Keeping Christ in Christmas, and John the Baptist in Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent

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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 3:1-12

Meditation Reflection:

 The image of John the Baptist, dressed in camel hair and eating locusts, preaching the message of repentance and authentic sorrow for sins, provides a stark contrast to the marketing images flooding us of jolly Santas, piles of presents, and delicious foods. I can understand why marketers find Santa and reindeer more appealing for sales than a desert ascetic speaking about sin, but the ubiquitous advertising easily obscures the serious spiritual work we are meant to do. People also feel ever more pressure to prepare for Christmas by finding the perfect gifts within the time constraints of frantic schedules and limited budgets. Nevertheless, the Gospel writers remind us that preparation for Christmas is ultimately preparation for the Incarnation of God our Savior. He brings the gift of heaven, but we must prepare ourselves to receive that gift through repentance.

The push to start Christmas sales has lamentably encroached on Thanksgiving and even cast a shadow over Halloween.  Even worse, it has completely usurped Advent in our culture, making it seem nearly impossible in the four weeks leading up to Christmas to make time for introspection, increased prayer, and sacrifice. On the flip side, by the time Catholics celebrate Christmas on the Eve of Christmas day and for the two weeks following it, the rest of the culture has already moved on and we feel we are celebrating alone.

So how can we balance living in the culture that we do, and still honor the important process of conversion Advent is meant to procure? We can no longer wait to buy a Christmas tree until December 23rd because there won’t be any left. We can’t leave them up for the duration of the Liturgical Christmas season because the tree will be a fire hazard at that point, plus we will have missed our road-side tree pick up provided by our garbage companies. Each person must determine how to be “in the world but not of the world” (cf. 1 John 2) in their own situation. For myself, I have surrendered the Christmas tree battle and get one the weekend after Thanksgiving. I love Christmas trees, and if I’m going to go to all the work of decorating it with the kids, I want it to last as long as possible! I also must admit that I look forward to the Hallmark Christmas movies that start up on Thanksgiving and, if possible, make a weekend of it during Advent with my mother and my daughter. Black Friday deals make Christmas gifts more affordable although I am too exhausted on Cyber Mondays to get online after work. However, I reserve some Christmas feasting for the real Christmas season. I play Christmas music all the way to the Epiphany even though secular stations have returned to their normal broadcasting. I keep my Christmas decorations out (except for the live tree). In my classroom at school I leave Christmas lights up in my room until Lent, reminding the kids that Jesus is the Light of the World.

Amidst the early holiday cheer and parties however, spiritual sacrifice, examination of conscience, and remorse for sins is harder to carve time for, and yet the most important. When the kids were little, I would do Bible crafts and the kids had fun placing a felt ornament on our Jesse tree corresponding to a daily Scripture passage we would read. Now that my kids are older, it’s harder to find a time we are all home to pray together. As a busy mom, I appreciate that the Church offers practical advice regarding spiritual preparation during Advent, and oftentimes opportunities organized by the parish to help us. Scripturally, spiritual preparation consists of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Parishes often offer Advent reflections, retreats, and youth ministry events to facilitate more introspective prayer during this time. I would recommend adding one of these events to your calendar just as you would any Christmas party invitation.

Fasting during advent is especially difficult, with so many Christmas parties and cookie exchanges taking place, but consider fasting from something simple and achievable, so that even during the celebration, you remain connected to Christ and honor the preparation for His coming that He deserves. I wouldn’t suggest giving up sweets altogether, but maybe you set a limit for yourself or give up something else that’s meaningful to you, especially something you tend to overindulge in. Maybe you decide you will only have one adult beverage at the Christmas party or one desert, or you resolve to bite your tongue when tempted to gossip about a coworker of family member.

Almsgiving may be the one aspect of Advent that lingers in our culture as generosity during the Christmas season seems to be a sentiment that still resonates in people’s hearts. Parishes, schools, offices, and neighborhoods band together for charitable causes and provide opportunities for us to give. We can participate with a spirit of giving to Christ who says, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40). Let’s not forget that Christmas also provides less visible opportunities for giving, like keeping our eyes open for family members, neighbors, or colleagues who are lonely and inviting them to our homes.

Fasting and almsgiving can further be applied in our interactions with one another. Christmas get-togethers bring out the best and the worst in people. The heightened social contact creates situations for enjoyable fellowship but also tense discord. Here we can practice the spiritual works of mercy. We can fast from gossip and give encouragement, fast from pettiness and bear wrongs patiently, fast from competitiveness and offer warmth. When we encounter someone, we find annoying, frustrating, or difficult to be around, we can reflect on the compassion of the Lord, who became man, for love of that same person. When we are moved by the generosity and love of others towards ourselves, we can praise Christ as we tangibly experience His love in our own lives.

Advent has become an uphill battle, but the view from the top makes climbing it worth all the effort it took to get there. This Advent I hope you can find a way to prepare your heart and your life for Christ a little more in some small way. I hope you experience the peace from repenting of sin to receive His generous healing. Let’s demonstrate our authentic gratitude for his grace through prayer and acts of love. Let’s try to keep Christ in Christmas, and John the Baptist in Advent.

Consider:

  • “Emmanuel” means God-with-us. Consider the gift of the Incarnation, that God became man, and dwelt among
  • How has your heart and life opened to Christ over the years? How has He dwelt more and more in your life?
  • Are there any areas of your life from which you keep Christ closed off? Are there any places, people, or activities you wouldn’t feel comfortable having Christ present?
  • Reflect on the people you will encounter this season. Consider them from Christ’s point of view. How might you be the hands and heart of Christ to them in your interactions?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way this Advent to pray, fast, and
  • Put a church sponsored Advent or Christmas event on your calendar, then attend
  • Fast from gossip and critical
  • Intentionally give to Christ, above your regular Choose a charity or a particular person and be generous to Jesus by being generous to them.

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Looking For a Savior

by Angela M. Jendro

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri

Gospel of Luke 21:5-19 (click here for the readings)

Meditation Reflection:

Oftentimes we imagine being a Christian means merely letting Jesus smooth out the rough edges of our lives to make it happier and more beautiful. The Jews made this mistake by imagining that in fulfilling the law and the prophets, the Messiah would merely restore the Davidic Kingdom to its former earthly glory. To be fair, the Incarnation of the Son of God liberated us at an unimaginable level. God’s merciful love exceeds anything we have experienced or could expect. He also exceeds all expectations of philosophy and the wisdom of the Greeks. The Jews experienced a taste of God’s powerful action and the Greeks touched on the heights of God’s wisdom. Jesus, the power and wisdom of God, makes both of these accessible to all and redirects our efforts toward an everlasting destination.

