Keeping it Simple and Keeping it Real

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 

 

October 29th, 2017 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 22:32-40 NAB

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Meditation Reflection:

St. John tells us that “God is Love” (I John 4:8).  He actively loves you and I at every moment.  He created the world out of nothing to be a home for humankind and continues to hold all things in existence and guide them by His divine providence. He created each of our souls at the moment of our conception.  The Second Person of the Trinity even became man, suffered, and died for our Redemption after we sinned so we could become new creations by grace.  Even before creation however, He was Love.  In His very essence God is a union of three divine Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  His very nature is an eternal relationship of love.

Moreover, Genesis reveals that God’s love is so great He made humankind in His image to participate in His love. Thus the God who is love, created us to also be love. In the first creation account He created man and woman at the same time, that they too might be a union of persons, capable of love and creativity like God.

“God created mankind in His image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply.” Genesis 1:27-28

In the second Genesis account God created man first but he felt alone and unfulfilled.  There was no suitable partner for him among all of God’s animals.  Why?  Aren’t dogs and cats adorable?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to enjoy God-given reign over all of creation without having to share it with anyone? Adam had water front property, lush gardens, and plenty of food.  He had everything a single person could desire – power, pleasure, abundance, security, and was surrounded by affectionate pets.  Why was he unhappy?

“The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him. Genesis 2:18

Made in the image of God, Adam could only find fulfillment through being a union of persons.  Together Adam and Eve could unite both body and soul.  They could know one another, choose one another, and love one another, both spiritually and physically.

In the Beginning, living in God’s image was simple and joy-filled.  Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden.  Their work was without toil and they rested each Sabbath to worship God and rejoice in gratitude.  As Pope Benedict XVI explains:

In the creation account the sabbath is depicted as the day when the human being, in the freedom of worship, participates in God’s freedom, in God’s rest, and thus in God’s peace.” (In the Beginning…A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, 1990)

Things only get complicated after the Fall, that first dreadful sin.  God is a realist.  He made everything according to a rational order and taught Adam and Eve those laws so they might be safe and flourish.  In their moment of temptation however, they rebelled in pride, chasing the illusion that they could be the creators of reality rather than creatures already a part of reality.  Yet, the truth is always true.  God said their choice would bring death, the serpent said it wouldn’t, and Adam and Eve chose based on their senses – “it seemed good and looked delightful.”  They chose against God and they found He was right – death entered the world.

It’s easy to point the finger at their foolishness, but consider our own common teenage rebellions.  Despite the love and trustworthy guidance of good parents, how often do teens think to themselves, “I know more than mom and dad.  I’m going to do this my way and ignore their rules,” only to find themselves suffering the results their parents had warned them of?

When have you thought the same thing about God’s guidance?  God guides us through the natural law, Scriptures, and the Church.  Yet, we still struggle with the tempting thought that what we feel like doing is better than what we ought to do.  Again and again, we suffer when our feelings prove illusory and God’s guidance true.

People will often say, “The Church isn’t realistic.  It needs to get with the times.”  Abstinence for unmarried persons instead of birth control? Fantasy.  Truthfulness at work?  You’ll never get ahead.  Children instead of pets?  Maybe one or two, but beyond that will be misery.  Church every Sunday?  That’s excessive.  Resting on Sunday?  Who will get all the work done?

Yet, the truth remains the truth.  Our illusions do not change reality.  We chase where our impulses lead only to find ourselves depressed and unhappy.

Happiness is simple.  It means being a real realist. It means living as a human person not something else you or the culture imagines.  It may not be easy, but God gives us grace to live in His truth.

God’s laws only become complicated inasmuch as we make them complicated.  In my classroom I have a mini basketball and hoop for kids to play during passing time.  I begin the year with two rules: when the bell rings the ball gets put away, and no blood (I don’t want kids getting hurt and there’s a reason I’m a teacher and not a doctor or nurse).  Some classes get it and those are the only two rules that I ever need.  They have a little fun and our class begins on a positive note.  Others overcomplicate things.  They start fighting over the ball, becoming overly rough or competitive, launching it over people’s heads, or they keep trying to shoot the ball into its rightful place despite missing many times.  In consequence, they force me to make more rules to ensure that my basic two are met and what began as simple fun becomes a frustration.

Jesus teaches that God really only has two rules as well.  If we simply love God with our whole self – heart, mind, and soul, everything else falls into place.  Living in union with God we find our true selves and the source of all happiness.  From our free relationship of love with God, we then seek to love others, His image among us.  Through self-gift and loving relationship, we find self-fulfillment and deep joy because we are living in reality, feeding on real food and journeying toward our real end.

