Sunday Food For Thought: Excuses, Excuses…Be Brave! Be Determined!

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time:   Scripture Readings

Food For Thought

*excerpt from Take Time For Him: Remain In His Love

Meditation Reflection: Luke 9:51-62

Being a Christian means following Christ, wherever and whenever He goes.  Full discipleship requires 100% commitment, not the made-to-order or pick and choose buffet we are accustomed to in our culture.  Consider Jesus’ own example.  He had to journey to Jerusalem and to sacrificial suffering.  Notice the attitude He chose – resolution and determination. 

Followers of Christ need the same resolution and determination.  St. Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic, emphasized repeatedly the necessity of determination to advance in the spiritual life.  In her instructional work The Way of Perfection, she warned against our tendency to draw back and complain when things become difficult:

“Be determined, Sisters, that you came to die for Christ, not to live comfortably for Christ.”[i]

Saint Paul also exhorted the Corinthians to live their faith with bold resolution.  He warned against conditional discipleship and encouraged the Christian community to be generous and steadfast:

“The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

As Jesus journeyed doing the Father’s will, those He encountered each had an opportunity to join Him, but their conditional stipulations determined whether they would accept it or turn it down.  The Samaritans received messengers from Christ but rejected the Lord before He even arrived when they learned accepting Christ meant surrendering their bitterness toward Jerusalem.  The next person took the initiative to seek Jesus out and requested to be in His company. However Jesus, who knows the hearts of each one of us, also knew the man’s interior conditions for discipleship. Thus, Jesus cautioned him that He would provide spiritual security and comfort but not necessarily the feeling of physical security and comfort. 

The next two men Jesus invited to follow Him procrastinated and avoided discipleship by requesting to finish up their other work first.  Their requests seem valid and even noble.  In fact, burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy and honoring your father and mother is the 4th commandment. Is Jesus asking us to neglect our duties?  Does Christian discipleship excuse neglecting our families?  Does God contradict Himself?  No.  Do we sometimes rationalize our cowardice or weakness by twisting God’s commands against Him?  Yes.  It reminds me of kids who try to avoid chores by claiming they need to work on their homework all of a sudden.

Many of us (including myself!), often excuse our lack of time for prayer by pitting it against the active life of charity.  It sounds something like this: “I don’t have time to sit and pray because I need to do [fill in the blank] which God would want me to do.”  A practical example would be, “I could sit and pray/ ‘doing nothing’, or work an extra hour to provide for my family, or do a load of laundry and dishes, or run an errand.  God wants me to care for my family, that is my prayer.”  Sometimes that might be the case.  But, in truth, there’s usually time for both.  This mentality has sometimes been referred to as the heresy of activism. 

Spending quality time with Christ in prayer first is the foundation of discipleship. How can we follow Him if we rarely take time to listen? In addition, without prayer, even our loving activities can tend to be more self-loving rather than other-loving. Jesus knew the hearts of the two men who wanted to return to their families before following Him.  Rather than contradicting His command that we love one another, especially our families, He may have been calling them out on their rationalizations. 

Let’s face it, we have an inner desire for God, and we may even have authentic zeal for discipleship, but we also struggle with attachments that hold us back.  The good news is that if we open ourselves up to Christ in prayer, He will reveal those attachments to us and provide the grace to overcome them.  It requires resolution and determination, but with God all things are possible!  

[i] Kavanaugh, Kieran, and Otilio Rodriguez, translators. The Way of Perfection: A Study Edition. ICS, 2000.

Consider:

+ Like the Samaritans, how many of us hold on to bitterness, anger, or un-forgiveness? Prayerfully ask Christ to reveal if any of these are holding you back from following Him.  Pray for the grace to surrender it to the Lord.

+ Like the man who proclaimed he would follow Christ wherever He goes, consider why you are a Christian. Is your love for the Lord intermixed with some self-love as well?  Do you complain when you encounter trials?  Are you impatient or upset when you experience discomfort?

+ What rationalizations do you use to delay responding to Christ or to responding more generously?