Christ counsels us to view this life as a pilgrimage and a battle. We develop our faith, hope, and love, on earth which will bring a deep sense of joy but will never create an earthly utopia. If we hope to find fullness here we will be sorely disappointed. Just look at the reactions of people to political news. Although presidents and congressmen have a great deal of power, they are not omnipotent. Moreover, their policies certainly affect our daily lives, but the transformation of hearts and the development of culture is something only Christ can do through His grace and His followers. All leaders have significant flaws and though they may do some measure of good, none can be our savior. No election can ever be the beginning of building a utopia or the end of the world, depending on your perspective. Our reaction ought to be proportionate – working diligently for the common good within our democratic system but relying on Christ alone for the salvation of souls and the spiritual elevation of our country. We can find relative happiness here, but for our joys to be lasting we need to direct them toward their true end – the heavenly kingdom. Besides, the most significant work is often done by everyday individuals serving those around them with Christian love, it just doesn’t get the same news press.

Christ promises to equip us for both the physical and the mental battle. As long as we live in the tension of sin and its effects, we will have to struggle against ourselves and others who oppose Christ’s kingdom, even family and friends. Nevertheless, Jesus, the Wisdom of God, provides the supernatural insights to answer the world’s mistaken propaganda or the pressures applied by those we care about. He also strengthens His disciples with supernatural perseverance to endure the physical suffering or possible martyrdom inflicted by worldly combatants.

As Catholics, we enjoy beautiful churches that express the glory of God. Rightly so, we adorn them with gorgeous art, precious metals, and the finest materials. We do this as an act of worship, as demonstrating concretely to ourselves and the world the value of God and of His sacrificial love. Christian churches are an icon, a sign pointing to a heavenly kingdom much more enduring. The magnificence of the sight of God will make all earthly analogies disappear. We ought to enjoy earthly icons of beauty, goodness, and truth in churches, nature, and most importantly in persons. At the same time, we need to daily recall to where they point and adjust our expectations and priorities accordingly.  We should still aim for greatness, justice, and perfection, but remember that it will come to fulfillment in the eternal kingdom where Christ reigns victorious.

Consider:

  • At the end of your life, what do you hope will endure from it afterward? Consider the lives you have and might still change, the love with which you imbue the world, the truths you fought to defend, the family relationships you have built.
  • Imagine your life from the perspective of entering heaven. Though all is certainly a grace, what would you be proud of? What would you regret? How might you live each day with more eternal purpose and significance?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day by surrendering it to the Lord. Look for three opportunities each day to build the kingdom of God – by acts of mercy, service, defending truth, helping someone heal or find justice, sharing the good news of Christ, offering up personal disappointments or suffering as a sacrifice… At the end of the day write down the things that built the kingdom of God. Reflect on any missed opportunities and pray for the grace to act on them tomorrow.

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~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019 updated from Angela Lambert Jendro © 2016

Finding Perspective

by Angela M. Jendro
Fra_Angelico_Last_Judgment

Fra Angelico “The Last Judgment” (detail: Paradise)

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 20:27-38

Meditation Reflection:

As Christians, we profess a belief in life eternal with Christ in Heaven, yet we can sometimes operate in our daily lives forgetful of this mystery. Like the Sadducees we ask Christ silly questions about heaven. When we attach ourselves too much to earthly life, we fall into the trap of imagining heaven as merely an extension of the present but with a few more perks.

Jesus reminds us of the incomparable difference between our journey to God here, and union with God there. As St. Paul says: “But, as it is written,

     ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

     Nor the heart of man conceived,

     What God has prepared for those who love him,’” (I Corinthians 2:9 RSV).

Even the good things we experience here are merely a prelude to heaven. Here we experience a taste, there we will enjoy the feast.

Jesus proposes to the Sadducees that contemplating the life of the angels can provide some insight into this mystery. Like humans, angels are persons with rational intellects, free will, and the ability to love. Unlike humans they do not have bodies, are neither male nor female, and do not procreate. Each angel was individually created by God and is completely unique, so much so that some have compared it to being like different species from one another. Because they live in eternity, their choices are permanent. When God created them they each had the choice to either accept or reject God’s will for their life and His mission for them. Some said yes to God’s will and others rejected it. Those who rejected God’s will we call the fallen angels or demons. Human persons have more than one moment to choose or reject God, but that space of time does have limits. For us it ends when we die; at which moment our choice becomes permanent.

Consequently, the space of time in which we live on earth really is only a preparation for eternal life. During this short period, we either choose to grow our love for God or develop a disdain for Him. Only during our earthly lifespan can we develop and increase our capacity for God. At the moment of death the opportunity for change ends.

In addition, it’s our chance to aid others in their openness to heaven, even in its most basic form – the beginning of life itself. Whereas God created all of the angels at once, He creates human persons over a course of time and includes them in His work. As a result, openness to having children means openness to God’s creation of persons who will live eternally! For those called to spiritual motherhood or fatherhood, they contribute to this mystery as they minister to the birth and development of the child’s love for God which is also necessary for true life.

The Sadducees’ challenge to Christ with the hypothetical situation of a woman married seven times, merely exposed their ignorance of God. On earth marriage develops our capacity for love, self-gift, and sacrifice. It brings new life into the world as well as caring for the development of each family member. Marriage itself is not needed in heaven because no new life will be born there. It is the eternal life of those who already exist. Moreover, love will be perfected as we enjoy the perfect love of God and one another. The relationship of love experienced in marriage will remain a relationship of love in heaven. However, the title of husband or wife will be eclipsed by the fullness of the title son or daughter of God and sister and brother in Christ.

As the liturgical year comes to a close (Advent marks the beginning of the “New Year” in the Church), we contemplate the end times and remember that this experience of earthly life will eventually come to an end. We all get bogged down in our daily routine and anxious over matters that, if we considered our heavenly destination, shouldn’t really weigh us down. Moreover, we could make better use of our limited time if we consider things from an eternal perspective. This life is a preparation and an opportunity to participate in God’s work of spreading His kingdom. The more souls that come to accept His will and love on earth, the more that will join the wedding feast of love in Heaven for eternity.

