Begin Again: New Year’s Resolutions for the New Liturgical Year

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual LifeTake Time For Him Book cover by Angela M. Jendro © 2019. Available on Amazon.  Order your own copy!

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First Sunday of Advent

Gospel of Matthew 24:37-44

Meditation Reflection:

Advent marks the beginning of a new year (liturgically speaking). We pause to praise God that we made it through last year on the wings of His grace, and to begin anew for the next. A lot can happen in a year, so we need to re-center ourselves in the Lord, to ground ourselves in His love, His strength, His Wisdom, and His peace. Yoked to Christ, we will be able to embrace unexpected joys and successes with humble gratitude and persevere through sorrows and failures without fear.

In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, Advent also provides the opportunity for Christians to step back, evaluate their lives, and make renewed goals for personal growth. Like most resolutions, we hope to imbue the next year with deeper meaning and healthier living (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). We can’t know when our lives will end or when Christ will come again, but we can be our best selves when it does and try to live with as few regrets as possible.

So how do we do this, especially in our complicated and fast- paced culture? Where do we even begin and what steps can we take? To start, we absolutely MUST make following Christ our first and highest priority. Jesus assures us in Matthew 6:33 that if we “seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness”, everything else will fall into place. The first habit we need to make, is turning to Christ EVERY day and to develop the ability to “Practice the Presence of God”i as Brother Lawrence famously termed it. It’s human nature to grow lax over time and most of us can’t avoid being overwhelmed periodically by daily life. In these moments, when we need prayer the most, it’s usually the first to be neglected. Instead, in your stress, make your prayer the rock that soothes your anxiety or sadness, that calms your anger, and dispels the clouds of confusion. By the same token, during times of success and feelings of happiness, we can easily be distracted from our connection to Christ or our underlying need for Him. Instead, rejoice with Christ, let Him share your joy especially since He was instrumental in achieving it. These annual pauses can reorient us in a positive way if we use our triumphs and our failures as fuel for richer discipleship.

Although goals need to be tailored to the individual, they endure the longest and bear the most fruit if done in community. For example, last year during faculty workshops leading up to the start of school (I’m a middle and high school teacher), a colleague and I decided to go for a walk during our lunch break each day. We lamented that our healthy summer living would be quickly replaced by the frenetic schedule of the school year and our summer habits of regular exercise would fade away leaving us tired and downcast. We resolved to walk together for an hour once a week after school. Plenty of reasons presented themselves every week to cancel the walk, but we stuck to our priority of that small bit of exercise (and friendship and spiritual conversation) together. This was the baby step that kept me in the habit each week and soon I added another day of exercise on my own. Not long after, a friend told me about an opportunity for a family gym membership that was affordable and a good way for our kids to burn off energy together.   When school began the following year, I smiled as I didn’t have to complain to my colleague about the impending physical atrophy and stress. Instead I felt amazing knowing I had been able to develop a much healthier balance in my life and knew I could take care of myself and keep up at work and home.

Like our bodies, our spiritual lives have a tremendous ability to bounce back with a little determination and perseverance. It’s tempting to look back with nostalgia at our previous achievements and make excuses for our current atrophy. Instead, find a friend and make a small, achievable goal to reinvigorate your spiritual life. Over the course of the year, similar to exercise, it will begin to bear greater and greater fruit, spurring you on to take more steps toward spiritual health and endurance. What sometimes begins as feeling laborious and painful eventually becomes something that feels so good you look forward to it and find ways to increase it.

Begin with the basics – go to Mass EVERY Sunday. No excuses. (Unless you are seriously ill of course). My kids and I have a tradition of getting doughnuts afterward to celebrate Sunday. As they’ve gotten older doughnuts are sometimes replaced with McDonald’s breakfast or as teens a mocha latte fun coffee drink. Whatever the treat, find a way to keep the celebration of Christ at Mass going afterward.

Pray, EVERY day. Start with saying thank you. Praise God and consider His goodness and greatness. Next, be honest with God about the day ahead and the help you will need to radiate Christ in the situations you will be in. Finally, intercede for others. Consider the needs of those around you, especially your family and people at work. Ask God for his help. Decide ahead of time when this conversation with God will take place. Know yourself and be realistic. For instance, as much as I wish I could end my day with prayer, as soon as I remotely begin to relax, I immediately fall asleep. I’ve considered a midday prayer, but I get distracted by everything in the day. However, when my kids were infants and toddlers, midday during their nap time was the only chance I had for scheduled time with God. Now that my kids are older and I am back at work, I choose morning to pray, when my mind is clear, and I can enjoy a cup of coffee with the Lord. Once I got into this habit however, it was so fruitful I yearned for more time with the Lord but struggled to get up earlier; the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak (cf. Matthew 26:41). So, when day light savings time began and I had to adjust my body to staying up later and getting up later, I decided to stay on the same schedule instead and the extra time for prayer was immediately available!

Next step, read a spiritual book about the faith. Unlike fiction or pop culture, spiritual books are best read a few pages at a time and may take a year or more to complete. A good book about the faith should inspire a movement of love and reflection in your heart and spur contemplation. Don’t get caught up in the progress of pages as much as the progress of personal transformation.

Praying with Scripture is always a great idea. You could read through a book of the bible, especially the Gospels, a chapter or so at a time. You could also read the daily readings for the Mass and reflect on the Gospel of the day. I find tremendous divine providence in these passages. You can go to usccb.org and click on the calendar on the right-hand side of the page to see the readings for the day. You could also pray with the psalms or even pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

Finally, if possible, try to set aside 5 minutes of silence with the Lord into your day. Lots of distractions will fill your mind but gently push them away and try to make 5 minutes of space for being in the presence of the Lord and listening.