Practical Application:

+ Each day this week thank God for one deterrent He has helped you overcome or from which He has freed you. Invite Him to reveal and free you from a current hindrance you may or may not realize you have.

+ Pray for an increase in resolution and determination. Choose one concrete thing you can do this week to apply it.  (e.g. pray 15 minutes each morning or evening, say something kind to your spouse when you want to say something critical, hug your child when you want to throw your hands up in exasperation, choose a daily Mass to attend and do what it takes to get there, go to Confession…)

This reflection is an excerpt from Take Time For Him: Remain in His Love available in ebook or paperback. Order a copy and don’t miss a single week!

 

Order the new set of guided meditations for this year’s Sunday Gospels!

 

© 2021 Angela M Jendro

Sunday Food For Thought: Attainable Unconditional Love

6th Sunday of Easter:   Scripture Readings

Food For Thought

*excerpt from Take Time For Him: Remain In His Love

Meditation Reflection: John 14:23-29

“As the world gives” tends to leave a person bitter and disillusioned.  It begins with promises of security and pleasure but lacks real permanency or loyalty.  After a while we even struggle to relax during periods of calm, worrying that it won’t endure long.    Nothing seems to last, and this causes anxiety in good times and in bad.

[…] 

Christ however offers the peace every human soul longs for – permanent, deep, and healing.  Moreover, we do not have to chase after it like a greyhound that will never catch the rabbit.  Rather, Christ bestows His peace freely as a fruit of His unconditional love.  To receive this peace, we merely need to enter into a relationship of love with Him. Relationship with Christ is merciful and enduring.  Jesus doesn’t throw us away when we become difficult or even when we betray Him. He persists in pursuing us, binding our wounds, and transforming our hearts. His greatest pain, he revealed to St. Faustina, is our lack of trust in Him.  To Mother Teresa, He said, “I thirst”; meaning He thirsts for our souls and relationship with us. 

Relationships are risky – they require two people to both freely choose to love one another.  No matter how faithful, how loving, how sacrificial one partner is willing to be, if the other walks away the relationship ends.  Christ is the ultimate risk taker.  He loves us no matter what, even if that love is unrequited.  Moreover, the partner who walks away suffers the greatest loss because he or she closes himself off from the riches of the other partner’s love.  When we walk away from Christ, we close ourselves off from the love He longs to bestow upon us.

Jesus offers peace, love, and joy.  All we must do is live in a loving relationship with Christ.  To do this He says, we must follow His commands.  We live in a wounded world confused about authentic love.  Jesus teaches us through His commands and offers the perfect example for us to imitate. We can chase after the illusion of love or embrace the God who is love.  If we choose the latter, God will dwell within us and our joy will be complete.  It feels more risky because it’s harder to see at first. Ultimately however, it’s the soundest reality and truest love.

Consider:

+ Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” What do you allow to cause you anxiety and fear?  Surrender each thing to the Lord and entrust your concerns to Him.

Practical Application:

+ Examine your day each night or morning.  Thank God for His blessings.  Recognize when He came to your aid.  Identify when you failed to love Christ or your neighbor and ask for Jesus’ help to do better the next day.

This reflection is an excerpt from Take Time For Him: Remain in His Love available in ebook or paperback. Order a copy and don’t miss a single week!

 

Order the new set of guided meditations for this year’s Sunday Gospels!

 

© 2021 Angela M Jendro

Sunday Food For Thought: Secure Relationship

4th Sunday of Easter:   Scripture Readings

Food For Thought

*excerpt from Take Time For Him: Remain In His Love

Meditation Reflection: John 10:27-30

We often hear in psychology, parenting advice, or therapy about the importance of attachment and bonding. The intimacy and security derived from these relationships provide critical ingredients for overall mental and emotional health. How might we develop this essential bond with Jesus, the source of our spiritual wellbeing?