All the other rules are in response to the myriad of ways we violate the basic two.  If we loved God first then our neighbor, we would have the common sense to do the other things as well.  If I love God, I’m going to spend Sunday with Him.  If I love my neighbor, I’m not going to lie or cheat him, and if I see him in need I will want to help.

Developing Christian common sense may take time, depending on your past formation or experiences.  Jesus knows our brokenness, blindness, and weakness.  He came to be our Healer, the true Light to guide us, and the source of Strength to transform us.  Love has a mysterious and beautiful power to melt away sadness and hurt, and fill us with joy.  You might begin by needing a rule to go to Mass on Sunday, but once you experience the touch of Christ’s love, you will find it a gift instead.

Consider:

  • When have you experienced God’s love – through another person, in prayer, or at Mass?
  • When has God’s truth been a sure guide for you during a confusing time?
  • Which laws of God, either through Scripture or the Church, do you find most difficult to accept or to live out?
  • How has God’s grace enabled you to live virtuously or love at a level you couldn’t have imagined before?
  • How might you love God more?  What areas of your heart, mind, soul, or strength do you still withhold from him?  Is there a teaching of Christ you struggle to accept?  Is there someone you find difficult to give generously of your heart to? Do you spend Sunday with the Lord and family or use your strength for more work instead? Do you spend time thanking God and being in His presence, or do you love something else more?
  • Reflect on Mary’s perfect love exemplified by her simple Yes at every moment.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week give God more of your heart, mind, or strength.  Ask Him to increase your love for Him in each of these areas then do one concrete thing a day to act on that love.
  •               Ideas:
    • To love God more with your mind spend 5 more minutes a day with Scripture, listen to Christian podcasts or radio, learn about the faith at your parish or by reading a spiritual book.
    • To love God more with your heart, increase your affection for Him by making a gratitude list, praying a Psalm  (especially 23, 27, 119, or 139), meditating on the rosary, or attending a daily Mass.
    • To love God more with your strength, do something of service for someone in need.  Care for someone who is sick, help out a co-worker who is swamped, volunteer to help at your church by taking care of the building or grounds or by helping with the service as a greeter or usher.   Most importantly, resolve to avoid servile work on Sunday and instead play with your kids or go visit a friend.

Related Posts

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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Love Shows Up

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

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October 1st, 2017  26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Gospel of Matthew 21:28-32 NAB

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not, ‘ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus knows us so well!  How often do we pay lip service to God?  How many spiritual goals and good intentions fall quickly by the wayside left undone?  In the morning, the first words on our mind and lips should be an expression of gratitude to the Lord, entrusting the day to His care.  Instead, we hit the snooze button and possibly let less godly words be the first on our lips.  As the day progresses, opportunities arise at every moment to be at the service of the Lord.  Do we embrace the tasks at hand and the duties before us, or de we try to avoid work and get by on minimal effort?

At the same time, if we hear God’s call, often it may seem outrageous at first, especially His insistence on forgiving others.  God challenges us to live beyond our natural limits, to participate in His divine love.  Our first response may be no, but upon further reflection and with the softening effect of grace, we may rise to the challenge after all.

Inauthentic love disappoints.  It makes big promises and grand plans only to fail to follow through on them.  Real love acts.  It proves itself by keeping promises, showing up, and responding to the needs of the beloved.

When St. Mother Teresa began her ministry to the poorest of the poor, she simply went out into the streets and showed up to comfort and aid those she met.  For the children she found aimless and alone, she began to teach them by gathering them together and writing with a stick in the dirt. For the sick, she begged the pharmacist for medicine.  For the dying, she offered what comforts she could along with loving companionship. God grew the ministry, Mother Teresa simply went out into the vineyard each day to work.

Practical goals and intentional habits form a framework of love that infuses our day with charity. However, when we don’t know where to begin, Jesus reminds us to start by jut showing up when asked.   It’s amazing how deep of an impression it can make.

When I consider who has touched my life, it has been those who laughed with me, shouldered burdens with me, encouraged me, or reached out in ordinary ways when I needed it. I remember when my mom chose to leave a law firm she enjoyed so she could open her own and have more time available for her kids.  It meant that despite the many responsibilities she had at her job every day, I could count on her to listen when I needed some advice, to cheer for me at school events, and to be there when I had a tough time.  Even now as a grown adult, I can still count on my mom to show up no matter what.

Above all, the Lord shows up.  He created our souls at the moment of our conception.   He became man, suffered and died on the Cross, and rose again for our salvation.  His angels guide and protect us.  His Mother intercedes for us. His very Spirit dwells within us as His Temple (1Cor 6:19). He is united to us as a Head to a body (Col 1:18), and as a vine to its branches (Jn 15:5).  God is always faithful.