Consider:

  • How does a heavenly perspective change your earthly perspective?
  • When feeling discouraged, remember that this life is a journey not the destination. Endless, secure happiness cannot be found here but the work to attain it in heaven can.
  • Through prayer, identify one area where you struggle to accept God’s will over your own.
  • Each angel has a mission from God. You also have a mission. How is God calling you to serve?
  • Consider first God’s vocational calling:
    • Is it to work for the salvation of your spouse through love and sacrifice and to possibly grow the human family by being open to life and to raising children in knowledge and love of the Lord?
    • Is it to administer the sacraments as a priest to bring eternal life to spiritual children?
    • Is it to spend your life in prayer and sacrifice for souls as a religious sister or brother?
    • Is it to devote your time and energy to God in a unique way as a single person, ready to do His will at every moment?
  • Consider next God’s occupational calling: How do you grow your love for God and develop it in others through your work?
    • Consider your special apostolate. Does God include you in His work of physical or emotional healing, protecting, providing, instruction of souls, encouragement, etc.?
    • How can you incorporate a heavenly perspective into your daily work? How do your daily activities and duties provide opportunities to detach from selfishness and develop greater love and compassion? How might you help others to heaven through your work?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day by writing down the tasks, challenges, and opportunities you anticipate that day. Next to each, write one way it can be directed toward helping yourself and others to heaven. For example, will it grow a virtue or minimize a vice if tackled with the help of grace? Is it an opportunity to help others journey to God – either by giving them physical life, sustaining their life, healing, protecting, or developing an aspect of their soul?
  • Identify where your will is most at odds with God’s and do one thing each day to offset it. It could be a refusal or fear to do something God asks of you or an unwillingness to let go of something and trust God in the situation.
  • Pray the Serenity Prayer or the Suscipe of St. Ignatius each day.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert Jendro © 2016 and edited © 2019

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Gratitude for Our Reason to Hope

tHANKS TO jESUS.JPG

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:11-19 NAB

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Meditation Reflection:

On His way to Jerusalem, where He would be rejected and killed for our sins, Jesus encountered ten lepers. Since leprosy is highly contagious those who suffered with its physical harms additionally suffered from social isolation and rejection as well, banished to stay separate from healthy people. When the lepers saw Jesus they called out because they could not approach in their condition. Jesus’ instructions to show themselves to the priests required them to make an act of faith and hope. Faith believes God’s words and hope acts upon those promises before necessarily seeing them. At that time, if someone believed they had been healed from leprosy, they had to show themselves to the priests for examination before being cleared to reenter the community. The lepers did not question Jesus’ command but did as He instructed before they had been healed. They acted with hope based on belief in Jesus and His words. As they walked in hope, they were cured.

The virtues of faith and hope direct one toward the highest of all virtues – charity. Charity is the love of God above all things and love of neighbor out of love for God. Only one leper demonstrated this higher virtue. Jesus, who knows the hearts of all men, indicated that the man who returned had a deeper and more fruitful faith than the other nine. Why? He returned to Jesus to say thank you.

Consider how many of us quickly forget God’s miraculous work in our lives shortly after the crisis is over. We fall back into our regular routines and grow complacent or even complain about mundane things. Even worse, when the next crisis upsets our lives, we sometimes forget God’s power and fall to discouragement and negativity. How can we avoid this common mistake?

A simple thank you and a disposition of gratitude express, as well as develop, the essential virtues of the spiritual life. Every day, and many times throughout the day, we have to choose our attitude. We regularly experience the temptation to succumb to negativity, skepticism, disgust, and even despair. However, with faith in Christ’s promise and hope in His transformative love, we can work through this crisis with the aid of the Holy Spirit and supernatural grace.

If everything depended on us alone, then discouragement and despair would be a sensible response. Take for example the Gospel passage. The lepers would have considered their future to consist merely of painful physical deterioration and utter loneliness. Their lives took a completely new trajectory when they encountered Christ. This surprising, unexpected event, liberated them their illness and gave them new hope for their future.

Propping up hope that man can save himself, then deepening discouragement at the realization that we can’t, are two common ways the devil tries to lead us away from the Lord. We can benefit from doing a daily attitude check and remembering that when we encounter Christ, surprising, unexpected things can happen and change our lives and our world.

A favorite author of mine and Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, wrote an essay entitled “The Six Ages of the Church”which gives me a hopeful perspective for our current situation as a Church. In this essay he proposed that throughout the course of its 2000 year history, the Church has (and continues) to experience a cycle of three stages: crisis, response, and flourishing. With each challenge the Church experiences setbacks and loss. In response, new apostolates arise and face the challenge resulting in a time of flourishing and achievement. The next crisis sets the Church back again but new responses emerge again as well, and so on and so forth.

Viewing history from this perch inspires hope as we consider every age poses its challenges and Christians have felt the same confusion, disillusionment, and fear that we do. Yet, in every age the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of God’s people and inspired them with new ways to meet those challenges, adapt, and overcome.

This cycle applies to our individual lives as well. We will encounter challenges that leave us feeling confused and helpless. Nevertheless, if we call out to Jesus and walk forward in faith and hope, He will transform our lives and we will indeed flourish. During times of peace, the challenge is to remain grateful and to return to the Lord, remembering that He is the source of our health. We are always dependent on Him. During times of crisis, we need to remember God’s power to transform, possibly even through us. Thanksgiving, counting our blessings, and confidently surrendering to the Lord should be our daily response. No matter what our crisis – individually, locally, or nationally – there are always things for which to be grateful and always hope for renewal. As St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5: 18 In all circumstances, give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Consider:

  • Reflect back on times that God helped you through a difficulty. Consider the feelings you experienced beforehand and the joy afterward.
  • Consider how your faith, hope, and charity have grown over the years. How have your encounters with Christ in your daily life deepened your convictions?
  • When do you feel discouraged, pessimistic, and negative? What areas of your life are particularly vulnerable to this attitude? How might you change your perspective? What might you be overlooking or taking for granted in the situation? How might you make a positive difference in it?
  • If you have children, consider what kind of formation they will need to be Christian leaders in our present culture. What virtues could you help them develop? What persons or saints could you point them to for inspiration? How might you nurture and develop their faith and their conscience? How can you teach by example in your own life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a gratitude list. Each day reflect and thank God for three things from that day.
  • Do one thing this week to make a positive contribution or change where you are usually negative.
    • (examples: bring a treat for everyone to a meeting you would rather avoid and choose to smile; pray for our leaders each day this week; tell someone thank you each day for something; if you don’t like the music at church, volunteer your musical talents; if you don’t like what your spouse cooks for dinner, cook something yourself for everyone; if you keep having negative encounters with your child, proactively plan an activity or time together that will be positive; etc.)
  • Reduce discouraging messages this week (either via media or negative friends), and increase encouraging messages (read Scripture, listen to uplifting music or inspiring biographies).

