Choosing between Adolescent Illusions or Adult Freedom

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27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings for Sunday’s Liturgy

Meditation Reflection: Matthew 21:33-43

Spiritual growth, like physical and emotional development, must move from childhood and adolescence to reach mature adulthood. As our Heavenly Father, the Lord patiently endures our annoying behaviors of immaturity and lovingly guides us into adulthood. Unfortunately, just as some grown adults seem stuck in adolescent thinking and habits, so too many of us hold on to immature spiritual attitudes and resist the leadership of our Father, thus stunting our spiritual growth.

Weighed down by the effects of original sin, tempted by the Enemy and bolstered by our own pride, most often we substitute a false sense of entitlement and independence for rightful gratitude and obedience to God. Like the teen who begins to think his parents owe him everything he desires, or defies their rules with a sense of superiority, we can get stuck in the trap of demanding God’s goodness while denying His Lordship.

Pope Benedict XVI related this struggle to the original temptation of Adam and Eve, which he described as a denial of their “creatureliness” (In the Beginning). Having grown accustomed to the paradisiacal gift of their existence and the beautiful Garden, the Enemy introduced the idea of entitlement and ingratitude. Satan himself had refused to live in gratitude, preferring his own self-centered pride. He then enticed Adam and Eve to distrust God, deny their state as creatures, and become their own creators.

Called “the father of lies,” Satan lives in eternal anger at God who is reality itself (as revealed to Moses when He shared His Name – YHWH – “I AM”). The Enemy prefers his Illusions of entitled independence to a life of gift. However, illusions are just that – empty and unreal. Angry at God, he tries to recruit others to his side. He hates to see persons living in the joy of God’s love; therefore he proposed an alternative, distorted view of the Lord to Adam and Eve. He suggested that their experience was not in fact paradisiacal, but rather quite impoverished. To depend on God or obey His laws, he proposed, would be to accept slavery to a selfish and manipulative deity. 

In truth Satan was the selfish, manipulative one with a god-complex, whereas the Lord had been nothing but generous and truthful with Adam and Eve. Satan argued that contrary to their experience, freedom and happiness lay in rebellion rather than rightful relationship with the Lord. Rather than rebuking the serpent for such hateful lies, they thought about the serpent’s words and chose to reject what they knew about God from experience for the false hope of a more liberated life without God.

This same temptation infects each of us, their children, both from within our own rebellious hearts and the sly lies of the Enemy. Jesus’ parable tells of God’s care for us, providing everything we need. He rightly expects only His due, and yet we resist Him. God blesses us with every good thing, but envy looks outward and turns back to God in complaint that we don’t have more. Every week that God blesses us with life, He asks only for one day in return.  Moreover, as our loving Father, He doesn’t even ask that the day be spent in chores but rather that we rest and spend time with Him and our family. Yet, how often do we complain that setting aside work to worship the Lord is burdensome!

Consider also our prayers of entreaty for God to provide – a job, a home, possibly a spouse and children.  We praise God for a short while when He bestows these gifts, but soon begin to complain about them.  Even worse, we easily forget that they were even gifts at all and delude ourselves into thinking we have achieved them single-handedly. Confident now in our own abilities we fall into the destructive cycle of always grasping for more, never satisfied and never at rest, spiritually alone; producing the hell-ish existence that Satan hoped for us.

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:16-17)

Today’s Gospel reiterates the theme of The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Luke 10:11). Christ has come and He invites every human person to relationship with Him. We must make a choice and take responsibility for the consequences like adults.

Moreover, we must examine or attitude toward those whom Jesus has sent with His authority to bring God’s truth to us. Jesus told His apostles that:

“Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)

Jesus established the Church to preserve, protect, and promulgate His Word. When we feel like characterizing the moral law or Church teaching as oppressive rather than freeing, we can remember from whom that lie comes. We must decide if we trust God or tempting illusions.