Personally, I like to end prayer with 5 minutes of silence. I set a timer on my phone so I don’t have to check the clock. Other times, spiritual reading moves my heart and I pause in the middle of it for the 5 minutes.

Like building any new habit, you will have to make your own prudential decisions about what merits exceptions, versus the slippery slope of letting other things edge out your time with God. I have experienced both. For instance, when I would pray during my kids’ nap time I often felt pulled by the long list of things that needed to get done. I could easily excuse skipping prayer for doing dishes or cleaning up by considering my work as prayer. Although our work is prayerful if offered to God, actual time alone with the Lord is irreplaceable and a higher priority. On the other hand, I have also encountered situations where I was up all night with sick kids or unavoidable extra work at my job or in works of mercy that presented themselves. On those mornings I sometimes had to cut into my prayer time to get the necessary sleep I knew I needed to function for the Lord the next day. I try to be prayerfully prudent though to make sure I’m not letting other things come before prayer and try to say no to things that would interfere. Even on mornings I get a little extra sleep I make sure I still retain some time for prayer and not skip it altogether.

Don’t be afraid to adjust your new year’s resolutions to your current state in life. Things change from year to year, which makes Advent a perfect time to consider where you are now and what your next steps should be. Some periods of life are very peaceful, and you can plan structured times for prayer and methodically work on building needed virtues. Other times you may feel like you are in survival mode and leaning on the Lord takes a different form for the time being as you are in the trenches together. Whatever you decide, make the decision with Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Reach out to fellow Christians and accept the support of others and of grace. In this way, whenever Christ comes, He will find you ready – reaching for him.

Consider:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you need to grow.
    • How might you grow deeper in prayer?
    • How might you develop more virtuous habits?
    • How might you be more Christ-like toward others?
  • Consider past spiritual resolutions you have made. How have they born fruit in your life? Reflect on the effort it took to begin them and how they grew to become a
  • Where do you need more balance? What undermines higher priorities? How might you put boundaries on those things to keep your priorities better aligned?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make one prayer resolution. Decide when, how, and what you will do to deepen your prayer
  • Make one virtue resolution. Identify one way you would like to better imitate Christ and make a daily plan to grow in that
  • Make one detachment resolution. Choose one vice or sin to overcome. Ask others to keep you accountable about it, pray daily for grace to overcome it, and practice the opposite virtue.

 

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Gratitude for Our Reason to Hope

tHANKS TO jESUS.JPG

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:11-19 NAB

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

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

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Toughening Up

taking up cross

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:5-10 NAB

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

Meditation Reflection:

We live in a culture rife with an entitlement attitude. Generation Y-ers get the worst rap for this and to be fair university studies have provided proof of its epidemic. Generation Z is too young to tell for certain but doesn’t appear likely to be much different. (I myself am on the very beginning edge of Gen Y, although I was somewhat sheltered from an entitlement perspective thanks to my mother’s tireless efforts to curb my attitude).

Merriam-Webster defines this attitude as: “the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).” A NY Post article “The worst generation?” from May 10, 2010 cited a University of New Hampshire study which concluded that: “Gen Yers are characterized by a ‘very inflated sense of self’ that leads to ‘unrealistic expectations’ and, ultimately, ‘chronic disappointment.’” ). Granted, not every Gen Yer suffers from an inflated sense of self, it does seem to be a cultural trend and it impacts our relationships and sense of satisfaction at work, in our families, and in our faith.

Because of the effects of Original Sin, we all tend toward a self-centered narcissism and will continue to spiral down if our trajectory isn’t changed by grace, parenting, or other formative agents. Jesus’ interaction with the apostles in this passage reminds me of interactions I’ve had with my own children. When asked to do the dishes, clean a bathroom, or fold laundry I am met with attitudes of “why me?” On other occasions a child of mine actually notices things that need to be done around the house. Rather than simply pitching in and taking care of the problem, they see it as a job opportunity for which they should be rewarded. The conversation looks something like this –

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I unload the dishes?”

Me.: “Clean dishes on which to eat.”

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I clean the cat’s litter box?”

Me: “I’ll let you keep having the cat as a pet.”

Child: “Mom, what will you give me if I help with the laundry?”

Me: “Clean clothes.”

Child: “Ackh. Mooooom. Forget it.”

5 mintues later:

Child: “I’m bored.”
Me: “Then do the dishes.”
Child: “That’s boring too. What can I do that’s fun?”

Me: “I’m not your cruise ship captain. Do the dishes and maybe boredom won’t seem like such a bad thing.”

If only we could say our conversations with God didn’t look remarkably similar. How often do we take an entitlement attitude with the Lord? It looks something like “Look Lord, I went to Mass on Sunday! What do I get?” Or, “I put a few dollars in the collection plate, what will you give me?”

The entitlement attitude affects our expectations for the work to reward ratio as well and may be somewhat analogous to the passage for today’s Gospel. The same NY Post article cited another study which summarized the expectations of entitled employees:

According to another study, which will be published in the Journal of Management in September. Co-author Stacy Campbell, an assistant professor of management at Kennesaw State University, says the study revealed that when it comes to work, the two things Gen Yers care most about are a) high salaries, and b) lots of leisure time off the job.

‘They want everything,’ says Campbell. ‘They want the time off. They want the big bucks.’

To reach their conclusions, Campbell and co-author Jean Twenge — a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of “Generation Me,” a book examining discontent among members of Gen Y — worked over the data from an ongoing survey of high school students conducted annually since 1975 by the University of Michigan. Among their findings was that while both Gen Y and Gen X want sizable salaries, Gen X workers show greater awareness that a hefty paycheck comes with a hefty workload.

