Christian Conflict Resolution

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

September 10, 2017; 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Gospel of Matthew 18:15-20 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”

Meditation Reflection:

Incorporation into the Christian community means being adopted into a family.  This in turn means we have a greater responsibility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus knows families can struggle with dysfunctional ways of dealing with things – from gossip, to triangulating, to manipulation or passive aggressive tactics, and more.  As the head of the Christian family however, He provides us with clear instructions about the best way to love our brother or sister in difficult situations.

First, Jesus tells us to confront our loved one directly if they have hurt us in some way.  This means we cannot play the martyr, hope they read our mind, let it build up, or sweep it under the rug.  Jesus knows healthy relationships require honest communication and ongoing reconciliation.  We all sin and we all inevitably treat our loved ones unfairly or unkindly.  To move forward reconciliation is essential.  In our pride however, we sometimes don’t even realize we are hurting the one we love unless they tell us.  Jesus instructs, therefore, that Christian love should make the person aware of their sin.  The Church actually lists this as a Spiritual Work of Mercy called “admonish the sinner.”  It’s not meant to be mean or judgmental, but to help a person grow into Christian maturity.

If the person won’t listen, likely claiming that you are being unfair, then Jesus proposes you bring another witness or two.  The goal would be to open the person’s eyes to their sin so they can be healed and reconciliation can be restored.  Sometimes the perspective of a couple of people can help to establish with objectivity the truth of the situation.

It’s amazing how blind we are to our sinful attitudes and habits, especially toward our family!  Even when confronted, we hold on so tightly, and refuse to change.  We often rationalize, “This is how I am. My family should just love me unconditionally.”  However, because our family loves us unconditionally, we should try even harder to change because we want to give them the best version of ourselves not the worst.

In general, Jesus wants us to avoid the tornadic plague of gossip or the festering sore of passive aggressive retaliation.  He wants His family to be happy, healthy, and loving.  Direct communication and the ally of one or two close friends is usually enough for most problems.  However, there are some injustices which require wider assistance and, if not changed, are too destructive to let go on.  For instance, if a family member refuses to change his or her abusive behavior or treat an addiction, it needs to be brought to light for the whole community.  If the person still refuses to change, family members are sometimes forced to separate themselves from the person in order to protect themselves and others, and to, in love, withdraw from enabling the abuser or addict. It may seem extreme and even un-Christian, however Jesus came to conquer sin not to support it.  Paradoxically, separating from addicts or abusers can motivate change.  At the very least, it is a way of evangelizing.  It shows by your actions that the behavior is wrong.  Lastly, Jesus is teaching us that although we have a serious responsibility toward the souls of our Christian brothers and sisters, after we have gone through the process He laid out, we may feel sorrow for their situation but we are not responsible for their behavior.  At that point, we can have peace that we have done everything we could.  We must work tirelessly for the salvation of souls, but we must also know the limits placed on us by free will.

Thankfully, we can always be a blessing to others through prayer and sacrifice.  Even if we must separate from someone physically, financially, or even in communication, we can still pray for them.   Moreover, just as Jesus exhorted us to confront a person together, He also exhorts us to pray for others together.  As children of God, and heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), our prayers come before Him with all the force and influence a son or daughter can have on their father, especially when they plead with him as a family.

In conclusion, the vocation of marriage plays an important role in the formation of this mindset and the practice of applying Christian love to all different kinds of situations.  In his encyclical Familaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paull II called the family the first “school” of Christian love, from which persons develop the Christian self-giving necessary for mature interaction with the world as adults.  He writes:

The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self- giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society.

Familiaris Consortio par. 37

True love is more than an emotion.  It’s a decision to choose the good for one’s beloved.  The best course of action isn’t always easy and it isn’t always clear.  Thankfully, we are not alone in this.  We can look to Jesus and to our Christian family to show us the way.

Consider:

  •  Consider the gift of being God’s daughter or son.  Reflect on Jesus’ love for you as your Brother.
  • Consider how you handle conflict. What do you do well? What could you improve?
  • How might you apply Jesus’ instructions for resolving problems to a situation in your life?
  • When has someone shown “tough love” toward you? How did their loving honesty help you grow?
  • St. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is the best weapon we possess. It is the key that opens the heart of God.”   Consider the power of prayer.  Reflect on the gift of being able to actively fight for our brothers and sisters by praying for them to a God who loves us and will listen to us.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Apply Jesus’ process to a conflict in your life this week.
  • Resolve not to gossip this week.
  • Say a prayer every day for someone who bothers you.