Jesus invites us into mature relationship with the Lord. He offers the freedom and dignity of spiritual adulthood through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Scripture, and the Church. He even provides the grace to transform our hearts from weakness to strength, from selfishness to self-gift, and from illusions to Truth.  He asks each and every one of us, “which do you choose”?

Consider:

  • Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you in a prayer of gratitude; to open your heart and mind as you reflect on every good thing that comes from God.
  • Consider where envy, greed, or pride distorts your perception and causes discontentment to fester.
  • Consider how an adult views freedom in contrast with an adolescent. Do you trust God’s guidance to be freeing, or do you prefer your own judgment or worldly wisdom?
  • How is the Lord visiting you today? What fruits is He asking for as produce of the gifts He has bestowed upon you? How might you put your gifts more at the service of God and others?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a list of each of God’s gifts in your life.
    • For each gift, offer one fruit a day for each back to God. For example:
      • Your Job: Offer the fruit of Christian witness by refraining from vulgar language or joining in crude jokes. Be truthful where you are tempted to lie or exaggerate. Do one act of service for a co-worker. Be joyful for the day and refrain from complaint.  Refuse to begin or join gossip.
      • Your Family: Do one act of humble service for your spouse, children, or parents. Combat taking your spouse or parents for granted by recognizing them with a word of thanks or deed of kindness, out of gratitude their contributions.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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

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4th Sunday of Easter

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

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Stating the Facts & Facing the Conclusions

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4th Sunday of Lent

Gospel of John 9:1-41 

Meditation:

Another long passage. Why? Two in a row?! Is it because it’s Lent, and the Church wants to test our patience? No, despite our ever-shortening attention spans, we still need to hear real stories of real people’s transformation in Christ.

John could only include a sliver of these experiences in his Gospel, so he reserved room for the most powerful or most instructive. His Gospel is not written as myth or legend, but as testimony. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well taught us the surprising nature of the kingdom of God which we, like many of the Jews at the time, may find difficult to understand on a natural level. Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, testifies to the undeniable evidence of Jesus’ divine origin. Thus, discipleship of Christ cannot be sustained by natural reason alone, which is why believing in Him as merely a good moral teacher is not enough and not very effective. Rather, disciples follow Christ based on faith in Who He is. This faith may develop gradually over a period of time and interaction, like the Samaritan woman’s village with whom Jesus spent two days, or happen in a miraculous moment like the man born blind. Either way, the call of discipleship exceeds our understanding, and can only make sense if we believe that Jesus is truly God.

Discipleship begins with encounter and follows with witness. The man born blind witnessed to the facts about his healing without interpretation several times. The Pharisees refused to acknowledge the logical conclusion, so they tried to raise doubts about the premises. Finally, the exasperated man connected the dots for them and stated the real logical conclusion: He was born blind, now he is not blind; only God could have given him sight; God only blesses those whom He approves; therefore…Jesus is from God. For the Pharisees to reject Christ when the miracle was standing right in front of them, was to willingly choose blindness. God acts in our lives daily and has sent His only Son for our salvation. We have no more excuses for our ignorance. Christ can make the blind see, but we can also choose to be blind by our own obstinate will.

The Pharisees tried to pit Jesus against Moses, but Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a new Moses. Moses received the Law from God and brought it to the people. Jesus is God and communicates the New Law from His own authority. He also, therefore, has the authority to correct any misinterpretations or misapplications of the Old Law.