As Christians, we ought to evaluate our own expectations of working for the Lord. We can forget that it’s a privilege to work as a laborer for the Lord in bringing in His harvest and that it’s a blessing to have a job. When we feel like complaining, “What do I get for “carrying this cross?”, we can remember that we get to carry a cross. We get to work. We get to be near to Christ in the most intimate and meritorious moment of His work of salvation. We even get to help. We also gain numerous other rewards from carrying our cross and laboring with the Lord, taking His yoke upon our shoulders. Growing up, whenever I would feel sorry for myself or want pity, my mom would respond with a singular word that I detested: “Tough”. Sometimes she would even lengthen her response a little to: “Toughen up”. I loathed these words and swore I would never be so unfeeling toward my own children. Of course, you can guess, there came one fateful day when those same words came issuing from my own mouth in response to my own child’s self-pity moment. I realize now that my mom’s approach helped inoculate me from an entitlement attitude and in fact, made me tougher. In one word she exposed my self-pity for being an “unrealistic expectation” and reset my expectations to something more along the lines of reality. Crosses have a similar effect. Sometimes we whine to God and it feels like He is coldly ignoring our need and simply retorting “tough.” However, sometimes those very crosses strengthen us and enable us to increase in faith as well as hope and love.

If we want the Lord to increase our faith we need not look much further than prayer, sacraments, fellowship, and picking up our cross daily and following Him. Yet, we often expect huge returns for minimal effort. Christ reminds us today that we are blessed to labor in His kingdom. We are blessed to be near Him in the cross. The faith and satisfaction we will gain from hard earned sweat and blood in the field will give a much more satisfying feeling than the superficial reward of a participation trophy.

God provides the supernatural strength we need to follow Him, we just have to adjust our expectations and persevere when things get tough. St. Paul reminds us in second letter to Timothy, that God enables us to toughen up through His grace that we might be courageous and noble:

“Beloved: I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control… bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” 2Timothy 1:6-8

Consider:

  • What kind of attitude do you have toward God? How has it grown and matured over the years?
  • Reflect on the gift of working side by side with Christ as He brings in the harvest. Jesus says, “the harvest is ready but the laborers are few.” Have you had the chance to be a part of someone’s spiritual journey? How did it feel to see the seeds of faith grow into noble discipleship?
  • In what way could you adjust your expectations of discipleship? Do you suffer from an impulsiveness that needs instant gratification or are you able to delay gratification?
  • My mother’s discipline, though apparently counter-cultural at the time, inoculated me from suffering the poison of entitlement mentality (as much as I tried to get her to cave into the idea!). Who has been courageous enough in your life to lovingly adjust your perspective even if you fought them on it?
  • When have you felt deep satisfaction in work itself rather than the reward at the end? How does this relate to work as a disciple?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray and reflect on the prayer of St. Francis this week.
  • Call or write a thank you to someone who has saved you or healed you from an entitlement attitude.
  • If you have children, grandchildren, or work with children, reflect each day on your interactions with them and consider if there is an analogy to your own interactions with the Lord.

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016

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prayer of st francis

The Priority of Being Present

by Angela M Jendro

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Gospel of Luke 10:38-42 NAB

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Meditation Reflection:

Theologians and spiritual writers often point to this passage as a teaching on the active life of service and the contemplative life of prayer.  I find it also provides rich insights into the life of family. Martha’s home – her welcoming love and hospitality – together with the company of her sister Mary and brother Lazarus, became a place of respite and comfort for Christ.

His relationship with their family began with Martha’s initiative as He entered their village.  Just prior to this passage, Luke recounted the many places and people that either failed to receive Jesus or rejected him outright.  Martha however invited Him into her home and served Him with gracious hospitality.

In family life, welcoming children begins with a similar openness toward receiving others whenever they arrive and a readiness to serve.  In fact, in Luke 9:48, Jesus lauded this service, promising: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Oftentimes however, parents become “burdened with much serving” like Martha.  Babies require constant care day and night, young children need continual help, pre-teens need a frenetic amount of chauffeuring, and teens still require guidance and massive food intake.

These daily battles don’t go unnoticed by Chirst and He appreciates every sacrifice we make.  He also understands how even the best intentions and sacrificial serving can go awry if we allow our work to become a source of untethered anxiety and worry, distracting us from the relationships that it was meant to nurture and undermining our own spiritual health.   Jesus did not scold Martha for working too hard, He voiced His concern for her anxiousness.  Her worry had sabotaged her ability to be present in the moment and began to skew her perspective.  When she tried to drag Mary into her frenzy Jesus prevented her and gently helped Martha see where she had crossed the line.

Pope Francis also noted this challenge to modern families in his apostolic letter The Joy of Love .  Citing responses he had received from the questionnaire he had sent out prior to the Synod on the Family, he acknowledged:

Many of the respondents pointed to the problems families face in raising children.  In many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal.  Distractions abound, including an addiction to television…Other responses pointed to the effect of severe stress on families, who often seem more caught up with securing their future than with enjoying the present.  This is a broader cultural problem, aggravated by fears about steady employment, finances, and the future of children.” (The Joy of Love  par. 50)

 

My watershed moment like Martha’s occurred at Christmas time several years ago.  My three kids were pretty young, and at the same time old enough for us to have established Christmas traditions of our own.  In addition, we were going to host the Christmas Eve celebration for our extended family. As a result, I had grand plans worked out into an organized to-do list so that we could accomplish everything from home-made frosted sugar cookies the kids and I would make together in Christmas shapes to the FoodNetwork recipes I would make for the family celebration.   That all came to an abrupt and painful halt when I became sick with the flu one week prior to Christmas day.  As the flu persisted and Christmas approached my stress level reached breaking point.  My mom called to say hi but instead had to methodically walk me back from my emotional cliff.  She went through my list with me one task at a time and asked the simple question over and over again: “and what would happen if that didn’t get done? And what if that didn’t get done…”

Although I had loving intentions behind each task, the element of service had been usurped by a ball of worry.  My mom, like Christ, gently gave me perspective.  Consequently, with the help of a great deal of divine grace, I surrendered our newly established Christmas traditions and accepted that we could do them next year.  I scaled back my expectations for hosting, humbly accepted help, and recalled that spending time together was the most important thing not the elaborate meal.    Since then, with the help of prayer and grace, I have worked to keep that perspective and peace.

