreover, He encourages us to ask in advance for God to spare us from temptations which would be too much for us and lead to abandoning Him.

Should you be afraid of God’s response (or lack thereof) if you pray, Jesus reveals to us how God views our prayers so that we may be confident when we approach Him.  God is not an image of us, we are an image of Him.  Even though we may be lazy or slow to help others, God is not.  As a teenager I noticed the difference between my response to my parents requests and their response to mine.  If asked to run to the store or help with a chore, I might drag my feet, feel too tired, grumble, or say no.  If I needed something however, they always responded promptly and reliably.  When I became a mother I finally understood this phenomenon. (Even while writing this I have been interrupted with requests from my kids a dozen times!)  The difference was mature love.  The love of good parents is an image of the love of God – self-less, prompt, generous, and happy to help.  Hopefully as children of God, we can mature in our prayer so that our petitions move from the emotional demands of a toddler or elementary school child, to the respectful, humble, and grateful petition of an adult child confident in the relationship with his or her parents.

Consider:

  • Have you ever helped someone even when it was inconvenient and would rather have avoided it?  Have you done things for your kids you never would have imagined doing before you had them?
  • Consider the difference between asking your mom or dad for help as opposed to a friend or neighbor. What things might you ask of them that you wouldn’t from the others?
  • Reflect on God’s love as that of a perfect Father. Reflect on the loving gratitude that should emanate from this relationship.
  • Where do you need God’s kingdom to come more in your life? Where do you need His peace, joy, justice, love…?
  • Do you forgive others as you would have God forgive you? Are there any grudges you need to let go?  Are you quick to reconcile when someone apologizes?
  • Imagine how Christ must have looked while praying alone. Imagine you are one of the apostles, witnessing Him regularly taking time in solitude with the Lord.  What do you think moved them so much that they asked Him to teach them to pray in the same way?  Ask Christ to teach you to pray as He did too.
  • Pray for an increase in trust and a purified sight of God.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray the Our Father slowly and meditatively each day this week.
  • Pray each day for an increase in trust.
    • Maybe repeat the words given to St. Faustina by Christ to have written under His image: “Jesus I Trust in You.”
    • Or pray the words of the father who brought his son possessed by a mute spirit to Christ (MT 9:22-24) “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
  • Each day be forgiving toward someone in the same way you would like God to be patient and forgiving toward you.
    • Ideas: The person who cuts you off in traffic, the colleague who annoyingly one-ups you, the child who throws a tantrum or acts ungratefully, the spouse who forgets something or acts irritably, the fast food employee who messes up your order…

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

Paradoxes of Discipleship

by Angela Lambert

carrying-the-cross-daily1

June 19th, 2016; 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 9:18-24

Once when Jesus was praying by himself, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.” He scolded them and directed them not to tell this to anyone. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

 Meditation Reflection:

Often we feel burdened by the frenetic pace of life, even the endless duties of Christian service for our loved ones.  We can easily feel that we do not have time to “just sit and pray.”  As a result we rationalize that our work is our prayer and God wants more from us than mere words.  These thoughts carry quite a bit of merit given their truth.  Nevertheless, they do not abnegate our responsibility to spend time alone with God.  Who could really say he or she has more work to do than the Son of God did during His time on earth?  Who of us can dare say our service cannot wait while we pray alone with God but Christ’s could?  Even Mother Teresa, known for her tireless works of charity, spent several hours in prayer every morning before beginning her service for the poorest of the poor. Angelo Comastri, Archbishop of Loreto, attested to her insistence on the necessity of prayer first, describing his encounter with her in this way:

“She looked at me with two clear and piercing eyes. Then she asked me: «How many hours do you pray a day?» I was surprised by such a question and tried to defend myself by saying: «Mother, I expected you to speak about charity, to invite me to love the poor more. Why do you ask me how many hours I pray?» Mother Teresa took my hands and held them tightly in her own as if she wanted to pass on to me what she had in her heart; then she told me in confidence: «My child, without God we are too poor to be able to help the poor! Remember: I am only a poor woman who prays. When I pray, God puts His Love into my heart and so I can love the poor. By praying!http://www.vatican.va/jubilee_2000/magazine/documents/ju_mag_01091997_p-18_en.html

Time alone with God, especially time spent in silent contemplation or meditation may feel like you are doing nothing whereas in truth an incredible amount is being accomplished in the depths of your soul by God.  In prayer, God fills our souls supernaturally with grace which enables us to know, love, and serve Him in ways we could not without this aid.  For instance, those who had encountered Christ but had not spent time alone with Him like the apostles, had fairly good guesses about Christ’s identity, nevertheless they were wrong.  Peter, however, having dedicated Himself to following Christ and remaining near to Him, was enabled by the Holy Spirit to correctly determine the truth about Jesus.

