Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone & Walking on Water

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19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33

Exhilaration, adventure, a leap of faith – we get brave and step out onto the water…outside our comfort zone. For a brief moment, his eyes fixed on Jesus, Peter did just that. Then, a gust of wind distracted him, and Peter’s gaze turned to the strength of the wind rather than the strength of the Lord. His faith sank and so did he.  Yet, as quickly as he had turned from the Lord, he turned right back. He immediately reached out to Christ for help.  Jesus did not delay, He caught Peter as soon as he asked. Jesus didn’t let Peter flounder in the water gasping for air as He lectured him. He cast no words of spite, no “I told you so”, or “that’s what you get for not believing in Me more.” Jesus came to reveal the Father’s love, and on this night He demonstrated the Lord’s compassionate mercy for our weak nature.

petersinking

Discipleship calls us beyond our comfort zone, and even beyond our natural limits. Yoked to Christ, He enables us to walk on water. Like Peter, we might step out of the boat in total confidence in our Lord. Once on the water however, we become fearful as we realize our total dependence on His supernatural help. It’s much easier to have faith floating on the water in a boat, than walking on water barefoot.

I remember the excitement of getting my first teaching job, and the enthusiasm of teaching students about God. Then, the first day of class arrived and panic struck. “Yikes!” I thought, “How I am I going to get through the day? What I am I going to say for a whole class period?! What if a student misbehaves? What if I’m a terrible teacher?…”  I also remember the joy of holding my first child in my arms the day he was born. It was absolutely surreal. Two days later the nurse walked us out to the car and waved goodbye.  As we put my son in the car seat and drove away anxiety erupted, “They’re just letting us take him?!  We don’t know anything! What if I’m a terrible mother? What if I say or do something that scars him for life?!…” Lastly, when I do speaking engagements or workshops, I’m exhilarated at the opportunity to share the joy of God’s saving love with others. A half hour before the talk however, worried thoughts begin to percolate up, “Why did I agree to do this? It would be far more comfortable to be at home watching Netflix. What if I fail? What if everyone is bored? Who am I to do this, I’m a sinner like everyone else?”  Like Peter, I begin to sink but then I cry out to the Jesus. He reminds me that I teach, mother, and speak because He has called me to.  He assures me that though I am not worthy, He is, and He is with me. He also pushes me by filling my heart with so much gratitude for His love in my life that I can’t resist sharing it with others.

The challenge of discipleship is living at a level only sustainable if Christ and His grace is real. It requires taking a risk, so much so that if Christ is not real, you would be at a loss. Consider how many times God tells us in Scripture to be not afraid. Pope St. John Paul II chose these words for his first statement as Pope, knowing how much we fear as we look around at the dangers that surround us.

When I begin to sink in fear a few verses come to mind that strengthen me.  First, I think of 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

“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.”

St. Paul felt too weak to face a challenge on his own. Rather than remove the difficulty, Jesus promised to provide the strength. St. Paul realized therefore, that the weaker he is, the more God’s power must be at work in him to accomplish God’s will. He moved from anxiety to total confidence, and writes in his letter to the Philippians 4:13,

“I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me”

We can trust Jesus to come through for us.  We can answer His call, even if it means going beyond our natural limits. When we struggle to take that leap of faith beyond our comfort zone, Christ urges us to simply reach out and He will be there for us as He was for Peter.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” Matthew 7:7

Ask, seek, knock, and you just might walk on water.

Consider:

  • How has following Christ stretched you beyond what you expected?
  • When has Christ made an endeavor more fruitful than it would have been by your own merits?
  • Have you ever felt like Peter, walking on water, in awe of Christ’s divine power?
  • Have you ever faltered because of fear, worry, or anxiety?
  • What Scripture verses or memories reassure you of Christ’s aid?
  • Is Christ calling you to something outside your comfort zone right now? What holds you back? What inspires you forward?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Take one risk each day for your faith.
    • Ideas: Inviting your spouse to pray together, praying as a family, saying “God bless” to someone on the phone or a at work, speaking up when someone is criticizing the Church or using God’s name in vain, sharing your faith with someone in need of comfort, going to the Sacrament of Confession, responding to God’s call in your vocation or job…

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Preparing the Soil: Spiritual Receptivity

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15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Because of Your Name…

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12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Gospel of Matthew 10:26-33

Because of Christ’ Name, we suffer.  But by His Holy Name, we are saved.

If you remain lukewarm in your faith, keep it private, and compartmentalize it from the rest of your life, you will likely enjoy peace with the world.  If you proclaim Jesus to be a great teacher like Buddha, but refrain from calling Him God, people will respect you and your “spirituality.” If you acknowledge Christ as one way and not The Way, most people will put up with your belief, since they afford everyone a little bit of foolishness.

