“He’s Not a Tame Lion”

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5th Sunday of Lent

Gospel of John 11:1-45

Meditation:

Jesus is reliable, but He’s not predictable. C.S. Lewis, in his fiction novel The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, illustrated this through his description of Aslan the lion (the Christ figure in his Narnia series).  When asked if Aslan is a safe lion, Mr. Beaver responds, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”   Jesus isn’t safe either. If you choose to follow Him, He will lead you down uncomfortable and even scary roads at times, He will purify sinful habits by detaching you from them, and He will transform you into the best version of yourself but one you couldn’t even have imagined. So, He’s not safe but His goodness means He can always be trusted.  Much like Psalm 23 assures,

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

     I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

     your rod and your staff comfort me.”

 Or as I say, “I would rather walk in darkness holding God’s hand, than in broad daylight by myself.”

A paradox presents itself regularly in discipleship. On the one hand, Jesus approaches us in the humblest and human of ways. Like the apostles and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, He develops a true friendship with us, one of mutual love and abiding connection. In His nearness however, we can forget His Divine Lordship. As Lewis described, we might try to “domesticate” Him, expecting Christ to fit neatly into the limits of our reason. However, Christ is also God, and came to reveal that which includes, but also surpasses, natural reason. Moreover, some of Christ’s knowledge and power exceed even divine revelation and are known to God alone. In consequence, sometimes Jesus makes perfect sense, like the comfort of visiting your home.  Other times He speaks and acts in utterly surprising ways, like a person setting off to a foreign land.

Christ truly offers friendship, but it’s not a friendship of equals.  Similarly, Lewis writes of Aslan,

“He’ll be coming and going” [Mr. Beaver] had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

How should we respond if we can’t really predict what Christ will do? When the path Christ takes seems imprudent, we can begin by saying it to Him in prayer, like the disciples who questioned going to Jerusalem since the Jews had just tried to kill Him. We can also bring it to a spiritual director or a spiritually wise friend. Sometimes God speaks to us through natural prudence, and other times He needs us to trust His supernatural prudence – which takes into account God’s will and God’s power. Like Thomas, we can press forward zealously, thinking if Christ wants to die I guess I’ll just die with Him.  We can surrender to Christ’s wisdom, trusting Who Christ is above our own understanding like Martha did. We can come to Jesus with our tears like Mary. She trusted Jesus and didn’t resent Him not being there, nevertheless, the situation was still sad and she poured her feelings out to Him. Whichever person you relate to more, the important thing is to turn toward Christ and not against Christ. He’s not “tame” but He is good.  If we allow Christ the freedom to be Himself, like a good friend ought to do, then we also allow within our own experience the possibility of being astounded beyond all expectations. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead! This had NEVER been done before. No one could have expected it, and it became the event that solidified many followers and provoked His enemies to move forward with their plot to kill Him.

Of course, Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus from the dead back to natural life, pointed to the resurrection of the dead to eternal life. In Jesus we are made NEW. Not refurbished but transformed. Grace builds on nature, a nature given by God and, through Christ, elevated by Him. Marveling at God’s superabundant grace which places us in an even higher state of being, Pope St. John Paul II copied this prayer in His journal (from the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost):

Almighty ever-living God, who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you, pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.

God wants to give more than we can even “dare to ask.” Knowing our sins we feel ashamed to think that we could be sons and daughters of a God so perfect and loving. Nevertheless, God wills it and Christ has made it possible.

Baptism changes us interiorly, putting us in relationship with God and orienting us toward Him. The Spirit sanctifies us through a daily working of grace in the circumstances of our lives. These transformations are nothing short of miraculous and the lives of the saints all witness to heroic virtue made possible by grace in the everyday lives of His followers.