Moreover, when spending time alone with Christ in silence, He reveals more of Himself to us as well as His mission for us.  After Peter perceived Jesus as the “Christ,” which means “Anointed One,” referring to the long awaited Messiah or “Son of Man” from earlier prophecies, Jesus next revealed the Christ would suffer, die, and be raised to life.  This would not have been the kind of glory the apostles were expecting from their leader.  Without grace, they must have questioned why they chose to follow someone who predicted He would seemingly fail in such a painful way.  He also promised a resurrection but this too would be hard to put in one’s trust without grace.  If that weren’t enough, Jesus went on to disclose an even harder truth: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Self-denial? Intense suffering?  No marketing agent would put that on a billboard!

We can only make that kind of sacrifice aided by grace to trust that our Lord who suffered, died, and was raised to eternal life in Heaven, will raise us to eternal glory with Him if we endure the suffering and death to our worldly ambitions and sinful attachments on earth.  You only live once so the risk is big.  If Heaven isn’t for real, you won’t have a second chance at the pleasures or the fame the world has to offer.  Time alone with Christ must be a necessity for disciples.  Who do some secular people say Christ is?  A crutch for the weak, a glorified imaginary friend, an old superstition.  Who do disciples of Christ discover He is?  A trusted friend, a vigilant protector, a source of peace, a spring of joy.

In time alone with the one we love, Christ gifts us with the faith, hope, and love necessary to believe and act on His admonition: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  For example, when in prayer, I felt Jesus call me to the vocation of motherhood, it took some grace and adjustment.  I was young and had more ambitious ideas of how to serve the Lord.  In time alone with Him at adoration however, He revealed to me that I had made some good guesses about the Christian life, but they were still very tainted by a worldly lens.  In time I came to see from His perspective.  I came to have faith but next I needed the hope and love to act on this call, which He provided through more time spent with Him.  I spent my 20’s at home raising my three kids, while my worldly peers pursued careers, partied, and travelled.  From a secular view, I had “no life”.  Sometimes, it even felt like that.  However, I had posted on my refrigerator John 15:13 “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” When tempted by the worldly lens that I had wasted my talents, I would spend time in prayer.  Without fail, I would walk away each time with the view of the greatness of my mission as a disciple and I felt unworthy of such an honor.  15 years later, I can see concrete examples of how in losing my life Christ saved it.  I can’t articulate the work He has done in my soul through my experience as a mother and my time alone with Christ in the home with my kids for 10 years.  I’m not saying that is His will for everyone.  It was however His will for me and in retrospect I can see why.  When I had finally become truly comfortable with my mission at home (and even homeschooling!) I was called to go out of the home, enroll my kids in school, and be a teacher again.  When this became absolutely clear I cried uncontrollably for an hour.  What had begun as a sacrifice became a sacrifice to surrender.  Christ blessed me however through ways only He can and through His Mystical Body, with the opportunity for all of my kids to attend the school at which I teach so we could still be together in some way during the day. I still rely on Christ to provide the faith, courage, and love to choose His will over the immediate visible rewards that come from my will and already I am seeing the fruits of His next call.

Our utilitarian culture measures worth by achievement.  Love however simply desires connection and time together.  Love bears fruits of good works, but its greatest joy is simply enjoying the nearness and attention of the beloved.  You are Christ’s beloved.  Your love should bear fruit of loving works, but Jesus’ greatest joy is time spent near Him, enjoying His presence.  As Mother Teresa advised, spend time alone with the Lord, and He will pour the love you need in your heart to carry your cross.  Paradoxically, you may find your cross to be your greatest blessing and that in losing your life for the Lord, it will be saved.

Consider:

  •  Consider how much time you spend alone with Christ.
    • What keeps you from making time for silent prayer and listening?
    • How has silent prayer with the Lord deepened your faith?
  • Consider the paradox that no matter how busy we are, if we make time for Christ somehow everything else still gets done.
  • With whom do you enjoy spending time together? Do you take joy in his or her presence even if nothing is being “accomplished”?  Do you know and love each other more deeply as a result?
  • If you have teens, consider the time you spend driving in the car. Often that space of time where you are simply alone in the quiet of the vehicle is when they open up about what’s on their minds or in their hearts.  What is it about a dedicated space of time that cannot be interrupted by tasks that opens people up to one another?
    • Consider how this relates to our relationship with the Lord. How many of us encounter Him during times when we have nowhere else we could go?  What if we simply carved out that time intentionally each day?
  • How has Christ deepened your faith, strengthened your trust, and made you more loving because of your relationship with Him?
  • Have you ever “died to something” in your life only to find that in fact Christ liberated you through it? Have you given something only to find you were given more in return?
  • What might Christ be asking you to surrender today? How might Christ value your contributions more than you do?  Pray for Him to reveal His view of your life and purify your own lens.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Spend an additional 15 minutes a day this week alone with Jesus.
  • Visit Jesus at adoration one time this week.
  • Read about Christ in the Gospels or a spiritual book. One suggestion would be “Jesus of Nazareth” by Pope Benedict XVI.
  • Take 5 minutes for silent prayer a day.
  • Listen to Christian music once a day – while driving, walking, getting ready etc.
  • Listen to the song “How He Loves Us” by David Crowder Band

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

New and Improved: This Upgrade is Worth the Price!…Gospel Meditation for John 13:31-35

by Angela Lambert

new-improved

March 24th, 2016; 5th Sunday in Easter

Gospel of John 13: 31-33A; 34-35

When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. 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.”