 

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016 and edited © 2019

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Christ in the Distressing Disguise of the Poor at our Doorstep

by Angela Jendro

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 16:19-31 NAB

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named  lazarusLazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Meditation Reflection:

Pope St. John Paul II often said that self-fulfillment and happiness can only be found in self-gift. This paradoxical truth flies in the face of our cultural idolization of individualism summarized in mottos such as “looking out for number 1” or “YOLO – you only live once.” We often ignore the needs of those right in front of us. Like Lazarus who lay at the rich man’s doorstep, we often ignore family members who live within our own home or are only a phone call away.

In truth, we all need community for some things, and individualism can even undermine the needs of the individual. The rich man thought Lazarus was insignificant, but Lazarus had a role in his long term prosperity. I came across an interesting connection in an article by Pierre Manent in First Things magazine (“Repurposing Europe” April, 2016). Manent reflected on the current state of political life in France from which any of us who live in Western culture could learn. He observed that the historic move from Christendom to Nationalism has now been superseded by a move from Nationalism to Individualism. Moreover, in a secular culture, the problem has been compounded by a lack of belief/reliance on divine providence. In consequence, he asserted, France struggles with “a growing incapacity to propose goals for common action.” Because of the “great withdrawal of loyalty from the community,” a society united merely by individual rights lacks the “capacity to gather and direct our powers, to give our common life form and force.”

Manent’s observations of his own French history has some application to the American experience as well. Hyper-individualism, secularism, and a world-view that lacks an eternal horizon creates its own set of problems. There are problems that are too big for us as individuals and require a unified effort which is only possible with a common view of the good and willingness to sacrifice for it. There are also problems that are too big for us as a nation and can only be approached with a confidence in divine providence and the aid of a God who “protects the resident alien, comes to the aid of the orphan and the widow, but thwarts the way of the wicked” (Psalm 146:9).

Christ’s words exhort us in a special way to look beyond ourselves and to discover that our own happiness requires concern for the well-being of others. Jesus did not scold the rich man for fine dinners, He scolded him for ignoring Lazarus – who was sitting on his doorstep – while eating that dinner. The cold-heartedness and lack of compassion for the suffering of another person fails to fit us for heaven – a place of perfect love and communion with God and all the saints.

Mother Teresa, famous for her compassion for the poor and recently canonized, advised us all to serve the poor in our own families and to comfort those in our own life who suffer spiritually, emotionally, or physically.  She found Christ in “the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.” Sometimes we might hesitate to look too closely because it can be quite distressing. We’d rather accept the fake smile and the rote response “I’m fine” than dig deeper. St. Mother Teresa acknowledges, “It is easy to love the people far away.  It is not always easy to love those close to us.  Bring love into your home, for this is where our love for each other must start.” I am challenged by this often as a teacher and a mother. However, I pray for the grace to “cast out into the deep” (Luke 5:4), encouraged and convicted by Christ’s words that “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:40).

We grow our capacity to love on earth. People often complain about how mean it is that God would “send someone to Hell.” In reality, individuals send themselves there. God has made hell out of mercy that we might have the freedom to choose Him or reject Him, to choose Love or to reject Love. We can see a glimpse of this in the differing experiences of people at the same event. Sacrificing time to serve the needs of another will either bring you joy or pain depending on your disposition. For example, with my first child, I had difficulty adjusting at first to the constant needs which thwarted at every moment whatever I wanted to do at the time (even doing the dishes!). At one point I felt like I could literally feel the fires of purgatory burning away my self-will as I stopped what I was doing to tend to his interrupting need. The experience made me realize just how attached I actually was to my own desires and plans. Thankfully, God’s grace and love for my children helped me to grow and detach. I still struggle with impatience sometimes but I have a lot more peace now and enjoy my new priorities. I have learned by experience that I was trading something less valuable for something much more valuable. Rather than losing an opportunity I had been given the greatest opportunity:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” Matthew 16:24-27

 

Let us continue to renew our efforts to share our joys with others and to invite them to our feast. Let’s keep practicing the works of mercy and praying for God to open our eyes to the needs of those around us. I like to ask Mary’s intercession for this particular request because she especially showed compassion and insight toward the needs of others during her life (consider the Wedding Feast at Cana). Comforting the sorrowful, counseling the doubtful, and feeding the hungry can be met in a simple family meal together. Kids soak up stability and comfort around the kitchen counter and something as simple as dinner or making banana bread can provide peace for their souls.

We accept God or reject God here, in this life and You Only Live Once. I’ll close with this story of St. Martin of Tours surprising encounter with the Lord and his example of the right choice:

Even in the military Martin attempted to live the life of a monk. Though he was entitled to a servant because he was an officer, he insisted on switching roles with his servant, cleaning the servant’s boots instead of the other way around!