The resurrection to new life after death will exceed our experience on earth beyond comparison.  God made the human person with both a body and a soul. In consequence the resurrected human person will retain their soul and their body.  However, just as the Spirit has transformed and elevated the soul, the Spirit will also transform and elevate the body.  St. Augustine, in The City of God, explained it this way:

For the [resurrected] body will not only be better than it was here even when in perfect health; it will also be better than those bodies which the first human beings had before they sinned… the first human beings were created in such a way that, if they had not sinned, they would not have been sundered from their bodies by death. Rather, they would have been granted the reward of immortality for maintaining their obedience, and would have lived eternally with their bodies. Further, the saints will at the resurrection possess those very bodies in which they have here labored; but their condition will then be such that no corruption or distress will befall their flesh, nor will their blessedness be marred by any sorrow or unhappiness.

Consider Jesus’ resurrected body. He kept the scars of His crucifixion, but not the various scars He may have accrued as an active little boy. Moreover, the scars caused Him no pain; they served to show the glory of His sacrificial love. Similarly, our resurrected bodies will be in perfect form, but they will still be our bodies, the ones we labored in sacrificial love for the Lord. For example, I really don’t need the scar from the apple core remover I fumbled as a child, but I would like to retain the scars from all the IV’s I endured during my pregnancies.

Another key difference described by both St. Paul and St. Augustine, is that the resurrected body will be maintained by the power of the Spirit. Adam and Eve had to eat for nourishment and relied on fruit from the tree of life to stave off decay and death.  Resurrected bodies will have the power to eat but will not have the necessity of eating, nor will they require fruit from the tree of life to live forever, since the Spirit will maintain their health. Earthly bodies require food, water, rest, etc.  Our heavenly bodies will be maintained by the power of the Spirit, so it no longer has a necessity, only enjoyment. Think about it, God holds our bodies in existence even now, couldn’t He do that in heaven too? The same God who created ex nihilo (out of nothing), can re-create from our earthly bodies, a heavenly one. St. Augustine explains it in this way:

Man will then not be earthly, but heavenly: not because his body, which was made of earth, will no longer be itself, but because, by heaven’s gift, it will have been made fit to dwell in heaven: not by losing its nature, but by changing its quality.

Authentic discipleship is full of risk, change, and surprise, but if we persevere in trusting our Lord, we can count on His goodness to surpass any expectations we had safely and comfortably made for ourselves.  Committing to your vocation (whether marriage or religious vows, priestly ordination, or consecrated single life), saying yes to a change of job or ministry, accepting children, accepting a call to move, losing a friend  or career or health, all can be used by Christ for our sanctification and be worked for good for the glory of God (cf Romans 8:28 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ) as Jesus did with the death (and resurrection) of Lazarus.

We can’t control Jesus, but we can trust Him. We can’t fully understand all that He does, but He makes Himself near and present. We can’t hold Christ back, but we can hold on to Him in friendship. His determination inspires us like Thomas, deepens our theological understanding like Martha, moves us to tears like Mary, resurrects us like Lazarus, and more.

Consider:

  • Imagine the sorrow Mary and Martha felt at Lazarus’ passing, especially when Christ didn’t get there in time. Have you ever felt like Jesus was taking too long to answer your prayer?
  • Jesus wept. Consider how He feels your pain and has compassion on your suffering.
  • Imagine their surprise when Jesus said “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus did. Has Christ ever answered your prayer in a way you didn’t expect? Has He ever taken a situation that seemed like a loss and made it into something amazing?
  • Do you struggle with doubt or with trying to control Jesus by demanding things be a certain way? Consider C.S. Lewis’ description of Aslan as not a tame lion, and as not safe but good.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Read a brief bio on the life of a saint each day. You can find them easily online or as an app.  Reading about a saint each day can inspire you with accounts of how Christ worked all things for good to a surprising end for them and can for you
  • Reach out to other Christians in your walk of life. Schedule a get together – whether coffee with a friend, a double date with your spouse and another Christian couple, host a gathering in your home, or join a group that’s already

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Abraham, Lent, and Covid-19

So Abraham called the name of that place The LORD will provide” (Genesis 22:14, RSV)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship.  When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17, RSV)

Meditation:

We keep hearing the phrase “unprecedented times” about this period in which we fight the Coronavirus together. The uncertainty and scale of the crisis can test our faith.  Many are asking, “What if I or a loved one gets sick?”  “What will I do while my business is closed or I am without work?”  Although this particular crisis is unprecedented, the experience of feeling our vulnerability and smallness is not.