 Meditation Reflection:

As consumers we regularly hear the pitch “new and improved” for every product from toothpaste to vehicles. Oftentimes we consider this prospective as something positive.  Every time Apple comes out with a new iPhone my kids work to convince me of its superiority over the one I already own.  However, though a new car, new appliances, or new clothes seems appealing, learning a new technology seems more work than its worth unless the benefits are considerable.  This attitude spills over into my spiritual life as well.  I appreciate when God simply keeps things running smoothly as they are.  When offered something new, though it sounds exciting, it also sounds like a lot of work.  “New” has the allure of surprise and opportunity, but it also has the anxiety of unfamiliarity, making mistakes during the learning process, discomfort of discerning how to act in new situations, and the fear of the unknown.  Today’s Gospel recounts the inauguration of the “New” Covenant.  A savvy consumer would ask “how is it new” and “is it worth the price”?

During the Last Supper, Christ’s Passion begins with the betrayal by Judas.  Thus, when Judas leaves to execute his plans, Jesus speaks to the other disciples about the New Covenant being inaugurated that night. A covenant refers to a solemn agreement between God and man.  God had made these types of agreements in the past with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.  His New Covenant differs in that God does not make a covenant with Jesus, but rather Jesus is God who makes the covenant with us.  His covenant with Abraham extended to Abraham’s family, the covenant with Moses extended to a nation, and the covenant with David extended to a kingdom.  Now the covenant with the apostles extends to all of humanity.

A marketing executive might take issue with Christ’s assertion that He gives a “new” commandment however when He instructs us to love one another.  Jews treasured a passage in Deuteronomy as the heart of the Old Covenant.  It’s called the Shema (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9).  Jesus Himself referenced it in His teaching:

Mark 12:28–30
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

Jesus’ “new” commandment sounds very similar – to love.  Is this false advertising?  The difference may seem slight on the surface but upon closer investigation it transcends the old model to a remarkable degree.  Jesus doesn’t eliminate the old, but he does present a new and improved model.  In the new version Christ adds the stipulation, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  Christ sets a new standard as His love will be demonstrated in humble service marked by suffering, sacrifice, and agony.  Put that on a billboard.  Any buyers?

A faith that’s merely a get rich quick scheme – prosperity, reward, and status at no cost – is not the Gospel.

“[Paul and Barnabas] strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

Why does it have to be so hard?  Human nature.  As much as we idolize change in our culture, in practice we avoid it.  Change as simple as healthy living often gets abandoned because of the sacrifice and discomfort one experiences in the beginning.  Those who have made the change can attest that they feel more energetic, more happy, and it would be painful to go back to their bad habits.  However one only experiences this feeling if one perseveres through the initial pain of re-habituating one’s body and one’s lifestyle.  Similarly, to love as Christ loved will feel uncomfortable and painful in the beginning.  It means re-habituating one’s whole lifestyle – the measuring standard must be readjusted and priorities re-evaluated.  Many give up after a short while.  However, those who persevere can attest that this new lifestyle makes one feel deeper joy, peace, and energy than before and it would be painful to return to their former habits.

At the present human free will presents a tension between sin and grace which means we suffer – both interiorly as we wrestle between love of self and love of God, and exteriorly as we suffer from the sinful choices of ourselves and others.

Christ’s Paschal Mystery offers hope in that it did not end on the Cross but rather at the Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven.  Eventually, our conversion will be complete and we will have interior peace.  At some point this world will come to an end and those who choose love will spend eternity together with each other and with God.

Oftentimes I just want God to restore things to how they used to be.  Much like the Jews, who expected God would save them by restoring Israel to its former glory as a kingdom under David’s reign.  God’s love exceeds our imagination though and most of the time His answer is not to go back but to offer something new and improved.  St. John recounts in the book of Revelation:

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away…I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”  (see Revelation 21:1-5)

We can be confident that the time, discomfort, and sacrifice will be worth it for this upgrade and Christ will be there to help.