First: what not to do.  Jesus described His relationship with His flock in response to stubborn hearted Jews who had pressed Him once again to declare clearly that He was the Christ. Jesus expressed anger at the question because He had demonstrated it so many times at this point, that their blindness was sharply willful and to repeat Himself would be pointless. They did not ask for an answer, they asked simply to argue with no real intent of listening.  You may have experienced this type of frustrating exchange with someone yourself. It’s one of those points at which you must just walk away.    

Jesus encounters the same blind argument today: “How can I be sure Jesus is God if He lived so long ago? What evidence is there that He even rose again from the dead or that the Bible is reliable? Maybe there were miracles back then, but not anymore.  How can I believe if Jesus doesn’t work a miracle in my time?”  Despite the myriad of evidence to the contrary all around us or at our fingertips, we need to choose to open our eyes.  In addition to the tomes of scholarly work in every discipline which has proven the reliability of the bible against every modern standard, or the witness of the apostles and early church that Jesus truly rose from the dead (why die a martyr for this if there is no resurrection?), Jesus is still present today and He works in our lives constantly if we would simply be open minded and open hearted enough to see.  He literally speaks to us through His Word in the Scriptures and His Church. He cares for our needs through His followers and even “the heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). Finally, in the quiet of our hearts His Holy Spirit speaks, gently guiding us. If we really want to see, if we really want to follow, we need only ask the Spirit to heal our sight that we may see all this abundance around us.

When a person truly encounters Christ, their hearts burn with love; their bond and attachment to Him welded solid. They enter the intimate security of being in His flock, from which no one can snatch them from Him (v.28). A person becomes Christ’s sheep through Baptism and permanently marked as Christ’s forever. In consequence, secure in His love, Jesus’ sheep listen to His voice and let Him lead that they may remain near Him and under His protection and compassionate care.

Easter celebrates Jesus’ conquering of evil, sin, and death.  He opened the gates of heaven, the gates of His fold, where He and the Father invite us to share in their love and receive it in our own hearts – the Holy Spirit.

 It takes humility to be a sheep or to be a child. Both require a poverty of spirit that accepts its own dependence.  Just as pride restricts and blinds us however, humility expands and frees us:

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:4

 What peace and joy to belong to Christ!  Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) expressed it well in his spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence:

“The truly faithful soul, well versed in all the secrets of God, lives in peace, and, instead of being frightened by what happens to it, is comforted, for it is quite, quite certain that God is guiding it.”[i]

[i] Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Abandonment to Divine Providence. Translated by  

          John Beevers. (Image Books: New York, 1975).

Consider:

+ To what extent to do you trust Christ, and to what extent to do you resist Him?

+ Do you have the humility to accept your dependence on His grace, to surrender your wisdom to His, to belong to Him instead of yourself?

+ Consider Christ’s strong love and attachment to you. Pause to reflect on His faithfulness and the security that flows from it.

+ Pray to Jesus with these words and reflect on this beautiful gift: “I belong to You”.

Practical Application:

+ Prayerfully pray and recall several times throughout the day: “I belong to You, Jesus”. Be at peace, secure in His love.

This reflection is an excerpt from Take Time For Him: Remain in His Love available in ebook or paperback. Order a copy and don’t miss a single week!

 

Order the new set of guided meditations for this year’s Sunday Gospels!

 

© 2021 Angela M Jendro

Sunday Food For Thought: Love and Mercy in Superabundance

3rd Sunday of Easter:   Scripture Readings

Food For Thought

*excerpt from Take Time For Him: Remain In His Love

Meditation Reflection: John 21:1-19

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, “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 Person.  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 become 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 accompanying them in their conversion.

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation The Joy of Love 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

Practical Application:

Offer mercy toward someone each day this week.

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.

This reflection is an excerpt from Take Time For Him: Remain in His Love available in ebook or paperback. Order a copy and don’t miss a single week!

 

Order the new set of guided meditations for this year’s Sunday Gospels!

 

© 2021 Angela M Jendro

The Trap of Self-Reliance

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Some More

by Angela M Jendro

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Order the kindle e-book (or paperback) to read the Christmas meditation, the meditation for Mary Mother of God, and to reflect on the meditations all year at your convenience.