It was on this garrison duty at Amiens that the event took place that has been portrayed in art throughout the ages. On a bitterly cold winter day, the young tribune Martin rode through the gates, probably dressed in the regalia of his unit — gleaming, flexible armor, ridged helmet, and a beautiful white cloak whose upper section was lined with lambswool. As he approached the gates he saw a beggar, with clothes so ragged that he was practically naked. The beggar must have been shaking and blue from the cold but no one reached out to help him. Martin, overcome with compassion, took off his mantle. In one quick stroke he slashed the lovely mantle in two with his sword, handed half to the freezing man and wrapped the remainder on his own shoulders. Many in the crowd thought this was so ridiculous a sight that they laughed and jeered but some realized that they were seeing Christian goodness. That night Martin dreamed that he saw Jesus wearing the half mantle he had given the beggar. Jesus said to the angels and saints that surrounded him, “See! this is the mantle that Martin, yet a catechumen, gave me.” When he woke, it was the “yet a catechumen” that spurred Martin on and he went immediately to be baptized. He was eighteen years old.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=81)

Consider:

  • Why do the poor “distress” us? What do we worry will happen if we reach out?
  • Who are the poor at your doorstep? Children with many needs, a relative or colleague going through a difficult time, someone struggling with sorrow or mental illness, someone dealing with a chronic illness, a new employee or colleague who is overwhelmed and needing a little mentoring or a word of encouragement…
  • When serving others, what is most difficult for you to give up?
  • When have you experienced that “in giving you received”? Have you found that when you took a leap of faith and made a gift of self through sacrifice you actually found fulfillment and joy?
  • We all have different gifts to put at the service of the Lord. Consider and pray about what your gifts are and how you might use them more. (Some ideas: encouraging, teaching, healing, serving, financial giving, leadership, administrating, prayer and fasting, offering up suffering, understanding, hospitality…)

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a list of all the people in your life and one need for each. Every day this week meet a need of at least one or two people on that list.
  • Read about the life of a saint each day. They provide concrete examples for us of love in action.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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The Most Marvelous Mystery!

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Gospel of John 16:12-15 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me,because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”

Meditation Reflection:

The mystery of the Trinity transcends our comprehension and its reality cannot be rightly conceived in our imagination. At the same time, God desired that we know something of His nature and being. Christ revealed this truth during His public ministry since we could not have known it otherwise. Still, we lack understanding without supernatural help and so Jesus explains to His apostles, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” When the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles at Pentecost, He opened their eyes of faith, elevated their understanding, and fortified their courage to believe and proclaim such extraordinary truths.

The Holy Spirit continues His work today in our own hearts as well. We know from Genesis that we image God, but because of sin we struggle to know what that looks like. Through Baptism however, the Trinity comes to dwell in our very souls.   His image grows within us and begins to radiate more and more brightly in our minds and in our lives to the extent that we cooperate with His gifts.

So what is the Trinity? What did God reveal about Himself? What are we supposed to image? The Church explains it in this way:

“The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”.83 The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire…” (CCC 253)

“The divine persons are really distinct from one another. “God is one but not solitary.”86 “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.”87 They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.”88 The divine Unity is Triune.” (CCC 254)

The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another” (CCC 255)

Understand? Great! Just kidding. I can explain…kind of. First, we must accept that we cannot fully comprehend or imagine the Trinity so let go of that goal. However, it does not mean that we can know nothing of the Trinity. God revealed His Trinitarian reality and so we ought to accept and contemplate this mystery with the help of the Holy Spirit.

First, God is one. He has one divine nature. We tend to imagine it divided into three parts but this is where our imagination fails us. Each person of the Trinity is wholly God.

Secondly, God is three. Our imagination tries to reconcile this with His oneness by imagining God as having three different modes or faces but being essentially the same. Not the case. God is three distinct persons.

So how can God be one and three? In heaven you will see the face of God and something of this mystery. This incredible vision will be the source of joy so great that you will have to be supernaturally empowered to take it in without being overcome. Live a holy life so you can one day have this awesome opportunity! From Christ’s teachings we know that God’s oneness and threeness reveal that His essence is one of relationship. God is a relationship of Three Persons. I mentioned in a prior post that when God created us in His image, He created a family. A man and a woman become “one flesh” and a child is born who is both of their nature and yet distinct as well. The union of persons in life-giving love images God who is also a union of persons in life-giving love. Is it no wonder that Satan’s primary attack against God is directed at His image; thus Satan’s efforts to promote a self-centered individualism in contrast to the other-centered gift of self required for an intimate union of persons.

We cannot imagine God’s Triune nature but we can contemplate it and try to live as an image of it with the help of the Holy Spirit and the graces of the Sacraments. Baptism unites us to God and each other, the Eucharist nourishes that unity, and Confession reconciles us when we have separated ourselves through sin. The more we open ourselves to God the more we will see Him. That process begins on earth and the joy that accompanies it begins here as well. We can look forward with hope and anticipation to the day that God enables us to see more of Him in heaven and we will be free to sing endless songs of praise and love.

Consider:

  • Consider your relationship with God the Father.
    • What does it mean to be a son or daughter of God?
      • Consider your dignity as an heir of heaven where your Christ your brother reigns as king and Mary your mother reigns as queen.
      • In a family, each member is irreplaceable. You are an irreplaceable member of God’s family. You matter to God and to every member of the Christian family.
    • How does that affect the way you see yourself?
    • How does that affect the choices you make?
  • Consider your relationship with God the Son.
    • God became man so you could encounter Him directly. He shared in the human experience so He could be closer to you. Reflect on times you have encountered Christ.
    • Consider the mysteries of His life – how has He experienced similar sufferings to yours?
    • He still draws near to you today through the Eucharist and His Mystical Body the Church. Reflect on the immanence of Christ in your daily life.
  • Consider your relationship with the Holy Spirit.
    • The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see Christ and enlightens our understanding to appropriate His teachings.
    • When was a time the Holy Spirit brought comfort and peace to your soul?
    • When was a time He gave you fortitude and perseverance in your Christian walk?
    • When was a time He gave you wisdom to discern the right choice to make when faced with a difficult decision? Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your decisions today as well.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Take a moment today to appreciate God’s creation.
  • Visit Christ present in the Eucharist.
  • Pray to the Holy Spirit each day to reveal God more to you, and to transform your heart that your life might reveal God more to someone else.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2016  edited ©2019

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Open Arms of the Father…Guided meditation for the 4th Sunday of Lent

Lenten Journey pic

Excerpt from Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring

By Angela M. Jendro

Gospel of Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 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 Jesus addressed this parable: “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 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:

We often live in denial of ours sins and this can make it easy to imagine God as loving since we see ourselves entitled to His affections. However, when our hearts are really struck by the realization of a failure, when shame settles in our stomach at our weakness or self-centeredness, we can mistakenly assume God views us as a failure too and wants nothing to do with us. Jesus corrected this false view by describing God’s unconditional love in His Parable of the Prodigal Son, also known as the Parable of the Merciful Father.