But so great is Your faithful love, I may come into Your house, and before Your holy temple bow down in reverence of You.”  (Psalm 5:7)

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1)

I will delight and rejoice in your faithful love. Be brave, take heart, all who put your hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31: 7, 24)

Better one day in Your courts than a thousand at my own devices.”  (Psalm 84:10)

Blessed are those who observe His instruction, who seek Him with all their hearts” (Psalm 119:2)

Love is about showing up and being there for someone. Love for Christ answers yes to His call and shows up for prayer. Love has the strength and perseverance to do the right thing even when it’s hard.  It may not be glamorous, but following through on our daily duties, even if we resist at first, makes an eternal impression on God.

Consider:

  •  How can you make yourself more available to God?  How can you hear His call more acutely and act more faithfully?
    • In times of prayer – when, where, and how do you pray.  How much do you listen in prayer?
    • In the duties of family life – what does your spouse, children, or parents need from you?
    • In the duties of your work life – how might your work become more of an offering to God?  Ask God what He desires from you and spend a few minutes listening to Him. Is He asking you for greater diligence, or do you need better boundaries on your work?  Is He asking you to reign in some of your conversations with co-workers, or is He asking you to make a greater effort at reaching out to them?
  • How do you respond to the work God asks of you each day?  What often derails you from following through with your commitments?  Is it distractions, sloth, fear…?
  • Reflect on the times God has shown up for you.  When has He proven His faithfulness in a time of need?  What blessings has He showered upon you?
  • Offer prayers of thanksgiving and blessing for those who have loved you over the years and those who continue to be there for you today.  Consider especially the persons you may be taking for granted.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  The Psalms sing God’s praises, especially of His faithful love.  Pray one Psalm in the morning, one midday at lunch, and one at night.
  • Identify one thing you have said “no” to God about, and do it today.

*A great resource for learning to hear God’s voice is St. Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment.  Fr. Timothy Gallagher has an excellent podcast series explaining each one and giving practical examples.  You can listen to them for free online at this link:  Fr. Timothy Gallagher “Discernment of Spirits”

I also recommend the spiritual classic, “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence.  It’s a small, thin book but a little goes a long way.

Related Posts: 

Authentic Love

Stepping Outside Our Comfort Zone & Walking On Water

Preparing the Soil…Spiritual Receptivity

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

 

How To Be Happy For Others and Like It

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

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September 24th, 2017  25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Gospel of Matthew 20:1-16a NAB

 Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Meditation Reflection:

The kingdom of Heaven, from which Jesus came, far exceeds any social construct we observe on earth.  Here our relationships, all the way from the inter-national to the personal, become skewed due to our two greatest weaknesses – pride and envy.

It’s childish really. Parents and elementary school teachers tire from the petty cases brought to them over and again throughout the day by children seeking “justice.” Moreover, in family life it can spiral out of control as one act of pride or envy against another is fought with counter measures of pride and envy and so on.  Rather than accept their own guilt for their personal bad reaction, kids try to pass on blame and push parents to the classic question, “Who started it?”  As everyone points fingers and clamor for justice, the poor mom and dad beg the kids to settle down and just be merciful with one another.

St. Paul tells us, “Love is patient, love is kind…”  In other words, love tries to be understanding instead of over-reacting.  Love shows compassion toward weakness, even weakness of character. Love is generous rather than miserly.  Love doesn’t look out for #1, it looks out for the beloved.

Jesus’ parable of the landowner and day laborers illustrates the striking difference between our natural inclination and experience and the kingdom of Heaven. When I hear this parable I know that I shouldn’t agree with the laborers who were upset, but I can’t help feeling their disappointment with them.  I hate to admit that even thoughts of, “why weren’t the guys the landowner found in the afternoon not there in the morning?”  Even worse, my imagination considers multiple reasons they were late, all being their own fault or the product of vice.

However, Jesus knows our fallen thoughts so He includes important details in the parable to counter such accusations.  Thus, prior to hiring the last crew at 5:00, he asks them why they have been standing there idle all day.  They respond with an innocent explanation – no one had hired them.   “Exposed!”, as my kids would say.  My thoughts reveal a childish attitude of rivalry rather than a mature disposition of love.

But what about the unfair pay?  And why did the landowner pay the last men first in front of everyone else?  Every parent knows if you plan to treat one kid and not the others on a particular day, at least keep it on the down-low.  You spontaneously stop for DQ with one of your sons on the way home from a baseball game?  Only a rookie parent would fail to have the ice cream finished being eaten and all evidence thrown away in an inconspicuous garbage before entering the house.  Never mind that you make a point treat the other kids individually  too at various times.  If one kid walks in the house with a half-eaten blizzard, mutinous anarchy erupts.  One stray DQ napkin, and the moment the door to the van opens the other kids point and yell “What?!  You went without us?  Unfair!!!”  Their envious rivalry takes all spontaneity out of love.