2nd Sunday of Easter/Sunday of Divine Mercy

Read the Gospel of John 20:19-31

Meditation Reflection:

The Christian faith is neither a well-crafted myth nor a brilliant philosophy.  Rather, the Christian religion is based on eye-witness testimony of the resurrected Lord.

It began with the testimony of Mary Magdalene, who encountered the risen Christ in the morning when she went to His tomb and was subsequently sent by Him to tell the apostles.  They felt excited and a bit confused “for they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9 NAB).   In the evening, Jesus appeared to them as well except for Thomas who wasn’t there.  Upon seeing Him with their own eyes they believed and rejoiced. 

When they shared their Good News with Thomas he refused belief until he could see it for himself.  Thomas had been willing to die with Christ (John 11:7-8, 16) but he couldn’t envision rising with Him. In consequence, his faith – though fiercely loyal – remained limited to his own personal experience. One week later however, Jesus showed mercy toward Thomas’ obstinate self-reliance, appearing to him in the flesh and so enabling Thomas to believe. 

We too can fall into the trap of self-reliance in matters of faith – limiting our belief to personal experience and rejecting the witness of Jesus’ apostles and His Church.  Our present culture tends toward “cafeteria Christianity”, meaning we pick and choose what we like and leave what we don’t.  We view doctrine as a buffet of ideas that we can take or leave according to our personal preferences and reasoning. 

Imagine Thomas saying to the other ten, “you have your truth and I have my truth, one is not better than the other.”  Yet, one is that Jesus is risen and the other is that Jesus is dead!  How could Jesus’ Church endure with such conflicting beliefs?  The same remains true today.  Capitulating to the attitude of an individualistic faith undermines Christ’s work.

Jesus chose to share His Truth and grace through the apostles’ witness (and their successors – the pope and bishops).  Their interpretation of Scripture and the power of their miracles came from the Holy Spirit bestowed on them by the Lord. At the final moment of Jesus’ death, He breathed His last and surrendered His Spirit to the Father.  On the evening of His resurrection, He breathed upon the Apostles, and gave them His Spirit and His authority:

“‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” John 20:21-23

Christianity is an encounter with the incarnate God who dwells within the very souls of His baptized disciples and makes them one Body.  Jesus is not a restauranteur who offers the world’s greatest buffet.  He is the Son of God who desires all persons to be united as a family in the Lord.  He therefore established a visible Church endowed with His invisible presence to guide and govern its members to His eternal kingdom.

Today, one week after Easter, we celebrate the inexhaustible, generous, mercy of Christ which He lavishes on all who will accept it. As He did for Thomas on this same day, Christ reaches down into the darkest parts of our souls, to our most acute failures and sins, to apply the healing balm of His Merciful Love poured out on the Cross for our salvation. Our Lord is a crucified Lord.  When He appeared to the apostles “He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:20).  He did not choose, as Satan tempted Him to be in the desert, a king without the Cross.  Similarly, true disciples are crucified disciples.  They have died to self, and self-reliance, and live by the Holy Spirit in communion with the Church.

There’s no sin too great for Jesus to forgive. He only requires a repentant heart which chooses to trust in His love.  There’s also no weakness of faith He can’t strengthen, no doubt He can’t heal, and no question of doctrine He can’t explain to you – if you let Him.  And remember, He has given us the fellowship of the Apostles through both the Scriptures and the living voice of authority in His Church.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). Today’s Gospel passage concludes with John offering the same witness to us that was offered to Thomas. Today is the day to surrender to Christ in prayer every doubt you harbor and every limitation you place on faith.  Then, receive His mercy in daily prayer, immersion in the Scriptures, the Eucharist at Mass, and trying to learn the Church’s reasons for her doctrines.  In consequence, you too will become an eye-witness of the resurrected Christ to others.