One problem…to proclaim a nice moral teacher who isn’t God and isn’t the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is not to proclaim Jesus Christ. As C.S. Lewis famously put it: Jesus claimed to be God, that means He is either a Liar (He knew He wasn’t God but said He was), a Lunatic (He wasn’t God but really believed He was), or Lord (He is God). The first two do not make for good moral teachers, the third deserves our worship and obedience.

Fra_Angelico_-_Christ_the_Judge_-_WGA00679Jesus promises that “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” To do that however, we must proclaim the God Who became Man, that He is the fullness of Revelation – Divine Truth, the Savior of all mankind, and Love incarnate. To proclaim a myth of our own making, and worse to belittle Christ by using a weakened, distorted, version of Him as our inspiration, is to deny Christ. Jesus warns “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

 To proclaim Christ takes serious guts, and I don’t’ just mean speaking about Christ. Simply living your faith in everyday life will incite criticism and even personal attacks by others.

If you go to Church every Sunday despite competing demands for your time, you may be accused of being too rigid or too zealous. Those who would prefer you prioritize them over God will accuse you of being uncharitable or having an unhealthy scrupulosity. Those whose own church attendance looks lackluster in comparison will more likely try to find fault with your devotion rather than to imitate it.

If you believe that Jesus is the Truth – the Word of God, prepare to be accused of intolerance, close-mindedness, and archaic thinking. Even if you do not “push your beliefs on others”, your simple rejection of the religion of Relativism will offend its many followers (note: Relativism states that there is no objective truth – except, paradoxically, Relativism. It maintains that there’s no real right or wrong, just subjective beliefs). Moreover, no matter how hard persons try to rationalize sins, their God-given consciences sense the truth and can’t help but react at reminders. People who want to live in darkness hate the light. It happens at every age. Teens who don’t drink or engage in pre-marital sex, get left out of parties and certain social groups. Adults who put God and family first, get left out of some events or opportunities at work, or in neighborhood gatherings.

It’s hard to follow Christ, especially when it means staying up at night with a newborn, while colleagues or friends fly off to sunny vacations. It takes humility to make time for Mass and soccer games, knowing others will “get ahead” in their career because of their willingness to work all hours and days.

And what do you get for your sacrifice and virtue? Consider, how did Cain react toward Abel? How did Joseph’s brothers treat his piety? You will be honored by God and those who are Godly, but you will be scorned by those of the world.

Jesus is the Truth, and Satan is the father of lies. Those who live by Truth will threaten those lies. In retaliation, just as Satan spread lies to Adam and Eve about God, and just as he continues to spread lies about Jesus, Satan will spread lies about Jesus’ followers too. We can feel helpless in these situations because it’s hard to defend ourselves when the other person fights dirty. Jesus knows our struggle and has experienced our pain.  Thus, He assures us beforehand to “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed.” Jesus promises that the Truth will conquer in the end. It requires more patience, a lot of faith, and Holy Spirit courage though.

It’s hard to suffer unjust treatment and unwarranted animosity, especially when you are simply trying to live your own quiet Christian life.  Take heart however, people don’t get bothered by the lukewarm or the mediocre; whereas greatness is always challenged. The more you are treated like Christ (the real Christ, not the mythical nice guy in sandals), the more it means you are becoming Christ-like. So, as Pope St. John Paul II repeated again and again, “Be not afraid.” Let Christ’s love in you soften hearts, even if they scream at you first. Let the light of Christ radiate in you and cut through the darkness. As the prophet Jeremiah witnessed in today’s first reading (Jeremiah 20:11),

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:

my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.”

Consider:

  • When did Jesus experience the most criticism and rejection? Consider how His mighty works of healing and love, were met with envy and anger by some of the Jews.
  • Consider the mystery of the Cross. Christ suffered out of love for us and was rejected. Yet He rose again to new life and brought about our salvation. How might we offer our pain and suffering from others’ rejections for their salvation, like Christ has done for us?
  • Reflect on a time when you “preferred darkness to light.” How did you rationalize your sin or your way of thinking? How did you react toward someone whose life shined a light on it?
  • Reflect on a time when you preferred light to darkness. When have you experienced joy and freedom when the Truth in someone else’s life freed you from a lie in your own?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, pray an Our Father or a Hail Mary for someone who is persecuting you.
  • Each day this week, pray Psalm 69.
  • Offer this prayer each day:
    • Lord, I don’t want my light to be so dim as to not make a difference.

      I beg You to make Your Divine Light shine through me with such radiance,

      That it frees with Your Truth, those held captive by lies,

      Guides those who are lost back to You,

      And lifts lonely discouraged souls with Your Love.