In this parable, the father had freely given his sons everything he could – life, love, nurturing their growth, and even inheritance of his estate. The first son responded with obedience, loyalty, and service. The second son responded with ingratitude, an entitlement attitude, and complacency. When he arrogantly wished his father dead and demanded his future inheritance, his father not only allowed him to leave but also gifted to him the undeserved future inheritance. Mistaking license for freedom, the son lived foolishly for pleasure and self-gratification. Eventually however his funds ran out and the difficult times that followed revealed the short sightedness of his choices. The glamour of evil wore off when he found himself desperate enough to take a job caring for pigs (considered unclean by the Jews) and even more desperate when he felt tempted by his insatiable hunger to ask for some of their slop but was denied. As he hit rock bottom, he finally realized the generosity and goodness of his father.

Some Christians take their faith for granted. The spiritual gifts they had enjoyed from the sacraments, living in Christian fellowship, and possibly growing up in a Christian home seem less glamorous and more restrictive than worldliness. At first, missing mass on Sunday to sleep in, put in an extra day at work, travel, or any number of things might not seem that big of a deal. Next, spending time with worldly friends begins to outweigh Christian friends. As seeming independence and success increase, a person may feel he or she no longer needs God. They too mistake license for freedom and, taking their gifts from God, leave.

Over time however they begin to experience life without grace. The absence of God’s peace, the kindness of His followers, the richness of Scriptures wanes and they begin to hunger. When hard times hit, without that spiritual connection to God, a person finds themselves starving and desperate. Where can one turn for help? A person who uses others, finds themselves being used by others. Alcohol or drugs lose their ability to satiate and only make matters worse if not out of control. All former numbing mechanisms – shopping, eating, gaming, gambling, travelling, even over-working cannot help but rather become enslaving.

When one hits rock bottom, crawling back to God can seem unthinkable and disingenuous. How could you ask God for help now when you so brazenly rejected Him earlier or slothfully let Him fall by the wayside. Don’t you deserve to be miserable? Maybe God is saying “I told you so.”

Jesus tells us otherwise. Our pride imagines God reacting this way. Jesus reveals that God is watching the horizon, waiting hopefully, and running to embrace us when we return. The father in this parable doesn’t accept the demotion suggested by his son. He embraces him, and raises him back to the dignity he had left behind; transforming him from servant of pigs to a son.

The older son’s jealousy reveals a hint of the same mistaken view as the younger son. Although he made the loyal choice, he still considered his brother’s prodigal lifestyle as glamorous. As a result, it appears to him that his brother was rewarded for leaving so disrespectfully and rewarded for returning so degraded. However, the father and the younger son know the terrible poverty, anxiety, and shame his choices had brought upon him. The older son, though working in the fields all those years, also enjoyed the peace and dignity of living as his father’s son. He did not experience the “glamour” of debauchery nor did he have the impoverishment of it either. Fr. Dubay, in his book The Fire Within, summarizes this misconception well:

“Contrary to what the world thinks, attachments are killjoys. The worldly man and woman take it for granted that the more they can multiply experiences and accumulate possessions, the more they shall be filled with contentment. They so want to believe this that they will discount a constant stream of evidences to the contrary. Boredom at parties, hangovers after bouts of drinking, heartburn after overeating, aftereffects of drug abuse, emptiness after loveless sexual encounters and failure to find fulfillment in fine fashions or in expensive excursions make it abundantly clear that sense pleasures are not joy. No matter how intense they may be for the moment, they inevitably leave in their wake a vacuous disillusionment. Where one does find genuine joy is in the heart and on the lips of those who have generously given up all else to have Christ.”[1]

God loves us as a merciful father. He pours out blessings in our lives even if we will eventually take them for granted. A little time on our own however and we realize how much we rely on God’s supernatural aid and relationship. He assures us that He is waiting anxiously for our return, running to meet us if we come back to Him and offering us the peace and protection of His home.

Consider:

  • When have you felt truly sorry about something? What motivated the regret?
  • Have you ever experienced the gift of forgiveness from someone?
  • Is there someone you need to forgive?
  • Reflect on the father in the parable looking out at the horizon and seeing his son in the distance. Consider how God is waiting for you with the same longing.
  • Have you ever fallen for worldly deceptions? How did they turn out differently than what you first expected?
  • How does your dignity as God’s son or daughter outweigh and outshine the false beauty of the world?

 

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one sinful attachment to surrender and turn to God.
  • Read Psalm 51 each day this week.
  • Examine your conscience each night and pray an act of contrition.
  • Return to God in the sacrament of Confession.

 

[1] Dubay, T. (1989). Fire within: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and the Gospel-on prayer. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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Living in Denial

excerpt from Lenten Journey: Through the Desert to the Eternal Spring by Angela Jendro (download or print)

3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Luke 13:1-9 NAB

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

 Meditation Reflection:

The mystery of God’s Mercy and Justice extend beyond the limits of our comprehension. Nevertheless, Jesus exhorts us to never forget that God is both. God’s mercy makes salvation possible through even the smallest opening of repentance and desire in our hearts. At the same time, the mercy we experience on a day to day basis, the undeserved blessings God showers as a doting Father, can also lead to complacency.

Mercy means healing and transformation. In our complacency we can begin to think that we deserve our blessings and forget our sins, or worse forget our blessings as well. St. Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 10:1-12 that the Israelites, after witnessing the mighty hand of God liberating them from Egypt and walking on dry land through the Red Sea, reverted to doubt, fear, and grumbling in the desert. In consequence, although liberated by God from Egypt, they died in the desert unable to enter the Promised Land. God can work mighty deeds in our lives. His mercy will cut through any sin. God’s forgiveness is not merely “spiritual dry-cleaning” as Pope Francis has termed it. God’s work heals and transforms. This process ought to bear fruits therefore of virtue, sanctity, and love. In fact, one of the ways St. Teresa of Avila verified the authenticity of a spiritual experience was by the fruits of virtue that accompanied it.

Jesus warned in today’s Gospel that God’s mercy is inextricably united to God’s justice. God has given us free will. He will honor that gift. If we choose to reject the opportunity for life which comes through healing from sin, then at some point we will die. God offers us more chances than we deserve but they are limited by time and by our choices. We cannot receive the fruits of mercy until we choose to acknowledge and repent of our sin.