Consider:

  • When buying a product online or hiring someone for a house project, how much credence to you give to people’s reviews?  How much credence to you give to the testimony about Jesus from the Apostles, the saints and martyrs, the Christians you know who testify to the Lord’s work in their lives?
  • It’s hard to trust someone you can’t see.  Do you make Christ visible to others in your life?  How might you witness the reality of His truth and mercy even more?
  • Reflect on the choice presented today: whether to sand stubbornly in self-reliance or enter the communion of the Body of Christ – His Church – and lean on one another.
  • Jesus told St. Faustina that His greatest pain is distrust on the part of souls in His mercy.  In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis observed that we fail to believe in Christ’s mercy because we have no experience of mercy in our lives and therefore believe no one – not even Christ – will help us.
    • To what extent has this been your experience? 
    • What makes it difficult to trust Christ? 
    • How might you extend mercy to the people in your daily life so they might believe in Christ’s mercy?

Practical Application:

  • Every time you feel helpless, turn to Christ in prayer and throw yourself at His mercy. Repeat the words He asked St. Faustina to have written under His image: “Jesus, I Trust In You.”
  • Do one work of mercy each day.

All Rights Reserved © 2020 Angela M Jendro

I highly recommend both the Diary of St. Faustina and The Name of God is Mercy .

A beautiful exemplar of Christ’s merciful love is Mother Teresa. I also recommend her book A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve

Finding True Love

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

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6th Sunday of Easter

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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The Spiritual Merry-Go-Round

by Angela Jendro

merry-go-round

 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 18:9-14 NAB

Meditation Reflection:

When we reach out to Christ in our crises, needing a savior, we experience the reality of His saving grace along with the reality of our own weakness.  Together, these produce humility in the soul, a recognition of our dependence on God and His graciousness.  Unfortunately, over time fallen human nature tends to forget the extent of God’s help and exaggerates its own abilities.  Likewise, together, these produce pride in the soul, a false conviction of our own independence.

In the Old Testament, we can find account after account of this cycle with the People of God.  It looks something like this:

  1. They love and obey God and things are going well.
  2. As things go well they begin to attribute it to themselves and grow lax in their fidelity to God.
  3. God warns them to turn back to Him and His help, otherwise on their own they will suffer defeat at the hands of an enemy.
  4. They ignore God’s warning, put their trust in themselves and/or false gods, and a foreign enemy conquers and enslaves them.
  5. They cry out to God in their helplessness and need, realize their mistake, and beg Him to help.
  6. God liberates and restores them.
  7. They love and obey God and things go well….and the cycle starts over.

Most of us can relate to this cycle in our own lives, whether one begins with stage #1, having grown up in the faith before falling away or at #2 trusting in oneself until hitting rock bottom.  Time has a funny way of dulling or obscuring our memories and unless we make a conscious effort to cultivate gratitude and humility we can easily forget our need.  Not only does this diminish our relationship with God but it can also obscure our judgment of others.  Confident in our own success we can dismiss the struggles of others currently working through a spiritual crisis.  In Jesus’ parable, the Pharisee could be described as at stage 2 and the tax collector at stage 5.  From the Pharisee’s vantage point, his forgetfulness of His own redemption led to callousness toward the tax collector’s need.

Pope Francis addressed contemporary examples of this attitude in his book “The Name of God is Mercy.”  He describes what happens when we begin to take grace for granted, noting:

This conduct comes when a person loses a sense of awe for salvation that has been granted to him.  When a person feels a little more secure, He begins to appropriate faculties which are not his own, but which are the Lord’s.  The awe seems to fade, and this is the basis for clericalism or for the conduct of people who feel pure.  What then prevails is a formal adherence to rules and to mental schemes.  When awe wears off, we think we can do everything alone, that we are the protagonists.

He even goes so far as to say he almost wishes the person to fall to produce the greater good of humility. He admits that “The degradation of awe’ is an expression that speaks to me.  At times, I have surprised myself by thinking that a few very rigid people would do well to slip a little, so that they could remember that they are sinners and thus meet Jesus.” (p. 97) Of course he does not wish someone to sin, however a reality check about the true state of our natural weakness and the need for grace many times only comes through the experience of failure.   Just as God allowed the Hebrews to stand on their own and fall in order that they might repent and return, Pope Francis acknowledges that by God allowing a person to stand on their own in virtue (which no one can do well or for long without grace) and fall He reveals a higher truth to them and deepens their conversion.