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We All Need a Loving Gatekeeper and Filter: Christ Our Good Shepherd

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4th Sunday of Easter

Gospel of John 10:1-10 and the Sunday readings

Meditation Reflection:

Quite often as a mom I feel like a gatekeeper. When my kids ask to go somewhere, I need to know where, with whom, and for how long before I approve. Technology plagues me with even more gate-keeping work: parent controls, ratings evaluations, and download or streaming restrictions. The ever-multiplying accounts, passwords, devices, programs, and updates can feel like an interminable game of whack-a-mole. Christmas and birthdays used to be fun, now they feel like a migraine-inducing tidal wave of gate-keeping duties while excited, impatient children complain as I set the perimeters that I am being too slow, and of course too controlling. I’ve at least developed a one-line response to save my overtaxed brain from responding to the myriad of “logical” arguments and pleas of trust from my young teens. “It’s as simple as this,” I say, “You shall not have unfiltered access to the internet.” The Church could consider adding that as the 11th Commandment for the modern era.

Let’s face it, even adults, as children of God, need filters. We too can be easily allured by promises of pleasure, freedom, status, or adventure from false advertisers; and I don’t just mean commercially.    Despite having everything, Adam and Eve fell prey to Satan’s proposition that God’s single rule (not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) was controlling and denying them fun out of selfish motivations. Satan continues to deceive us through similar false promises.

Christ the shepeherdJust as predators try to find ways to get around parents to manipulate children, spiritual “thieves and robbers” try to get around Christ to attack us, God’s children. First, they try to separate us from His influence by undermining our trust in Him, His Word, or His Church. Common attempts sound something like: “Christ’s teachings hold you back. If you want to get ahead in life you have to be willing to get your hands dirty”, or “It’s not that you are going against Christ’s teachings, you are just modernizing them.” In regards to those difficult passages in Scripture, the ones that really strike at your conscience, you will be urged to simply pass over them or interpret them in a more relaxed way – “Forgive others, yes, but forgive her?, I don’t think He meant that…” Jesus stresses that we must die to ourselves in this life and deny ourselves. Instead we rationalize that He only meant that symbolically, or at least in a modest way – like going on a diet or not aiming too high. Finally, the Church, Christ’s living voice of authority, is the clearest voice of our Shepherd and therefore the harshest recipient of worldly criticism.

We are children of God, in need of a loving gatekeeper. Christ’s commands, given through Scripture and the Church, can seem restrictive and controlling if we have an adolescent view. However, as we develop in spiritual maturity, we begin to appreciate the wisdom and the love underlying them.

When I’m tempted to brush off a Church teaching or a little pull at my conscience, I stop and recall that Christ loves me more than I love myself, and He is far wiser than me. Who am I going to trust? Any other false shepherd – whether secular culture, another person, or my own impulses – eventually drains rather than fills and proves a destructive, rather than uplifting force.

Christ, our Good Shepherd, leads to green pasture. He refreshes our souls and leads us beside peaceful waters (Psalm 23). Jesus lamented to St. Faustina that distrust on the part of souls causes Him the greatest pain.  As a mom of teens, I know what He means.   I want my kids to trust me too, and so I repeat the prayer He gave to St. Faustina, “Jesus I trust in You.”

Consider:

  • When have you been steered wrong – by others, by cultural norms, or by your own impulses? What was the reason? What did you learn?
  • When have you been steered right by Christ? How has His wisdom brought deeper joy and fullness of life, even amidst suffering, than these other voices?
    • Have you ever had to be the gatekeeper for loved ones? Consider the love it takes to be strong and the need for them to trust you.
  • How can you trust Christ more and listen to His voice more often? Could you attend Church more regularly? Could you invest more time into Christian friendships? Do you make time to study your Bible, read quality devotionals, or learn more about your faith?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way to listen more to the voice of Christ this week.
    • Ideas: Add 10 minutes to your prayer time, pray the rosary in the car, listen to Christian radio, listen to Christian podcasts, read the daily Scriptures (these can be found at usccb.org), post inspirational Scripture quotes in places you will see them often, meet with a Christian friend.
  • Consider adding a filter, rating restrictions, or accountability software to your personal technology.

 

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Determined Discipleship

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1st Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11

Meditation Reflection:

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

Satan began with the stomach and physical pleasure (where he trips most of us up!), by 512px-Immenraet_Temptation_of_Christ_wikimediatempting the starving Christ with bread. He waited until Jesus was at the end of His fast when He would be tired, hungry, and physically weak. Similarly, the devil tries to exacerbate our problems when we are worn out and vulnerable. How many of us have failed to pray in the morning because we didn’t want to give up the comfort of sleep? When have you missed Mass because it would be an inconvenience or it was cold outside? Are there times when putting your feet up, having a beer or glass of wine, and watching tv took precedence over interacting with your spouse or kids at the end of a long workday (especially when kids require discipline or help with homework)? How many opportunities do we miss simply because it’s uncomfortable or we are too lazy? Unless we overcome our own slothful inertia, we cannot be strong enough to be the salt of the earth that Jesus needs from His disciples.