God also promised, that someone from the line of David would always be king. As the New David, Jesus takes up the crown as eternal king. When God told the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse and anoint one of his sons as the new king, Samuel expected the oldest to be chosen. Instead, God chose the youngest. This was such an unforeseen call, that David wasn’t even present at the visit but instead was tasked with tending the sheep. Just as God said to Samuel regarding David,

the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 RSV), so the blind man gave witness to Jesus by his miraculous and supernatural sight. “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see…It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”

 All Christians are called to bear witness to Christ, evidenced by His transformative power in their lives. How others react to that witness, brings to light their true state of soul. We all have an innate yearning for God. We sometimes avoid Him however to continue in some of our sins. Sometimes we feign ignorance, rationalize away Christ’s teaching, or discount the witness given by the lives of strong Christians we know, so we can avoid facing the truth about our attachments. We cannot hide any longer. Christ has come, His light has shone, and He continues to live and act through His Mystical Body the Church. He has given a New Law as our Eternal King. His expectations exceed our natural abilities and weakness, but His grace makes the Christian life possible.

The more our relationship with Christ develops, the more our faith will strengthen and our trust in Him will grow. Then, when the Christian life tests our minds and hearts, we will hopefully respond as St. Peter did, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; we have come to believe and are convinced, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69) and to give witness as St. John does at the beginning of His Gospel: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as the only-begotten Son from the Father.” (John 1:14 RSV)

Consider:

  • Where would you consider yourself in your spiritual journey?
    • Initial Outreach – just beginning the search for God, curious about Jesus but unsure of whether to follow Him
    • Early Development – responding to Christ, learning His truths, forming convictions, developing Christian habits, shedding sinful habits, wavering but growing stronger
    • Disciple – follower of Christ, faith in Him and trust in Him above oneself, motivated by love and loyalty, allowing Christ full authority to transform you, witness of His life in you
  • If, like the man born blind, you were asked to testify about your encounter with Christ, what would you say? What would be the “facts” of the case, and what would be your conclusions?
  • How has the Christian witness of others strengthened your faith or moved you to make a serious change in your life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning take five minutes of prayer to think about your day ahead and resolve to witness to Christ in one to three concrete
    • Consider in each aspect – home, work, recreation, family
    • Think of ways in each area you can live your Christian faith and witness to Christ by either your words or your actions.
    • Resolve on one thing to say or do in each area for the day.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Hope When Least Expected

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3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of John 4:5-42

Meditation Reflection:

What a long passage. Why? Why does John give this much space in his Gospel to one woman’s conversion? Jesus encountered multitudes of people during His brief public ministry. John even gives a disclaimer at the end of his Gospel, apologizing that he could only include a handful of Jesus’ miracles, enough to make the point that He is the Son of God, because they were too innumerable to recount in written form.

Carl_Heinrich_Bloch_-_Woman_at_the_WellOne reason may be because the woman at the well’s encounter with Christ models the process of conversion. Jesus approached her when she least expected it. She went to the well at noon, the worst time of the day, to avoid the other women. Sin has a way of isolating us from others as we try to cover up our sins or protect our rationalizations.

Jesus initiated the conversation. He sought her. He began with a request, but in fact desired to offer her healing and salvation. Every Christian’s conversion begins with an encounter with Christ, and the experience of Him having sought us before we sought Him. Discipleship is not a project, club, or philosophy. It’s a response. It’s a realization that what Christ asks of us, is in fact His invitation to receive from Him.

Next, He addressed her sins. She skirted the issue, and even when confronted directly, she tried to distract Him with a theological debate. By the end however, she felt relief and joy. From her encounter, she learned that the Christ, the anointed one of God, had come. Moreover, He had come to her – despite her personal unfaithfulness, as well as the unfaithfulness of her people the Samaritans. Jesus revealed Himself as the Savior, come through the promise of the Jews, and at the same time for the salvation of all.

Imagine her hopelessness as she approached the well in the heat of the day. Women of her time would view success as a good marriage and large family. She had already had five husbands and given up on marriage altogether with the man she was living with. She had no friends and was excluded from the community of women. There was no way back for her, and no opportunity going forward.

God gives surprisingly and super-abundantly. Met with physical thirst, Jesus offered her the living waters of eternal life. It took a while for her to wrap her mind around what He was saying. Eventually however, she recognized the work of God and ran to the people of her town to tell them. She left her water jug, despite her physical thirst and needs. She boldly told everyone of her experience, despite the shame of her reputation among them.