Christian service is not an end in and of itself.  Rather, it’s a loving encounter with another person.  Whether it’s care for kids, elderly parents, a disabled relative, a nextdoor neighbor,  or dedication at one’s job, we all need to make sure we keep the persons we are serving at the center and resist letting the tasks distract us with worry from the people whom we are caring about in the first place.  Jesus loved visiting Mary, Martha, and Lazarus because of the warm hospitality and because of the personal love, faith, and fellowship that they offered.  Despite our technological advances, we have become busier as a culture rather than more relaxed.  It requires intentional effort and grace to put people first and to be present in the moment.  It’s no small task to order our lives in such a way that we can work hard and have time to stop and listen to those we love.  To a stressed out Martha, Mary appeared to just be sitting around doing nothing.  Jesus reminded her that personal attention is just as important a “task” as the others, if not more important.

Mary chose the better part.  We too must pray for the grace to choose to spend time doing what feels like nothing with our kids, parents, and family; to just enjoy being with one another.  Similarly, we must choose to make time to just be with Christ so that our work remains in service to Him imbued with His love.  No one claims they treat their family and friends the best when they are stressed out and anxious.   By “practicing the presence of God”, as Brother Lawrence’s spiritual classic teaches, God will provide the peace we need to practice the presence of others as well.  It will be counter-cultural, and you will have to let go of competing with the super-moms and the super-colleagues, but Jesus assures us that choosing to be present to the people we care about over a frenzied attitude over work that needs to be done is the better part and we shouldn’t let anything take it from us.

Consider:

  •  Prayerfully consider how present you are to Christ.
    • Do you make time to sit with Him and listen?
    • Do you think of Him during the day or while at work?
    • Do you enjoy silent prayer or struggle with the feeling that you are “doing nothing”?
  • Prayerfully consider how present you are to your family.
    • When are your favorite times to connect?
    • What special moments do you recall with your parents or kids where you felt loved and listened to?
    • What things undermine your peace and your ability to focus on those around you?
    • What causes you to become stressed and distracted?
    • How could you re-order your life or adjust your expectations so you can resist unnecessary anxiety and give your loved ones the best version of yourself?
    • What do you need to take care of yourself so you can be a peaceful, present person?
      • How much sleep do you need? Be honest!
      • How and when do you relax?
      • What are your quirks or limitations it would help to acknowledge? (For example – running late makes you stressed so make an effort to arrive 5 minutes early or you need a bite to eat every couple of hours so make time for good food, etc.)
    • Pray for an increase in the virtue of Hope. Consider how worry can be combated by trust in Jesus. Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added” (Matthew 6:33).  Pray for the grace to prioritize your life according to God’s will, then allow Him to make sure everything else gets worked out.
    • Reflect on the reality of our limitations: limitations of time in a day, energy, the need for rest and food, etc. It takes humility to live within our limitations but being more realistic about what we expect from ourselves and others as well as what we say yes or no to can greatly reduce unnecessary stress.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a list of priorities. Then make a list of your schedule and activities.  Prayerfully evaluate if they align and make adjustments. Schedule in time for God, time to take care of yourself, and time for serving your family and at work.
  • Each day choose one person to whom you will be present and attentive. If possible decide who, when, and how. (It can be as simple as asking someone at work about their day at lunch or visiting with your kids at the dinner table.)

Comments: 

  1. You can help encourage one another by sharing your own example of a “Martha” or “Mary moment.
  2. Share your resolution for the week! How are you going to apply today’s meditation to your life?  Then let us know how it’s going.

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(16th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

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

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Excuses, Excuses…Be Brave! Be Determined!

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 9:51-62

When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Meditation Reflection:

Being a Christian means following Christ, wherever and whenever He goes. Full discipleship requires 100% commitment, not the made-to-order or pick and choose buffet we are accustomed to in our culture. Consider Jesus’ own example. He needed to journey to Jerusalem. Notice the attitude He chose – resolution and determination. Followers of Christ need the same resolution and determination. In fact, St. Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic and doctor of the Church, emphasized repeatedly the need for determination in order to advance in the spiritual life.

As Jesus journeyed, doing the Father’s will, those He encountered each had an opportunity to join Him. The Samaritans received messengers from Christ but rejected the Lord before He even arrived when they learned accepting Christ meant surrendering their bitterness toward Jerusalem.

The next person took the initiative to seek Jesus and requested to be in His company. Jesus, who knows the hearts of each one of us, warned the man that being near to Christ would bring spiritual security and comfort but not necessarily the feeling of physical security and comfort.

The next two men Jesus invited to follow Him, but both requested to do something else first. Their requests seem valid and even noble. In fact, burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy and honoring your father and mother is the 4th commandment. Is Jesus asking us to neglect our duties? Does Christian discipleship excuse neglecting our families? Does God contradict Himself? No. Do we sometimes rationalize our cowardice or weakness by twisting God’s commands against Him? Yes. Many of us (including myself!), often excuse our lack of time for prayer by pitting it against the active life of charity. It sounds something like this: “I don’t have time to sit and pray because I need to do…which God would want me to do.” A practical example would be, “I could ‘just’ sit and pray, or work an extra hour to provide for my family, or do a load of laundry and dishes, or run an errand. God wants me to care for my family, that is my prayer.”

