Keeping it Real

by Angela Lambert

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February 11th, 2017; 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment. “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”

 Meditation Reflection:

Freedom in Christ, is founded on freedom from being fake.  We are masters at the false front.  By an early age most of us can pull off “I’m fine” to anyone who asks, no matter how untrue it may be.  Keeping up appearances, looking successful, and seeming to be more than we are occurs in every time period and culture.   Social media amplifies today’s version, as we can literally craft our public persona via selective posts and pictures.

We not only mask our imperfections, we often mask our sins as well.  From the back-handed compliment, to disparaging remarks prefaced by “God bless her soul, but…”, to shallow mantras like “You only live once” or “it’s not like it’s against the law”, we rationalize our viciousness in countless ways.  Like addicts, we deny we have a problem with sin and we excuse and blame our behavior on everyone and everything but ourselves.

Just has sobriety can only be achieved through facing reality, so human freedom from sin can only be wrought from an utter realness about ourselves.  When Moses asked God to reveal His Name, God responded that it is “YHWH” or “I AM”.  God revealed that He is.  God is being and existence.  Thus, union with God requires utter realness and authenticity.

C.S. Lewis writes about this mystery in a brilliantly imaginative way in his book “The Great Divorce.”  The divorce in this case refers to the divide between heaven and hell, and describes the process of purgation for those still travelling to heaven.  He describes inhabitants of hell, drawing from scriptural imagery, as phantoms.  On the opposite spectrum, he calls those in heaven “solid people.” The main character arrives at a gray bus stop, phantom-ish, and his journey toward heaven is one of becoming more solid – or more “real”.  To do this he must surrender all that he keeps false within himself.  I won’t give away more than that, as I highly recommend this read!  I will only offer this teaser – Lewis creates numerous characters whose struggle to move from ghostish versions of themselves to the authentic provides deep insight into the rationalizations with which most of us struggle, the pain of conversion, and the joy of authentic freedom.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us interior conversion and introspection.  In today’s Gospel passage, He directly calls us out on how we tip toe around the truth and avoid real virtue and, in consequence, real love and relationship.

How many times have we heard the excuse, “well, it’s not like I’ve killed anyone.  I’m a decent person.”  Yet, harboring anger can be deeply destructive and emerge in violence that might be more subtle, but no less real.  Passive-aggressive behaviors, online bullying, slander, gossip, critical remarks and callous attitudes prevent relationship and they hold us back from heaven.  Jesus states clearly, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”  (MT 5:20) and “be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (MT 5:48)  A man who loves his wife, doesn’t look lustfully at other women.  A woman who loves her husband, doesn’t flirt with other men.  Does it matter whether or not it’s technically adultery?  Jesus calls out the dishonesty.  Either way, it certainly feels like cheating to the other spouse.  Why?  Because love is total, exclusive, and lifelong.  Our love for our spouse should mirror love for God. In fact, God created the first man and woman in the state of marriage because as two persons in a relationship of life-giving love, they imaged the Triune God.

Authenticity begins by simply letting our Yes be yes, and our No be no.  Drop the exaggerations and minimizations.  Leave the white lies.  Take down the false fronts.  It feels like going a day without make-up at first, but not forever.  As we become more at peace with ourselves, we become more comfortable in the truth.  Eventually the fake-ness we clung to in the past will feel like too much make-up, caked on, that you can’t wait to wash off at the end of the day.

Jesus wants us, not the façades we create.  He accepts us as we are and helps us become the truest version of ourselves.  When this happens, we can begin to experience the real relationship, and real love necessary for heaven.

Consider:

  • List your most common struggles in a day, then pray about what interior attitude or disposition underlies it.
    • consider the 7 capital sins for ideas (pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, and gluttony)
  • What is your most common/tempting rationalization?
  • In what ways have you grown in authenticity over the years? Reflect on how good it feels to be yourself.
  • Who is someone you can be completely yourself around; who knows the “real” you?
  • Consider how honesty is necessary for relationship.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Tackle one rationalization this week.  Be direct with yourself and with God.  Name the struggle, occasions of temptation, and the rationalization you use.  Decide on how you will avoid the temptation or create a counter-mantra to repeat when you hear yourself rationalizing.
    • Example:
      • Daily struggle: Crabby toward your spouse and kids
      • Occasions of temptation: Getting out the door in the morning, right after a long day at work, or when interrupted during a project.
      • Rationalizations: “They’re my family and should love me unconditionally – this is just who I am”; “I work hard to care for my family, and it just means I will be stressed out”
      • Counter-mantras: “They’re my family – they deserve my best behavior”;  “I need to find balance in my life so I can be a peaceful person to my family”
      • Avoiding temptation – Begin the day 10 minutes earlier so you aren’t stressed about running late (even better, begin with a prayer!); create transition time between work and home – listen to Christian music on the drive and count your blessings so you arrive with a positive attitude; adjust expectations for completing projects – expect to get interrupted by kids and be grateful for them, try to include them in the project if possible

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Open Arms of the Father…Gospel Meditation for the 4th Sunday of Lent

by Angela Lambert

 

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“But God is indeed waiting for you; He asks of you only the courage to go to Him.”  Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy

March 6th, 2016; 4th Sunday in Lent

Gospel Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

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 as so deserving. When our hearts are struck however 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. The parable of the Prodigal Son however, also known as the parable of the Merciful Father, reveals the truth about authentic love.

The Father had freely given his sons everything in love – life, nurturing their growth, and even inheritance of his estate. The first son responds with obedience, loyalty, and service. The second son responds with ingratitude, an entitlement attitude, and complacency. When he asks for his future inheritance, his father not only allows him to leave but also allows him to take his gifts with him. Mistaking license for freedom the son’s gifts eventually run out and difficult times reveal the short sightedness of his choices. The glamour of evil had worn off and without his father’s gifts he was starving and living worse than pigs.

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, take their gifts from God, and 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, traveling, 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 right choice, he still considers his brother’s prodigal lifestyle as glamorous. As a result, it seems like he is being rewarded for leaving and rewarded for returning. 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 have 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.”

God loves us as a merciful father. He pours out blessings in our lives even if we will 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.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Living in Denial…Gospel Meditation for February 28, 2016

by Angela Lambert

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February 28, 2016; 3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Luke 13:1-9
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 extends beyond the limits of our comprehension. Nevertheless, Jesus exhorts us to never forget that God is both. Pope Francis has dedicated this year to reflecting on this mystery and living it out in our own lives through going to Confession and practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. God’s mercy makes salvation possible through even the smallest opening of repentance and desire in our hearts. However 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 warns today 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.

The Year of Mercy Pope Francis has established corresponds to his “Theology of Sin” because we cannot receive the fruits of mercy until we acknowledge and repent of our sin. In an article in First Things (8/19/13), William Doino Jr. addresses this theology of sin by the pope and notes its importance due to our wide-spread denial of sin altogether as a culture. He presents a three-step process Pope Francis has advocated for:

“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.’”

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, we could miss the opportunity for heaven.

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 a word we shy away from in our culture – shame. When we feel truly ashamed however we desire change and open ourselves up to help.

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.”

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 off 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. First Things “The Pope’s 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 combated by generosity)

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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