Related Posts:

Finding Peace Amidst Division

Authentic Love

Getting the Last Word…But Making it a Blessing

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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Following the Leader…Christian Discipleship and Leadership

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 

August 27th, 2017; 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20 NAB

 Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Meditation Reflection:

Generally speaking, our culture loathes the word “authority.”  It appears to undermine our values of autonomy, self-expression, independence, and freedom.  Moreover, the idea of monarch-rule seems archaic and undemocratic.  In consequence, our cultural norms and assumptions can hinder our understanding and appreciation of the Kingdom of God.

God’s Chosen People became a kingdom under Saul, then famously David.  David’s authority however came from God.  He was chosen by God and anointed king by God’s prophet Samuel.  Moreover, David’s success as a leader corresponded with his fidelity to the Lord.

The Kingdom of Israel served as a glimpse, or foreshadowing of the Kingdom Jesus would establish.  Thus, Jesus acted as the New David.  However, instead of assigning authority to protect the physical security of His people, lands, and finances, He assigned authority to leaders He wished to protect the souls of His people, the Truth He came to reveal, and the path He opened for our salvation.

The Pope, like David, is a human being.  This means he will falter at times, sin, and struggle with human limitations.  We must be careful however, not to project our cultural norm on our understanding of his role.  Our leaders our voted upon to represent our views.  They operate at a natural human level, with the responsibility to protect our physical security, rights, lands, and commerce.  The Pope’s position, begun with Peter, has a different role.  Christ chose Peter.  Christ bestowed His authority upon Peter to be Christ’s representative, not the representative of popular opinion.  Lastly, the Holy Spirit empowered Peter supernaturally to identify correctly the truth about Christ, which could only be known by a supernatural grace.  The Pope is called to shepherd people on the way to salvation.  This resembles a family structure more so than a political one.

I am grateful to God to live in our democracy.  In my opinion, despite its flaws, it’s still the best, and most free, country in the world.  Nevertheless, I don’t run my family like a democracy.  If decisions were made by vote we would eat doughnuts every morning, live way outside our means, and discipline would devolve to mob rule.  Much to my children’s chagrin, our family is run as a monarchy.  Though they push against the rules, we have much more peace, justice, and love as a result.  In this monarchy, God is our king, and my husband and I are His stewards.

At times, my kids have accused me of being either overly strict or overly protective when I said no to something they wanted to do.  To encourage me to soften, they would make life difficult for me, then add “no one really cares Mom, it’s not that big of a deal.”  Even though I felt for them, and in a secular culture what they said was true, I also knew I had to hold the line because, at the end of the day, I would be held responsible before God.  So, I often respond to them, “I have to do what’s right for you, because it’s my responsibility and I will have to face God one day.” And when I fail to hold the line, and am a weak parent, I ask God for forgiveness and the grace to be stronger.

So, contrary to our cultural norms and assumptions, I have seemingly Medieval parenting methods to my children.  Yet, as parents we all know that raising kids to be mature adults is different than running a nation-state.  Kids need us to exercise our authority, especially in decisions that they are too young to make. We are in a better position to discern what is safe from what is too risky, truth from lie, and wisdom from folly.  Of course, unlike Christ we are not all-knowing, so oftentimes we need the Holy Spirit to guide us in our position and enable us by His grace to make the right choices.

Discipleship means that Christ is our king.  We can embrace this monarchy because our king is also our loving, self-sacrificing, and divine Savior.  As king, He chose to bestow His authority upon some of His subjects to govern for Him on earth and promised to safeguard it until the end of the world.

Upon Peter, and every pope thereafter, He bestowed the authority to say who Christ is, and gave them the supernatural ability to be correct.  The role of pope is to preserve, protect, and promulgate the Deposit of Faith given by Christ.  In addition, when confusion over Christ’s revelation occurs, for the sake of unity someone must be the authority that determines which response is correct and which is false.  During the first councils of the early church the question of whether Jesus is God, Man, or both was a long, heated, argument.  If determined as a vote, our doctrine would be that of Arius’ interpretation – Jesus was only a man but the highest possible one.  The pope recognized Athanasius’ response as the true one – that Jesus is both God and man.