On the surface, the laborers’ disappointment seems fair, however Jesus reveals that it stems from envy.  Next to pride, envy is the most cited root of the many social and personal ills discussed in the Catechism.

Jesus invites us to consider a different way of thinking, living, and being. To imagine a kingdom free of pride, envy, ambition, lust, and selfishness we have to think of it in terms of love.  Not the fluffy, emotional kind of love.  Rather, courageous and deep love which wills the good of the other and finds joy in sacrifice if it means enriching or healing the beloved.

Jesus compares His relationship with us to the love a groom has for his bride, willing to give everything even at a sacrifice, and with great joy.  He compares our interconnection with one another to a body united to Him as its head.  Thus, one person’s pain is shared by everyone, and one person’s gain is rejoiced in by everyone.

Consider the parable again from Christ’s perspective.  The men the landowner found late in the day were aimless, anxious, and in danger of starvation.  If they did not work that day, they would not have a day’s wage and would be unable to provide for themselves and their families.  They owned no land to provide them with some kind of security.  They had no annual salary, health insurance, or any kind of future protection.  They lived day to day, always uncertain about tomorrow.

The first men hired physically toiled longer, but they also had the peace of mind that at least for that day they would have a wage and therefore food. Moreover, there’s a certain dignity related to putting in a hard day’s work.

If those without work were strangers, it would be easier to rationalize competitiveness.  Imagine however that the ones hired later are your sons or daughters, or close friends.  It would be hard to truly enjoy your wage knowing how worried you might be that they only worked a few hours that day and would earn too little to eat enough on.  Upon seeing your beloved child or friend provided a full day’s wage, you would rejoice with them as well as enjoy your own wage more because your friend received the same.  You would also rejoice that they had the opportunity to be productive and their work valued.

Jesus invites us all into His Kingdom.  He finds us standing idle, looking for meaning and purpose, waiting for Truth and Mercy.  He promises a just wage for working for Him – the gift of enduring love, authentic meaning, and eternal happiness with Him.  If we love our neighbor, we will feel pained seeing them still standing idle, wasting the day, impoverished and anxious.  We would want the same reward for them that we received from Christ no matter when they joined His crew.  In fact, to have labored with the Lord, is a gift in and of itself.  When it comes to serving our beloved, we don’t ask how little can I do for them but rather how much?

Consider:

  • Consider how quickly we tend to assume the worst about a person.  When have you misjudged someone’s intentions or situation?  How might you see others through the lens of love rather than rivalry?
  • Consider the dignity of work.  When have you put in a hard day’s work and loved it?  Why does it feel good to be productive?
  • Consider the joy connected to laboring out of love.  Which tasks would seem ridiculous to take pleasure in if you didn’t love the person?
  • Consider the contrast between envy and love.  Envy becomes angry at another’s blessings, love rejoices when another is blessed.  Envy competes for what it believes to be limited resources or opportunities.  Love understands that God can bless everyone.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Combat envy with the opposite virtues of contentedness and gratitude.  Do one thing each day this week to nurture contentedness and express gratitude.

Related Posts:

How can God be both Justice and Mercy?

Prepare for the Coming of Christ’s Mercy by Giving Mercy

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

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

 

Authentic Love

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

August 19th, 2017; 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 16:21-27 NAB

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” 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 all according to his conduct.”

Meditation Reflection:

Peter loved Jesus.  He left everything to follow Him. Peter put his whole heart into the mission and his courage and zeal expressed themselves in extraordinary ways.  Moved by faith, Peter walked on water.  With his heart open to the Holy Spirit, he boldly answered Jesus’ questions to the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” by proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God.

Love inspires, emboldens, strengthens, and provides unique insights into the beloved.  Like the love between a husband and wife, a mother or father and their children, a beloved brother or sister, or a dearest friend, love wells up inside and can’t help but express itself exclamations of affection, physical closeness, and fierce protectiveness.

Due to our wounded, fallen nature however, our love can also be misdirected.  In this Gospel passage, Peter’s love mixed with his pride and with his worldly understanding to embolden him in a way that undermined, rather than supported, Jesus.

Our love needs conversion to be authentic and to be true to our beloved.  It requires ongoing formation in what is True and Good as God has revealed it, rather than as our emotions direct us or the culture.  It requires practice as well, to break bad habits and form good ones, or to overcome personal weaknesses that hurt the relationship.

Peter loved Jesus and was honored to be given the keys to the kingdom just one chapter prior to this.  However, his pride and ambition, together with his cultural assumptions about what that kingdom would look like, misdirected his love to preserving an earthly kingdom by preserving Jesus’ earthly life.  Just when Jesus needed the support of His disciples the most, as His “Hour” of Redemptive suffering for all mankind approached, Peter pulled Him aside and tried to dissuade Him.