Sometimes that might be the case. But, in truth, there’s usually time for both. In addition, without prayer, even our loving activities can tend to be more self-loving rather than other-loving. Jesus knew the hearts of the two men who wanted to return to their families before following Him. Rather than contradicting His command that we love one another, especially our families, He may have been calling them out on their rationalizations. It reminds me of when I gather my kids for family prayer. My two boys will often try to get out of it by appealing to my earlier request that they get outside for awhile or they were just about to start a chore I had assigned. In reality, they had time for both those things before and after prayer, it just sounds like a better excuse.

Let’s face it, we have an inner desire for God and we may even have authentic zeal for discipleship, but we also struggle with attachments that hold us back. The good news is that if we open ourselves up to Christ in prayer, He will reveal those attachments to us and provide the grace to overcome them. It requires resolution, determination, and being honest with ourselves, but with God all things are possible.

Consider:

  • Like the Samaritans, how many of us hold on to bitterness, anger, or un-forgiveness? Prayerfully ask Christ to reveal if any of these are holding you back from following Him. Pray for the grace to surrender it to the Lord.
  • Like the man who proclaimed he would follow Christ wherever He goes, consider why you are a Christian. Is your love for the Lord intermixed with some self-love as well? Do you complain when you encounter trials? Are you impatient or upset when you experience discomfort?
  • What rationalizations do you use to delay responding to Christ or to responding more generously? What rationalizations have you overcome on your spiritual journey?   How has that experience strengthened your will to follow the Lord?
  • A favorite book of mine called “The Fire Within” by Fr. Thomas Dubay provides some great steps for identifying and overcoming attachments. Prayerfully read my summary of Fr. Dubay’s steps and see if you can identify one attachment and make a plan for rooting it out: identifying attachments

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week thank God for one deterrent He has helped you overcome or from which He has freed you, and invite Him to reveal and free you from a current hindrance you may or may not realize you have.
  • Pray for an increase in resolution and determination. Choose one concrete thing you can do this week to apply it. (e.g. pray 15 minutes each morning or evening, say something kind to your spouse when you want to say something critical, hug your child when you want to throw your hands up in exasperation, choose a daily Mass to attend and do what it takes to get there, go to Confession…)
  • Using Fr. Dubay’s steps, identify a current attachment and do one thing each day to root it out.identifying attachments

 

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

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The Peace of Christ

By Angela (Lambert) Jendro

February 4th, 2018 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 1:29-39 NAB

On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them. When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

Meditation Reflection:

Everyone encounters suffering in some form.  Whether physical sickness, the sickness of a loved one, spiritual or emotional sickness from Satan’s lies and those of the secular culture, the pain of divorce or the loss of a job, or just the “drudgery” of life Job complained of in the first reading (Job 7:1).  Even worse, underlying every difficulty is the grating anxiety to find an escape, and the fearful suspicion there may not be one.

Science, medicine, psychology, exercise, achievements, and vacations can only provide a partial remedy.  Escapes into addiction only worsen the problem.

It has always stuck me how many times Jesus says, “Peace be with you” together with His admonition to “Be not afraid.”  Jesus, both man and God, has experienced our suffering and even our anxiety.  He has compassion for our weakness and reaches out with His divine power to save us.  As David proclaimed in today’s Psalm,

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
Psalm 147:3

Jesus, the Word of God, through whom all things came to be (John 1:3), came to heal the wounds of sin and restore us to wholeness.  Moreover, because God always gives in abundance, Jesus imparted gifts upon us even greater than those lost by Adam and Eve (CCC, par. 420).

Jesus Christ not only heals the brokenhearted, He embraces them in His own Divine Love.  The lonely He makes children of God and their souls His dwelling place.  A Christian can never be truly lonely, since they only need to look interiorly to find their Lord.  In addition, each Christian is incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body the Church, and shares in the stream of grace that runs through it, and connects us one to another.  Any suffering you endure can be offered up as a grace and blessing for someone else, and vice versa.   Christ therefore transforms the “drudgery” of daily work by making even the smallest task, if done in love, a noble and efficacious participation in His work of redemption.

Even death no longer hangs over us as a futile end.  In Christ it has become the consummation of our earthly service, and the commencement of our heavenly reward.  The longing for God which begins here, finds it’s fulfillment and joy in eternity; much like a wedding marks the transition from the growing love of engagement, to the total union of marriage.  Thus, heaven is described by God as a wedding feast in the book of Revelation:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory.

For the wedding day of the Lamb has come,

his bride has made herself ready.

She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment.” – The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.”

Revelation 19:7-9

No wonder “the whole town was gathered at the door” in today’s Gospel.  Jesus is the savior every human person longs for and needs.  He gives freely and abundantly.   May we seek Him out for ourselves, and also bring Him to others in need of His healing.

Simon Peter said to Jesus, “Everyone is looking for you.”  His words remain true today and in every age.

Consider:

  • Take a few minutes to lay your burdens and anxieties before Christ in prayer.  Approach Him with trusting faith to help you.
  • Take a few minutes to bring the burdens and anxieties of those you love before Christ.
  • Consider the difference between the temporary or partial relief you find in natural comforts, compared to the fullness of the peace of Christ found in prayer.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

Like the people in Simon Peter’s town, seek out Christ.   Choose one concrete way to encounter Him each day this week.

  • Ideas: Take 5 minutes for silent prayer, visit Christ in Eucharistic Adoration, spend 10 minutes with Christ in Scripture, attend a daily Mass, read about the life of a saint or one of their writings, make time to visit a Christian friend who always seems to make Christ visible to you.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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Have You Found What You’re Looking For?

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 

Peter and andrew

January 14th, 2018 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 1:35-42 NAB

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” — which translated means Teacher —, “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —. Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter.

 Meditation Reflection:

Imagine what it must have been like for the apostles near the end of their lives, to remember back to the very beginning when they first met Jesus – before their zealous and arduous work as the leaders of Jesus’ Church, before they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, before Jesus’ astounding Resurrection, before His shocking suffering and death, before witnessing in amazement His teaching and miracles.  Back when they lived ordinary lives, as ordinary men, waiting upon the Lord in His silence.