In the vocation of marriage, Jesus bestows His authority on mothers and fathers over their children.  Thus, as children we have an obligation to obey our parents.  And as parents, we have the responsibility of exercising our authority in a Christian manner.  It’s not always easy.  When kids are fighting I would rather just yell “stop bickering” (which is never really effective), than get up, intervene, and if necessary impose consequences for bad behavior.  Crafting Christian rules takes time and effort, both of which are in short supply.  Enforcing the rules with appropriate consequences means suffering the rebuffs and anger of resistant kids.  As kids get older, knowing what decision to make in given circumstances becomes even more difficult.  They require even more prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, we can find peace and confidence in our divine monarch, Jesus Christ.  He reigns in our souls with supernatural power and grace.  Despite our natural limitations, He transforms us into one Body, one family in God. His Holy Spirit guides us – enlightening our minds, strengthening our wills, and inflaming our hearts with love.  Our unity in Christ can be seen visibly in the family and in the Church. Our trust is not in ourselves, but in Him who enables us to complete the mission He entrusted to us.

Consider:                                                      

  • To what extent does Jesus reign in your heart and in your life?  When do you let Him lead, and when do you resist His commands?
  • Our culture tends to value being a leader over a follower.  How does this influence our discipleship?  Do we value being followers or wish only to lead?
  • In what ways has Christ appointed you His steward?  In your vocation – who has He entrusted to your care?  In your occupation – who or what has He entrusted to you and what fruit do you think He expects to see from it?  In His Creation – what does He ask of you for its care?
  • How do you respond to the authority of Christ’s vicar on earth, the pope?  Do you accept his guidance on matters of faith and morals or do you resist?  Is your faith strong enough to see not just the human, visible reality of the Church, but the divine, invisible reality as well? What has made this either easier or harder for you?
  • Consider the relationship between authority and unity.  How are the two related and necessary?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Each morning, look ahead at the day.  Invite Christ to lead you in each aspect, and for the grace to follow.  Even if you are called to lead others, let Christ lead you first.
    • Examples:
    • If you make a to-do list at work or home, prayerfully consider first how Christ would prioritize the items rather than how you want to prioritize them.
    • What expectations would Christ want to see in your family? Are there any that need greater implementation?
    • What expectations does Christ have for you at work? Do you honor Him by respectful, honest, and edifying language, free from vulgarity or slander?  Do you honor Him in action through diligence in your work and mercy towards your co-workers?
  • Pray the Suscipe prayer by St. Ignatius or the Serenity Prayer.  Click here for a copy of both: serenity-and-suscipe-prayers

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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Moments to Remember…A Reflection on the Transfiguration

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

August 6th, 2017; Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Gospel of Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Meditation Reflection:

For most of Jesus’ earthly life, He veiled His greatness.  Nevertheless, He remained God, with all of His divine attributes.  At the Transfiguration, Jesus unveiled a glimpse of His divinity to Peter, James, and John.  It was a sight they would never forget; and one Jesus needed them to see so they could be strengthened when their faith would be put to the ultimate test at the sight of His crucifixion and death.  Imagine John there below the Cross with Mary, Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled as “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance” (Isaiah 52:14).  When all seemed to be lost, John must have clung in faith to the preview of Jesus’ resurrected glory.

Though divine, Jesus was also human.  The Transfiguration served to strengthen His human will as well.  Moses and Elijah appeared to Christ, conversing with Him, as all of the Law and prophecies God revealed through them were about to be fulfilled in Jesus’ suffering.  When “His Hour” finally came, agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane as His fate approached, Jesus could be strengthened by the meaning of His sacrifice and the redemption it would bring upon all those He loved.

We too sometimes experience these Transfiguration moments – both as a disciple of Christ, and in our own personal lives.  Some people describe them as “conversion moments” which may occur through a major life event, the witness of another person’s life, unexpected mercy received, or a deep encounter with God in prayer.  While they aren’t the sum of a person’s faith, they do strengthen one’s loyalty to God and conviction of His truth and love.  They help a person persevere through those times when faith can be tested – either dryness in prayer, personal suffering, or persecution.  When tempted to abandon what we can’t see for what we can, we can think back to those Transfiguration moments and choose to stay with Christ at the Cross, convinced that He will conquer and we will one day see His resurrected form again.

