The Fork In The Road For Every Christian

by Angela Jendro

fork in the road

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 12:49-53 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Meditation Reflection:

Imagine someone else saying the same words as Jesus did.  You might accuse them of not being very Christian.  Isn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace?  Isn’t He the nicest guy there ever was?  Aren’t Christians supposed to be nice people? Yet, Jesus exclaimed with great passion His eagerness to set the world ablaze.  This doesn’t seem to fit the sandal-wearing, nice, historical moral teacher image our culture likes to portray Jesus as.

fire pic

Jesus does bring peace, but not a superficial conciliation. He came to defeat sin and redeem mankind, accomplished through His own baptism of the Cross, one that caused Him great “anguish until it is accomplished.Fire purifies and destroys.  Christ came to set fire to sin, to destroy its corrupting influence in our lives, and to make room for life in God.  That battle begins within ourselves and extends to sin outside ourselves.  Purification can burn, but at the end of the process one feels liberated and empowered. To ignite this fire and make our purification possible, Christ knew He had to suffer and die first – something that caused Him distress as He waited in anticipation.

As disciples of Christ, we share in both His rewards and His suffering.  Christ’s words about causing division seem shocking.  Isn’t He supposed to bring unity and harmony? Jesus offers unity, but not everyone accepts it.  Note that although Jesus often ate with sinners, not every sinner chose to eat with Him and several found His witness challenging enough that they tried to silence Him altogether by crucifying Him.

I often quote G.K. Chesterton who said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It’s been found difficult; and left untried.”  At the fork in the road therefore, where one mfork in the road 2ust choose the path of discipleship or the path of least resistance, Christians must resolve and accept that as they walk to the left after Christ, some of their closest companions may walk to the right instead and their paths will separate.  Although Christians, like Christ, ought to keep the door open to those friendships, oftentimes living our faith can mean losing some relationships.  Jesus is Goodness, Truth, and Love.  Yet, He was rejected by many.  As we strive to be more Christ-like, we have to prepare ourselves for the same experience.

Even in the Old Testament, authentic prophets consistently experienced rejection and suffering.  The community they came to help change would pressure them to conform instead.  When God’s prophets refused, they found themselves exiled or running from death threats.  The first reading for this Sunday’s liturgy provides an evocative image of this from the life of Jeremiah:

“And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah…There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.” Jeremiah 38:6

stuck in the mud

This image strikes me because of the several analogous experiences I can think of in my own life.  Jeremiah acts in truth and love only to be thrown into a pit.  The mud makes the image even better as a symbol of the depressive reality of ones you love rejecting Christ (and you) in favor of persisting in their sins.  When Jeremiah “sank into the mud,” I am reminded of the feeling of helplessness and despair that can discourage me in these moments. Thankfully, Jeremiah did not remain in the mud forever, Jesus’ death was followed by His resurrection, and God will lift us up too.  David expresses this in Psalm 40:2

“The LORD heard my cry. He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; he set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps.”

Walking the path of discipleship may take you down a different road than some of the persons you love.  You might experience the pain of division and loss, not because you didn’t invite them along but because they refuse to come with you.  This fork in the road can come in many different forms at different times in our lives.  Choosing between following Christ and following someone we love is as painful as fire.

Our contemporary culture adds even more pressure.  It seems more rare these days to find people who can be friends even though they have different views and beliefs. Instead, the attitude appears to be that one must condone the decisions of another or they can’t be friends.

Discipleship may be difficult but in the end Christ conquers all.  He can provide the guidance to achieve the tricky balance of loving others without condoning sin, as well as the humility to be receptive to the hard truth about our own sins a Christian friend might challenge.  Every person must make a choice and, praise be to Christ, He provides us with the grace and the guts we will need to follow Him no matter the cost.