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning this week begin with this prayer by Francis de Sales:

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

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Christ’s Kingdom Come

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3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 12:12-23

Meditation Reflection:

John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ both by announcing His immanent coming, and by calling people to conversion. John’s extreme asceticism illuminated consciences to common attachments which hinder people from receiving the Lord. His lonely, austere, desert living, provides a sharp contrast to our often-inordinate desire for luxury, status, and concern for keeping up with the Jones’. His fast of locusts and honey, casts light onto our indulgence in food and drink; and his camel-hair clothing convicts our consciences of secret vanity. Lastly, his rejection of fame and power set an example of 384px-Matteo_Rosselli_Jesus_and_John_the_Baptisttrue Christian discipleship. He rejected the title of Messiah for himself and insistently pointed to Jesus as the Christ. He spoke the truth to peasants, religious leaders, and even political leaders, despite the risk of arrest and even death. When the Lord finally came, he gracefully stepped to the side, saying “He must increase; I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30).

Matthew situates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with the waning of John’s. Jesus had been baptized and spent 40 days in the desert fasting, praying, and being tempted. John had just been arrested and Jesus, His preparation finished, now began His work. He commenced by preaching the same message as John, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Only this time, the kingdom is not coming, but rather has come in the Person of Jesus Christ.

What is the kingdom of God? Put simply, it refers to God’s rule over the hearts of its citizens/children, and the peace and security they gain in return through union with Him. It’s a kingdom established through the free and reciprocal gift of love between God and those who respond. To accept the rule of God, we must first reject the rule of other monarchs. Thus, repentance is a necessary first step, in which we acknowledge the sins and desires that we have allowed to rule us, and we ask for God to be our liberator. The Lord’s kingdom is a monarchy, but one that governs free individuals. The Lord does not annex land through force, but He does liberate people who are enslaved and, through the merits and mercy of His Son, grant them citizenship. Moreover, this citizenship is more akin to adoption into a loving family than a mere nation-state.

Imagine Christ’s joy as He could finally roll up His sleeves and begin preaching the Gospel, healing the wounded, and most importantly – forgiving sins. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, God had patiently waited for the time when we would be ready to receive Him, and He could heal all our wounds and strengthen us with His grace.

Jesus went to Galilee to begin gathering up God’s scattered and lost sheep. The havoc of disunity caused by human sin, would be undone through union in Christ. He rebuilt God’s people by building His Church. He first called two sets of brothers who had spent their days fishing, caring for their family, and a800px-The.Calling.of.the.First.Apostleswaiting the Messiah. They, like Christ, obeyed God in humble tasks of everyday life until He called them forth. When asked to follow Him, they immediately left the security of their routines and their community, to say Yes to the Lord and His will.

We can learn from this encounter how to prepare for, and respond to, the coming of the kingdom of God in our own lives. We can begin by answering the call of John the Baptist to repent. We can ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our sins and our blind spots. I can say from experience, He will. Next, we watch and wait. We live our daily lives open and receptive to God’s will. St. Thomas taught that “grace builds on nature.” This means that being a Christian doesn’t make us less ourselves or just robots following commands. Rather, grace makes us the best version of ourselves. It actually makes us more ourselves and raises our natural state in life to a super-natural level. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen. In the kingdom of God, they become fishers of men.

The apostles model Christian discipleship, which is simply receptivity to the Lord in our daily lives. It means saying “yes”, and following wherever He leads. True peace, justice, and happiness come through Christ alone. Only He can free us from our worst enemy – our own sins, fears, weakness, and pride. Only He can provide security. When we experience the gift of being His disciples, we will understand John the Baptist’s passionate zeal for pointing others to the Lord as well.

Following Christ can look very ordinary on some days, and on others it can completely surprise you. Whatever might be holding you back when Christ says to you, “Come and see,” let it go. Drop your nets and set out after Him.

Consider:

  • Ask the Lord for a spirit of repentance. Invite the Holy Spirit to show you what, or who, comes between you and
  • Reflect on the Christ’s call “Come Follow ”
  • How has God called you to be faithful in your everyday life? In your family, at your job, in your community?
  • How has grace “built” on your nature. How has encountering Christ made you a better version of yourself? Where might Christ still want to work in your life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day this week by saying, “Yes Lord, I will follow You.” Repeat it throughout the day.

 

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Watch & Wait, Look & See

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2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 1:29-34

Meditation Reflection:

John the Baptist_Tissot_Brooklyn Museum

The Voice in the Desert by James Tissot Brooklyn Museum

 How did John the Baptist know that Jesus was the Savior before He even said a word to him? You might be thinking: “Easy, the Holy Spirit revealed it to John in that moment”. While that’s true, what wasn’t easy was the receptivity John nurtured during the years leading up to that moment. What if he had been distracted by the heat or his hunger, or too busy talking to notice? John heard the Holy Spirit as Jesus approached because he had first spent years in the desert praying, waiting, and listening.