These Transfiguration moments can occur in our vocations and jobs as well.  We need to treasure those moments of confirmation and joy to push through normal frustration and tedium.  The first time I held each of my children after they were born is etched forever in my mind and heart.  This got me through days where they all had the flu and I felt like all I did in one day was change diapers.  When my oldest picked me up from the airport, I marveled the whole time at how grown up he had become.  A week later, when he lost his keys and I had to invest multiple hours into looking for them, then rearrange my plans for the day to be with him while it got towed to a dealership and re-keyed, I reflected back on those two moments I just mentioned. My frustration was changed to peace as I thought, “My growing up, sweet baby, still needs me.  It might be a tedious day, but it’s worth it.”

Two weeks ago I was blessed to marry a dear friend of mine (thus the absence of posts these last two Sundays, and the new last name!).  We have a blended family and hesitated to leave for a honeymoon.  In the end, we decided to go.  We knew we needed to make memories that would last through tough times.  We also foresaw that after the hustle and bustle of planning a wedding and moving in, we would need to take time to remember our love and appreciate one another without distractions.

We forget so easily.  Today, let us remember the Transfiguration moments in our faith, our relationships, and our work, so we might deepen our appreciation for God’s active love in our lives.

Consider:

  • Reflect back on times you have encountered God in a powerful or meaningful way.
    • Can you recall a special time in prayer, at Mass, or when receiving a sacrament?
    • Was there a time God helped you out of a tough situation?
    • Did you experience His mercy through one of His followers?
    • Is there someone whose life inspired you?
  • Reflect on your vocation (single, married, nun/monk, or priest).
    • When/how did you know God was calling you to this vocation?
    • When have you felt deep joy and peace in your calling?
    • When has your vocation been particularly challenging?
  • Consider how you have been transfigured in Christ.  How has Christ and His grace changed you?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning, ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to God’s presence and activity throughout the day.  Each evening, reflect back on God’s blessings.
  • Encourage someone who is struggling – through words, actions, prayer, or all three.

 

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2017

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Preparing the Soil…Spiritual Receptivity

by Angela Lambert

July 16th, 2017; 15th Sunday Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:

 “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them. “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. “

Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

Work on preparing the soil for Christ:

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

Related Posts:

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* 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.

 

 

Sharing the Burden, Lightening the Load

by Angela Lambert

July 9th, 2017; 14th Sunday Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Meditation Reflection:
If many hands make light work, how much lighter if one of those hands belongs to Jesus!

Being yoked together assumes a commitment and a partnership. Both can’t pull in opposite directions or at different times. They must work together. Being yoked to Christ means we must surrender our self-determined ways for a Christ-determined way. Jesus assures us, however, that He won’t be a tyrant or arrogant about it. Instead, He is meek and humble of heart. We can trust Him. We can be vulnerable with Christ and lean on Him in our weakness without being afraid of being betrayed or taken advantage of.

Christ strengthens us to act with greater courage and perseverance than we can on our own. He counsels us, enabling us to make wise decisions. He opens our understanding, especially through meditating on His divine words in Scripture. He comforts us in our sorrow, drawing near when His loving presence is the only balm for grief. He rejoices in our happiness, elevating our joy.

We all try to carry our burdens alone too often, and for too long.  Today is the day to lay them down.  So, today’s reflection is short, and the Consider singular – Lay your burdens before the Lord. Name each one, surrender it to Him, and let Him carry it with you.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning, offer the day to the Lord and ask to be yoked to Him in each thing ahead. At the end of each day, reflect back, give thanks for His help, and ask for grace where you were resistant.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017
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Finding Yourself…

by Angela Lambert

July 2nd, 2017; 13th Sunday Ordinary Time

 Gospel of Matthew 10:37-42

Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for an increase in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, and Fear of the Lord), and the grace needed to follow Christ.
  • Intentionally practice one Works of Mercy each day this week.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Determined Discipleship

by Angela Lambert

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

March 5th, 2017; 9th First Sunday of Lent

Gospel Matthew 4:1-11

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

Meditation Reflection:

Before Jesus began His public ministry, He went into the desert to pray and fast for forty days. Spending time in the desert meant leaving comforts, distractions, and entertainment, and being alone in solitude.  This may sound appealing, especially if you have a demanding job or little kids.  Yet, when we do make time to be alone in the silence, it can be uncomfortable and disconcerting.  We must face ourselves, the inner thoughts we have been pushing to the side, fears, insecurities, doubts, ambitions, and vanities.  The biggest battle most of us will face, is with ourselves and the enemy loves to bite at our heels as we do.  Thus, Jesus prepares for His ministry by enduring all the temptations you and I experience, and overcoming them.