Have you had a similar experience?  If you’d be willing to share, write a short account of your fork in the road in the comment section below!

that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine. Romans 1:12

Consider:

  •  How has Christ set your heart on fire?
    • How has He purified it?
    • How has that purification made you more zealous and joyful?
  • Has living out your Christian faith ever caused you to experience persecution from persons you care about?
    • In what ways did it feel like you were sinking into a pit of mud?
    • In what ways did God lift you up from the pit and set you on rock?
  • Who are your true friends who accept you as you are, complete with respect for your beliefs?
  • Have you ever been the one doing the persecuting or rejecting? Consider why we find it difficult to be around people who challenge us to be better simply by the way they are living their own lives.
  • Are there persons with whom you struggle to be an authentic Christian around? Do you live your faith at work or out with friends, or do you hide it so they won’t think differently about you?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray Psalm 40 each day this week.
  • Resolve to let your faith be seen in some small way, especially in a place where you usually lack the courage. (e.g. wearing a cross necklace, having a small crucifix or rosary on your desk, writing favorite bible verses on notecards and placing them in places you will see – whether in your work space or at home, walking away from conversations that disparage the faith or other persons, etc.)

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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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

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He Shared In Our Suffering, And Carries Our Cross…Gospel Meditation for Palm Sunday

by Angela Lambert

April 9th, 2017; Palm Sunday

(For the longer version of today’s Gospel, click this link: Matthew 26:14-27:66)

Gospel of Matthew 27:11-54

Jesus stood before the governor, Pontius Pilate, who questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?” But he did not answer him one word, so that the governor was greatly amazed. Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them, “Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed him over. While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him.” The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus. The governor said to them in reply, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They answered, “Barabbas!”

Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” But he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” They only shouted the louder, “Let him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.” And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.

And when they came to a place called Golgotha — which means Place of the Skull —, they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink. After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way.

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, ‘Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

Meditation Reflection:

Sin has a price.  During Holy Week, we contemplate Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation; the reason He became man and dwelt among us.  Jesus’ journey to the Cross began with His Incarnation in Mary’s womb.  Certainly, He ranks as the greatest Teacher in history, but He is much much more than that.  Divine Truth could not save us, without the gift of grace to transform us.  As St. Paul taught, the Mosaic Law condemns us.  Since we know the truth, we are all the guiltier when we transgress it.  The Mosaic Law provided the gift of wisdom, but it could not fortify a soul to follow it.  The thousands upon thousands of sacrificial lambs began the process of atonement for sin, but only the Lamb of God could justify us before the Lord.

Jesus knew every detail of His Passion before it occurred.  His human nature agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Eve of His crucifixion, even begging God that if it be His will, “to let this cup pass.”  Jesus willingly accepted His suffering and allowed Himself to be taken into custody, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crucified.  The Jews had tried to arrest Him several times before or stone Him for blasphemy, but to no avail.  They had no power of Jesus, only love and the cost for our redemption compelled Him forward.

Christ, though sinless Himself, entered into the messiness of our sinful human experience.  In doing so, He accomplished two things – first He redeemed us from our sins, and secondly, He drew near to comfort us in our struggles.  No one can say to the Lord, “you don’t understand, your God.”  Jesus experienced every humiliation that you and I suffer.  He grew up in poverty, His family had to flee persecution and live in exile for a period of time, the cultural elite looked down on Him and discounted His wisdom, He was often misunderstood – even by His closest companions, during His public ministry He had no home, some towns welcomed Him but others drove Him out of the city, on the hardest day of His life His friends fled and two betrayed Him, and at the end of His life it appeared that everything He had built was falling apart.  He experienced the fickle nature of human honors – being hailed as king as He entered Jerusalem with people waving palms shouting, “hosanna in the highest”, then the next day hearing the same crowd demand His execution shouting “crucify Him.”

When we cry out to God in our pain, weeping and begging as we ask “do you not see my suffering? Do you even care?”, we can be assured that He does, more than anyone else on this earth.  He became man so He could share in our suffering, carry our cross with us, and paying the price of our sins so we could live in the freedom of grace.  It may seem at times that God is silent, and we may struggle at His inaction.  Jesus experienced this too.  He asked in the Garden if there was another way.  On the Cross, He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me.”  Yet, He maintained complete confidence in God’s love and mercy.  He surrendered to God’s will at each step.  Even His final cry was one of hope.  He was quoting Psalm 22 which begins in anguish but ends in confidence that God will save. Jesus knew that His death would bring resurrection, for all men.  In the same way, we can be confident that we are never alone in our suffering, and with any death we experience, God will bring from it resurrection to new life.