Accustomed to instant gratification and the fast pace of life, together with a heavily marketed atmosphere, we can easily develop a tendency to expect Christ to sell Himself to us and to make His pitch with immediate persuasion. Whether we question God’s existence, His nearness, or His willingness to help us, we often complain that God is silent or distant. Yet, we have to honestly ask ourselves, have we even sought God out? Have we taken even 5-10 minutes of silence a day to listen? Have we cracked open our Bible, His Word to us, to see if He might speak there? Maybe God is silent, or maybe His response is right there on the coffee table unopened. Have we waited on the Lord, or are we expecting an immediate result? Have we been receptive to the Lord’s prompting, or do we attempt to lead God and boss Him around, deaf to His guidance?

John the Baptist sought the Lord, venturing into the desert where he could encounter God away from the distractions of everyday life. He waited on God, fully expecting an answer by spending his time preparing through preaching repentance and baptizing. When the Savior came at last, John could receive Him and recognize Him as Lord because he was looking and listening.

It reminds me a little of family road trips. The kid engrossed in his iPhone or tablet misses extraordinary sights, or at the very least, out of the ordinary landscapes. The person vigilantly watching out the window however, can take in the beauty, appreciate the landscape, and spot the surprise spectacles. By the time he has shouted “look!” and the distracted child responds, the sight has passed. Moreover, at the end of the journey, the one focused on the tablet retains the same vision of the world as when he left home, whereas the one who looked out the window broadened his vision and experience.

If we feel like God is distant, we need simply to look out the window and reach out to Him in prayer. If we require His help, we need only to ask and listen. When we look for the Savior, we find Him. God does His part, and more. We need to make the effort to look up from our commonplace experience and distractions and seek Him.

Psalm 40 begins by singing,

I have waited, waited for the LORD,

and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.

What a beautiful expression. God has seen our suffering and heard our pleas. He stooped to become man and dwell among us, personally healing and strengthening us. When a person experiences the saving love of Christ, they cannot resist proclaiming it to others. Like the child shouting “look!”, they instinctively cry out “look!” as well; or as John proclaimed, “Behold! The Lamb of God”.

Everyone seeks happiness, security, and love. We can search for all these things online, in our careers, or the economy, but only Christ can deliver on His promises. Blessed Archbishop Fulton Sheen described John the Baptist as “no frivolous reed shaken by every breath of popular applause.” When we seek approval from others or from cultural standards, we become feeble like a reed. We sway at every idea, comment, or attack and easily break. Firmness of character and security of happiness can be found in Jesus Christ alone, who can provide peace and rewards of a supernatural level. It is the Lord, who provides Faith, Hope, and Love. It is His Holy Spirit who infuses us with His sevenfold gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Piety, Fortitude, and Fear of the Lord. If we desire the Spirit’s fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self- control, we need merely to invite the Lord into our soul to dwell and be receptive to the transformation He effects.

At the same time, to realize our need for a Savior, we must also acknowledge the reality of our sinfulness. The first step to seeking the Lord is to grapple with our need for Him and our own insufficiency. Sheen pointed out that, “Skepticism is never certain of itself, being less a firm intellectual position than a pose to justify bad behavior.” Some who seem to seek God, actually hide behind their questions in order to avoid moral change. Those who see the degrading effect their sin has on their life run to the water to be cleansed like those who came out to John the Baptist in droves. Those who encounter Christ’s mercy proclaim with John, “Now I have seen, and testify that he is the Son of God.” If you want to find out for yourself, respond to Christ’s invitation to “come and see” (Jn 1:39). You might just see something incredible!

Consider:

  • Where can you go to encounter the Lord?
    • In a quiet place for prayer in your home, Church or Eucharistic adoration? In the Scriptures or reading the lives of the saints? In visiting with a prayerful friend? By listening to Christian radio?
  • On the road trip of life, are you more like the child distracted by a tablet or the child looking out the window?
  • If you were to go out to the desert to see John the Baptist, what do you imagine it would be like? Would you want to receive the baptism of repentance? What would he exhort you to change in your life?
  • When has Christ “stooped toward you and heard your cry?” Did it fill you with peace and joy? Did you want to tell others?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Watch, wait, and listen to the Lord this week by setting aside 5-10 minutes each day to seek Him in prayer, Scripture, or Christian

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The Universal Search for God

Feast of the Ephiphany

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

Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12

Meditation Reflection:

Epiphany means “the manifestation of the divine.” God manifested the 350px-Edward_Burne-Jones_-_The_Adoration_of_the_Magi_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgSavior to the world: from the poor Jewish shepherds to the wise Magi from the East. All human persons seek God, whether they call their search one for the divine or not. It may begin as a movement toward God’s Goodness through the conscience, toward His Truth through the pursuit of wisdom, or toward His Beauty through captivation by His creation or art. It may be through a search for meaning or to answer the tug at the heart that whispers “there’s more to life than this.”