Satan first tempts Christ with bread.  He waited until Jesus was at the end of His fast when He would be tired, hungry, and physically weak.  Similarly, the devil tries to exacerbate our problems when we are worn out and vulnerable.  How many of us have failed to pray in the morning because we didn’t want to give up the comfort of sleep? When have you missed Mass because it would be an inconvenience or it was cold outside?  Are there times when putting your feet up, having a beer or glass of wine, and watching tv took precedence over interacting with your spouse or kids at the end of a long work day (especially when kids require discipline or help with homework)? How many opportunities do we miss because we would rather stay in our comfort zone?  Unless we overcome our own slothful inertia, we cannot be strong enough to be the salt of the earth that Jesus needs from His disciples.

After overcoming our desires for pleasure and comfort, the next hurdle is fame and ambition.  Satan loves to stroke our ego and promote the lie that the measure of our worth is measured by our success.  Yet, our Lord chose a life of humility and rejected some of the apostles’ notions that His kingdom would bring them worldly notoriety.  God works the most through the small and the weak.  St. Paul even states that in our weakness God’s power is brought to perfection (I Corinthians 2:12). Until we curb our own ambitions, we won’t be free to work for God’s ambitions.

Finally, the ultimate stumbling block of the Christian faith, is suffering.  Satan’s third temptation offered Jesus the kingdom without the Cross;  a short cut around humiliation and struggle.  Whether it’s discipleship, marriage, family, or work, many people give up when things get hard.  Our culture of instant gratification further softens our resolve, along with the false expectation that we should always be happy.

Christ endured and overcame every temptation, that we might be strengthened to do the same.  Jesus unites Himself to us in our struggle and imbues us with His divine grace.

During Lent, we step away into the desert so that we might encounter the truth about ourselves.  We struggle against our own will through acts of fasting and self-denial.  We battle our greed and self-centeredness through works of charity and alms-giving.  We increase our prayer, and contemplate the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, to deepen our love for our savior and to more closely follow Him.

Don’t be discouraged if you have already cheated on your Lenten sacrifice.  Self-knowledge is the beginning of conversion and develops humility.  Each day, we must pick up our cross, and as our awareness of our own weakness intensifies, our awareness of our need for Christ will also intensify. Whether you give something up or do something extra (or both), choose something that will touch the temptation you find most difficult – comfort, notoriety, or happiness at the expense of Christian fidelity.  Discipleship is difficult, and even the apostles’ conversions took time, so be patient.  Moved by love however, they eventually stopped trying to change Christ, and instead accepted Christ.  If we take time for Him, our love for Him will deepen, and we too will be more conformed to our Lord, and able to joyfully celebrate His final victory at the Resurrection on Easter.

Consider:

  • Which comforts or pleasures tempt you the most? Sleep, soda, alcohol, television, food, desserts, gossip, sports, music, movies?
  • What do you want others to notice about you most? What do you take the most pride in?  Do you feel small or unimportant if your work isn’t acknowledged or honored by others?
  • How do you avoid suffering? Do you avoid conflict with your spouse or kids?  Do you take short cuts at work?  Do you try to get ahead by putting others down or by neglecting your duties toward God or family?
  • Consider past Lents. How has God strengthened you?  How have you grown as a Christian?
  • Invite Christ into this Lent. Be docile to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to strengthen an area of your faith life.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning, begin with the prayer by St. Francis de Sales:

My God, I give you this day. I offer you, now, all of the good that I shall do and I promise to accept, for love of you, all of the difficulty that I shall meet. Help me to conduct myself during this day in a manner pleasing to you. Amen.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Getting the Last Word…but Making it a Blessing

by Angela Lambert

 

February 18th, 2017; 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Meditation Reflection:

In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II was shot by a Turkish assassin Ali Agca.  The attempt occurred on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and JPII credits Mary for “guiding the bullet” which just barely missed a major artery.  Even while in the ambulance, JPII voiced his forgiveness of the assassin.  Later after he had recovered, he visited Agca in prison and offered his forgiveness in person.  Agca had not offered an apology and only inquired as to why he wasn’t dead.  This encounter however had an impact and later when he was released from prison, Agca travelled to St. Peter’s to place roses on John Paul II’s tomb.