Her witness was so moving that they went to Jesus to see for themselves. They too encountered Christ in an unexpected and surprising way – through the seemingly least religious woman in town. By the end of their encounter however, they too were converted.

During Lent, Jesus comes to meet us in our shame and our thirst. As a Church, we endeavor to hear Him through increased prayer and introspection. We recall that He came to save us, while we are still sinners. We remember that He first sought us, but we must respond. Thankfully, He is patient.

Our transformation in Christ will become our witness, and our witness will bring Christ to others. But first, we must set aside our tactics for avoiding our sins and allow Christ to lead us out of them.

Consider:

  • The woman went to the well at noon instead of morning because of shame:
    • What are you ashamed of? What do you hide from others?
  • Imagine meeting Jesus:
    • Would you feel surprised? What excuses might you make?
  • Imagine Jesus calling you out on your sins:
    • What are your competing loves? Be honest.
    • How is Jesus, the living water, compared to these other “spouses”?
  • How are the other pleasures you seek temporary and always needing replenishing, whereas Christ’s joy is abiding?
  • Jesus offers her life, and commands her to sin no more. Let Jesus confront your sin. You too must choose. None of us can have both.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • When God confronted King David about his sin through the prophet Nathan, David responded by composing Psalm 51. He acknowledged his sin, asked for forgiveness, and trusted God to transform his heart.
    • Pray Psalm 51 each day this week.
  • Do an examination of conscience this week. If possible, meet Christ in the sacrament of Confession.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Determined Discipleship

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1st Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

* 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. You can also find me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

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Getting the Last Word…but Making it a Blessing

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7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:38-48

Meditation Reflection:

 Forgiveness and love are the mark of Christ, and therefore the signifier of His followers. In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II was shot by a Turkish assassin Ali Agca. The attempt occurred on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and JPII credited Mary for “guiding the bullet” which just barely missed a major artery. Even while in the ambulance, JPII voiced his forgiveness of the assassin. Later after he had recovered, he visited Agca in prison and offered his forgiveness in person. Agca had not offered an apology and only inquired as to why he wasn’t dead. This encounter however had an impact and later when he was released from prison, Agca travelled to St. Peter’s to place roses on John Paul II’s tomb.

St. John tells us that “God is Love” (1 John 4:7, emphasis added) and Jesus tells us to be perfect as the Father – therefore perfect in Love. The term perfect means “full, or complete.” When Jesus refers to His Heavenly Father’s perfection therefore, He means that God’s love lacks nothing and is total. By contrast, “even tax collectors” love their friends, but their love is imperfect because it is incomplete. Total love includes those who love us and those who do not.

But how we can love someone who hates us or hurts us? Does Jesus mean we must be friends with people who wish us harm or take advantage of us? No. Love is defined as “willing another person’s good.” Thankfully, this does not require feelings of love, or even reciprocal friendship. It doesn’t even mean trusting the person. It simply means choosing not to act in revenge or anger, and instead doing that which promotes the good of the other. Thus, we can pray for our enemies, in which we petition God on their behalf for graces to be bestowed upon them. We can speak kindly, act respectfully, and do the right thing toward others, not because they necessarily deserve it, but because it’s who we want to be.

Authentic love can also sometimes mean tough love. It can require choices that appear unloving but are in fact healthy boundaries. Loving an addict for instance or someone with mental illness will require tough love but will be more effective toward their health than enabling them in their sickness. Disciplining children is tough love, but it helps the child grow in goodness.

Christ calls His followers to imitate His mercy. This demand goes above and beyond natural strength and even natural wisdom or common sense. It only makes sense considering the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection for our salvation, and it can only be accomplished with the aid of His divine grace.

