Following Christ At All Costs

by Angela Lambert
INDIA - OCTOBER 01:  Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India in October, 1979.  (Photo by Jean-Claude FRANCOLON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

INDIA – OCTOBER 01: Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India in October, 1979. (Photo by Jean-Claude FRANCOLON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

September 4th, 2016; 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 14:25-33 NAB

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

 Meditation Reflection:

How can Christ, whose new commandment to us was to “love one another as I have loved you” simultaneously ask that we hate our family members?  As we celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa, we can look to her example to illuminate this paradox. Jesus’ challenge that “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” proved a difficult task and one that required great love, detachment, and grace for Mother Teresa who left her home, her family, and even her beloved convent to serve the poorest of the poor on the streets in India.  Jesus rightly warns to count the cost before we set out on a project lest we find ourselves giving up midway.  Discipleship calls for a total gift of self, in response to the Lord who made the ultimate gift of self for us through His Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection.

In a perfect world, or at least in heaven, loves do not compete with one another and we aren’t painfully pulled in opposing directions.  In our current fallen state however, we come to crossroads where we must choose between two loves.  It’s one thing to forsake the love of a material good or a sinful habit, but the hardest love to forsake is that of someone with whom we have an intimate relationship who refuses to share us with Christ and gives us an ultimatum.

This ultimatum may not sound as direct as “it’s me or Christ!” but it will likely pit some aspect of following Christ against something the person wants of you.  Following Christ results in a life of sacrifice that’s counter-cultural.  Authentic Christians don’t blend in and that bothers people who don’t want to stir the waters. Living your faith, even quietly, can prick the conscience of another and result in lashing out to ease his or her own angst.  Similar to Jesus, Christians offer love unconditionally to others.  Unfortunately, the same is not always true on the other end and the painful choice between following Christ or making the person you care about happy must be made.

This choice takes as many forms as there are relationships.  For a teen it can be a couple breaking up because one chooses purity over promiscuity or being left out of social gatherings because of a refusal to drink.  For a young adult it can be a person choosing the religious life despite the discouragement of parents, or moving away from family and friends for a service they are called to by Christ. For parents it can mean getting the silent treatment from a child because you refuse to condone their wrong behavior.  For a spouse it can mean suffering the anger of the other sometimes even divorce because one refuses to compromise living out his or her faith to appease the other’s sin.  No one wants a rift in their family- whether between parents, children, or spouses.  At the same time not everything is in our control except our own decision to follow the Lord.   Navigating these situations can be confusing and spiritual direction should be sought to sort out how to authentically love in particular situations.

Mother Teresa desired to follow Christ and to give her whole life in love to Him.  First it meant leaving her family to join the Sisters of Loreto as a nun and serve in India as a teacher.  Next, she received her “call within a call” to go out into the streets and serve the poorest of the poor.  She was happy as a nun and asked Jesus if she could just serve Him more devoutly in the way she already was.  Each time however He repeated His request for her to satiate His thirst for souls by ministering to the poor and destitute.  He would ask her each time, “Wouldst thou refuse Me?”

Mother Teresa felt torn between two loves.  Her love for the other sisters, her students, and her life in the convent was certainly a noble love, but discipleship called her to follow Christ to a place that meant she would have to choose between the two.  Ultimately, Mother Teresa could not surrender her love for Jesus to anything else and so she gave up and gave in to the Lord.  As she followed Christ, Mother Teresa surrendered everything to Him – material goods, physical comforts, family, and even the convent.  She went into the most destitute streets with nothing but a sari and a passion for Jesus.

Mother Teresa did not want to have come so far only to turn back.  She had made a choice for Christ, to be a disciple, whatever may be.  Hopefully our discipleship will bring greater peace to our families and relationships and maybe our sacrifices will not be as large as Mother Teresa’s.  Only Christ knows the crosses we will have to carry but He asks that we be ready to face whatever may come with single minded devotion, lest we come so far only to turn back.

Contrary to cultural demands, Christians cannot compartmentalize their faith.  We are followers of Christ at church, at home, at work, when alone, or when with friends.  We have to be prepared that some people, even some we for whom we care deeply, may not tolerate our discipleship and choose to leave us.  In these instances, we can look to Christ for the grace and grit to carry our cross, a cross which He promises will end in a resurrection.

This Sunday, may we count the cost and, with the grace of Christ, decide to follow Him to the end.  The joy of Mother Teresa, and the light of love and mercy her life became, serves as a witness for us of the glorious destination of discipleship – a project worth completing!

Consider:

  • Are you a disciple of Christ?  If the answer is yes, what moves you to love Him and to follow Him? If the answer is no or not yet, what attracts you about Christ or piques your curiosity?
  • In what ways has discipleship caused you to live counter-culturally? Has it strained any of your relationships?
  • How has carrying your cross produced resurrections and blessings in your life? What have been some of the fruits of your discipleship?
  • What cross are you carrying right now? In what way does it resemble Jesus’ cross? How does it bring you closer to Him as you share in His experience?
  • It feels good to accomplish something hard that required grit and perseverance. Consider how it will feel to “finish the race” as St. Paul says, and to have followed Christ (with the help of His grace) to the end.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Learn more about Mother Teresa or read a collection of her writings or quotations.
  • If you feel tension between following Christ and appeasing someone you love, seek spiritual direction this week from your priest or a wise and holy person you know. Reach out in person, by phone, or email.
  • Pray an Act Of Consecration to Jesus each day this week.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Paradoxes of Discipleship

by Angela Lambert

carrying-the-cross-daily1

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

Gospel of Luke 9:18-24

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

 Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Mount Tabor Moments & Transfiguration in Christ

transfiguration-of-Jesus

by Angela Lambert

February 21st, 2016; 2nd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Luke 9:28b-36 NAB

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

Meditation Reflection:

The relationship between Jesus’ divinity and humanity will always be veiled in mystery. However, we do know that God became man so as to share in our experience and thereby conquer our sin and weakness. Jesus provides us the perfect example to follow and the grace to do it. As a result, we can look to this Gospel account as instructive for our own faith journey.