Similar to Peter, our love needs Christ’s grace and truth to be authentic.  Consider the sentiment “I just want you to be happy.”  It can motivate noble sacrifice, but it can also rationalize weakness.  If we define happiness as merely earthly comfort, ease, security, and pleasure, we risk encouraging our beloved to turn from their cross rather than helping them carry it.  Yet, in trying to save their life, we could actually cripple them.

Consider the paradox inherent in parenting.  Kids need protection, nurturing, and comfort.  At the same time, to mature into adulthood, they also need to work through difficulties, setbacks, and pain.  The temptation to remove everything hard undermines the maturation process, whereas supporting them through the struggle without removing it for them can aid their maturation.  To know when to intervene and when to stand back is NOT easy!  It requires the counsel of the Holy Spirit and the grace of fortitude.  When Jesus’ life was threatened by King Herod, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to protect Him.  When Jesus was scourged and crucified however, Mary stood by Him, feeling every pain with Him, but knew it was necessary for His mission.

In marriage, family life, and friendship, authentic love needs conversion.  When we say “I just want you to be happy,” we have to be honest about which kind of happiness we desire for them.  Jesus is clear,

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.” 

 

Those we love will struggle with sin.  It’s the battle of this life.  Authentic love won’t condone the sin or escaping it.  Rather, it will strengthen a person to speak the truth in love and support the beloved through the pain of conversion because true life and true freedom is found in the Lord. In the first reading for today (Jeremiah 20:7-9), the prophet Jeremiah expresses authentic love.  His human nature desired comfort and to simply be liked.  Nevertheless, his people had succumbed to habits of sin and needed to be corrected lest they die eternally from their destructive behavior and attitudes.  He didn’t want to speak out anymore because every time he did they met him with anger.  However, when he tried to remain silent, the truth welled up in him and he couldn’t hold it in any longer without suffering even greater pain.

True love can’t stand to see sin hurting it’s beloved.  Our friends and family need us to battle for their souls with the strength of prayer, God’s Truth, and the cross, not sentimentality.  And we need those who love us to battle for our souls in the same way.

To do this, we need to actively cooperate with the Holy Spirit that our love can be fully converted.  St. Paul states it well when he says,

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2

It will take time, effort, and support.  However, we can be encouraged by Peter’s example.  Peter’s conversion took time as well, but by the end of his life his love had become so perfect, that he accepted the cross and crucifixion for himself that he had once tried to dissuade Jesus from.

I’ll end with two quotes that I read often which give me hope:

Pope Francis   January 19, 2016

“there is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future

 

St. Josemaria Escriva

“A saint is a sinner that keeps trying.”

Consider:

  • Reflect on Mary’s love for Jesus.  Consider her fierce protection when He was young.  Consider her fierce loyalty to His mission on the Cross, despite both of their suffering.
  • Consider the words “I just want you to be happy.”  Pray about what true happiness is, where it can be found, and how it can be attained.
  • When has Christian love required you to carry a cross?  Who supported you?  Who tried to dissuade you?
  • When have you had to stand by someone while they carried a cross?  In what ways were you tempted to encourage them to leave the cross?  How were you able to support them in their pain or struggle and make the burden easier?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Do one thing each day for “the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
    • Spend 5 minutes with Scripture
    • Read a good Christian book
    • Listen to Christian podcasts
    • Visit with a Christian friend
  • Support a friend on their spiritual journey who is struggling with a sin or with a cross.
    • Pray and sacrifice for them; Speak truth in love; Visit them; encourage them with Scriptures of hope and resurrection after the Cross.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

 

Finding Peace Amidst Division…Reaching out to Christ

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

August 19th, 2017; 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 15:21-28 NAB

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

Meditation Reflection:

The evil of division, prejudice, and animosity between peoples entered the world with original sin.  When Adam and Eve introduced a rift between themselves and God, a rift began between the two of them as well.  It soon spread to their children Cain and Abel.  At the Tower of Babel the rift became complete with the separation of languages.

Some rifts begin with legitimate reasons.  A person, family, or community, treats another unjustly and fails to make amends.  The victim(s) retaliate to achieve justice for themselves or they separate themselves from the dangerous, unrepentant threat.

Other rifts arise from illegitimate reasons.  Prejudice based on sex, race, nationality, disability, religion, or even political positions can cause rifts and violence such as we have seen in the recent news.  Whether motivated by envy, greed, or lust for power, the perpetrators have two things in common – they blame someone or some group for their problems and do not value the dignity of every human life.