Among the many examples of faith we could look to for a role model, I’d like to focus today on Abraham.  He faced a critical moment when it appeared as though he might lose everything.  However, he put all he possessed, and life itself, in God’s hands – from which he received it back and more. Abraham trusted God above everything. He proved the authenticity of his faith through his  willingness to sacrifice Isaac and at the same time trust that God would keep His promise to give many descendants through Isaac.

Abraham-and-the-starsAbraham’s faith was not blind or irrational.  Quite the opposite.  Abraham had a relationship with God, and he had faith in who God  is, and in God’s character.  St. Paul has a moving reflection on Abraham’s faith in his letter to the Hebrews chapter 11.  He proclaimed of Abraham that, “He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead” (Heb. 11:19).

Abraham made a conscious decision based on his relationship with God, and he knew God to be truthful, loving, generous, and reliable.  He knew that God is the Creator, and we are His creatures.  Therefore God could ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and promise sons through Isaac at the same time, because even though it is impossible for humans, nothing is impossible for God.

In that critical moment, God’s actions also revealed incredible things about Him for us.  God revealed that He is faithful and loving.  He also revealed that He doesn’t desire arbitrary sacrifice and is not uncompassionate toward our suffering.  On that mountain, God showed that He doesn’t need things from us, instead He is the one who provides for us.  God Himself provided the sacrifice, His own beloved Son, on the Cross.  This further revealed God’s character as compassionate and merciful.  It also revealed the destructiveness of sin and His power to redeem us from it if we allow Him.  Thus, the true sacrifice He desires is to give up sin and to give in to His guidance and love.

During Lent we are called to withdraw into the desert with Jesus – to quiet distractions, battle sin, and build relationship with the Lord in prayer.  The Covid-19 pandemic has provided this desert experience at a new level.  Many of the things that usually distract us have been withdrawn for a time.  Time for deepening our relationship with God and our families has increased.  With fewer places to run, we are also more forced to face ourselves.  Stress has a way of revealing our vices and an imposed restrictions from government guidelines may unveil just how attached we might be to certain things.

This can be a time of fear, or a time of faith.  St. Paul urged that we must remember who God is – our Father, and who we are – His children.  If we truly believe this, as Abraham did and as Jesus made possible for us, then we should choose faith.  We are sons and daughters of the living God, heirs of heaven, what shall we fear?

St. Paul also added the hard truth about resurrection – to rise with Christ we must first suffer with Him.  We can try to avoid suffering and sacrifice but we will emerge from this pandemic and this Lent unchanged.  However, if we accept it with hearts of faith and trust, we will have gained far more than we lost. Lent is only for a time, and it ends with Easter.

For my part, I will try to use this time to offer a small daily post for prayer.  I’ll include a Scripture passage and a few thoughts.  I’d love if you would add your own reflections in the comments sections as a way for us to pray and reflect together 🙂 

