We All Need a Loving Gate-Keeper and Filter…Christ the Good Shepherd

by Angela Lambert

May 7th, 2017 4th Sunday of Easter

 

Gospel of John 10:1-19

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them. So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Meditation Reflection:

Quite often as a mom, I feel like a gate-keeper.  Before my kids go somewhere I need to know with whom, who the parents are, and approve.  Technology plagues me even more, with parent controls, ratings evaluations, and 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, with impatient children complaining as I set the perimeter 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 will 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.

Just 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 my ex?, 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 gate-keeper.  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 gate-keeper 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.

Related posts:

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Determined Discipleship

by Angela Lambert

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

March 5th, 2017; 9th First Sunday of Lent

Gospel Matthew 4:1-11

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

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 us will face, is with ourselves and the enemy loves to bite at our heels as we do.  Thus, Jesus prepares for His ministry by enduring all the temptations you and I experience, and overcoming them.

Satan first tempts 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 work day (especially when kids require discipline or help with homework)? How many opportunities do we miss because we would rather stay in our comfort zone?  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.

After 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 it’s discipleship, marriage, family, or work, many people give up when things get hard.  Our culture of instant gratification further softens our resolve, along with the false 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 alms-giving.  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.  Moved by love however, they eventually stopped trying to change Christ, and instead accepted Christ.  If we take time for Him, our love for Him will deepen, and we too will be more conformed to our Lord, and able to joyfully celebrate His final victory at the Resurrection on Easter.

Consider:

  • Which comforts or pleasures tempt you the most? Sleep, soda, alcohol, television, food, desserts, gossip, sports, 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 life.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each morning, begin with the prayer by St. 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 Lambert © 2017

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Hope in Christ in Times of Darkness

by Angela Lambert

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October 9th, 2016 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.  Our present culture, especially during the current election cycle, presents seemingly constant negative and depressing messages.  From mainstream news to social media to conversations at work, the temptation to view the state of our nation in an overly negative light and give up in despair is constant.  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 perspective for our current situation as a Church and as a nation.   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.

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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).

*note of thanks to reader Carl Cadwallader for the topic suggestion of hope in Christ in times of darkness.

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~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* 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.

 

Toughening Up

by Angela Lambert
saved from ministrymatters.com

saved from ministrymatters.com

October 2nd, 2016; 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 Yers 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 from my own anecdotal experience it 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 many attempts at this 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 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.’” (http://nypost.com).  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…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.

Related past posts:

https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/09/03/following-christ-at-all-costs/

https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/08/13/the-the-fork-in-the-road-for-every-christian/

https://taketimeforhim.com/2016/07/30/becoming-rich-investment-strategies-from-christ/

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* 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.

 

The View From Mount Humility

by Angela Lambert

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August 28th, 2016; 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 14:1,7-14  NAB

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Meditation Reflection:

If pride comes before the fall, once could say humility comes before the ascent.  Our selfie-culture promotes self-assertion and our own honor and fame, bolstering pride and feeding competitiveness.  Yet, studies have shown that the social media craze can make persons feel depressed as they strive to compete with the seemingly perfect and glamorous lives of their friends based on the pictures they post.

I can certainly relate.  It seems like the night I order pizza for the kids someone posts a colorful, healthy, made-from-scratch dinner their family is enjoying.  As I take a mental break from the tedium of work, I see a post of someone’s adventurous travels.  When I take a moment to relax after having a difficult parenting day, I see a pictures of friends with their smiling kids, dressed in clean matching clothes, doing a fun family activity.  The temptation can be to respond by working on one’s own image and creating the appearance of similar importance and prestige (the definition of which varies based on what’s important to you).  In Jesus’ time, one’s image and importance could be seen by where one sat at the table. It’s not much different however than seeking social recognition online, at work, or amongst one’s peers based on achievements, physical appearance, or possessions.

For every vice with which one struggles, St. Francis de Sales advises conquering it by aiming for the opposite virtue.  To combat pride therefore, one must cultivate humility.

