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

by Angela Lambert

Jesus raises widow of Nain's son

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

Gospel of Luke 7:11-17 NAB

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

 Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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The Most Marvelous Mystery! Gospel Meditation for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

by Angela Lambert

May 22nd, 2016; Solemnity of the Most Trinity 3Holy Trinity

Gospel of John 16:12-15 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”

Meditation Reflection:

The mystery of the Trinity transcends our comprehension and its reality cannot be rightly conceived in our imagination.  At the same time, God desired that we know something of His nature and being. Christ revealed this truth during His public ministry since we could not have known it otherwise. Still, we lack understanding without supernatural help and so Jesus explains to His apostles, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”  When the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles at Pentecost, He opened their eyes of faith, elevated their understanding, and fortified their courage to believe and proclaim such wonderful truths.

The Holy Spirit continues His work today in our own hearts as well.  We know from Genesis that we image God, but because of sin we struggle to know what that looks like.  Through Baptism however, the Trinity comes to dwell in our very souls.   His image grows within us and begins to radiate more and more brightly in our minds and in our lives to the extent that we cooperate with His gifts.

So what is the Trinity? What did God reveal about Himself? What are we supposed to image?  The Church explains it in this way:

“The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”.83 The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire…” (CCC 253)

“The divine persons are really distinct from one another. “God is one but not solitary.”86 “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.”87 They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.”88 The divine Unity is Triune.” (CCC 254)

The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another” (CCC 255)

Understand?  Great!  Just kidding.  I can explain…kind of.  First, we must accept that we cannot fully comprehend or imagine the Trinity so let go of that goal.  However, it does not mean that we can know nothing of the Trinity.  God revealed His Trinitarian reality and so we ought to accept and contemplate this mystery with the help of the Holy Spirit.

First, God is one.  He has one divine nature.  We tend to imagine it divided into three parts but this is where our imagination fails us.  Each person of the Trinity is wholly God.

Secondly, God is three.  Our imagination tries to reconcile this with His oneness by imagining God as having three different modes or faces but being essentially the same.  Not the case.  God is three distinct persons.

So how can God be one and three?  In heaven you will see the face of God and something of this mystery.  This incredible vision will be the source of joy so great that you will have to be supernaturally empowered to take it in without being overcome.  Live a holy life so you can one day have this awesome opportunity!  From Christ’s teachings we know that God’s oneness and threeness reveal that His essence is one of relationship.  God is a relationship of Three Persons.  I mentioned in a prior post that when God created us in His image, He created a family.  A man and a woman become “one flesh” and a child is born who is both of their nature and yet distinct as well.  The union of persons in life-giving love images God who is also a union of persons in life-giving love.  Is it no wonder that Satan’s primary attack against God is directed at His image; thus Satan’s efforts to promote a self-centered individualism in contrast to the other-centered gift of self required for an intimate union of persons?

We cannot imagine God’s Triune nature but we can contemplate it and try to live as an image of it with the help of the Holy Spirit and the graces of the Sacraments.  Baptism unites us to God and each other, the Eucharist nourishes that unity, and Confession reconciles us when we have separated ourselves through sin.  The more we open ourselves to God the more we will see Him.  That process begins on earth and the joy that accompanies it begins here as well.  We can look forward with hope and anticipation to the day that God enables us to see more of Him in heaven and we will be free to sing endless songs of praise and love.

Consider:

  •  Consider your relationship with God the Father.
    • What does it mean to be a son or daughter of God?
      • Consider your dignity as an heir of heaven where your Christ your brother reigns as king and Mary your mother reigns as queen.
      • In a family, each member is irreplaceable. You are an irreplaceable member of God’s family.  You matter to God and to every member of the Christian family.
    • How does that affect the way you see yourself?
    • How does that affect the choices you make?
  • Consider your relationship with God the Son.
    • God became man so you could encounter Him directly. He shared in the human experience so He could be closer to you.  Reflect on times you have encountered Christ.
    • Consider the mysteries of His life – how has He experienced similar sufferings to yours?
    • He still draws near to you today through the Eucharist and His Mystical Body the Church. Reflect on the immanence of Christ in your daily life.
  • Consider your relationship with the Holy Spirit.
    • The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see Christ and enlightens our understanding to appropriate His teachings.
    • When was a time the Holy Spirit brought comfort and peace to your soul?
    • When was a time He gave you fortitude and perseverance in your Christian walk?
    • When was a time He gave you wisdom to discern the right choice to make when faced with a difficult decision? Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your decisions today as well.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Take a moment today to appreciate God’s creation.
  • Visit Christ present in the Eucharist.
  • Pray to the Holy Spirit each day to reveal God more to you, and to transform your heart that your life might reveal God more to someone else.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Holy Spirit, Help Me!…Gospel Meditation for the Feast of Pentecost

by Angela Lambert

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May 15th, 2016; Pentecost

Gospel of John 14:15-16, 23b-26 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me. “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.