St. Paul, for instance, attributes his unanswered prayers for a suffering to be alleviated, to God’s efforts to protect Paul from falling to an even greater suffering of pride and self-aggrandizement from the extraordinary graces God had given to him.  God desires us to grow in holiness and reach perfection; surprisingly, that can sometimes mean allowing us to struggle a little so we remain on the right trajectory.

“Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong.“ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

St. Augustine offers insights as well in his letter to Proba.  Commenting on St. Paul’s words in the above passage, Augustine encourages us that during times of suffering we may pray for God to remove the difficulty but not to despair if God chooses an alternative instead.  The alternative resolution may be greater provisions of His grace that you may endure the trial, rather than its removal after which you might merely return to the illusion of self-sufficiency.

In the kind of affliction, then, which can bring either good or ill, we do not know what it is right to pray for; yet, because it is difficult, troublesome and against the grain for us, weak as we are, we do what every human would do, we pray that it may be taken away from us. We owe, however, at least this much in our duty to God: if he does not take it away, we must not imagine that we are being forgotten by him but because of our loving endurance of evil, must await greater blessings in its place. In this way, power shines forth more perfectly in weakness. These words are written to prevent us from having too great an opinion of ourselves if our prayer is granted, when we are impatient in asking for something that it would be better not to receive; and to prevent us from being dejected, and distrustful of God’s mercy toward us, if our prayer is not granted, when we ask for something that would bring us greater affliction, or completely ruin us through the corrupting influence of prosperity.”

God knows our nature.  He knows our timeless struggle of cycling through humility and pride, gratitude and forgetfulness. Daily prayer and surrender to divine providence provide strong medicine to break the destructive cycle in our own spiritual lives.  Whenever we feel quick to judge or a little too self-sufficient, let us remember back to the times we cried out to our savior and received His mercy and in turn cultivate compassion and empathy for others crying out to our savior from their own needs.  As my mother frequently recites, “But for the grace of God, there go I…”

Consider:

  • When have you cried out to God to save you?  When has God’s grace liberated you from the snares of a sin or vice?
  • In what ways do you rely on God every day? How does His grace continue to transform you and bless you?
  • Is there someone you feel tempted to judge or feel calloused toward rather than compassionate?
  • Can you recognize the above seven stage spiritual cycle in your own life? Was there a point where God helped break the cycle or do you feel you still keep circling?  Which number might describe your current situation?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Show compassion toward someone struggling with a sin or vice.  Reach out in a concrete way this week to encourage or strengthen them.
  • Pray the Litany of Humility each day this week.
  • Make a gratitude list of all the things you only have as a result of God’s mercy.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2016

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How can God be both Justice and Mercy?

by Angela Jendro

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 15:1-32 NAB

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing

490px-Bernhard_Plockhorst_-_Good_Shephard

by Bernhard Plockhorst

one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.  When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and

552px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project

Return of the Prodigal Son By Rembrandt

I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.  He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

Meditation Reflection:

Justice versus mercy. How can God be both? And how can we imitate Him when we need to apply concretely a mystery that surpasses our understanding?

In this Gospel Christ illuminates something of this mystery. First, we should remember that we live in a highly competitive culture. Consequently, we feel justice – giving each person his or her due – is necessary to keep things “fair.” Secondly, as St. Augustine pointed out in The City of God, if we are earthly-minded and focused on building the “city of man”, then we often find ourselves at war with one another as we vie for limited resources.

The resources and goods in the “city of God” however, Augustine notes, are unlimited. Moreover, rather than being reduced when given away they multiply, and rather than being limited to temporary gain, they last eternally.