Forgiveness and love is the mark of Christ, and therefore the signifier of His followers.  John tells us that “God is Love.”  The term “perfect” means “full, or complete.” When Jesus refers to His Heavenly Father’s perfection therefore, He means that God’s love lacks nothing and is total.  By contrast, “even tax collectors” love their friends, but their love is imperfect because it is incomplete.  Total love includes those who love us and those who do not.

But how we can love someone who hates us or hurts us?  Does Jesus mean we must be friends with people who wish us harm or take advantage of us?  No.  Love is defined as “willing another person’s good.”  Thankfully, this does not require feelings of love, or even reciprocal friendship.  It doesn’t even mean trusting the person. It simply means choosing not to act in revenge or anger, and instead doing that which promotes the good of the other.  Thus, we can pray for our enemies, in which we petition God on their behalf for graces to be bestowed upon them.  We can speak kindly, act respectfully, and do the right thing toward others, not because they necessarily deserve it, but because it’s the kind of person we want to be.

Authentic love sometimes means tough love.  It can require choices that appear unloving but are in fact healthy boundaries.  Loving an addict for instance or someone with mental illness will require tough love, but will be more effective toward their health than enabling them in their sickness.  Disciplining children is tough love, but it helps the child grow in goodness.

Christ calls His followers to imitate His mercy.  This demand goes above and beyond natural strength and even natural wisdom or common sense.  It only makes sense considering the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection for our salvation, and it can only be accomplished with the aid of His divine grace.

Christ loved us while we were yet sinners.  He willed our good and worked for our salvation even when we were mired in sin and rejected Him.  As His disciples, we can work for the salvation of others, even when they too are mired in sin and working against us.

This can be tricky, but my mother offered me advice about these situations that I have found to be a guiding principle. When tempted to react vengefully when faced with difficult people and situations, she would say, “don’t let their behavior change who you are.”  Her wisdom strengthened my resolve and shed light on how to decide what to do.  No matter what others are doing or how low they sink, the truth is, if we just fire back we sink to their level too.  Jesus wants us to rise above, with the help of His grace and the light of His example.  Whether it transforms the other person or not, it will definitely transform us.

Loving our enemy is necessary to stop the cycle of violence, and our only hope for human unity.  When we are the ones caught up in it, we want to get the last word in or throw the last punch.  When we are the observer however, we just want it to stop.  As a mom, I get tired of hearing my kids bicker. Both claim it’s the other’s fault and point the finger at who started it.  Both go on and on and on, despite my attempts to break it up because they are obsessed with having the last word.  I wonder if God views our bickering in the same way.  Maybe the other person did start it, so what?  Why can’t we just stop?  No one can move on unless we do and everyone is miserable.

Loving our enemy is a supernatural virtue.  To cultivate charity, we need to connect to God and His stream of grace in prayer and the sacraments.  We must meditate on the Gospels to develop our sense of what Jesus would do.  We need to make time for fellowship with Christians walking the walk and learn from their insights and examples.  In this way, we can grow in love until it fills every gap in our heart and reaches the fullness of perfection like that of our Father in heaven.

Consider:

  • Who do you find easy to love and why?
  • Who do you find difficult to love? Who could you identify as your enemy?
    • In what way do they provoke you to strike back?
    • How might you react with love instead? How could you “will their good”?
  • Consider how we love our children even when they disobey, say hurtful things, or work against us. Do you ever feel anger toward your kids, but choose/will what’s good for them?
  • Consider God’s perspective as our Father and us as His children. How does He view our bickering, feuds, back-biting, and competitiveness?  What would He say to you about how you treat your brother or sister in Christ?
  • We can pick our friends but we can’t pick our family. Consider how loving our natural siblings can cultivate the virtues needed to love our spiritual siblings.
  • Read the story of St. Maria Goretti and reflect on her example of tough love, forgiveness, and the transformation it caused in her assailant.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pick one person who makes your life difficult.
    • 1) Begin each day with a sincere prayer for them. (not a list of all their flaws that God should fix, but rather for God’s blessing upon them!)
    • 2) Resolve each day this week to refrain from snide remarks to them or about them, gossip, or any kind of action that would anger or hurt them.
    • 3) Do one kind thing for them.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Keeping it Real

by Angela Lambert

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February 11th, 2017; 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment. “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”