Even those who deny God’s existence, still witness to the reality of the spiritual world. Our pets don’t ponder, and they don’t wrestle with questions about whether God exists. Those who develop a direct antagonism for religion expressed in a defiant atheism, still reveal that they have grappled with the search, a search that requires spiritual pondering, evidenced by their conclusion. In addition, true atheism expresses a negative despair, rather than a fulfillment of life or joy. If God’s nonexistence were true, shouldn’t it satiate our nature rather than leaving us feeling depressed? If we are merely animals, shouldn’t we be content with food, security, and a nap? Why even address the question at all? And yet we are not content with the same things as our pets and we all experience this question in our hearts.

On the other hand, those who seemingly ignore the search due to idling in the superficial pleasures of the world, also reveal something of the human person’s natural inclination toward God. If a child shirked healthy food and exercise in favor of foods that pleasure the palette and sedentary entertainment, his body’s natural development would be harmed, evidenced by less development than normal and increased sickness. Similarly, those who neglect the healthy development of the soul suffer similar emotional and spiritual deformation, which evidences the reality of the soul and its needs.

The birth of Christ fulfilled the desire of all humankind. God created us with the capacity for love, destined for eternal life, and union with the divine. The Jews tasted this through His revelation in the Old Covenant and His many signs and miracles. The Gentiles also sensed this through their observations of creation and philosophy. As a result, the Jewish shepherds learned of Christ’s birth by the appearance of angels, and the magi from the East learned of Him through sighting a new star. Although the journey may begin in different places and a person may traverse by different means, nevertheless, all converge on Christ.

In addition to the universal search for God, humankind evidences a universal desire for redemption. Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman noted that we sense the eternal law in our conscience, as well as the pang of guilt for transgressing that law so many times and the feeling of helplessness to be able to perfect ourselves. For instance, we look to psychology, television, news, science, and nutrition, to discover the explanation as to why we do what we know we should not do. After finding an explanation we seek the cure – again through self-help guides or better diet. And yet we continue to feel guilt and unrest. We continue in behaviors we know are self-destructive and negative. We need a savior.

False gods and false prophets have always offered easy cures in exchange for their own personal gain, but those quick fixes always came up short. Similar to marketing scams, they do more to manipulate the person’s wound rather than heal it.

Christ operates differently. He received no personal gain, but instead He came poor and died poor. He lived a hidden life for thirty years and avoided vainglory by never staying too long in one place during His public ministry and often commanding those He healed to tell no one. Rather than lengthen His life, it was shortened. He proved on the Cross that He did not come to take from us, but to give selflessly and unconditionally to us.

“For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

Jesus is the Savior we yearn for and there is no gimmick. He did not come to manipulate; He did not offer false hopes or promises. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, who offers pure, loving, relationship. He alone satiates our search and nourishes our development. The magi searched for God and found Him. Jesus promises us as well, that all who seek Him shall find Him. Hopefully we, like the Magi, can have the courage to venture out in search of the Lord. Contemplating this mystery, Blessed Archbishop Fulton Sheen observed “No one who ever meets Christ with a good will returns the same way he came”.

Consider:

  • Reflect on your journey to God. What “pointed” you toward Him, like the star did for the Magi?
  • Has your search for God grown lax at times? How did your spiritual life atrophy afterward?
  • How might you reinvigorate your search for God? Could you increase your search through prayer, reading of Scripture, studying the faith, or fellowship with friends of faith?
  • Consider the gift of our savior. How has Christ freed and healed you? What do you need Him to free you from, or heal you of today?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way to reinvigorate your search for God
    • Ideas: Read a chapter of a Gospel each day; Read a book about Christ by an inspiring author, make time to visit with a Christian friend about the Lord, join a Bible study, read the lives of the saints and learn from their pursuit of Christ, talk with your family about Christ…

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Joseph’s Steady Leadership When Faced With “It’s Complicated”

4th Sunday of Advent

Take Time For Him Book cover

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

Gospel of Matthew 1:18-24

Meditation Reflection:

Immanuel: God-with-us! We no longer must suffer alone, weak and afraid. The Lord has come and brought with Him the comfort, strength, and peace of His holy presence dwelling in our souls and working in the world with His transforming grace.

We experience something of this peace and strength in family life. Being with our parents makes us feel secure HolyFamilybyGutierrez_wikipediaand protected. Being with our children brings us joy and comfort. The Holy Family experienced this at a supernatural level through Christ and have extended an invitation into their family as spiritual sons and daughters. Jesus’ saving work began with the cooperation of Mary and Joseph. Mary’s fiat, her “yes”, made the Incarnation possible and therefore the redemption of all mankind. Joseph’s fiat, his “yes”, made the Holy Family possible.