ISIS’ lust for power at the cost of genocidal murder, human trafficking, abuse of women, and indiscriminate terrorist attacks illustrates the evil of this sin at its worst.  They de-humanize groups of people in order to assert their own greedy, and lustful agenda.

In our own country, the bastion for human rights and equality, we too have struggled to maintain our value for all human life.  Abortion has been legal for over forty years, marginalizing all persons in the womb.  The child will be protected if he or she is wanted, but eliminated if blame can put on the child for any reason, even simple inconvenience.  Moreover, the pressure to abort children who may have disabilities dangerously erodes the protection of any person with a disability.  The definition of “life support” has become a topic of debate, not just about breathing tubes but even food and water.  In the last election, the problem of violent and visceral division between people of differing political views, as well as the ongoing division caused by sexism, surfaced for the world to see.  Lastly, the evil of racism reared its ugly head in Charlottesville, Virginia with messages of white supremacy and even deadly violence.

In today’s Gospel Jesus ignored the Canaanite woman in a seemingly cold manner.  On the surface it seems prejudiced or at the least nationalistic.  The Jews and Canaanites had been at odds for centuries.  She cries to him for help and He says nothing!  He only speaks to her when the apostles beg Him to quiet her down, not for any reason of compassion, but because her persistence had grown annoying.  Why would Jesus, who should be above such ethnic and religious animosity, have done this?

Jesus reveals that peace and reconciliation requires repentance and mercy by contrasting the hypocritical faith of some Pharisees, with the repentant faith of the Canaanite woman. The Jews had been entrusted with the supreme gift of God’s divine Revelation.  They had the burden and privilege of protecting this gift that they might be a light to rest of the world.  In consequence, they had the privilege of receiving the Messiah as children of God, but they also had greater fault whenever they rejected God.  In the passage just prior to this one, Jesus rebukes some Pharisees for their hypocritical practice of denying support for their parents by donating the money to the Temple.  Their false charity was exposed as actual injustice and a failure to follow the fourth commandment.  Jesus goes on to explain that what makes a person defiled is what comes from their heart, not what goes in to their mouth.  Thus, religious practices without heartfelt faith do not aid a person.

In contrast, Jesus’ very next encounter is with the Canaanite woman.  Whereas she does not belong to the heritage of the Jews, she demonstrates the heartfelt faith that Jesus describes.  God had instructed the Jews to remain separate from the Canaanites so as to protect them from being influenced by their evil practices.  In Deuteronomy 20:15-18 God warns them to destroy the Canaanites “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the Lord your God.”  The Canaanite woman in this passage, acknowledged the pitifulness of her dignity which had been degraded by the immoral acts of her people and likely herself.  Nevertheless, her good heart recognized the Savior and pleaded in faith for His mercy.  In humility, and absolute trust in Him, she laid before Him her need.  She persisted despite being ignored, confident His compassion would win out.  When He compared her people to dogs she agreed with Him.  She acknowledged the truth of their sins. Sin not only offends God, but it degrades the sinner.    Nevertheless, she persisted that His mercy had the power to conquer the evil which plagued her daughter and the suffering that plagued her.

Jesus responds to the authenticity of her heart, exclaiming “O woman, great is your faith!”  Her honesty, repentance, and humility opened the door for Christ to shower His mercy upon her and usher in peace and reconciliation.

Sins of division and prejudice need healing.  God’s divine laws provide the structure for justice needed for peace.  Because of sin however, we can twist those laws to rationalize our sin.  Thus, conversion of heart is needed in addition to the conversion of actions.  This requires the saving grace of Christ.

“Called to beatitude but wounded by sin, man stands in need of salvation from God. Divine help comes to him in Christ through the law that guides him and the grace that sustains him” Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 1949

Christ came to restore the unity of the human family, making us sons and daughters of God by adoption through grace.  The Pharisees and the Canaanite woman illustrate our part in His work.  We must acknowledge our sin (MUCH easier said than done!), realize our need for Christ, and ask for His mercy.  Thankfully, He assures us His answer will always be yes.

Our country and our world need prayer more than ever.  This week, let us pray for reconciliation within broken relationships in our own lives and work toward peace within our families and communities, that God might bring reconciliation between peoples opposed to one another throughout the world.   May we all recognize the inherent dignity of every human person, called by God to live eternally as His son or daughter.