Consider:

  • Consider each of Jesus’ sufferings.
    • His agony in the Garden – taking upon Himself the weight of our sins, fighting the human impulse to flee pain, the apostles asleep in His hour of need, the betrayal by Judas
    • His condemnation by the Sadducees and then by Pilate.  Standing silent without retort.
    • Hearing the crowd reject Him, even though He had done nothing but show them love.  Hearing them demand His crucifixion.  The vicious envy of the Jewish leaders and the shallowness of the people in the crowd who were so easily influenced.
    • The bloody scourging, which bruised and tore His flesh and resulted in losing a great deal of blood.
    • The mocking of the guards and the crown of thorns.  Choosing to endure rather than to argue back or overpower them.
    • Carrying the heavy cross, after a sleepless night and so much blood loss.  Fighting the weakness of His body with each step, and the shock of pain with each fall under its weight.  The chaos of the crowds pressing in on Him.
    • The humiliation of being stripped of His clothes.
    • The brutal crucifixion.
  • Consider the cost of your sins.  In what ways do others pay a price for your sin?  Are there persons particularly affected by your impatience, envy, pride, competitiveness, desire for attention, gossip, or other shortcomings?
  • In what ways do you pay a price for the sins of others?  How can imitating Christ’s example of forgiveness lift someone up with whom you struggle?
  • Consider your darkest moments and your deepest pain.  Reflect on how Christ has shared that same experience and suffered the same emotions – anxiety, humiliation, rejection, loss.
  • Consider the immense, unconditional love that Christ has for you.  Consider the lengths to which He willingly went, to protect and save you – to give you life and joy to the fullest.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, ask Christ to show you someone who is suffering.  Comfort that person in some way, so as to offer comfort to Christ in His sufferings.

Related Posts:

The Easter Triduum…Entering the Mystery

Receiving Christ’s Gift Graciously…Gospel Meditation for Palm Sunday (2016)

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Looking for a Savior

by Angela Lambert

 

Jesus and Pilate

November 13th, 2016; 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 21:5-19

While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here– the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Then they asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.  You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.  You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Meditation Reflection:

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

Christ counsels us to view this life as a pilgrimage and a battle.  We develop our faith, hope, and love, on earth which will bring a deep sense of joy but will never create an earthly utopia.  If we hope to find fullness here we will be sorely disappointed.  Just look at the reactions of the people to the current election.  Although presidents have a great deal of power, they are not omnipotent.  Moreover, their policies certainly affect our daily lives but the transformation of heart and development of culture is something only Christ can do through His grace and His followers.  Both candidates have significant flaws and neither are our savior.  The presidential election can never be the beginning of building a utopia or the end of the world, depending on your perspective.  Our reaction ought to be proportionate – working diligently for the common good within our democratic system but relying on Christ alone for the salvation of souls and the spiritual elevation of our country.  We can find relative happiness here, but for our joys to be lasting we need to direct them toward their true end – the heavenly kingdom.

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

Previous Related Posts:

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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The Fork In The Road For Every Christian

by Angela Jendro

fork in the road

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 12:49-53 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Meditation Reflection:

Imagine someone else saying the same words as Jesus did.  You might accuse them of not being very Christian.  Isn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace?  Isn’t He the nicest guy there ever was?  Aren’t Christians supposed to be nice people? Yet, Jesus exclaimed with great passion His eagerness to set the world ablaze.  This doesn’t seem to fit the sandal-wearing, nice, historical moral teacher image our culture likes to portray Jesus as.

fire pic

Jesus does bring peace, but not a superficial conciliation. He came to defeat sin and redeem mankind, accomplished through His own baptism of the Cross, one that caused Him great “anguish until it is accomplished.Fire purifies and destroys.  Christ came to set fire to sin, to destroy its corrupting influence in our lives, and to make room for life in God.  That battle begins within ourselves and extends to sin outside ourselves.  Purification can burn, but at the end of the process one feels liberated and empowered. To ignite this fire and make our purification possible, Christ knew He had to suffer and die first – something that caused Him distress as He waited in anticipation.