Christ loved us while we were yet sinners. He willed our good and worked for our salvation even when we were mired in sin and rejected Him. As His disciples, we can work for the salvation of others, even when they too are mired in sin and working against us. This can be tricky, but my mother offered me advice about these situations that I have found to be a guiding principle. When tempted to react vengefully when faced with difficult people and situations, she would say, “don’t let their behavior change who you are.” Her wisdom strengthened my resolve and shed light on how to decide what to do. No matter what others are doing or how low they sink, the truth is if we just fire back, we sink to their level too. Jesus wants us to rise above, with the help of His grace and the light of His example. Whether it transforms the other person or not, it will definitely transform us.

Loving our enemy is necessary to stop the cycle of violence, and our only hope for human unity. When we are the ones caught up in it, we want to get the last word in or throw the last punch. When we are the observer however, we just want it to stop. As a mom, I get tired of hearing my kids bicker. Both claim it’s the other’s fault and point the finger at who started it. Both go on and on and on, despite my attempts to break it up because they are obsessed with having the last word. I wonder if God views our bickering in the same way. Maybe the other person did start it, so what? Why can’t we just stop? No one can move on unless we do, and everyone is miserable.

Loving our enemy is a supernatural virtue. To cultivate charity, we need to connect to God and His stream of grace in prayer and the sacraments. We must meditate on the Gospels to develop our sense of what Jesus would do. We need to make time for fellowship with Christians walking the walk and learn from their insights and examples. In this way, we can grow in love until it fills every gap in our heart and reaches the fullness of perfection like that of our Father in heaven.

Consider:

  • Who do you find easy to love and why?
  • Who do you find difficult to love? Who could you identify as your enemy?
    • In what way do they provoke you to strike back?
    • How might you react with love instead? How could you “will their good”?
  • Consider how we love our children even when they disobey, say hurtful things, or work against us. Do you ever feel anger toward your kids, but choose/will what’s good for them?
  • Consider God’s perspective as our Father and us as His children. How does He view our bickering, feuds, back-biting, and competitiveness? What would He say to you about how you treat your brother or sister in Christ?
  • We can pick our friends, but we can’t pick our family. Consider how loving our natural siblings can cultivate the virtues needed to love our spiritual siblings.
  • Read the story of St. Maria Goretti and reflect on her example of tough love, forgiveness, and the transformation it caused in her assailant.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pick one person who makes your life difficult.
    • 1) Begin each day with a sincere prayer for them. (not a list of all their flaws that God should fix, but rather for God’s blessing upon them!)
    • 2) Resolve each day this week to refrain from snide remarks to them or about them, gossip, or any kind of action that would anger or hurt them.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Keeping it Real

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6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5: 17-37

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 as sobriety can only be achieved through facing reality, so human freedom from sin being realcan 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, He is the source of all that is real. Thus, union with God requires utter realness and authenticity.

Lewis wrote 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. Drawing from scriptural imagery, he describes inhabitants of hell 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 letting it go and experiencing authentic freedom.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus 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 into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20) and “so be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 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 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 them.
    • 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” or “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 M. Jendro © 2019
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Lighting the Path and Seasoning the Journey Because Blending In is Bland

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5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 5:13-16

Meditation Reflection:

 People often complain they need to see something to believe it. Although faith requires going beyond sight, the seeds of faith can be planted through allowing others to see for themselves the work of Christ in our lives. Authentic, Christian discipleship causes deep transformation. This supernatural change witnesses in an evidentiary way, the reality of the Holy Spirit and the life of grace.

The first converts to Christianity were moved by the way Christians lived differently than everyone else. Amidst a callous, hedonistic culture, Christians treated one another with love and respect. Christian marriages were marked by mutual kindness and fidelity. Slaves were considered brothers and sisters in Christ. Martyrs sacrificed everything joyfully in witness to their belief in the resurrection. The way martyrs faced their death so peacefully and courageously, converted many onlookers who could plainly see that the dying Christians were acting with a strength and calm that exceeded the limits of human nature. Tertullian famously articulated this phenomenon saying, “The blood of the martyrs, is the seed of the Church” (197 A.D.).