Consider: – the three pillars of lent through the lens of our current situation

  • Prayer
    • Rosary walks – pray the rosary as you go for a walk outside.  You could listen to it on podcast, pray it with a friend, or by yourself.
    • Prayer of praise and worship – create a music playlist of praise and worship songs to listen to while at home or out walking.
    • The public celebration of the Mass has been suspended temporarily in many places.  Subscribe to receive the daily scripture readings from usccb.org or the Magnificat online and pray with them each day, or stream the Mass and participate in heart.
    • St. Joseph is the patron saint of departing souls.  Pray the St. Joseph pray each day or ask for his intercession for those who are dying.
    • Spend time with spiritual reading.  Get a good book about Jesus or the faith to nurture that relationship.
  • Fasting
    • Don’t horde supplies.
    • Simplify meals to reduce grocery shopping outings.
    • Offer up to Jesus intentionally, the loss of activities, events, or vacations you had planned on enjoying until they were cancelled.
    • Sacrifice some social media time
    • Consider other areas of your life or day that you could simplify for now
  • Almsgiving/charity toward neighbor
    • Begin with the persons in your home – make an effort to connect, eat meals together, be patient with one another, be forgiving, be flexible
    • Go through your things and set aside what you no longer use to donate to charity.  I highly recommend the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
    • Follow the department of health’s guidelines about staying home , even though it’s hard, out of love for those who are vulnerable to Coronavirus and in solidarity with the health workers who are sacrificing so much
    • Ask Mother Mary and the Holy Spirit for eyes to see the needs around you as Mary did at the Wedding of Cana, and to go to Jesus to help them together.

Make a Resolution:

  • Choose one thing from each pillar to implement during this time.

Comment:

  • How has the coronavirus affected your lent?
  • What Scriptures have come to mind for you or encouragements during this?
  • What have you learned about yourself from this experience?

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2020

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Sometimes the Small Stuff Matters

by Angela Jendro

 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 16:10-13 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Meditation Reflection:

Few things of importance are gained overnight with little to no effort. As tempting as the get rich quick scheme can be, it never proves to be reliable or lasting. The temptation appears in many forms but inevitably produces the same results. Diets that promise to drop weight fast only leave you gaining it right back because they don’t involve long-term lifestyle changes. New clothes, cars, or homes you hope will boost your self-confidence leave you with the same empty feeling at night if you haven’t become the person you can be proud of on the inside. Stress might be soothed by pills or substances temporarily, but only the hard work of managing stress through healthy ways will actually change your situation or give you authentic contentment.

True change comes through the hard, slow, daily process of building character. The Plato and Aristotle_Raphaelphilosopher Aristotle, in his famous book on Ethics, defined virtue as a habit of doing the good. He taught that a person only acquires a virtue after having chosen it regularly over a long period of time and in many circumstances. For instance, if I tell the truth once, it doesn’t make me a truthful person. To say that I have the virtue of honesty means I have told the truth regularly for many years. As Jesus points out in this passage, a person’s character is shown as much, if not more so, in the small matters as in the larger ones. A truthful person will be pained by lying, even in small exaggerations. On the other hand, a person who lies easily about daily matters to avoid responsibility or make things easier, will certainly lie when the stakes are much higher.

It can be tempting to compartmentalize our life, especially our faith life, and not uncommon in our culture for a person to think they can act one way at work, another at home, and another at church. However, our choices become our habits and our character. Like the fast, easy, changes marketed to us, compartmentalization is only a temporary illusion. If you swear around your friends often, you will eventually let a swear word slip at work or in front of your children. If you are dishonest at home with your spouse, you will be dishonest with your boss. We can’t sit in the pew and believe ourselves to be disciples of Christ, if we distort His Gospel the rest of the week by not following Him at work and home too.

Jesus wants to bring us interior peace and this requires being authentic. We build Christian virtues by practicing them daily in all situations. We make choices based on what we care about most. This is why we can’t serve God and the world. Those daily choices build a path one way or the other, like everything else in life. Jesus lived this teaching as well.  He did the Father’s will in everything. Then when in the Garden of Gethsemane He feared His impending crucifixion, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

If we love God and if we truly believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then we will try to imitate Christ in every choice no matter where we are. The beautiful result is that the more Christ like you grow, the more He will shine in every work you do. The Church calls this “sanctifying the temporal world.” It may be the slow, difficult, unglamorous path, but it will certainly be more lasting and, thankfully, Jesus gives us His Spirit and grace to help us.