Consider:

  • Recall a time when you kicked a bad habit or developed a healthy habit. How long did it take?  How did it feel afterward?
  • What healthy spiritual habits have you developed? Consider the work it took to establish them and the fruits you enjoy as a result.
  • What spiritual habits do you need to develop? How might you begin work on one today?
  • Consider what it means to love as Christ loved. In each circumstance below, can you think of a time that you either extended that kind of love to another or received that kind of love from someone else?
    • Humble service
    • Self-sacrifice
    • Suffering for someone’s good
    • Rejoicing at elevating someone else
    • Forgiveness and mercy, even toward an enemy

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Exchange a bad spiritual habit for a good spiritual habit.  Make a plan: decide which habit to address and how to develop it.  When, where, and how will you achieve it?  Remember to pray for grace as you do!
  • Opportunities to love as Christ loved are present every day in family life.
    • Intentionally practice Christ-like love toward family members today.
    • Spend some time each day reading a little bit of Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love”, especially the chapters pertaining to family life.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

Love and Mercy in Superabundance

by Angela Lambert

Raphael,_The_Miraculous_Draught_of_Fishes_(1515)

Gospel John 21:1-19 (April 10th, 2016; 3rd Sunday in Easter)

At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

 Meditation Reflection:

I was recently presented with the question, “How can we know that the Christian religion is the true one as opposed to others?”  I responded that ours is the only one whose founder has risen from the dead.

The miracle of Christ’s resurrection affirms the truth of His teachings and the divinity of His truths.  The apostles evangelized by bearing witness to this event, one that they experienced with their own eyes. Many struggle to trust in Jesus because we cannot see Him.  However, the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and numerous Epistles all testify that our faith does not rely on mere ideology but rather the physical resurrection of our Lord witnessed by reputable persons who all suffered for their testimony.  Not a single apostle recanted his position to avoid martyrdom.  All of them endured severe trials and difficulties with no monetary or physical reward.  They had no ulterior motive.  They did not say they “believed” Jesus had risen from the dead, but rather that they had all “seen” the risen Lord.

God knows we struggle to believe without seeing.  Despite our weak faith, He mercifully became incarnate that we might see Him when He redeemed us.  Moreover, He exceeded all expectations of the imagination by liberating us Himself rather than sending someone in his place.

We have all heard stories of backpackers or journalists who cross an enemy line and become imprisoned in a dangerous or violent country.  Imagine if you were that person, afraid in your cell as to what will come of you, praying that your president will learn of your state and send someone to save you.  You might hope for a diplomatic solution or even military special ops to heroically liberate you.  Consider your surprise however if the president himself were to show up in military gear and break you out of prison at his own personal risk.

Christ reveals the love of God that exceeds any possible expectation or imagination.  He condescends to our limitations even though He deserves better.  He liberates us at His own painful expense.  Moreover, He gives us a share in His resurrection and a chance at new life.

The Christian life is a response to the love and mercy we have first received from our Lord.  Peter fed the Lord’s sheep because of his love and gratitude for His mercy.  Jesus did not throw away their friendship after Peter’s betrayal.  Instead He gave Peter a second chance, an opportunity for contrition, forgiveness, and conversion.

Jesus gives each of us this same opportunity.  He comes to wherever we are, offering us something to eat and an outstretched hand of friendship.  He asks each of us the same question: “Do you love Me?”  If the answer is yes, then He insists we respond in kind by extending a hand up to others and accompany them toward their conversion.

Pope Francis just released his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love” on Friday.  It’s a beautiful, rich document of encouragement based on the proceedings of the synod on the family.  Although it’s quite lengthy Pope Francis encourages us in the opening pages to take our time reading it.  He addresses in a comprehensive way the joy of love in families – both the ideal as the gift God has given to us, and the painful “irregularities” that need careful healing.  The love of Christ and the call to feed His sheep begins in our families.   Jesus asks that if we love Him, we ought to give generously and tenderly to those placed by Him in our daily lives, beginning with our families and reaching out from there.

Consider:

  •  It’s easy to be discouraged by our failures.  Consider the encounter of Peter with Christ.  What failure would weigh heavy on your heart if you faced the Lord?  How would you respond to His hand up and His offer of mercy?
  • Who in your life needs your mercy? How might you offer him or her a hand up?
  • Consider how Christ can be recognized by His superabundance. When the apostles pulled in such a large catch, John knew immediately it was the Lord.
    • When has Christ surprised you by exceeding your expectations?
    • Ask for the gift of surrender and openness. Rather than giving Christ a list of tasks you would like Him to help accomplish, surrender the logistics to Him and do the tasks He sets before

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Offer mercy toward someone each day this week. (See this link for a list of the corporal and spiritual Works of Mercy)
  • Offer Christ your work week. Give him one week of being in charge and trust Him to accomplish His will.  Just do the tasks He sets before you and let Him bring things together.
  • Begin reading Pope Francis “The Joy of Love”

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.