 Meditation Reflection:

Freedom in Christ, is founded on freedom from being fake.  We are masters at the false front.  By an early age most of us can pull off “I’m fine” to anyone who asks, no matter how untrue it may be.  Keeping up appearances, looking successful, and seeming to be more than we are occurs in every time period and culture.   Social media amplifies today’s version, as we can literally craft our public persona via selective posts and pictures.

We not only mask our imperfections, we often mask our sins as well.  From the back-handed compliment, to disparaging remarks prefaced by “God bless her soul, but…”, to shallow mantras like “You only live once” or “it’s not like it’s against the law”, we rationalize our viciousness in countless ways.  Like addicts, we deny we have a problem with sin and we excuse and blame our behavior on everyone and everything but ourselves.

Just has sobriety can only be achieved through facing reality, so human freedom from sin can only be wrought from an utter realness about ourselves.  When Moses asked God to reveal His Name, God responded that it is “YHWH” or “I AM”.  God revealed that He is.  God is being and existence.  Thus, union with God requires utter realness and authenticity.

C.S. Lewis writes about this mystery in a brilliantly imaginative way in his book “The Great Divorce.”  The divorce in this case refers to the divide between heaven and hell, and describes the process of purgation for those still travelling to heaven.  He describes inhabitants of hell, drawing from scriptural imagery, as phantoms.  On the opposite spectrum, he calls those in heaven “solid people.” The main character arrives at a gray bus stop, phantom-ish, and his journey toward heaven is one of becoming more solid – or more “real”.  To do this he must surrender all that he keeps false within himself.  I won’t give away more than that, as I highly recommend this read!  I will only offer this teaser – Lewis creates numerous characters whose struggle to move from ghostish versions of themselves to the authentic provides deep insight into the rationalizations with which most of us struggle, the pain of conversion, and the joy of authentic freedom.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us interior conversion and introspection.  In today’s Gospel passage, He directly calls us out on how we tip toe around the truth and avoid real virtue and, in consequence, real love and relationship.

How many times have we heard the excuse, “well, it’s not like I’ve killed anyone.  I’m a decent person.”  Yet, harboring anger can be deeply destructive and emerge in violence that might be more subtle, but no less real.  Passive-aggressive behaviors, online bullying, slander, gossip, critical remarks and callous attitudes prevent relationship and they hold us back from heaven.  Jesus states clearly, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”  (MT 5:20) and “be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (MT 5:48)  A man who loves his wife, doesn’t look lustfully at other women.  A woman who loves her husband, doesn’t flirt with other men.  Does it matter whether or not it’s technically adultery?  Jesus calls out the dishonesty.  Either way, it certainly feels like cheating to the other spouse.  Why?  Because love is total, exclusive, and lifelong.  Our love for our spouse should mirror love for God. In fact, God created the first man and woman in the state of marriage because as two persons in a relationship of life-giving love, they imaged the Triune God.

Authenticity begins by simply letting our Yes be yes, and our No be no.  Drop the exaggerations and minimizations.  Leave the white lies.  Take down the false fronts.  It feels like going a day without make-up at first, but not forever.  As we become more at peace with ourselves, we become more comfortable in the truth.  Eventually the fake-ness we clung to in the past will feel like too much make-up, caked on, that you can’t wait to wash off at the end of the day.

Jesus wants us, not the façades we create.  He accepts us as we are and helps us become the truest version of ourselves.  When this happens, we can begin to experience the real relationship, and real love necessary for heaven.