Consider:

  • What virtues would your family or friends confirm that you have already? What kind of person do you try to be?
  • What virtues would you like to acquire that you presently struggle with? How might you begin working on them?
  • In what way do you compartmentalize your faith? Are there places, persons, or circumstances you hide your beliefs or act contrary to your faith?
  • Consider how you might apply Jesus’ teaching to your everyday responsibilities and the people you interact with. Mother Teresa touted the greatness of doing small things with great love. How might you incorporate that into your daily work?
  • Aristotle was right about the necessity of practice to build virtue. However, we often still struggle to overcome our own weakness and we can’t become truly Christ-like without the aid of grace. Consider the power of prayer, reading Scripture, and the sacraments through which the Holy Spirit can strengthen and change your heart.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Focus on faithfulness to God in the small matters this week. Be especially diligent in the everyday little tasks or interactions to act Christ-like.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019

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Eyes Wide Open

Ascension of Christ_ Getty Images

Ascension of Christ: Getty Images

by Angela M Jendro

 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:

Jesus emphasized 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 goals. How many New Year’s diets or exercise plans end by February? 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.

Similarly, the same strategies to keep healthy habits can be applied to discipleship. For instance, to achieve the goal of getting in shape, partnering with a friend for accountability will greatly increase your chance of success. 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 provide that 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 be motivating.

The synonym for vigilance illuminates the essence of discipleship as well: “open-eyed.” Thus, Jesus exhorts us to keep our eyes of faith open to judge things from the perspective of faith rather than the world. 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 must stay 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 prepared to avoid or overcome them.

If we vigilantly live in faith, our hearts will be stay open to receive Christ and to respond to the promptings of His Spirit. A habit of holiness characteristic of the saints is their awareness of God’s presence and activity throughout their day. They also witness fidelity to the Spirit when called to serve in a way that makes no sense from a practical perspective unless God is real, all-powerful, and keeps His promises. Like Abraham, the Father of Faith, they have confidence that if God is asking then 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.

Consider many people’s demand to “see it to believe it.” Yet, Jesus says “Come, and you will see” (John 1:39) Faith means walking with Christ, and in that walk your experience will confirm the faith you embarked upon. It entails some risk which is why encouragement from other believers’ experiences is an essential part of vigilance. I still struggle to patiently trust God, but at the same time I have seen God act so many times in my life that I can say I believe it because I’ve seen it. I just need to recall those times to strengthen my faith when it’s difficult. Consider how often in the Scriptures it exhorts the audience to recall a mighty work of God in the past to keep them strong in the present.

I have seen God provide over and 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 told 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 Jendro © 2019

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Suggested Reading: 

Abandonment to Divine Providence by Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade

33 Days to Merciful Love: by Fr. Michael Gaitley

Catholic Bible: Revised Standard Version, Compact Edition

 

How to Pray Like Christ

by Angela Jendro

Lord, teach us to pray

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 11:1-13 NAB

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), He says. In contrast, pagan gods tended to be images of the visible traits of humankind. Thus, they tended to mirror fallen man’s tendencies toward power, greed, lust, and narcissism. This answered man’s nagging questions about the origins of good and evil but it also left him subject to the whims of unpredictable powers. Be it Greek, Roman, or Babylonian gods, people tried to satiate the needs of their deities to avoid calamities and possibly manipulate them for favors. This explains, for instance, why the Romans did not care who a person worshipped provided they did their part to appease the Roman gods too and why they blamed Christians for the fall of Rome.

This appeasement of the gods should not be mistaken for relationship. It would be more apt to describe it as mutual manipulation. In some places it spiraled into superstition bordering on the obsessive-compulsive. For instance, some farmers would address one god for the successful tilling of soil, another for the planting of seed, another for the growth of the seed, another for the harvest, and so on. Even well after the West became Christianized this practice proved difficult to root out since it had become so ingrained in the culture and in fallen man’s temptation to control rather than to trust.

In modern times, we must fight the secular attempt to lump Christianity with other religions into one vague spirituality. The history of pagan worship differs in an absolute way from Judeo-Christian worship. God distinguished Himself from every other faith from the moment He revealed Himself to Abraham to the death and Resurrection of His Son and the sending of His Holy Spirit.