Humility does NOT mean self-hate or false modesty.  Rather, it refers to an authentic and accurate view of one’s worth as well as the worth of others.  Pride takes many forms as we vie with one another for our place – some obvious and others subtle.

Merriam-Webster defines humility as “not thinking of yourself as better than other people.” God revealed the inherent dignity of every human person by creating each one in His image and likeness (independent of differences in appearance or abilities) and by Christ dying on the cross to save each and every one of us.  If God would become man, to suffer and die for someone, how can I not value them as anything less than priceless?  It doesn’t make me any less, but it also means I’m not anything more.     C.S. Lewis captured this mystery well in his essay, “The Weight of Glory”.  In it, he reflects on the grandeur of the human person, whose immortal nature will share in the either the horror of hell or the magnificent glory of God in Heaven.  He writes:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

In consequence, we need not honor others because we think so little of ourselves, but rather because we rejoice in our shared glory as sons and daughters of God.

A second reflection on humility relates to a definition which can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which defines it further in this way:

“Humility in a higher and ethical sense is that by which a man has a modest estimate of his own worth, and submits himself to others. According to this meaning no man can humiliate another, but only himself, and this he can do properly only when aided by Divine grace.”

“Submitting oneself to others” is verbiage that sounds as archaic as the Latin in which it was originally written.  In our anti-authroity, “look out for #1” society this just seems antiquated.  I have been blessed however to experience the receiving end of this idea and I will admit that it creates a loving, peaceful community.  Just the other day, I walked in late to a meeting at work and a co-worker saw my need as I scanned the full room futily for an open seat.  He waved me over,  reached for a folding chair next to the wall, then opened it for me in an open spot he had found.  It made me feel cared for and respected.  Similarly, I am blessed to work at a place where colleagues regularly open the door for one another, ask genuinely how one is doing, and offer help whenever they see a need. This practice of showing deference toward others, far from demeaning one, creates esteem.

As a parent however I am finding it ever more difficult to create a sense of deference in my children.  On a recent road trip they argued that I was being a hypocrite because I made them take turns between the bucket seats in our van and the back seat but I always got to sit up front.  “Why do you get to sit up front?” they asked, “and why don’t you have to take a turn being squished in the back bench seat?”  “Because I’m an adult” I replied.  It seemed obvious to me. That thought would never have crossed my mind as a child. I had done my time sitting in the back as a kid.  Yet, it was not so obvious to them.  A similar incident occurred during a trip for my sister’s wedding. My dad had graciously rented a mini-van to help drive us as well as other extended family around.  On one excursion my aunt decided to come along and my kids began to fight over who had to give up a bucket seat for her.  She kindly offered to sit in the far back which, I remarked, was virtuous of her, but denied my kids the opportunity to practice virtue themselves.  Much like Jesus’ parable, her humility resulted in being urged to a place of honor (even if its’ prime seating in a van!), whereas one of my children had to be scolded and moved to the back.

Practicing deference shows love and respect.  It means honoring one another rather than grasping at it for oneself.  This doesn’t mean you will be destined to be a doormat, but as Sirach proclaims in chapter 3:17-18:

“My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

Paradoxically, when we celebrate and appreciate others, we ourselves experience celebration and appreciation too.  Moreover, by valuing what truly maters in others, we learn to value ourselves more authentically as well.  It means we feel secure in our worth as sons and daughters of God.  We feel loved for who we are and not just what we can do.  It frees us to be teachable and learn from those who know more or have more experience.  It also frees us to mentor others in love rather than pride who could learn from us.  This builds the kingdom of God and gives us a taste of the wedding feast of heaven, where everyone rejoices in the grace of God and the work He has accomplished in the souls of every person there, including ourselves.