As disciples of Christ, we share in both His rewards and His suffering.  Christ’s words about causing division seem shocking.  Isn’t He supposed to bring unity and harmony? Jesus offers unity, but not everyone accepts it.  Note that although Jesus often ate with sinners, not every sinner chose to eat with Him and several found His witness challenging enough that they tried to silence Him altogether by crucifying Him.

I often quote G.K. Chesterton who said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It’s been found difficult; and left untried.”  At the fork in the road therefore, where one mfork in the road 2ust choose the path of discipleship or the path of least resistance, Christians must resolve and accept that as they walk to the left after Christ, some of their closest companions may walk to the right instead and their paths will separate.  Although Christians, like Christ, ought to keep the door open to those friendships, oftentimes living our faith can mean losing some relationships.  Jesus is Goodness, Truth, and Love.  Yet, He was rejected by many.  As we strive to be more Christ-like, we have to prepare ourselves for the same experience.

Even in the Old Testament, authentic prophets consistently experienced rejection and suffering.  The community they came to help change would pressure them to conform instead.  When God’s prophets refused, they found themselves exiled or running from death threats.  The first reading for this Sunday’s liturgy provides an evocative image of this from the life of Jeremiah:

“And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah…There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.” Jeremiah 38:6

stuck in the mud

This image strikes me because of the several analogous experiences I can think of in my own life.  Jeremiah acts in truth and love only to be thrown into a pit.  The mud makes the image even better as a symbol of the depressive reality of ones you love rejecting Christ (and you) in favor of persisting in their sins.  When Jeremiah “sank into the mud,” I am reminded of the feeling of helplessness and despair that can discourage me in these moments. Thankfully, Jeremiah did not remain in the mud forever, Jesus’ death was followed by His resurrection, and God will lift us up too.  David expresses this in Psalm 40:2

“The LORD heard my cry. He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; he set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps.”

Walking the path of discipleship may take you down a different road than some of the persons you love.  You might experience the pain of division and loss, not because you didn’t invite them along but because they refuse to come with you.  This fork in the road can come in many different forms at different times in our lives.  Choosing between following Christ and following someone we love is as painful as fire.

Our contemporary culture adds even more pressure.  It seems more rare these days to find people who can be friends even though they have different views and beliefs. Instead, the attitude appears to be that one must condone the decisions of another or they can’t be friends.

Discipleship may be difficult but in the end Christ conquers all.  He can provide the guidance to achieve the tricky balance of loving others without condoning sin, as well as the humility to be receptive to the hard truth about our own sins a Christian friend might challenge.  Every person must make a choice and, praise be to Christ, He provides us with the grace and the guts we will need to follow Him no matter the cost.

Have you had a similar experience?  If you’d be willing to share, write a short account of your fork in the road in the comment section below!

that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine. Romans 1:12

Consider:

  •  How has Christ set your heart on fire?
    • How has He purified it?
    • How has that purification made you more zealous and joyful?
  • Has living out your Christian faith ever caused you to experience persecution from persons you care about?
    • In what ways did it feel like you were sinking into a pit of mud?
    • In what ways did God lift you up from the pit and set you on rock?
  • Who are your true friends who accept you as you are, complete with respect for your beliefs?
  • Have you ever been the one doing the persecuting or rejecting? Consider why we find it difficult to be around people who challenge us to be better simply by the way they are living their own lives.
  • Are there persons with whom you struggle to be an authentic Christian around? Do you live your faith at work or out with friends, or do you hide it so they won’t think differently about you?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray Psalm 40 each day this week.
  • Resolve to let your faith be seen in some small way, especially in a place where you usually lack the courage. (e.g. wearing a cross necklace, having a small crucifix or rosary on your desk, writing favorite bible verses on notecards and placing them in places you will see – whether in your work space or at home, walking away from conversations that disparage the faith or other persons, etc.)