The Lord had spoken to His People through prophets since His first revelation to Abraham.  They had enjoyed ongoing relationship with Him, even when they experienced the pain of God’s discipline.  Eventually however, their obstinacy toward God grew so hardened that it caused God to withdraw His immanent presence from the Temple. Without God’s help the people fell captive to foreign nations and lived in exile.

Years later, King Cyrus of Persia issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and even contributed funds to aid in the rebuilding of the Temple which had been destroyed.  Eventually some returned to Jerusalem, but God’s divine and immanent presence (which had remained upon the Ark of the Covenant from their time in the desert during the Exodus through its housing in the Temple until the Babylonian Exile), did not return to the Temple.  Although God anointed prophets to mediate His Word through this time, God then remained silent for about 400 years leading up to the Incarnation of Christ.

In consequence, the Jews endured about 400 years of divine silence.  During that time they clung to the words of God’s earlier prophets and to His Law given through Moses.  They considered God’s promises and kept hope that one day He, who is always faithful, would fulfill them.

At long last, their hope for God’s Word and for renewed relationship enlivened with anticipation when John the Baptist appeared, as “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mark 1:3; Isaiah 40:3).

The long silence finally broken and the power of John’s prophecy excited some to speculate whether John was in fact the Messiah.

Both Messiah and Christ mean “anointed one.”  In the Old Testament, those God had appointed as either priest, prophet, or king would be anointed with oil.  Each were called in some way to mediate between God and the People, and were bestowed with a measure of God’s authority.

The priesthood of the Old Covenant foreshadowed the eternal priesthood of Jesus, who would offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.  The prophets mediated God’s word, preparing us for the incarnation of the Word of God, and later the indwelling of that Word in our souls through Baptism.  Finally, the role of king was to govern the people as a steward of God who is the true king.  Jesus came as king to reign not as a steward, but with the authority of God.

“All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” Mark 1:27

 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Mark 2:7

John the Baptist answered the Messianic speculation directly, stating, “I am not the Messiah” (John 1:20). He too was waiting patiently upon the Lord.  He faithfully preached repentance, as God had asked of him, and baptized with water as a sign of readiness.

Finally, the Holy Spirit revealed the Messiah to John – it was Jesus.  There, waiting expectantly, were St. Andrew and another disciple of John. Upon hearing his prophetic declaration, “Behold the Lamb of God,” they began following Jesus immediately, apparently without even saying a word.  When Jesus turned to ask them what they wanted, they expressed their desire to remain with Him.  They accepted Jesus’ invitation to come, and in their encounter with the Person of Jesus, determined with conviction that He was in fact the Messiah.  In consequence, Andrew hurried to his brother to share the unbelievable news.

Their day probably began like every other day.  Breakfast, work, prayer, routine.  In that moment however, they dropped everything to find Jesus.

Everything had changed.

In that first encounter, Jesus called Simon by name, and gave him a new name indicating his new role in the New Covenant. Simon would leave the normalcy of the life he knew, to be Peter, “Rock”, upon which Christ would build His Church.  Imagine the trust he must have had in the Lord to persevere in his discipleship through so many changes, so much confusion, and so much responsibility.

So much took place over the course of their lives, but it all began with dropping what they were doing when the time came, and going to find the Messiah.

We are all searching and waiting –  for meaning, for purpose, and for happiness.  We go about our everyday, on the lookout for the answer to come.  Yet, Christ has come.  He is what we have been looking for, even if we couldn’t put a name to it like the Jews.  Praise be to God!

The Anointed One has come.  He heals wounds of sin and strengthens us with grace through His sacrifice on the Cross, poured out for us in the Sacraments.

Jesus is the Word of God, who reveals God’s plan for our lives, our purpose, and His constant care.

Jesus is king.  We enter His kingdom through Baptism and must work to allow His rule over our lives daily.  Through our adoption as sons and daughters of God, He makes us rich as heirs of heaven.

We have found the Messiah.”  There’s no more need to search, only to follow; to say yes to Jesus’ invitation “Come, and you will see.”

Christianity is not a consumer product, a happy drug, an interesting philosophy, or a social club.  Christianity is following Christ, the Anointed One of God, and staying with Him. None of us can imagine where it will lead, only follow one step at a time, waiting during times of silence, and acting when He calls our name.  Where it leads only the Lord knows, but it will certainly be an adventure and full of surprises.

Consider:

  • Spend a few minutes in silent prayer, just being in the presence of Christ.
  • When have you felt excitement about your faith like the apostles?
  • How has encountering Christ transformed you? In what ways has it changed the way you think, guided your actions, or changed your desires and priorities?
  • Prayerfully consider what mission Christ has for you.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Take one step toward Christ every day. Follow Him in Scripture reading, works of love, or the sacraments.
  • Take 5 minutes of silence to rest in the Lord.

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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Soaking up the Sun of God

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 Epiphany 2.png

 

January 7, 2018 The Epiphany of the Lord

Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12 NAB

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

Meditation Reflection:

After the bustle and excitement of Christmas celebrations, the days following often produce mixed feelings.  On the one hand a sigh of welcomed relaxation and the comfort of settling back into normalcy.  On the other hand, a sigh of sadness as we ache from missing our loved ones, along with a moan of pain as the brutal cold and darkness depress our commute.

Although the Christmas decorations may be coming down and routine returning , the true “Spirit of Christmas” (as every Hallmark movie loves to reference), ought to remain present and illuminate our homes.  The Feast of the Epiphany witnesses that the birth of Christ has ushered in a light that radiates with the strength of mid-summer rays and remains enduringly without diminishment.