Our human tendency to want justice applied to others but mercy applied to us, often relates more to our striving to build the city of man rather than the noble cause for justice itself. Justice is important, and God is justice as well as mercy. However, we have to be aware of our own prejudices and since we suffer the effects of original sin, we tend to rationalize our double-standard.

The truth is, when God weighs our own faults and violations of divine and natural law, none of us will be able to balance the scale and achieve a just state. We know God cares about justice because for us to rightly spend eternity with Him, the scale had to be balanced and so He sent His only Son to suffer and die for our sake, to tip the scale for us. By helping us reach a state of justice, He acted mercifully.

To even begin to understand something of this mystery, of the harmony between Justice and Mercy in God, Jesus uses comparisons we can relate to – a shepherd looking for a lost sheep and a woman searching for a coin. In each case you or I may not have cared. They care because they view the sheep and the coin as their belonging. When lost, they were impoverished in some way and in finding it their possessions became complete. We belong to God. You or I may not care about a particular person but God does. He views each human person as His own treasure, and to lose one results in a loss, and to regain that person creates completion.

To clarify and impress this on us further, Jesus follows with the Parable of the Prodigal Son (verses 11-32). Whereas in our work life if an employee or colleague leaves it may be disappointing but that person can be replaced by a new hire and eventually life goes on. We see this in every realm of society – politics, business, entertainment, sports – except one, the family. If a child rebels and leaves his or her family, there remains a hole and a lingering pain for as long as the child remains estranged. The family cannot simply find a replacement and move on with life. It will always feel like a loss and incomplete.

The relationship between justice and mercy therefore can only be understood in light of relationship. In the parable of the prodigal son, the rebellious child left home and eventually experienced the reality of the choices he had made. With the money gone, he finally received his due, and this provoked conversion. When he returned home, repentant and interiorly changed, his father was ecstatic to incorporate him back into the family. The older son, focused on the earthly resources, became bitter at the apparent injustice. It wasn’t fair. Had he viewed it from a spiritual perspective, he would have seen that he had become enrichened. Rather than focusing on the fattened calf he felt he “lost” to the feast of his wayward brother, he ought to have focused on the brother he regained.

The deeper we grow in love, the more we begin to understand God’s ways. Rather than seeing him merely as a judge, we need to see that He is foremost a father. He will do what it takes to keep his family together and to help His children flourish. Fathers and mothers make countless material sacrifices for their children and oftentimes with joy. From the outside others might rightly marvel at how this could be. Those who have children however, know by experience the deeper sense of satisfaction and pleasure one gains from these acts.

When considering justice and mercy, Christ exhorts us to view it in light of being God’s possession, His children, and love.

Consider:

  • Consider the difference between being an employee in comparison to being someone’s child. You are God’s own. You are God’s child.
  • Consider how love moves one to mercy and the more loving persons are, the more merciful they become.
  • Consider how you felt when you received mercy or when you gave mercy.
  • Reflect on how justice and mercy relate with one another. Sometimes being just enables one to be merciful.
  • Spend 5 minutes in silent prayer, just gazing on God who is Justice and Mercy.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray each day for the conversion of someone who has left the faith. If possible, reach out to him or her through acts of kindness and mercy.
  • In light of the parable of the prodigal son, forgive someone who has returned to you apologetically.
  • If there is someone who has made serious changes (for the better) in his or her life, pray about giving them a second chance and incorporating them back into your life.
  • Practice one corporal work of mercy and one spiritual work of mercy each day this week.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Love and Mercy in Superabundance

by Angela Jendro

3rd Sunday in Easter

Gospel John 21:1-19 NAB

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.

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. Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love” 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. It’s a beautiful, rich document of encouragement based on the proceedings of the synod on the family and provides plenty of food for reflection. Although it’s quite lengthy Pope Francis encourages us in the opening pages to take our time reading it.

Christ has blessed us with His mercy and generous love. All He asks is that we pay it forward with mercy and love toward the people in our lives.