 Meditation Reflection:

Christ’s greatest gift to us – the first fruit of all of His suffering, death, and resurrection, the first thing He asks the Father on our behalf from His throne in Heaven – is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  In the gift of the Holy Spirit we experience the mystery of the Trinity.  God is one and therefore the Spirit makes Christ present in our soul along with the Father.  At the same time, God is three Persons, and therefore Jesus explains that He must ascend to Heaven so that the Spirit may descend upon us.  Because Christ merited the forgiveness of our sins, His Spirit could begin His work of cleansing us and sanctifying us.  The Spirit applies the healing balm of Christ’s sacrifice to the wounds of our sins and works as fast as we will allow to help us regain spiritual health and freedom.

The Spirit is the primary mover in our conversion.  He prompts us to turn to God, provides the strength to actually make the conversion, sanctifies our souls with the grace of Baptism and the sacraments, then guides the ongoing process of union with Christ.  At the same time, the Spirit requires our cooperation.  We can hasten or hinder His work.  It reminds me of trying to clean the house with my three kids.  Granted, a mother has to come to peace with a certain level of mess if she ever wants to survive motherhood.  At the same time, order and cleanliness lend beauty and peace to a home.  During those times when I attempt to clean everything up and restore order to the house my kids’ cooperation (or lack there of) unavoidably determines the success and timeframe of my effort.  When my kids were little I felt like a gerbil running in it’s wheel.  As soon as I cleaned up one mess I would turn around to find my kids had made another.  If I stopped to read with them or take them outside where they couldn’t mess up the house, I couldn’t clean it up either.   As they got a little older I could finally kick them outside to play while I cleaned inside or “quarantine” off rooms one by one from the kids as they were cleaned.  Still, work was often slowed by needs for water or snacks, complaints and fighting, etc.  My kids are now at an age where these challenges remain but they are old enough to pitch in and help. Our life is busier with activities and the house gets neglected by our rush in and out.  As a result, on days where we are all home I will tell the kids “We all have to work together for one hour and we can get everything back in order.”  I remind them that I can no longer do it on my own and I need their help.  I am amazed at how the house can turn around so fast when everyone pitches in.  That’s not to say that I don’t take the opportunity to clean when they are all away from the house and I can get things done uninterruptedly.  However, I’ve learned that I have to employ their help on a more regular basis with the schedule of the new stage we’re in.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit can work in our souls to the extent that we cooperate.  When our faith is still immature we tend to act like little kids – creating one mess after another.  We may feel like progress is slow and that God isn’t doing very much.  However, we need to be honest about our expectations.  Every parent who has ever stayed at home with the kids knows how hard they work all day with nothing visible to show for it.  The other parent may leave for work and return with the house looking the same or worse than when they left.  However, what’s not reflected in that picture is the hundreds of other messes cleaned up constantly, the love and nurturing that took place, and the work at developing a child’s heart and mind.  The Spirit works in our souls in a similar way – drawing our minds up to God, comforting us in our sorrows, forming our conscience, encouraging us, and cleaning up our constant messes.

As we mature in the faith we become less of a hindrance to the Spirit and He works more efficiently in our soul.  As we become less attached to sin the messes slow (some) and the Spirit can make greater progress teaching us about Christ and deepening our love.

Finally, the mature Christian cooperates with the Holy Spirit in the work of following Christ and grows quickly in union with God.  The Sacrament of Confirmation celebrates this as we receive an increase in the Holy Spirit and prepare to be soldiers of Christ, contributors to the faith we have received.

It’s natural for children to depend on their parents more heavily when they are young.  It’s also an expectation that they contribute to family life as they get older.  The Holy Spirit makes us adopted sons and daughters of the Lord.  Through His indwelling we experience the nurturing necessary for sanctification and mature love of God.  Moreover, He blesses us with gifts to strengthen and nurture the faith of others.

May we all this Pentecost, reflect on the gracious work of God in our lives, that others may say of us as the crowd did in Acts 2:11“we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

Consider:

  • Consider your cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
    • Ask the Holy Spirit to show you habitual sins you struggle with and pray for His help to overcome them.
    • Consider how you can grow in virtue so that the Holy Spirit can act even more powerfully within you. The virtue of purity especially increases the Holy Spirit.
  • Christ calls the Holy Spirit the “Paraclete.” Consider each of the meanings of Paraclete – “advocate”, “intercessor”, “teacher, “helper”, “comforter”.
    • When has the Holy Spirit advocated on your behalf? Consider the sins you have been freed from because the Holy Spirit advocated for you before the Father.  Consider a time when you need the Holy Spirit to advocate for you in the heart of another person.
    • The Spirit intercedes for us and teaches us how to pray.  Thank the Holy Spirit for His prayers on your behalf.  Spend 5 minutes of silent prayer just letting the Holy Spirit speak for you to God.
    • Ask the Holy Spirit to open your mind and heart to God’s word in Scripture. Ask Him to help you see God’s truth in the events of your daily life.  Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ to you.
    • Consider a time the Holy Spirit gave you profound peace when you were suffering and in pain. Invite the Holy Spirit to bring His comfort now and for the grace to turn to Him first.
  • Paul tells us in I Corinthians 12 that the Spirit bestows different gifts upon Christians for the upbuilding of the whole body. Read I Corinthinas 12 and pray about what your gift is and how you can put it at the service of Christ.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to the presence of Christ, to your sins, and to God’s will.
  • Determine one way to grow in the virtue of purity and do it each day this week.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit for the opportunity to serve God with the gifts He has given you. Then take that opportunity each day.
  • Each day, take a minute to praise God for His mighty works in your life.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Who Me?!… Gospel Meditation for Sunday February 7th, 2016

by Angela Lambert

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February 7th, 2016; 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

Meditation Reflection:

I often find myself torn between two emotions. Like Simon Peter my encounter with Christ leaves me astonished with a strong desire to leave everything and follow Him so I can hang on His every word and witness His great works. I want to call out “Pick me! Pick me!” At the same time, when Christ actually calls me to follow Him and participate in His mission, I feel so ridiculous because of my smallness that all I can say is “Who me? Really? Are you certain? Uh oh…” It’s one thing to watch Christ, it’s completely another to be invited to work side by side with Him. I don’t mind blending into the crowd of admirers, but I know what Christ can do through His followers and I feel foolishly unqualified.

Every Christian who has encountered Christ and heard His call struggles with the same emotions. Pick up any account of the life of a saint and they articulate the same tension. Don’t mistake their words for false modesty. The saints knew precisely the greatness of God and their own ineptitude. The only difference is that they had the humility and courage to say yes to God anyway.

Today’s first and second reading give us two such examples. Isaiah (6:1-8) reacts to seeing the glory of the Lord with fear due to his own sinfulness and feelings of being unworthy. God doesn’t disagree with him because Isaiah’s response is appropriate and true. Rather God heals Isaiah and enables him to serve God by having an angel touch Isaiah’s mouth with an ember from God’s altar.   Isaiah’s first words of “Woe is me I am doomed” change to “Here I am, send me”. St. Paul recounts having a similar experience (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). He humbly acknowledges that he of all people has no right to be called an apostle because he began by persecuting the Church. I have to think that not a day went by that Paul did not recall being present at St. Stephen’s martyrdom as a witness on the side of the persecutors. To accept Christ’s call to serve as an apostle had to have required great humility on Paul’s part and a deep trust in the mercy of Christ. Paul was willing to change teams and look like a fool by accepting a leadership position because He decided to say yes to Christ anyway.

Fr. Francis Fernandez-Carvajal, author of many works on the spiritual life, notes that the devil often tries to discourage us from great aspirations by tricking us with false humility. Drawing from Teresa of Avila, he writes in his book Through Wind and Waves,

St. Teresa of Avila, after stressing that the struggle for holiness is grounded on God’s help, and hence the importance of being humble, warns of the danger of a false humility that is short on desire and low in aspirations. The saint says regarding true humility: ‘It is necessary that we know what this humility is like. I believe that the devil harms people who practice prayer and prevents them from advancing by causing them to misunderstand humility. He makes it appear to us that it’s pride to have great desires and want to imitate the saints and long to be martyrs. Then he tells us or causes us to think that since we are sinners the deeds of the saints are for our admiration, not our imitation.’ This false humility leads to spiritual mediocrity, so opposed to the true Christian vocation.”

Although we legitimately feel unworthy, answering Christ’s call demonstrates faith and trust in the merciful love of God. Shrinking from service because of our smallness is not humble it’s mediocre, and mediocrity is not the response to grace that Christ deserves.

Christ calls every Christian to share in His work of saving souls. It’s natural to respond with an astonished “Who, me?!” However, as Pope St. John Paul II exhorted us, we should cling to Christ’s words “Be not afraid”. Push aside the temptation of false humility and step forward in faith to say as Isaiah did, “Here I am, send me”.

Consider:

  • When, like Peter or Isaiah, have you been astonished by Christ?
  • What is Christ asking of you today?
  • What fears or insecurities are holding you back?
  • Do you believe Christ will do great things through you or do you doubt His mercy?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week ask Christ in prayer, “What do you want of me today? Here I am, send me.”
  • Pray the litany of humility prayer each day. It asks Christ to deliver us from the desires and fears that tend to become extreme in us and prevent us from freedom in following Christ.
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be chosen and I set aside Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),
Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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