Jesus accepted the invitation to dine at the home of a leading Pharisee.  Humility does not therefore entail avoiding all social opportunities.  Instead, Christ exhorts us to evaluate the reasons for our decisions and to be aware of the snares of subtle pride.  Christ dined with the Pharisee to teach, heal, and save.  Others had come to be taught, healed, and saved.  Still others, Jesus observed, concerned themselves with image, honor, and their place at the prestigious table.  Jesus teaches us to celebrate the honors of others and thereby frees us from the striving and grasping after notoriety.  Instead of de-valuing your own worth, it actually means you feel secure and content with who you are and it frees you from judging yourself in comparison to others.  A good friend of mine once said, “to compare is to despair.”  I have found that to be true.  If however you take joy in other people you will be happy in any circumstance – either celebrating their successes, or being thankful to be in a position to offer help if they are in need.

Consider:

  • In what ways or areas do you sometimes over-estimate yourself? In what ways or areas do you sometimes under-estimate yourself?
  • Consider the deference Christ shows toward you by dying on the Cross for you, inviting you into relationship with Him, and transforming your life with his grace.
  • How might you show greater deference and humility toward others?
    • In your home and family.
    • Toward your peers and colleagues.
  • Reflect on the relationship between being humble and being teachable.
  • Consider the relationship between humility and service.
  • Consider the relationship between being humble and accepting the responsibility of leadership.
  • How does Christ model true humility in each of these ways?
    • Think of His obedience to Mary and Joseph.
    • Consider His relationships with His family, friends, and disciples.
    • Reflect on His humiliation on the Cross to elevate us.
  • With whom, or in what situations, do you struggle with pride, over-competitiveness, or excessive focus on your image the most? Invite Christ to help you with His grace to acquire peace and humility in that.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray the Litany of Humility each day this week.
  • Choose one person or area of your life in which you struggle with pride, over-competitiveness, or excessive focus on your image. Each morning this week, decide on one way in which you can practice humility in relation to that person or situation.
    • Examples: Towards Persons – ask him/her for help when needed, offer assistance, encouragement, or praise. Toward situations – Let others speak first at meetings, choose a simpler hair style or clothing for the day, invite a visitor in even if the house is a mess.
  • ~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016
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Eyes Wide Open…Gospel Meditation for Sunday August 7th, 2016

by Angela Lambert

 

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August 7th, 2016; 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 12:35-40 NAB

 “Jesus said to His disciples: ‘Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.  Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.  And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’”

Meditation Reflection:

Today Jesus emphasizes the need for disciples to be vigilant.  According to Wordbook, vigilant means to be “carefully observant or attentive; on the lookout for possible danger.”  Discipleship can suffer from the same waning of enthusiasm as any of our other noble tasks.  How many New Year’s diets end by February?  How many work-out videos get one viewing before gathering dust?  How many books are left only partially read?  How many friendships or relationships wither from slow neglect?  Jesus exhorts us to head off dangers to our faith by being aware and making efforts to protect ourselves from them.  Discipleship requires the same perseverance, effort, and watchfulness as anything else we hope to accomplish and maintain.

To achieve a goal of getting in shape, having someone to hold you accountable and work out with you will be necessary in order to avoid giving up early or choosing to watch tv instead of going to the gym.  Discipleship requires fellowship as well.  We need faith-filled friends to keep us accountable, inspire us to be better, and keep us in the habit of prayer and worship.  To achieve the goal of developing your mind through reading, you will need to choose a time, place, and frequency or it will never happen.  Forming a book club can also give that added boost of a deadline to motivate you.  Similarly, to grow nearer to Christ you will need to read Scripture regularly.  The same pitfalls apply here so being vigilant about sticking to a routine will be important and joining a bible study could also be motivating.

Wordbook’s synonym for vigilance illuminates the essence of discipleship as well: “open-eyed.” Here however, it’s our eyes of faith that we need to struggle to keep open.  In Hebrews 1:1, St. Paul defines faith as: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (RSV).  He goes on to illustrate this with the example of Abraham who left for a land God promised without any sight of it beforehand – no map, no appraisal or inspection, no google images – only God’s word.  Moreover, after having received a son despite he and Sarah’s old age, Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac at God’s command. Imagine the paradox presented to Abraham.  God had promised Abraham many descendants through Isaac, and yet God also asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  How could both of these things be true at the same time?  Abraham could find no assurance in natural reason or human experience and power.  Abraham merited the title Father of Faith by his response.  St. Paul relates, “[Abraham] considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:19 RSV).  Abraham had confidence that God is all-powerful and that God keeps His promises.  He didn’t limit God to our human experience.  He trusted God and proved his conviction when he risked everything to be obedient to the Lord.