As modern Christians, our lives ought to witness the reality of grace as well, by following Christ beyond our comfort zone. Sometimes we can make our faith life a little too neat and tidy. We make Sunday Mass a casual commitment, and parish fellowship a comfortable social club. We might look to faith for comfort, but we don’t expect the impossible from God, and we ask that He not expect the impossible of us.

Although this sounds like a reasonable relationship, it doesn’t do much to reveal the life of grace, or the reality of God’s supernatural love and aid. After teaching the Beatitudes, the heart of the New Law, Jesus followed up with this analogy to salt and light. The journey of faith, though very personal, also has an evangelistic element; it’s a gift we both receive and give in return. Christ urges us to follow the path of the Beatitudes to its end. He’s right that authentic discipleship will not blend in. Simply living the Christian faith, is a witness to truths that others try to avoid, resulting in numerous pressures from others to be quiet. Those pressures come in many forms – accusations of being overly zealous, judgmental, intolerant, or making one’ private faith public. Secular culture continues to find ways to diminish the witness of faith and put a bushel basket over the light by re-defining religion as personal sentiment and forbidding it to bear external fruit unless that fruit can be limited to, and labeled as, secular humanitarianism.

At the same time, although Christ was persecuted by some, He was also sought out by many others. Jesus promised, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32 RSV). Genuine discipleship can transform us and transform society, adding freedom to both. St. Paul told the Galatians, that the fruits of the Spirit are not of this world. By drawing near to God in prayer, the Spirit bears fruits within Christians of divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The world needs these fruits and hungers for them. If we keep our faith in a box that we only take out on Sundays or Christmas, we put a bushel over the light of Christ and make it impotent, leaving the world to suffer rather than to offer it hope.

I love Jesus’ analogy to salt. Maybe because I love salt on everything! It’s so basic, but it makes everything taste so wonderful. Our faith is the salt that makes life seasoned and enjoyable. If we offer the world a bland form of our faith, what is the point? We wouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable, but we would also deny them the chance to taste something remarkable.

Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He teaches us the path to follow and provides the necessary grace needed to make the journey. When we live in relationship with Him, our life can’t help but radiate His peace, love, and wisdom. If we can have the courage to follow Christ beyond our comfort zone, Christ promises that we can be a light for others shining the truth they need to be free, and the salt that seasons their life with His joy.

Consider:

  • What do you find comfortable about your Christian faith? What’s easy or natural for you?
  • What do you find uncomfortable? What teachings seem “too much”? In which areas of your life, or among which people, do you try to downplay your faith?
  • How might you live your faith more deeply or more authentically?
  • Reflect on the effect of salt and light. Fast from salt for a day and consider the difference without it. Try functioning with only the aid of natural light rather than light bulbs. How does it limit your work and your experience?
  • Consider each aspect of your day – home, work, activities, etc. Reflect on how you can live your faith in each

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • At the beginning of each transition in your day, begin with a prayer for Christ to teach you, and help you, live as His disciple in that part of your
    • The prayer can be a spontaneous prayer of your own words, or a written prayer you recite at each transition. Ideas: Our Father, Glory Be, Hail Mary, Memorare, a verse from a Psalm, a prayer to the Holy Spirit, the Disciple prayer by Cardinal Newman,
    • I personally like the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas: “Grant O Merciful God, that I may ardently desire, prudently examine, truthfully acknowledge, and perfectly accomplish, what is pleasing to Thee, for the praise and glory of Thy Name”

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~ Written by Angela M. Jendro © 2019

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Watch & Wait, Look & See

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2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 1:29-34

Meditation Reflection:

John the Baptist_Tissot_Brooklyn Museum

The Voice in the Desert by James Tissot Brooklyn Museum

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 40 begins by singing,

I have waited, waited for the LORD,

and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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The Universal Search for God

Feast of the Ephiphany

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Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

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