Joseph acted on faith when He accepted the role of earthly father over Jesus despite the surprising and shocking form in which He was conceived. His decision to take Jesus and Mary into his home and make them His own family was the fruit of God’s grace in concert with his virtues. This required serious discernment and prayer, both of which he models for all Christians.

Joseph was a just, or righteous man. This does not mean he was without sin whatsoever, but it did mean he consistently strove for virtue, followed the Mosaic Law, and lived his faith. Early Christian writings not included in the Bible, such as the Protoevangelium of James, indicate that Mary’s parents consecrated her to God and so she would serve God in the temple and take a vow of virginity. As a result, she grew up in the Temple from the age of 3 until she was of marrying age. It was a Jewish practice that at that point she would be entrusted to the care of a guardian who would protect her and would respect her vow of virginity by taking a vow of celibacy himself. Oftentimes this would be a man who was older and widowed. Some think this explains why Joseph had died by the time of Jesus’ public ministry. According to the Protoevangelium of James, from among the men who wished to take Mary as their wife, Joseph was chosen as Mary’s husband by a miraculous sign. After such a holy betrothal, imagine his surprise, confusion, and disillusionment, when he learned she was pregnant before they lived together in marriage. His response to the situation is so admirable, strong, and level- headed. He’s a model for anyone who must make difficult decisions in complicated and emotional situations.

Let’s examine what he did. Joseph made a prudent decision, based on who he was and his faith. Purity and honor being important virtues, he decided he could not take her into his home as his wife. (At the time, betrothal was a solemn contract with the weight of marriage but preceded living together as husband and wife). At the same time, he was a compassionate and merciful man. Matthew tells us Joseph was “unwilling” to expose her to shame. I imagine he had plenty of men and women urging him to exact the full measure of the Jewish law against her, to publicly humiliate her, and to get sweet revenge for embarrassing him. Joseph would not. He was unwilling. Joseph made an intentional decision to do the right thing, quietly. In the RSV translation, it says he “resolved to send her away quietly.” To be resolved indicates a decision made with prudence, strength of will, and determination, intentionally detached from pettiness and emotion.

Joseph focused on how to thoughtfully and prayerfully do the next right thing. Because of this, God guided his discernment. The RSV translation says, “But as he considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him”. The word “considered” is important. The spiritual life is ultimately one of love, fidelity, and receptivity. We are followers of God, not leaders of God. God guided Joseph’s considerations for his family, just as God guides every father who will invite the Lord into his discernment. When God spoke, Joseph faithfully and lovingly followed through with God’s will.

Immanuel: God-with-us. How might we as mothers and fathers invite God to be with us in our families and our decision-making? How might we say yes to the Father and welcome His Son? How might we accept the family that God has entrusted to us, rather than the one we imagine for ourselves? God works in surprising and shocking ways. This Advent, taking a moment to consider who we are and what we believe, may St. Joseph pray for us to have the kind of steady and faith-filled approach to life’s complications that he did.

Consider:

  • Joseph’s yes made it possible for Jesus to have a family. Consider what a gift it was for him to grow up with Mary as His mom and Joseph as His foster-father.
  • Consider Joseph’s prayerful leadership. How might you imitate St. Joseph’s discernment in your own life?
  • Do you take time to “consider” things and “resolve” to follow through?
    • What things, habits, or people undermine that, urging you to react immediately and emotionally?
    • What things, habits, or people could help you develop deeper consideration and stronger resolve?
  • Ask Joseph to lead you and your family, as He did for Jesus and Mary. Pray for his protection, guidance, and love.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Teresa of Avila and numerous other saints recommend devotion to St. Joseph and credit his powerful intercession for answers to their prayers. I too can attest to this from my own life. This week ask St. Joseph to pray for you and for your family.
  • Do you know someone who is like St. Joseph? Spend more time with that person and learn from his example. Take him to coffee and ask him lots of questions and take his advice.
  • Surrender a complicated decision to the Lord in quiet prayer. Consider who you are, what our Christian faith says about the situation, and resolve to do the next right thing with the help of the Holy Spirit.

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The Man Who Changed the World, And Can Change Me

3rd Sunday of Advent

Take Time For Him Book cover

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

Gospel of Matthew 11:2-11

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus is the Christ for all mankind, and His coming marks the very climax and axis of history; everything prior had been preparing for this moment, and everything after would be altered – transformed by His liberating grace. Blessed Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his book Life of Christ, observed:

“What separates Christ from all men is that first he was expected…A second distinguishing fact is that once he appeared, he struck history with such impact that he split it in two, dividing it into two periods: one before his coming, the other after it. Buddha did not do this, nor any of the great Indian philosophers.   Even those who deny God must date their attacks upon Him, A.D. so and so, or so many years after His coming.”