The wise men travelled an arduous distance to find this light in the darkness.  As we begin surfing the internet for discount airline tickets and the brief relief of a warm, sunny vacation, we can take a lesson from the magi and intentionally seek out the true and lasting “Sun” of God.  Rather than merely making plans for the Caribbean, make plans to seek the Lord as well, where you can soak in the warmth of His rays of grace and love.  Surf for Christ-destinations such as Eucharistic Adoration, Mass, Confession, Scripture, spiritual reading, or silent prayer. Vacations refresh us with the energy we need to keep going in our daily routine.  Breaking away to soak up quality time with Christ will do the same.  It will refresh our weary spirits, lighten our dark moods, and deepen our lives with purpose and personal connection.

So, wrap up and stack your red and green decor in totes, and without a doubt discard the once fragrant Christmas tree that has now dried up into a mess of needles and a worrisome fire hazard.  Keep the light of Christ however.  After having drawn near to Him at His birth, remain with Him.  Keep close to Him.  Lay your whole self before Him in homage as the magi did, and offer Him every gift and talent you possess.  “Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow” (Isaiah 60:5).

Christmas celebrates the appearance of our long awaited Savior which lasts eternally not just one day. His coming should be transformative and therefore change the way we think and act, and re-prioritize our hopes and desires.  The New Year doesn’t mark the end of the holidays.  Rather, it marks the beginning of our new, and renewed, life in Christ.  The Magi left Bethlehem filled with joy and hope.  Mary left Bethlehem with Jesus in her arms close to her heart.  May we leave this Christmas season in the same way.

Consider:

  • Spend a few minutes in prayer drawing near to Christ like Mary, Joseph, and the Magi.  Surrender to Him in humility, love, and homage as they did.
  • How might you keep close to Christ daily and weekly?  Where might you encounter Him?
  • What gifts might you offer to Jesus?
    • Gold (wealth) – how well are you doing at tithing? Do you give the Lord your first 10% in thanksgiving and faith? Is there some way He is asking you to be more generous with your money or with your time and service?
    • Frankincense (used in worship of God) – How can you offer Christ your worship?  What might you offer to Him as a sacrifice?  How can you apply your talents and abilities to advancing the Kingdom of God?
      • [For example: offer patience with a family member as a sacrifice, offer your daily work as a sacrifice – especially the most tedious aspects, or offer living your faith authentically in the workplace rather than joining in un-Christian jokes, conversations, or activities.]
    • Myrrh (used as ointment for burial) – How can you honor Christ’s death for you?  Do you live as one saved or persist in certain sins?  Consider how to live more intentionally as one freed by Christ.  Meditate on the sufferings of Christ and unite your own suffering to His.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one “gift” to present to Jesus for this year.
  • Seek Christ this week in an intentional way.  Set aside 10-15 minutes for prayer or spiritual reading, or seek Him in the sacraments.

Related Posts:

Setting goals for the New Year – Lessons from the Magi

The Universal Search For God

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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Keeping Christ in Christmas and John the Baptist in Advent

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 

December 16th, 2017 3rd Sunday in Advent

Gospel of Matthew 22:15-21 NAB

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.

And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.” So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,'” as Isaiah the prophet said.” Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Meditation Reflection:

For the second week in a row, we have another Gospel passage about John the Baptist.  John is considered the last, and greatest, of the prophets of the Old Covenant.  Jesus even said of him, “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).   However, both John and Jesus proclaim that even the most magnificent of what has been so far, pales in comparison to the coming of the incarnate God and to His indwelling in the souls of the baptized. Thus, Jesus finishes his sentence with: “yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

John the Baptist’s message of repentance and spiritual preparation for our salvation is at the heart of Advent.  The weeks leading up to Christmas we evaluate how well we have been living as children of God, gifted with the grace of God dwelling in our midst and within our very souls.  It’s also a time to open ourselves to new possibilities and new challenges as disciples of Christ.  Thus, the message of John for repentance produces the necessary disposition for conversion.

Last year I wrote about the challenge of keeping John the Baptist in Advent.  I’d like to repost that below.  John prepared the way of the Lord, and he can help us do the same.

*********************************************************************************************

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

The push to start Christmas sales has lamentably encroached on Thanksgiving and even cast a shadow over Halloween.  However, it has completely replaced Advent in our culture.  It has become increasingly difficult to make the weeks leading up to Christmas a time of introspection, increased prayer, and sacrifice.  By the time Catholics celebrate Christmas on the Eve of Christmas day and for the two weeks following it, the rest of the culture has already moved on.

So how can we balance living in the culture that we do and still honor the important process of conversion Advent is meant to procure?  We can no longer wait to buy a Christmas tree until December 23rd because there won’t be any left.  We can’t leave them up for the duration of the Liturgical Christmas season because the tree will be a fire hazard at that point, plus we will have missed our road side tree pick up provided by our garbage companies.  I have surrendered this battle and get a tree the weekend after Thanksgiving.  I also have to admit that I look forward to the Hallmark Christmas movies and, if possible, make a weekend of it with my mother and my daughter.  Black Friday deals make Christmas gifts more affordable although I am too exhausted on Cyber Mondays to get online after work.  However, I reserve some Christmas feasting for Christmas.  I play Christmas music during the liturgical Christmas season and keep my Christmas decorations out (with the exception of the live tree).  In my classroom at school I leave Christmas lights up in my room until Lent, reminding the kids that Jesus is the Light of the World.

Spiritual sacrifice, examination of conscience, and remorse for sins is harder to find time for.  When the kids were little we would do Bible crafts and the kids had fun placing a felt ornament on our Jesse tree corresponding to a daily Scripture passage we would read.  Now that my kids are older, it’s harder to find a time we are all home to pray together.