Consider:

  • List your most common struggles in a day, then pray about what interior attitude or disposition underlies it.
    • consider the 7 capital sins for ideas (pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, and gluttony)
  • What is your most common/tempting rationalization?
  • In what ways have you grown in authenticity over the years? Reflect on how good it feels to be yourself.
  • Who is someone you can be completely yourself around; who knows the “real” you?
  • Consider how honesty is necessary for relationship.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Tackle one rationalization this week.  Be direct with yourself and with God.  Name the struggle, occasions of temptation, and the rationalization you use.  Decide on how you will avoid the temptation or create a counter-mantra to repeat when you hear yourself rationalizing.
    • Example:
      • Daily struggle: Crabby toward your spouse and kids
      • Occasions of temptation: Getting out the door in the morning, right after a long day at work, or when interrupted during a project.
      • Rationalizations: “They’re my family and should love me unconditionally – this is just who I am”; “I work hard to care for my family, and it just means I will be stressed out”
      • Counter-mantras: “They’re my family – they deserve my best behavior”;  “I need to find balance in my life so I can be a peaceful person to my family”
      • Avoiding temptation – Begin the day 10 minutes earlier so you aren’t stressed about running late (even better, begin with a prayer!); create transition time between work and home – listen to Christian music on the drive and count your blessings so you arrive with a positive attitude; adjust expectations for completing projects – expect to get interrupted by kids and be grateful for them, try to include them in the project if possible

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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The Beatitudes: Climbing the Mountain of God by Way of the Valley of Humility

by Angela Lambert
Credit for picture to: zastavki.com/pictures/originals/2014/Nature_Multicolored_valleys_and_mountains_080436_.jpg

Credit for picture: zastavki.com/pictures/originals/2014/Nature_Multicolored_valleys_and_mountains_080436_.jpg

January 29th, 2017; 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:1-12a NAB

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Meditation Reflection:

Mountains make us think of God.  Their height, their beauty, and their majesty inspire a sense of our smallness, and of God’s greatness. Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to encounter God. He prayed and fasted for 40 days and nights, during which God spoke to Him “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).  To form His People in wisdom, justice, and peace, God gave to Moses the Law, written by God’s own hand.

When the Lord had finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.” Exodus 31:18

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

Moses’ relationship with God, the immediacy of God’s interaction with him, was unparalleled.  At the end of Moses’ life, he prophesied that God would one day send a New Moses. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19)

Jesus ascended the Mount as the New Moses.  The immediacy of God’s word became even more immanent as the Word made Flesh spoke to the people.  Christ affirmed the Law given to Moses, but he further extended it to its full intent by God.  Through Moses, God had liberated the Jews form physical slavery and reformed their actions through the wisdom of the 10 Commandments.  Christ now extended the call to conversion to our interior intentions and desires.  As He set about the task of liberating us from slavery to sin and establishing the eternal Kingdom of God, the Beatitudes mark the fullness of God’s rule for His People – one of authentic love for God and one another.

St. Therese of Lisieux asserted that we ascend the mountain of God, by way of descending the valley of humility.  The Beatitudes, the heart of the New Law, express this paradox, building on one another in a beautiful way, as they signify the progression of the spiritual life.  The first three commandments in the Old Law began by establishing proper relationship with God – worshipping Him alone, with reverence, and every Sabbath.  In the New Law, Christ begins by affirming the interior disposition needed to make this fruitful – poverty of spirit.  The poor recognize their neediness and dependency.  The poor in spirit surrender the illusion of self-sufficiency and accept their dependence on God.

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

Once a person looks to God, who is full of mercy, whose Son demonstrated His sacrificial love, they are moved to sorrow.  This sorrow wells up from an honest view of themselves and their sins – free of the rationalizations and false beliefs they had clung to in the past.  They see now that their sinful choices, rather than liberating, were in fact petty at best, and disloyal to their greatest defender at worst.  There’s nothing worse than feeling like you have failed a friend who has been there for you, or worse, betraying them despite their faithfulness through your hardest times.  When a person faces themselves however, rather than the harsh judgment they fear, they experience the warm, merciful, comfort of their Savior.

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus provides the Way by teaching us the Beatitudes and showing us how to follow them by His example.  Moreover, He provides the supernatural grace, virtues, and love we need to live such a profoundly spiritual life.  The world offers countless distractions to discourage us from introspection, and our own pride can further resist taking an honest look inside our hearts.  Christ exhorts us to bravely journey within, promising to accompany us and to conform what we find to His own perfect love.

Consider:

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

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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