~ Written by Angela jendro © 2019

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Why is There Suffering, and What is God Doing About It?…Gospel meditation for June 5th, 2016

by Angela Lambert

Jesus raises widow of Nain's son

June 5th, 2016; 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 7:11-17 NAB

Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, crying out “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” and “God has visited his people.” This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.

 Meditation Reflection:

Why is there evil in the world?  Why doesn’t God do anything about it? Some persons will answer that either God doesn’t exist or God doesn’t care.  Those persons willing to investigate the question further however, universally discover two things: human free will causes most evils and the person who has consistently done the most to alleviate suffering is God.  Utopian ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries, endeavoring to eradicate evil through human efforts alone, all ended in countless deaths and totalitarian rule. Sin causes evil and only God can save us from ourselves.  Even death, God has revealed, did not originate with faulty genetics or evolution.  Sickness, death, toil, and pain entered the world through the original sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3; Romans 8:19-23).

God created human persons to experience Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  He designed us to live in perfect friendship with Him and with each other in a unity of love and joy for eternity.    We all experience deep suffering at some point(s) in life.   The woman in this Gospel provides an example of both deep spiritual pain from losing her only son after having already lost her husband, as well as utter material destitution since she would have no legal rights to property or work without a husband or son.  Upon seeing this, Jesus is “moved with pity for her.” When we feel most vulnerable, most alone, and our hearts are breaking, we can look to this passage and take comfort in knowing that Christ is looking on us with pity.  Moreover, this pity moves Him to do something to alleviate our pain.  In this case, Jesus restored the man to life.  In doing so, He restored the woman’s life as well.  Although Christ does not always save those we love from earthly death, this miracle demonstrates His power and His love which brings new life in surprising and supernatural ways.  It also points to the hope that all will be made new in the resurrected life in the kingdom of God.

God became man to dwell among us (John 1:14) and to personally alleviate our suffering through His Word, His touch, and His sacrifice.  As the psalmist proclaims: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).  Moved with pity, Christ continues to reach directly into our hearts to dry our tears and heal our wounds. He anoints our wounds with grace through His sacraments, He dispels hurtful lies with His divine revelation, He forgives our sins in the sacrament of Confession and fortifies us with grace to overcome them, and He feeds us with His very own body and blood in the Eucharist.  Finally, He unites us as members of His body and extends His hand of mercy through His disciples operating under the direction and love of the Holy Spirit.

Does God care about our suffering?  Is He going to do anything about it?  Yes.  Quite a lot actually, if only you will allow Him.  Christ offers new life if we will accept it.  He offers healing if we turn to Him.  This is the witness of every Christian disciple.

Consider:

  •  Re-read the Gospel and imagine you are one of the persons present.
    • Consider the love of the mother for her only son. Consider her love for her husband as well.  The death of her son means the image of her husband is gone as well as their family together.  In addition, imagine you will now be destitute with no way to provide for yourself.  To your surprise, a man emerges from the crowd and gives your son, your family, your life, back to you.
    • Imagine you are one of the members of the crowd. Why might you be present and how might you be feeling toward the woman?  What would you think of Christ’s miracle?
    • Imagine Christ’s perspective. What does His response reveal about His heart and His character?
  • Consider the definition of pity. Dictionary.com defines it as: “sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, often leading one to give relief or aid or to show mercy.” The heart of Christ felt sorrow at the sight of the woman’s pain and it moved Him to help her.  Imagine Christ seeing you in your pain.  Consider His merciful look of pity which shares your sorrow and desires to bring you comfort.
  • Reflect on a time Christ comforted you or saved you when you were in dire need. Take time to appreciate all that He did and the incredible ways He acted in your life during that time.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day with this prayer: “Lord show me the needs around me.  Move my heart with pity and enable me to show mercy to someone today.”
  • Surrender a pain to Christ to heal. Reach out to Him in His Word, His Sacraments, or His Church.  Spend 5 minutes of silence with Christ and your pain.
  • Make a gratitude list of the mercies Christ has shown you over the years and then each day.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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