As a busy mom, I appreciate that the Church offers practical advice regarding spiritual preparation during Advent, and oftentimes opportunities organized by the parish to help us.  Scripturally, spiritual preparation consists of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Parishes often offer Advent reflections, retreats, and youth ministry events to facilitate more introspective prayer during this time.  We can add one of these events to our calendar just as we would any Christmas party invitation.  Fasting is especially difficult, with so many Christmas parties and cookie exchanges taking place, but consider fasting from something simple and achievable, so that even in those moments you are connected to Christ and honoring the preparation for His coming that He deserves.  I wouldn’t suggest giving up sweets altogether, but maybe you set a  limit for yourself or give up something else that’s meaningful to you.  Almsgiving may be the one aspect of Advent that lingers in our culture as generosity during the Christmas season seems to be a sentiment that still resonates in people’s hearts.  Parishes, schools, offices, and neighborhoods band together for charitable causes and provide opportunities for us to give.  We can participate with a spirit of giving to Christ who says, “Whatever you do for the least of these you do unto Me.”  Let’s not forget that Christmas also provides less visible opportunities for giving, like keeping our eyes open for family members, neighbors, or colleagues who are lonely and inviting them to our homes.

Fasting and almsgiving can further be applied in our interactions with one another.  The increased social contact brings with it both joy and discord; providing many more opportunities for spiritual works of mercy.  Christmas get-togethers bring out the best and worst in people.  It provides opportunities to fast from gossip and to give encouragement; to fast from pettiness and to bear wrongs patiently, to fast from competitiveness and to give comfort.  When we encounter persons we find annoying, frustrating, or difficult to be around, we can reflect on the compassion of the Lord, who became man, for love of that same person.  When we are moved by the generosity and love of others towards ourselves, we can praise Christ as we tangibly experience His love in our own lives.

Advent has become an uphill battle, but the view from the top makes climbing it worth all the effort.    This Advent I hope we can find a way to prepare our hearts and our lives for Christ a little more in some small way.  I hope we acknowledge and surrender to Him sins we need Him to heal.  Let’s demonstrate our authentic gratitude for his grace through prayer and acts of love.  Finally, let’s try to keep Christ in Christmas, and John the Baptist in Advent.

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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Fueling the Fire of Love

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

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November 12th, 2017 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Matthew 25:1-13 NAB

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Meditation Reflection:

What do we need to be ready for Christ?  At Baptism we received a lighted candle, and the call to be the light of Christ in the world.  Sometimes we may feel that zeal and live our faith in a powerful way.  Other times the routine and busyness of every day drains our energy and we become drowsy or complacent.  Work projects or sports tournaments begin to overshadow weekly Sunday Mass and after rationalizing missing one Sunday we easily slip into missing most.  Seeing our bible collect dust we might open it up and resolve to read it every day until we’ve completed it cover to cover.  Half-way through Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we give up.  Maybe we are going through a tough time and it renews our zeal to pray daily.  After it passes we continue a little longer in thanksgiving.  A few weeks into the hum drum of life without much drama we begin to forget that time with the Lord.

So how do we keep our candles lit during the long wait? Heaven is union with God and so we need to burn with the fire of His love.  Authentic love perseveres because it’s rooted deeper than the emotions.  It requires conviction, consistent nurturing, and Christ’s grace.

Every relationship requires effort and ongoing time and attention to be sustained.  In the same way, we can fuel our love for Christ by developing our convictions through ongoing study of Scripture, the teachings of our Faith, and the lives of the saints.  We can nurture our relationship by setting aside time with the Lord daily in prayer and weekly at Mass.  Lastly, we can ask Christ for His grace to sustain us and transform us.  Most importantly, when we come to the banquet of His love in the Eucharist, He fills us with His divine love which burns away anything that comes between us and Him.

We can also root out things that undermine our relationship with Christ by rooting them out in our human relationships as well.  Being attentive to our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers will require many of the same virtues we need to be attentive to the Lord.  To listen to our loved one when they need to talk will mean saying no to whatever else was occupying our attention at that moment.  To visit someone will mean scheduling time and moving other things around to make it happen.

Christ wants to visit us today.  Where can He find an open door and a lighted lamp?  Hopefully He can find us at prayer, speak to us in Scripture, and be received by us in the Eucharist at Mass.  Then, when He comes again for the final time, we will be ready and our joy will be complete.  During our lives we will have said, “Come Lord, enter my heart and be welcomed by my love.”  And at the end of our lives, He will stretch His hand out to us, where we will find the door open and He will say to us, “Come my child, enter my heart and be welcomed eternally by my love.”

Consider:

  • When has your faith been most on fire for the Lord?  Was it after a retreat, an experience in prayer, a profound event in your life, a speaker or book you read, sacred music that lifted your heart?
  • What competes with your devotion to Christ?  Distractions from pleasures, anxiety from stress, a busy schedule, a pull toward laziness, numbness from emotional pain, an addiction?
  • How do you prepare for guests, especially at the holidays?  Consider the extra thoughtfulness you put into preparing food they will like or attentiveness to the little details that will add warmth to the experience.
  • Consider Christ visiting.  How might you be attentive to Him? Schedule time for conversation.  Welcome Him through others by works of mercy.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Resolve on one thing this week to detach you from something that competes with love for Christ, and one thing to keep the fire of love lit for Him.
    •  Ideas for detachment:  Identify an attachment (click here for how to: identifying attachments), then practice the opposite virtue.  If you don’t pray because you sleep through your morning alarm, resolve to get up at the right time or 10 minutes earlier.  If you have work or sports on Sundays, look ahead to find a Mass time that will work, even if you have to visit a different parish to do so.  If possible, change your work schedule.
    • Ideas for feeding the fire:  10 minutes of prayer, spiritual reading, learning about your faith through books, podcasts, or a class at church, reading about the life of a saint, spending time with a faith-filled Christian friend.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017

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