How can we imitate the vigilant, open-eyed faith of Abraham?  Every day we need to open our eyes through prayer.  We need to ask for the gift of faith and trust.  We have to keep sharp through fellowship with faithful Christians and spiritual reading.  We need to deepen our trust through developing our relationship with Christ and receiving His grace in the sacraments.  Finally, many saints and spiritual writers suggest doing an examination of conscience every night.  Look back on the day and evaluate your choices.  When did you show love for God and for others?  What temptations did you overcome?  What inspirations of the Holy Spirit did you follow?  Secondly, where did you lean on your own understanding instead of God’s?  When did you relax into thinking and acting like a child of the world rather than a child of God?  What choices were motivated by a lack of faith, hope, or charity?  Ask God for forgiveness and an increase in grace to do better the next day.

Even if the end of the day doesn’t work for you, try to at least be more introspective throughout the day.  Jesus warned “Be sure of this, if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.”  Sins can make little strongholds in our soul if we are not vigilant in identifying them and putting them before the Lord for healing.  We never know when we will be attacked by temptation and sometimes it can be very subtle.  By developing a habit of staying alert we will be better able to avoid or overcome them.

Lastly, we never know when Jesus will come.  He too appears at surprising times in surprising ways.  If we live in faith, our hearts will be open to receive the gifts Christ desires to bestow on us.  We may have to take a step that makes no sense from a practical perspective unless God is real, all-powerful, and keeps His promises.  God will provide.  If therefore we seek first His kingdom, we can be assured that everything else will be taken care of (Matthew 6:33), and quite often in ways we could not have foreseen.

We have a tendency today to need to “see it to believe it.”  Although I still have to struggle to patiently trust God, at this point I have seen God act so many times in my life that I can say I believe it because I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen God provide over and over again, always in unexpected ways, and just at the right time.  He has done this at every level – family, relationships, work, finances, and health. Even though it’s easier to trust the wisdom of the world or our own strength which we can see right before us, we ought to vigilantly keep our eyes open to the wisdom and strength of our loving God which is far more reliable. He is coming, and it will be a day of great rejoicing we won’t want to miss!

Consider:

  •  Reflect on what practices have deepened your faith and helped you grow as a disciple of Christ?
  • Consider where you need further growth. Pray about how you could be more vigilant in that area.
  • Meditate on the words Jesus asked St. Faustina to have written below His image: “Jesus I trust in You.”
  • Reflect with gratitude on a time(s) when God came through for you in a surprising or powerful way.
  • Is there a part of your life that needs more trust in Jesus? Pray for an increase in faith and hope.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way to be more vigilant in your faith life. Share your goal with someone who will encourage you and keep you accountable.
  • Pray the short prayer, “Jesus I trust in You” several times each day.
  • Pray Psalm 27 each day this week.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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The Priority of Being Present

by Angela Lambert

July 17th, 2016; 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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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 reflect on 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 confirms this connection when He teaches: “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, and pre-teens need a frenetic amount of chauffeuring.

The Lord appreciates every sacrifice we make.  Things get out of balance however when we allow our work to become a source of anxiety and worry.   Jesus did not scold Martha for working too hard, He voiced His concern for her anxiousness.  Her worry had begun to undermine 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 newest apostolic letter The Joy of Love.  Citing responses he had received from the pre-synodal questionnaire he had sent out, he acknowledges:

Many of the respondents pointed to the problems families face in raising children.  In many cases, parents come home exhausted, now 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.” (Amoris Laetitia, par. 50)

 

My watershed moment like Martha’s occurred at Christmas time several years ago.  My three kids were young and yet also old enough to have new Christmas traditions of our own and we were going to host Christmas 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 my life in better balance.