Unfortunately, the general cultural view denies the reality of sin, excusing it away. In consequence, as Pope Francis has preached on Mercy (recall the Year of Mercy 12/8/2015-11/20/2016) he concomitantly needed to preach on sin. In a First Things article, titled “The Pope’s Theology of Sin”, William Doino Jr. provides context for the relationship between sin and mercy and presents Pope Francis’ insights regarding the process of reaching the first step – acknowledgement and repentance:

“The first part is to recognize the darkness of contemporary life, and how it leads so many astray: Walking in darkness means being overly pleased with ourselves, believing that we do not need salvation. That is darkness! When we continue on this road of darkness, it is not

easy to turn back. Therefore, John continues, because this way of thinking made him reflect: ‘If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’”[1]

Why is seeing our sin so important? Isn’t it a bit depressing? If it was analogous to learning you had an incurable cancer, then yes. But if it’s analogous to learning you had a cancer that can be cured with early treatment, then it’s a huge relief. If we do not suffer under the oppression of sin, we do not need a redeemer. When we live in denial of our sins and addictions, we refuse the opportunity for help. For example, if a person lives in denial of their regular rude or hurtful comments under the rationalization that they are just “speaking their mind”, then they will soon lose relationships and friendship. If a person lives in denial of their intemperance in spending or greed for possessions beyond their means, they will eventually suffer bankruptcy. Similarly, if we live a self-centered life rather than a God-centered life, at some point we will experience the harsh reality of our choices.

After opening our eyes to our sins (with the help of the Holy Spirit), the second part of the process is to take them to Confession; not with an attitude of a quick shower but with a humble, and deeply contrite heart. The word Pope Francis used to describe this feeling is one we shy away from in our culture – shame. Yet, when we feel genuine shame for our sin, it also motivates us to change and open ourselves up to receiving help and grace.

The final part of the process he writes, is:

“having absolute faith in God to renew us: We must have trust, because when we sin we have an advocate with the Father ‘Jesus Christ the righteous.’ And he ‘supports us before the Father’ and defends us in front of our weaknesses.” [2]

Rather than despair at our weaknesses and imperfections, Pope Francis reminds us to put our trust in Christ. We must acknowledge that we cannot change on our own and allow Jesus to apply His healing grace to our souls – enlightening our minds, strengthening our wills, and fanning the flame of love for God and neighbor.

In conclusion, the mystery of God’s Justice and Mercy requires us to make an active decision to turn away from sin and accept God’s help. Because grace is freely given by God, fruits of that grace are expected too. If we do not bear fruit, we can conclude that we have not actually been receptive to grace. If we do bear fruit, it will evoke feelings of gratitude and love because we know who we are, and from where those virtues truly came.

 Consider:

  • How has facing your faults, though painful, made you a better person with the help of Christ? How are you different today than in years past?
  • Has God ever “rebuked” you? Did it have a positive effect later or lead to greater freedom?
  • Are there faults you continue to rationalize? Do you treat your spouse, children, or family members with the love they deserve, or do you excuse your behavior by saying they should love you as you are without an effort to change?
  • Have you ever experienced the pain of seeing someone you love self-destructing or suffering due to living in denial of a serious problem? Have you offered help and been rejected? Consider how this relates to God’s perspective.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Read an examination of conscience and prayerfully reflect on it. Most parishes have a pamphlet by the confessional with an examination, you can also find some online. If possible, look for one tailored to your state in life (e.g. single, married, priest, etc.)
  • Read the First Things article on Pope Francis’ Theology of Sin. (http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/08/the-popes-theology-of-sin)
  • Choose one sin you have been avoiding admitting and actively root it out through prayer and practicing the opposite virtue. (For example – greed is combatted by generosity, a habit of critical remarks by encouraging ones, pride by humility, etc.)

[1] Doino, William Jr. “The Pope’s Theology of Sin.” First Things. August 2013. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/08/the-popes-theology-of-sin

[2] Ibid.

January 1st: Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

theotokos

by Angela Jendro

Gospel Luke 2:16-21 NAB

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.  When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Meditation Reflection:

“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  When it comes to their children, mothers are contemplatives; they treasure and reflect on every little thing and never tire of gazing at their children in love.  I will never forget the first night I spent with my son in the hospital. The nurse urged me to sleep after an exhausting birth, but I couldn’t stop holding him and staring at him.  I was overcome with a love there is no vocabulary to describe, and in awe of this mystery beyond comprehension.  With each subsequent child, I experienced the same awe.  Moreover, rather than dividing my love, each child multiplied it by expanding my heart with love for each of them individually.

As Mary gazed with love on her child, she gazed not only on her son, but the Son of God.  Mary was the first person to contemplate the mystery that Jesus is both God and man, creator and savior, born to die that we might live.  She is the first to love Him with her whole heart and the only to have the privilege of loving Him with a mother’s heart.

When God the Son took on a human nature, He allowed Himself to become weak and vulnerable.  He experienced human development and the daily process of growth and maturation we all go through.  Mary and Joseph were not merely day care providers for Jesus.  They were the first disciples of Christ and lived their vocation as His family to the fullest.  As God, Jesus had all the divine attributes.  As man, He shared DNA with Mary, He adopted Mary and Joseph’s mannerisms, He received a formation within the context of His family.

Though He is both God and Man, Jesus is one Person.  As a result, since Mary is the mother of Jesus she is rightly called Mother of God.  This does not mean she is the origin of the Trinity.  However, we must remember that mothers are mothers of people, not merely bodies.  It would be strange to say that I am the mother of my son’s body but not the mother of my son the person.  In the same way, to bifurcate Mary’s motherhood as merely that of part of Jesus would be to bifurcate Jesus Himself.  Jesus is one Person, the Second Person of the Trinity, who, since the moment of His incarnation, is forever simultaneously both God and Man.

Mary revered our Lord as both.  She nurtured His human needs and she worshipped His divinity.  She, like Him, obeyed the Father in all things.  She was the first human to live fully God’s plan for all mankind – union with God of heart, mind, and will.  Moreover, she is the only human to love Him as her Son and to be loved by Him as His mother.

This deep, pure, motherly love of Mary extends to each one of us as well.  From the Cross, as Christ suffered and died for our redemption and rebirth, He entrusted Mary as mother to St. John.  In doing so, He gave all of us to her as her children.  In baptism, we are united to Christ as His Mystical Body.  In consequence, we are also united to Mary as our mystical Mother.  Rather than dividing her love, each person who accepts her as mother, multiplies her love and experiences the same tender attention she gives to each of her children.  Christ shares our nature, and He has also shared His Heavenly Father and His earthly Mother with us.  Through Christ we become adopted sons and daughters of God and cherished children of Mary.  Through Christ’s humble love to become our brother, He has invited us into His own family.