Jesus was expected. In addition to the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament (all which Jesus fulfilled, a statistical near impossibility), Archbishop Sheen further asserts that prophecies pointing to Christ can also be discerned from the Romans, Greeks, and even the Chinese. Sheen explains the logic behind this universal prescience:

Automobile manufacturers tell their customers when to expect a new model. If God sent anyone from Himself, or if He came Himself with a vitally important message for all men, it would seem reasonable that He would first let men know when His messenger was coming, where He would be born, where He would live, the doctrine He would teach…

In consequence, when John the Baptist sent his followers to inquire of Jesus as to whether He was the awaited Messiah, Jesus responded by citing His works, which even at the beginning of His public ministry, already fulfilled a host of long-awaited prophecies.

John the Baptist is considered the last of the Old Testament prophets. “Testament” means “Covenant” and John represents the fullness of God’s covenant with Israel, at its height and its end. This end, however, was not an eradication but rather a new beginning. Jesus made this clear when He said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). John’s mission to prepare the way for the messiah also prepared the way for the New Covenant, one which fulfills and exceeds the Old to such an extent that the “least in the kingdom of heaven” will exceed the “greatest” in the old.

Up to this point, since the Fall of Adam and Eve, all of humanity suffered under the weight of sin, guilt, discord, injustice, flight from God, failure, and death. God’s preparation took time and patience to ready the human heart to receive His incarnate Son. God began small but personal. He began by initiating a relationship with one man, Abraham, and his family. Through that relationship, God revealed key aspects of His character – His truthfulness, fidelity, power, and love. Later, God formed Abraham’s descendants into a nation when He freed them from slavery in Egypt to be a free people, gave them a mighty prophet and leader – Moses, Laws to govern them – written by the finger of God, and the promised land where they could nurture their hope for a new garden of paradise. Finally, God allowed them to become a formal kingdom and promised a man from the line of king David would always be on their throne. Nevertheless, even the chosen people of God had to struggle along without the aid of supernatural grace. They knew the law and yet failed to follow it. They knew where to find happiness yet chased after futile and false pleasures. Their unified kingdom split and eventually their sin caused them to be conquered and scattered by foreign invaders.

With the incarnation of Christ, the painful wait for a redeemer had finally come to an end. The angels could sing at His birth,

Glory to God in the highest,

     and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

As Isaiah prophesied:

The people who walked in darkness

     have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1),

and Jesus proclaimed of Himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). With the advent of Christ came the advent of grace and the possibility of transformation, strengthening, and healing. Now every person can confidently face the trials of life. St. Paul boldly testifies from his own experience, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, RSV).

Being the light of the world is no small thing. We rely on it more than we realize. For example, at my son’s basketball tournament one day, the lights in the entire complex went out. At first the deafening noise became instantly silenced as we all felt startled. Within seconds however, iPhone flashlights lit up the gymnasium and kids began laughing, chatting, and shooting hoops while they waited. I grew up in a time before iPhone flashlights, when sudden darkness meant an indeterminate amount of time searching for a source of light, hoping someone had a lighter or flashlight stored somewhere. Whereas I felt a bit unnerved when the gymnasium went dark, the kids weren’t all that worried because their fears were instantly assuaged. Kids today experience a blessed security by always having a light source on them and around them constantly. I thought of the gift of Christ’s light within us, which even though it’s often taken for granted, it still provides an underlying sense of peace and security as it permeates our culture and our consciousness. Prior to Christ, like prior to the iPhone, that light was more difficult to come by and less stable.

We are beyond blessed to be living “in the year of the Lord” (Anno Domini, or A.D.). We live in an age of grace where Christ has made possible the forgiveness of our sins, peace in our souls, and the sight of God Himself, made visible in His Son.

Christ has come, and it has changed everything. This is why belief in Christ, as the Son of God made man, our Redeemer, has endured for over 2,000 years and persuaded peoples over the entire earth in every culture. Jesus changes us and we are witnesses to it.

Consider:

  • How has Jesus changed your life? In what way(s) are you different now than before?
  • Consider the impact Christ has had on the world. Reflect on His power to transform hearts, minds, and lives in every place and in every
  • Reflect on Christ being the Light of the World. Consider how light provides sight, warmth, peace, and protection.
  • Jesus, the Word of God through Whom all things were made, is also man. He is related to all of us as our brother.
  • Consider how the most important moment in history hinged on the “yes” of Mary.
  • Consider the things God has done through you because of your “yes” to Him.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, share the gift of Christ’s light with another person. It can be through word or deed. (remember the works of mercy)
  • Pray and work for the conversion of someone you know. Pray for Christ to enter his or her life and to change it

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