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, 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.  When we become untethered by our to-do list, Mary appears to just be sitting around doing nothing.  Jesus reminds us 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):

  • Read “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence (it’s a small, thin book but sticks with you)
  • 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.)

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Encountering Christ Through Your Life…Gospel Meditation for Sunday July 3rd, 2016

by Angela Lambert

pope francis and refugees

Pope Francis welcomes a group of Syrian refugees after landing at Ciampino airport in Rome following a visit at the Moria refugee camp in the Greek island of Lesbos, April 16. Filippo Monteforte / Pool via Reuters

July 3rd, 2016; 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 NAB

At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”

The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,
but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus desires personal relationship with each human person.  At the same time, no man is an island, and therefore Jesus encounters persons within the context of their lives. Our experiences and choices, together with our relationships with others, form the framework through which we receive and respond to Christ.

Our personal encounter with Christ may begin with a personally appointed disciple of His, sent ahead of Him.  For some, a certain preparation may be needed before Christ’s visit will be fruitful.  Someone whose heart is hardened toward God by experiences of pain or falsehood may need their demons cast out so Christ can fully enter.  In some cases, this happens in a literal way through the name of Jesus and the authority granted by Him.  In other cases, it happens in a more analogous way through the softening of a heart by the experience of Christian love, the opening of a mind through seeds of truth, or the reception of mercy in a time of need.  An otherwise weak soul, may find the courage to say yes to Christ after being inspired by the bravery of another.  A proud soul may see the beauty of meekness through the gentle joy of colleague.  Our perception of God can be obscured by our experiences in life – either of prosperity or pain – but it can also be clarified by our experiences in life, especially through encounters with other Christians.

Christ call us to proclaim the kingdom of God to others and He equips us with the supernatural power and grace to do so.  The good news of the Lord’s presence and mercy is proclaimed through a myriad of ways and tailored to the individuals who will receive it.  God may call you to witness through your example, through your choices, through works of mercy, through your patience and kindness, through your prayers and sacrifices, or through words of teaching, encouragement, conviction, or comfort.  Conversions continue to take place even in surprising places.  Peter Leithart, writer for First Things magazine, reports in his article “Islamicization of Europe or Christianization of Islam?”, that many Muslim refugees migrating into Europe from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and central Asia have been converting to Christianity and requesting baptism by the droves.  The article cites a variety of reasons for this phenomena but ultimately individuals in need have encountered Christ through the Christians who have aided them which sparked openness to Christianity and a desire for Christ.

The kingdom of God, which is none other than union with God, begins here on earth at the crucial crossroads of the human will.  The seventy-two sent out by Christ recounted their exhilaration at being able to cast out demons.  The devil seems oppressively powerful, yet at the simple name of Jesus, he is conquered.  Unfortunately, a simple “no” by the human will can shut Jesus out.  Relationship requires the reciprocal good will of two people.  Christ loves us, but if we do not love Him in return there can be no friendship.  As Christian disciples, we must pray to be His missionaries laboring in His harvest and take care to not turn others away by their encounter with us.  We should also not become discouraged if even after great feats people in our lives still reject God.    Ultimately, that is between them and God.  The stakes are high – heaven! – so let’s pray that we can open hearts to receive the Lord for all of eternity.

Consider:

  •  Consider how Christ has sent messengers ahead of Him to you.
    • Who brought to you His truth, sacraments, love, or compassion?
    • How did it increase your faith or clarify your understanding of Christ?
  • Consider how you are a messenger of Christ – to your family, your colleagues, your neighbors, and your friends.
    • In what ways to you demonstrate Christ’s love and truth to them?
    • In what ways could you improve your Christian witness?
  • Reflect on your receptivity. How open are you to the Word of God in Scripture, through His Church, through others?  What hinders you and what helps you?
  • Reflect on Christian evangelization occurring in Europe by reading Peter Leithart’s article:First Things. “Islamicization of Europe or Christianization of Islam?”