Mary is the mother of God because God became man.  Mothers never tire telling anyone who will listen about their children.  Moreover, mothers love their children simply for who they are, not merely what they do.  If we ask Mary, she will share with us about her Son and teach us how to love and follow Him for Who He is, and not merely what He can do for us.

“She is so full of love that no one who asks for her intercession is rejected, no matter how sinful he may be. The saints say that it has never been known since the world began that anyone had recourse to our Blessed Lady, with trust and perseverance, and was rejected.”

St. Louis de Montfort

Consider:

  • How has meeting someone’s mother taught you something new about a person?
  • What do you cherish about your mother’s love?
  • If you are a parent, consider the mystery of your love for your children.  Imagine Mary’s love for Jesus at each of the stages of growth your kids have experienced.
  • Adoptive parents repeatedly report that they love their adoptive kids as if they were theirs biologically.  Consider Mary’s motherly love for you as her adoptive child, whom she loves as her very own.
  • Reflect on Christ’s love for Mary as His mother.
    • Consider the deep feelings of admiration and appreciation He has for her.
    • Reflect on their relationship and connection as mother and son.
    • Consider the comfort and strength He drew from her during His public ministry, knowing He had one person who understood His mission and supported Him no matter what.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • This week, read and reflect on the words of Mary in Scripture.
  • Ask Mary to be your mother and go to her each day with your needs. Ask her to tell you about Jesus and teach you how to follow Him.
  • Pray a decade of the rosary each day.  Consider using the Scriptural rosary if you can.
    • (I have never prayed the rosary without experiencing some kind of grace.  Mary always brings us to Jesus.)
    • Pope St. John Paul II said, “To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and His mother.”

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro© 2018

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The Simple Truth – Love

Love alone counts

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 November 3rd, 2018 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 12:28B-34 NAB

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Meditation Reflection:

A couple of weeks into the school year, a new student of mine stopped by my room after the bell and asked, “How does a person become a saint?”.  As a religion teacher, my first thought went to if she was asking about the process of being canonized, but I stopped, thinking maybe she means on a more spiritual level – like the process of detachment from the world or the three stages of the spiritual life, then I stopped again as my mind jumped to other possibilities for the source of her question until I quit guessing in my mind altogether and simply said, “Why do you ask?  What is it you want to know?”

The Holy Spirit must have prompted me to ask instead of assume, because I never could have anticipated the beauty and simplicity of her answer.  In all sincerity, and with a beaming sweet smile on her face, she replied “because I want to be one!” “Ah” I said, “then it’s simple, love God with all your heart.”  “Really?!” she asked.  “Yep,” I said, that’s it.”

God, the Blessed Trinity, is a union of 3 Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He created human persons in His image as a union of persons in relationship of love with Him and with each other.  When we love God, we can’t help but love our neighbor whom we see as God’s image on earth and our brother or sister in Christ.

The answer is simple.  Jesus’ answer was simple.  It was the same command God had given in Deuteronomy over a thousand years before, and the mission He had given Adam and Eve at their creation.

We are the ones who make sainthood difficult.  We turn our eyes from the Beauty of God and prefer baser pleasures instead.  Because of our wounded nature, we worry that obedience to God will somehow restrict our freedom and deter us from our full potential.  This same self-assertion applies to our neighbor whom we view in light of our own pleasure or gain.  If he or she will add happiness or pleasure, we love them.  Otherwise, we tend to suspect them, like jealous siblings, worried that they will steal something from us, compete for the same resources and attention, or annoy us.

Thankfully, as we mature spiritually, we grow out of these childish concerns.  We understand that our Heavenly Father sets us high upon the rock in safety (Ps 27:5) fills our cup to overflowing (Ps 23), corrects the ones He loves as a Father does for His child (Proverbs3:12), and offers true freedom (John 8:32).  We also grow into a more adult relationship with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, realizing they are not a burden but a blessing. Moreover, filled with God’s love it necessarily overflows to others (cf 1 John 4:7)

Loving God means taking time for Him, in prayer and Scripture.  It means learning more about Him and deepening our understanding of His self-revelation.  It’s also the “simple raising of the heart and mind toward God” (CCC par. 2559) and the desires of love from deep within the soul.

As St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, put it:

“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy”

The Christian disciple follows the example of Christ, who modelled and taught the way of Love – prayer and sacrificial works of mercy. His prayer life was so deep, His disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, upon which He gave them the Our Father.  His merciful actions were so numerous John states at the end of His Gospel that if everything He did was written down, the whole world could not contain it (John 21:25).

Everyone searches for the key to happiness.  It’s simple, Love the Lord with all your heart:

“Find your delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desire” (Psalm 37:4)

 Consider:

  • Ask God for the grace to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as Christ as loved you.
  • Reflect on Psalm 27:4 “One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the LORD’s house all the days of my life, To gaze on the LORD’s beauty, to visit his temple.”
  •  Imagine the people in your life – at work, in your neighborhood, driving on the highway, etc. – as your brother and sister.  What prayer might you have for them if they were family?  How might you see them more personally and with more compassion?
  • Consider this passage from St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue which describes how our hearts can be taken up, and on fire, with love for God. It is written from the perspective of God the Father speaking to her:
     No virtue can have life in it except from charity (love), and charity is nursed and mothered by humility.  You will find humility in the knowledge of yourself when you see that even your own existence comes not from yourself but from Me, for I loved you before you came into being.  And in My unspeakable love for you I willed to create you anew in grace.  So I washed you and made you a new creation in the blood that My only-begotten Son poured out with such burning love.

     This blood gives you knowledge of the truth when knowledge of yourself leads you to shed the cloud of selfish love.  There is no other way to know the truth.  In so knowing Me the soul catches fire with unspeakable love…”

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • What sets your heart on fire with love for God?  Do that every day this week.
  • Pray one psalm a day, one chapter of a Gospel, or one chapter of Acts of the Apostles each day.
  • Choose someone from your daily life and imagine them as your brother or sister.  Pray for them by name and do something kind for them.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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