Consider:

  • Who do you find easy to value?  Who is it easy to love and why?
  • Who do you struggle to appreciate?  Who is most difficult to see as a child of God? Have you experienced or seen prejudice firsthand?
  • Consider how sin degrades a person, similar to the way sickness deteriorates a body.
  • How does healing and grace resemble medicinal healing?  Does it sometimes require distasteful medicine, or even amputation?
  • Consider why we must acknowledge sin and the need for help to begin healing.  Have you ever known someone who refused to acknowledge they were sick, even though it was apparent to their loved ones?  Or, knowing they were sick, refused to see a doctor?
  • Imagine yourself as the woman crying out to Jesus.  You know you have no right for Him to listen to you because you have rejected God for so many years.  Would you be tempted to say nothing out of fear of rejection?  Consider the courage it takes for you beg Him for mercy.  Imagine His eyes and His voice as He says to you with undeserved graciousness: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for, and work toward, peace with someone.  It could be by cultivating more peace in your encounters with your spouse and kids, apologizing and making amends with someone you have hurt or been unjust toward, removing slander or critical personal attacks from your social media and replacing them with positive acknowledgments, removing yourself from contentious and prejudiced conversations among coworkers or neighbors, or making peace with God by going to the Sacrament of Confession.

Related Posts:

Finding Fulfillment in Self-Gift

Getting the Last Word…but Making it a Blessing

How Can God be Both Justice and Mercy?

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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Preparing the Soil…Spiritual Receptivity

by Angela Lambert

July 16th, 2017; 15th Sunday Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23

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

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

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

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

Work on preparing the soil for Christ:

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

Related Posts:

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Sharing the Burden, Lightening the Load

by Angela Lambert

July 9th, 2017; 14th Sunday Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017
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The Ascension of Christ & the Surprising Nature of the Kingdom of God

by Angela Lambert

May 28th, 2017; The Ascension of the Lord

 Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Meditation Reflection:

Christ is so humble in His Incarnation that we, like the apostles in today’s passage, can forget the awesome reality of His divinity.  For most of His earthly life, Jesus chose to veil His divinity.   He humbly lived among us as one of us, choosing a life of poverty and sacrifice.  Even when condemned to crucifixion, He told Pilate that He was not powerless in the situation (John 18:36).  Jesus chose to be sacrificed to save us.  He could have saved Himself, as those taunting Him urged, or defended Himself as Pilate suggested, but love kept Him on the Cross.

Christ came down from heaven to be a ransom for our sins.  At the completion of His mission however, He ascended back to heaven to reign in glory as the Son of God. Because of His humility during His earthly life, we overlook at times His divine dignity and His rightful place in Heaven.  Beyond anything we could have imagined, He promised to prepare a place for us there as well!

Jesus kept surprising His apostles and He continues to surprise us.  They imagined the savior as someone who would overpower their persecutors and restore things to how they used to be during the best time in Jewish history.  It took a while for them to accept that He would die and rise again.  Confused and scattered at His crucifixion, they rejoiced in awe at His resurrection.  Overwhelmed with joy that Christ was alive, and excited by His show of power they still imagined that they would enjoy the booty of His victory in an earthly kingdom.  Finally, they thought, now He will bring to fruition all our hopes and desires.  Thus, they ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus did not come to stay on earth however, but to bring us back to Heaven.  He does not put new wine into old wine skins (Matthew 9:14-17).  His kingdom exceeds our imagination.  The experience the Jews had under King David provided a foretaste and glimpse of the kingdom of God.  Jesus reveals that God has much more in store for us.

In order for them to receive the Holy Spirit and to begin their new life in Christ, they had to let go of their previous hopes and plans.  To rule in the Kingdom of God meant to surrender worldly power for the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit which transforms lives with saving grace, Truth, peace, and love.    No other nation or religion has had the same universal, enduring, transformative effect, of the Christian faith.    The only explanation for this miracle is the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).  As we celebrate the Ascension of Christ into heaven, we let go of our desires for Jesus to make things how they used to be, or how we wish them to be.  Christ’s physical absence grieved the apostles and we too can be grieved by the absence of tangible comfort and security.  However, by letting Jesus ascend to Heaven, they received Him back even more intimately and powerfully in their very souls on Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit.

Christian discipleship means sharing in Christ’s death that we might also share in His resurrection.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Discipleship means accepting the unanticipated, unimaginable “new” that Jesus has for us.  He wants so much more for us than we can plan and blesses us with so much more than we deserve.  By surrendering our grip on control in our Christian walk, we get to live in the freedom of gift.  There are no words to describe this freedom and joy other than surprise; or as John puts it: “From His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

Consider:

  • When has God surprised you?  How have His plans for your life exceeded your own expectations?
  • In what areas of your life do you struggle to surrender control?  Consider what underlies your resistance.  Is it fear of the unknown or of change, distrust, lack of faith, perfectionism, pride and the desire to accomplish things yourself, or vanity and concern for what others will think?
  • Reflect on your life from the point of view of the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of earth.  Re-value wealth and status from this perspective.  What is truly valuable?  What is true greatness?
  • Consider God’s love for you.  He has prepared a place for you, provided the Way, opened the gates, and given you the Holy Spirit and the Church to guide you and empower you.  He has done everything in His mighty power to be with you and shower His love upon you.   What can you do to be with Him and love Him in return?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, be open to God’s surprises.  In the morning, offer your day to God and surrender control to Him.  In the evening, reflect back on the day and recount when you were resistant or when He surprised you.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