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  •  Each day prayerfully and intentionally decide on one person with whom you will share Christ.  Prayerfully decide how and when you will do it. (e.g. saying a kind word to someone who annoys you at work, praying with your children together before bed, doing something loving toward your spouse, forgiving someone in need of mercy, etc.)
  • Reach out to someone who has been instrumental in your own conversion and thank him or her. It could be as simple as an email, text, hand-written note, or phone call.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Excuses, Excuses…Be Brave! Be Determined!

merciful father

June 26th, 2016; 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, 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 sit and pray (a.k.a. do nothing) 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 earlier.  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 and determination, 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.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Paradoxes of Discipleship

by Angela Lambert

carrying-the-cross-daily1

June 19th, 2016; 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 9:18-24

Once when Jesus was praying by himself, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.” He scolded them and directed them not to tell this to anyone. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

 Meditation Reflection:

Often we feel burdened by the frenetic pace of life, even the endless duties of Christian service for our loved ones.  We can easily feel that we do not have time to “just sit and pray.”  As a result we rationalize that our work is our prayer and God wants more from us than mere words.  These thoughts carry quite a bit of merit given their truth.  Nevertheless, they do not abnegate our responsibility to spend time alone with God.  Who could really say he or she has more work to do than the Son of God did during His time on earth?  Who of us can dare say our service cannot wait while we pray alone with God but Christ’s could?  Even Mother Teresa, known for her tireless works of charity, spent several hours in prayer every morning before beginning her service for the poorest of the poor. Angelo Comastri, Archbishop of Loreto, attested to her insistence on the necessity of prayer first, describing his encounter with her in this way:

“She looked at me with two clear and piercing eyes. Then she asked me: «How many hours do you pray a day?» I was surprised by such a question and tried to defend myself by saying: «Mother, I expected you to speak about charity, to invite me to love the poor more. Why do you ask me how many hours I pray?» Mother Teresa took my hands and held them tightly in her own as if she wanted to pass on to me what she had in her heart; then she told me in confidence: «My child, without God we are too poor to be able to help the poor! Remember: I am only a poor woman who prays. When I pray, God puts His Love into my heart and so I can love the poor. By praying!http://www.vatican.va/jubilee_2000/magazine/documents/ju_mag_01091997_p-18_en.html

Time alone with God, especially time spent in silent contemplation or meditation may feel like you are doing nothing whereas in truth an incredible amount is being accomplished in the depths of your soul by God.  In prayer, God fills our souls supernaturally with grace which enables us to know, love, and serve Him in ways we could not without this aid.  For instance, those who had encountered Christ but had not spent time alone with Him like the apostles, had fairly good guesses about Christ’s identity, nevertheless they were wrong.  Peter, however, having dedicated Himself to following Christ and remaining near to Him, was enabled by the Holy Spirit to correctly determine the truth about Jesus.

Moreover, when spending time alone with Christ in silence, He reveals more of Himself to us as well as His mission for us.  After Peter perceived Jesus as the “Christ,” which means “Anointed One,” referring to the long awaited Messiah or “Son of Man” from earlier prophecies, Jesus next revealed the Christ would suffer, die, and be raised to life.  This would not have been the kind of glory the apostles were expecting from their leader.  Without grace, they must have questioned why they chose to follow someone who predicted He would seemingly fail in such a painful way.  He also promised a resurrection but this too would be hard to put in one’s trust without grace.  If that weren’t enough, Jesus went on to disclose an even harder truth: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Self-denial? Intense suffering?  No marketing agent would put that on a billboard!

We can only make that kind of sacrifice aided by grace to trust that our Lord who suffered, died, and was raised to eternal life in Heaven, will raise us to eternal glory with Him if we endure the suffering and death to our worldly ambitions and sinful attachments on earth.  You only live once so the risk is big.  If Heaven isn’t for real, you won’t have a second chance at the pleasures or the fame the world has to offer.  Time alone with Christ must be a necessity for disciples.  Who do some secular people say Christ is?  A crutch for the weak, a glorified imaginary friend, an old superstition.  Who do disciples of Christ discover He is?  A trusted friend, a vigilant protector, a source of peace, a spring of joy.