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:Work 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’ Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of Love

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Receiving Christ’s Gift Graciously

Palm Sunday

excerpt from Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring by Angela Jendro

Gospel of Luke 22:14-23:56 NAB full version. Luke 23:1-49 NAB shortened version and reprinted here below.

The elders of the people, chief priests and scribes, arose and brought Jesus before Pilate. They brought charges against him, saying, “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Christ, a king.” Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds, “I find this man not guilty.” But they were adamant and said, “He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea,
from Galilee where he began even to here.”

On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time. Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at length, but he gave him no answer. The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly. Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, “You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”

But all together they shouted out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” — Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder. — Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” Pilate addressed them a third time, “What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.” With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed. The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.

As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed.

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal. “Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.

The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts; but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.

Meditation Reflection:

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week with Palm Sunday. The Gospel follows Christ through the events of His Paschal Mystery beginning with His final entrance into Jerusalem and culminating in His death.

Recall the Pope’s theology of sin. He teaches that the process of conversion begins with acknowledging our sin, confessing it with contrition to the Lord, then trusting in Christ’s mercy to forgive and heal us. As we unite ourselves to Christ this week, remembering the events of His suffering let us contemplate the third aspect of conversion – trusting gratitude for Christ’s mercy.

In the Office of Readings for today, a sermon by St. Andrew of Crete (d. 740), a bishop, offers a beautiful idea for how to honor Christ today…

“So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.”

This response inspires us to approach holy week with an attitude of deep appreciation; to follow the footsteps of the suffering Christ and feel the grace of His mercy accomplished through His sacrificial love. Numerous Gospel accounts tell of Pharisees or Sadducees wanting to kill Jesus but being unable. Christ could have escaped the Cross, it was within His power. He chose to surrender Himself which was the only reason they could apprehend Him. He chose to suffer as the sacrifice for our sins for the sole purpose of our redemption – to be freed from slavery to sin and death, to experience healing and supernatural strength, to experience union with God as His beloved children, and that our “joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Reflecting on Christ’s suffering however, especially if we have the courage to connect it to our own weakness and personal sins, requires more than a small amount of humility. It means we realize our dependence (something we hate in our culture) and our unworthiness. Christ endured things we could not, and when asked to offer something back in return, even trivial things, we often fail.   How many of us sigh at the length of the reading on Palm Sunday, and yet how much easier to read it than to live it! How much longer it was for Christ to actually endure the events we recall!

Distracted thoughts and limited attention spans will always burden us due to our weakened nature from original sin. We can work to minimize our distractions however and lengthen our attention by changing our habits. For instance, we can replace some of our thoughts about worldly matters with thoughts of spiritual matters through regular Scripture reading, good Christian books and conversation, or listening to Christian talk radio. We can replace worldly images in our imagination with images of Christ through praying the psalms and listening to Christian music. Rather than secular songs interrupting our prayer, over time we might find Christian songs interrupting our mundane tasks instead.

This Holy Week let’s do our best to, as St. Andrew suggested, lay our transformed selves before Christ. Let us ease His suffering with songs of praise and thanksgiving. Let us offer Him hope on the Cross by demonstrating that His sacrifice will bear much fruit.

 Consider:

  • Take time to reflect on those things Christ has conquered in your life – sin, addiction, lies you had believed, fears, pride, loneliness, despair…
  • Examine areas of your life in need of Christ. Imagine His blood washing over them and healing them. Invite Him to free you in that area as a grace of this Holy Week. Resolve to cooperate with Him in this effort.
  • Sacrifice is the proof of love. Christ would have suffered every pain for you alone.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray the Stations of the Cross.
  • Pray a psalm of thanksgiving each day for God’s help.
  • Pray psalm 21, the psalm Jesus quoted from the Cross when He said, “My God My God, why have you abandoned Me.”
  • Listen to Christian radio on your drive or as you get ready in the morning.
    • Ideas: local Christian music stations; download the Relevant Radio app and listen to Catholic programming.
  • Offer encouragement to someone who is suffering.
  • Offer mercy to someone in thanksgiving for Christ’s mercy to you.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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