Related Posts:

Longing for Nearness to the One We Love…Scripture Meditation for the Solemnity of the Ascension

Behold, I Make All Things New

The Spiritual Merry-Go-Round

 

Finding True Love

by Angela Lambert

May 21st, 2017; 6th Sunday Easter

Gospel of John 14:15-21

Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

“…humanity is wounded, deeply wounded.  Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them.  And it’s not just a question of social ills or people wounded by poverty, social exclusion, or one of the many slaveries of the third millennium.  Relativism wounds people too:  all things seem equal, all things appear the same…  Pius XII, more than half a century ago, said that the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin.  Today we add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven.  We lack the actual concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our era is this, too:  we don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption; for a hand to raise you up; for an embrace to save you, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love; to put you back on your feet.  We need mercy.”

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

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches that Truth, Goodness, and Love are inseparable.  Without truth and without virtue, we will miss out on love.  Jesus said that He is the Truth (Jn 14:6), and those who love Him follow His commands.  God is a relationship of three distinct Persons in one divine nature.  The three Persons of the Trinity share a unity that exceeds our understanding, but Jesus unveiled a glimpse of its experience.  He speaks on numerous occasions of the unity of He and the Father. That unity comes from a relationship of love and obedience through an eternal self-gift.  The Holy Spirit is described as the Love between the Father and the Son. For us to share in the intimate relationship of the Trinity, we must share in God’s love through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When we place our faith in Christ, He sends the Holy Spirit that we may live by His Truth, following His commands, and thereby grow in intimate love.  Jesus told the apostles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled…Peace and Surrender in Christ

by Angela Lambert

May 14th, 2017; 5th Sunday of Easter

 Gospel of John 14:1-12

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.” Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Meditation Reflection:

Do not let my heart be troubled? Jesus knows what it’s like to work, to have family, to experience crises.  He should know the stress we encounter.  How can He order such a thing?

Then I remember, I say the same thing to my loved ones.  I remind them that everything will be okay.  We can get through anything together and that I am here for them.  Jesus assures us that He is near and that He cares.  When we cry out to God, “where are you?!”, “how can you let this happen?!”, “do you see or care?!”.  He answers, yes.  Jesus tells us, that He and the Father are one. If we wrestle with whether God cares about our struggles, we need look no further than Jesus.  Christ witnesses the Father’s love.  A love that isn’t remote or detached.  Rather, an immanent, incarnate, self-sacrificing, and eternal love.

When Christ says, “everything will be okay,” we can trust Him.  Many of the apostles doubted as Jesus hung on the Cross and died.  His mission appeared extinguished and their hopes dashed.  They reeled in confusion and fear.  We too can experience times like this.  When God allows suffering without revealing His reason, our faith gets tested – we either succumb to the confusion and fear like most of the apostles, or we remain with Him at the Cross like Mary and John.  Mary and John remained because they loved Jesus unconditionally.  They trusted Him when all visible signs were removed.  The more we draw near to Christ and develop our relationship with Him, the stronger our trust will be in times of darkness.  The saints experienced unshakable peace because they cooperated with grace and reached a state of total surrender to the Lord.

St. Teresa of Avila, declared a doctor of the Church, composed this beautiful prayer which describes this union:

Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices. — St. Teresa of Avila

In His Father’s house there are many rooms, and one especially prepared for you by Christ.  Trust in His love, Trust His Wisdom, Trust His Goodness…and let nothing trouble your hearts, that His Peace may be with you always.

Consider:

  • When have you experienced the peace of Christ?  After Mass, in praying with Scripture, in nature, through other Christians?
  • Consider the fears and anxieties you carry.  Lay them before the Lord in prayer and surrender them.  Consider the power of Christ to provide, the love of Christ which motivates Him, and the faithfulness of Christ who remains near us in every trial.
  • In what areas of your life do you trust God completely?  In what areas do you rely on yourself or conventional wisdom rather than Him?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose your biggest worry.  Begin and end each day surrendering it to God in prayer.
  • Pray the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila each day this week.
  • We make an act of trust in God when we tithe.  If you do not tithe already, begin this week.  If you tithe already but feel called to tithe more (10% is the commonly suggested amount), prayerfully make a financial act of trust in the Lord.
  • Pray Psalm 23 each day this week.
Why do you trust Jesus Christ?  Post in the comments section below!

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~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.