In time alone with the one we love, Christ gifts us with the faith, hope, and love necessary to believe and act on His admonition: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  For example, when in prayer, I felt Jesus call me to the vocation of motherhood, it took some grace and adjustment.  I was young and had more ambitious ideas of how to serve the Lord.  In time alone with Him at adoration however, He revealed to me that I had made some good guesses about the Christian life, but they were still very tainted by a worldly lens.  In time I came to see from His perspective.  I came to have faith but next I needed the hope and love to act on this call, which He provided through more time spent with Him.  I spent my 20’s at home raising my three kids, while my worldly peers pursued careers, partied, and travelled.  From a secular view, I had “no life”.  Sometimes, it even felt like that.  However, I had posted on my refrigerator John 15:13 “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” When tempted by the worldly lens that I had wasted my talents, I would spend time in prayer.  Without fail, I would walk away each time with the view of the greatness of my mission as a disciple and I felt unworthy of such an honor.  15 years later, I can see concrete examples of how in losing my life Christ saved it.  I can’t articulate the work He has done in my soul through my experience as a mother and my time alone with Christ in the home with my kids for 10 years.  I’m not saying that is His will for everyone.  It was however His will for me and in retrospect I can see why.  When I had finally become truly comfortable with my mission at home (and even homeschooling!) I was called to go out of the home, enroll my kids in school, and be a teacher again.  When this became absolutely clear I cried uncontrollably for an hour.  What had begun as a sacrifice became a sacrifice to surrender.  Christ blessed me however through ways only He can and through His Mystical Body, with the opportunity for all of my kids to attend the school at which I teach so we could still be together in some way during the day. I still rely on Christ to provide the faith, courage, and love to choose His will over the immediate visible rewards that come from my will and already I am seeing the fruits of His next call.

Our utilitarian culture measures worth by achievement.  Love however simply desires connection and time together.  Love bears fruits of good works, but its greatest joy is simply enjoying the nearness and attention of the beloved.  You are Christ’s beloved.  Your love should bear fruit of loving works, but Jesus’ greatest joy is time spent near Him, enjoying His presence.  As Mother Teresa advised, spend time alone with the Lord, and He will pour the love you need in your heart to carry your cross.  Paradoxically, you may find your cross to be your greatest blessing and that in losing your life for the Lord, it will be saved.

Consider:

  •  Consider how much time you spend alone with Christ.
    • What keeps you from making time for silent prayer and listening?
    • How has silent prayer with the Lord deepened your faith?
  • Consider the paradox that no matter how busy we are, if we make time for Christ somehow everything else still gets done.
  • With whom do you enjoy spending time together? Do you take joy in his or her presence even if nothing is being “accomplished”?  Do you know and love each other more deeply as a result?
  • If you have teens, consider the time you spend driving in the car. Often that space of time where you are simply alone in the quiet of the vehicle is when they open up about what’s on their minds or in their hearts.  What is it about a dedicated space of time that cannot be interrupted by tasks that opens people up to one another?
    • Consider how this relates to our relationship with the Lord. How many of us encounter Him during times when we have nowhere else we could go?  What if we simply carved out that time intentionally each day?
  • How has Christ deepened your faith, strengthened your trust, and made you more loving because of your relationship with Him?
  • Have you ever “died to something” in your life only to find that in fact Christ liberated you through it? Have you given something only to find you were given more in return?
  • What might Christ be asking you to surrender today? How might Christ value your contributions more than you do?  Pray for Him to reveal His view of your life and purify your own lens.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Spend an additional 15 minutes a day this week alone with Jesus.
  • Visit Jesus at adoration one time this week.
  • Read about Christ in the Gospels or a spiritual book. One suggestion would be “Jesus of Nazareth” by Pope Benedict XVI.
  • Take 5 minutes for silent prayer a day.
  • Listen to Christian music once a day – while driving, walking, getting ready etc.
  • Listen to the song “How He Loves Us” by David Crowder Band

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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