Jesus went up the mountain to pray, a task that required effort and endurance. He took with Him only a few of His closest companions. He spent time alone in prayer persisting even when the apostles fell asleep. During this solitude Moses and Elijah appeared to Him, representing the Law and the Prophets, both of which Jesus would fulfill. They spoke with Him about His mission and the Father overshadowed them in a cloud speaking words of confirmation and encouragement. Peter, John, and James didn’t know what to think or do. Peter offered to pitch tents for everyone not comprehending what was happening but trying to at least offer some kind of service. Christ usually appears humbly in our lives, veiled in His humanity. He does this so well that we too often react with surprise and an awkward response when we awake to moments of His glory.

This experience of light and glory strengthened Christ as well as the apostles for the upcoming darkness and suffering of Calvary. It was an experience so profound that they “fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.” Peter and James would still abandon Christ in His direst moment but later repented at their actions. John alone of the apostles would remain with Jesus at the Cross. Through darkness, disillusionment, and intense pain that confidence in God’s call and the experience of His encouragement strengthened them to persevere.

Conversion tends to be a slow process of turning away from sin and toward Christ on a daily basis. However, during this long road, we sometimes experience a Transfiguration moment wherein God reveals His plan, His mission, or His love for us in a profound and tangible way. St. Paul’s moment occurred on the road to Damascus. St. Peter’s occurred when Jesus appeared to him after His resurrection and asked him three times if he loved Him then called him to feed His sheep. These moments may confirm our call to the Christian faith or they may confirm our call to our vocation.

Mother Teresa began her mission to serve the poorest of the poor after a profound experience in prayer. She had already been a nun for 15 years when, while on a train travelling to the Loreto Convent in Darjeeling for a retreat, she heard the voice of Christ speak to her. Missionary of Charity and postulator of the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Mother Teresa, Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk recounts in his book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, that,

“Though she would persist in letting the details remain veiled in silence, she later revealed:

‘It was a call within my vocation. It was a second calling. It was a vocation to give up even Loreto where I was very happy and to go out in the streets to serve the poorest of the poor. It was in that train, I heard the call to give up all and follow Him into the slums.’”

Fr. Kolodiejchuk further records that Mother Teresa considered the date of this mystical experience (September 10, 1946), as the beginning date of, and her entrance into, the Missionaries of Charity. Christ had asked her to “Come, be My light” in the darkness of the poorest of the poor. Jesus continued to speak with her through a gift of interior locutions into the middle of the next year. During this period she presented to Christ her concerns, her happiness serving as a Loreto nun, and her feelings of inadequacy. In her letter to the Archbishop she wrote, “These thoughts were a cause of much suffering – but the voice kept on saying ‘Wilt thou refuse?’” Her love for Jesus could not refuse Him anything and so she said yes to His request.

Mother Teresa had a “Transfiguration moment”. She was thirty-six at the time. The next fifty years of sacrifice and suffering would be motivated by this single call of Christ. She faced many set-backs, rejections, and challenges both materially as well as spiritually. She experienced an interior darkness (meaning lacking in light to see) in which she couldn’t see God or feel the closeness of union that she had enjoyed before. At first she worried that her own sinfulness had caused the feeling of absence. On the contrary however, Fr. Kolodiejchuk records that,

“With the help of her spiritual directors, she progressively came to grasp that her painful inner experience was an essential part of living out her mission. It was a sharing in the passion of Christ on the Cross – with a particular emphasis on the thirst of Jesus as the mystery of His longing for the love and salvation of every human person.”

As a result, what seemed a loss at first turned out to be an extraordinary gift. Some saints have been given the stigmata – the physical wounds of Christ. Mother Teresa was given a share in the suffering of Christ’s heart. She could not have done this however, without being firmly rooted in her faith in Christ first. She could look back to that Transfiguration moment on the train and confidently press forward in humility that Christ would bring to perfection the good work He had begun.

When we feel like we can’t see God or we become disillusioned in our vocation or work, rather than ask for another sign, think back to that first call. Remember your Mt. Tabor and the time you saw Christ transfigured in glory. When you feel most near to Christ’s experience of darkness on the Cross (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”), draw strength from your experience with Him during the Transfiguration.

Consider:

  • Recall and reflect back on a time when you felt the presence of Christ or saw His glory.
    • Have you witnessed a mighty deed of His like the apostles when He calmed a storm or cast out demons?
    • Did you experience His mercy or love like the Prodigal Son or Peter?
    • Were you healed like the blind, lame, and sick in the Gospels?
    • Were you stopped in your tracks and knocked down like St. Paul?
    • Did you hear Him in “a still small voice” like Elijah?
  • Reflect on times of “darkness” when you could not see or feel the presence of Christ?
    • Did it cause you to doubt?
    • Was Christ still with you even though you couldn’t see it at the time?
    • Did it increase your longing for Christ?
    • Did it deepen your connection to His experience on the Cross?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Journal about your Transfiguration moment(s) and keep it to look back on during times of darkness.
  • Encourage or visit someone struggling or suffering.
  • Read the lives of the saints. Read one a day or at least one a week.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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