Lent – That Others May See More of Jesus In Us

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 

 

March 18th, 2018 5th Sunday of Lent

Gospel of John12:20-33 NAB

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me. “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Meditation Reflection:

Someone may say to you, “[Your Name], I would like to see Jesus.”  Imagine that for a moment and take it in.  A person looking to you with a hopeful and somewhat anxious expression, addressing you by name, and depending on you to connect them to Christ.

“Why me?” you might say.  Yet, in a secular culture void of God, searching souls see Christ from a distance and feel more at a loss to find their way to Him than you may think.  Thus, your relationship with Jesus, and their relationship with you, provides the bridge they need.

Yet, to be Christ’s light and love in the world, to be a bridge, demands a serious choice which will decide the trajectory of your whole life.  Jesus made this choice, and so must each of His followers.

The choice – to live for yourself or to live for the Lord, to build a life of your own making or to build the kingdom of God.

A grain of wheat, in and of itself, is small and insignificant – enough to feed only a bird. Yet, within it lies tremendous potential – enough to feed human persons.  The movement from potential to actuality however begins with death.

If a grain were a conscious soul with a mind and will, it would see before it a decision:

  1. Go on living as a seed for itself, unchanged and comfortable.
  2. Surrender itself to the Creator, be broken apart in death and then transformed into something new and quite different from its experience as a seed.

Although the second option sounds scary, to grow and change also entails being lifted up from the ground, becoming tall stalks of wheat, and finally, maturing to the point where it can be picked as harvest for others.  The first choice may be easier, but the second adds so much more meaning to its life.

As Jesus’ “Hour” approached, He came to the final crossroads of His decision.  He had said Yes to the Father when He agreed to become man at the incarnation, He said No to Satan in the desert when offered the kingdoms of the world without the Cross, and now as His final suffering and death approached He weighed His decision aloud for His disciples to hear and one day follow.

Jesus didn’t want to suffer but He did want to save us. So what was He really to do?  Christ’s magnanimous love refused to live for Himself, and so chose the path to the Cross.  He chose to die that He might be lifted up – on the Cross and in His Resurrection – and thereby bear fruit that gives all mankind who plucks it life eternal.

As Christ’s disciples, we first must receive life from our Lord who has become our spiritual bread.  Under the appearance of wheat bread in the host, He gives His very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to us in the Eucharist.  With this union and grace, we then are asked to allow Him to transform our souls.

He begins by breaking down sin and selfishness.  Dying to ourselves marks the first stage of development.  Thus prayer, fasting, and almsgiving facilitate this process by putting God first, denying ourselves pleasures, and opening ourselves up to the poor around us.

From this death to self however, which no doubt is painful, emerges transformation.  Sin and self at bay, Christ is more free to build virtues within us and to grow authentic Christian love.  The process snowballs positively as the greater one loves, the easier sacrifice becomes.  In full Christian development, love is so perfected that it, like Christ, can’t bear to choose pleasure or comfort over love of God and neighbor. We experience something of this in human loves between parent and child, spouses, or dear friends.  In loving relationships, giving of one’s self or possessions is felt to be an opportunity rather than a burden.

In this fifth week of Lent, you may be feeling the pain of perseverance in the commitments you made Ash Wednesday.  However, the more weak you feel on your own, the more reliant you become on Christ and His grace to support you.  Have hope, we are past the midpoint!  Just as there can be no Easter Sunday without Good Friday, we can’t truly feast until we’ve fasted.  The more we enter in to Lent, the more joy we will experience during Easter.

Like Jesus, we might pray to the Father:

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”

We choose death to self because we desire life in Christ – which we know to be much happier, peaceful, and fulfilling than anything we could construct for ourselves.  We don’t die for its own sake but rather to receive greater life.

Jesus teaches, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”  In consequence, as we approach Holy Week we endeavor to be with our Lord wherever He is – at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, at the Cross on Good Friday, waiting in anticipation Holy Saturday, and rejoicing in His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

If we persevere and remain near to Christ, those near to us can be blessed by His Presence too. Our lived discipleship might drive out the lies of Satan with Christ’s Truth.  You can be a witness that Christ brings true happiness to someone disillusioned by the world’s false promises.  Your unconditional love can drive out the lie that someone is only as valuable as they are useful.  Your forgiveness can drive away the temptation of despair with the truth of mercy.

Christ’s saving love draws everyone to Himself.  If we allow ourselves to be conformed to Him, we just might be that bridge to Christ for someone’s salvation, or that stalk of wheat which they pluck to receive our Lord for the first time.

Consider:

  • Meditate on the words, “we would like to see Jesus.”  Make this your prayer to the Holy Spirit and spend 5 minutes in silent prayer listening.
  • Consider Christ’s gift of self for you.  Pray about how you might give more of yourself to Him and to others.
  • In what ways does your life witness your faith to others?  In what ways do you hide your faith?
    •  Are you a joyful or a gloomy Christian? Do you greet people with a smile? (one of Mother Teresa’s common suggestions)
    • In conversations, does your speech reflect your Christian values or do you participate in gossip or vulgar jokes.
    • Do you speak about your church or priest with respect or are you overly critical?
    • Do you reach out to persons at work or in your neighborhood who seem to be friendless or having a tough time, or are you too focused on your own life?

 Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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Living in Denial…Gospel Meditation for February 28, 2016

by Angela Lambert

denial
February 28, 2016; 3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Luke 13:1-9
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! “And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also,and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

Meditation Reflection:

The mystery of God’s Mercy and Justice extends beyond the limits of our comprehension. Nevertheless, Jesus exhorts us to never forget that God is both. Pope Francis has dedicated this year to reflecting on this mystery and living it out in our own lives through going to Confession and practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. God’s mercy makes salvation possible through even the smallest opening of repentance and desire in our hearts. However the mercy we experience on a day to day basis, the undeserved blessings God showers as a doting Father, can also lead to complacency.

Mercy means healing and transformation. In our complacency we can begin to think that we deserve our blessings and forget our sins, or worse forget our blessings as well. St. Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 10:1-12 that the Israelites, after witnessing the mighty hand of God liberating them from Egypt and walking on dry land through the Red Sea, reverted to doubt, fear, and grumbling in the desert. In consequence, although liberated by God from Egypt, they died in the desert unable to enter the Promised Land. God can work mighty deeds in our lives. His mercy will cut through any sin. God’s forgiveness is not merely “spiritual dry-cleaning” as Pope Francis has termed it. God’s work heals and transforms. This process ought to bear fruits therefore of virtue, sanctity, and love. In fact, one of the ways St. Teresa of Avila verified the authenticity of a spiritual experience was by the fruits of virtue that accompanied it.

Jesus warns today that God’s mercy is inextricably united to God’s justice. God has given us free will. He will honor that gift. If we choose to reject the opportunity for life which comes through healing from sin, then at some point we will die. God offers us more chances than we deserve but they are limited by time and by our choices.

The Year of Mercy Pope Francis has established corresponds to his “Theology of Sin” because we cannot receive the fruits of mercy until we acknowledge and repent of our sin. In an article in First Things (8/19/13), William Doino Jr. addresses this theology of sin by the pope and notes its importance due to our wide-spread denial of sin altogether as a culture. He presents a three-step process Pope Francis has advocated for:

“The first part is to recognize the darkness of contemporary life, and how it leads so many astray: Walking in darkness means being overly pleased with ourselves, believing that we do not need salvation. That is darkness! When we continue on this road of darkness, it is not easy to turn back. Therefore, John continues, because this way of thinking made him reflect: ‘If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’”

If we do not suffer under the oppression of sin, we do not need a redeemer. When we live in denial of our sins and addictions we refuse the opportunity for help. For example, if a person lives in denial of their regular rude or hurtful comments under the rationalization that they are just “speaking their mind”, then they will soon lose relationships and friendship. If a person lives in denial of their intemperance in spending or greed for possessions beyond their means, they will eventually suffer bankruptcy. Similarly, if we live a self-centered life rather than a God-centered life, we could miss the opportunity for heaven.

After opening our eyes to our sins (with the help of the Holy Spirit), the second part of the process is to take them to confession; not with an attitude of a quick shower but with a humble, and deeply contrite heart. The word Pope Francis used to describe this feeling is a word we shy away from in our culture – shame. When we feel truly ashamed however we desire change and open ourselves up to help.

The final part of the process he writes, is:

“having absolute faith in God to renew us: We must have trust, because when we sin we have an advocate with the Father ‘Jesus Christ the righteous.’ And he ‘supports us before the Father’ and defends us in front of our weaknesses.”

Rather than despair at our weaknesses and imperfections, Pope Francis reminds us to put our trust in Christ. We must acknowledge that we cannot change on our own and allow Jesus to apply His healing grace to our souls – enlightening our minds, strengthening our wills, and fanning the flame of love for God and neighbor.

In conclusion, the mystery of God’s Justice and Mercy requires us to make an active decision to turn away from sin and accept God’s help. Because grace is freely given by God, fruits of that grace are expected too. If we do not bear fruit, we can conclude that we have not actually been receptive to grace. If we do bear fruit, it will evoke feelings off gratitude and love because we know who we are and from where those virtues truly came.

Consider:

  • How has facing your faults, though painful, made you a better person with the help of Christ? How are you different today than in years past?
  • Has God ever “rebuked” you? Did it have a positive effect later or lead to greater freedom?
  • Are there faults you continue to rationalize? Do you treat your spouse, children, or family members with the love they deserve or do you excuse your behavior by saying they should love you as you are without an effort to change?
  • Have you ever experienced the pain of seeing someone you love self-destructing or suffering due to living in denial of a serious problem? Have you offered help and been rejected? Consider how this relates to God’s perspective.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Read an examination of conscience and prayerfully reflect on it. Most parishes have a pamphlet by the confessional with an examination, you can also find some online. If possible, look for one tailored to your state in life (e.g. single, married, priest, etc.)
  • Read the First Things article on Pope Francis’ Theology of Sin. First Things “The Pope’s Theology of Sin”
  • Choose one sin you have been avoiding admitting and actively root it out through prayer and practicing the opposite virtue. (For example – greed is combated by generosity)

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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