This difference is most notable in the way in which Christians pray. Rather than the “multiplying of words” to appease or manipulate, Christian prayer is grounded in familial relationship. When Jesus teaches the apostles to pray, He shares with them His praying togetherown prayer. Through Baptism we become incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, receiving adoption and becoming children of God (see John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, Romans 8:15-16). We cannot make ourselves someone’s child. The intimacy and privilege of familial relationship comes to us as a gift – either through nature or through the will of the parents by adoption. God has willfully adopted us, and Christ has made that possible through His sacrifice. Thus, He teaches us to address God as Father and enter into a relationship of sonship or daughterhood with the Lord. Consequently, we should begin prayer by simply meditating on the gift of God’s fatherhood and the reliable, selfless, pure love that it bestows. Even one moment of contemplation of this sublime gift moves our hearts to praise God and so Jesus instructs our next words to be “hallowed be Your Name.”

In pagan practices, calling on gods by name provided connection and sometimes a power over them. This can be true to some extent even in our human relationships. On the positive side, by knowing someone’s name a person can network, get in contact with him or her, or continue the relationship. On the negative side, it can also mean identity theft, access to personal information for the purpose of fraud, etc. Christ instructs His disciples to avoid these tendencies with God’s name. God desires authentic relationship. He knows every person’s hearts and He cannot be manipulated. Thus, Jesus warns, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven (MT 7:21)

As a result, authentic relationship with God recognizes Him as the true Good and petitions: “Your kingdom come.” God ought to rule our lives, not the other way around. How does God do this? How does His kingdom of love, joy, and peace come to reign in our hearts? Through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, Jesus teaches us to ask God for our daily bread and explains directly after that God will always increase the Holy Spirit if we ask: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Lastly, since sin and hatred are incompatible with God, Jesus tells us to give forgiveness and ask for forgiveness that we may be reconciled with God and one another. Moreover, He encourages us to ask in advance for God to spare us from temptations which would be too much for us and lead to abandoning Him.

Should you be afraid of God’s response (or lack thereof) if you pray, Jesus revealed how the Father views our prayers so we may approach Him with confidence. God is not an image of us, we are an image of Him. Even though we may be lazy or slow to help others, God is not. As a teenager I noticed the difference between my response to my parents requests and their response to mine. If asked to run to the store or help with a chore, I might drag my feet, feel too tired, grumble, or say no. If I needed something however, they always responded promptly and reliably. When I became a mother I finally understood this phenomenon. (Even while writing this I have been interrupted with requests from my kids a dozen times!) The difference was mature love. The love of good parents is an image of the love of God – self-less, prompt, generous, and happy to help. Hopefully as children of God, we can mature in our prayer so that our petitions move from the emotional demands of a toddler or elementary school child, to the respectful, humble, and grateful petition of an adult child confident in the relationship with his or her parents.

Consider:

  • Have you ever helped someone even when it was inconvenient and would rather have avoided it? Have you done things for your kids you never would have imagined doing before you had them?
  • Consider the difference between asking your mom or dad for help as opposed to a friend or neighbor. What things might you ask of them that you wouldn’t from the others?
  • Reflect on God’s love as that of a perfect Father. Reflect on the loving gratitude that should emanate from this relationship.
  • Where do you need God’s kingdom to come more in your life? Where do you need His peace, joy, justice, love…?
  • Do you forgive others as you would have God forgive you? Are there any grudges you need to let go? Are you quick to reconcile when someone apologizes?
  • Imagine how Christ must have looked while praying alone. Imagine you are one of the apostles, witnessing Him regularly taking time in solitude with the Lord. What do you think moved them so much that they asked Him to teach them to pray in the same way? Ask Christ to teach you to pray as He did too.
  • Pray for an increase in trust and a purified sight of God.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray the Our Father slowly and meditatively each day this week.
  • Pray each day for an increase in trust.
    • Maybe repeat the words given to St. Faustina by Christ to have written under His image: “Jesus I Trust in You.”
    • Or pray the words of the father who brought his son possessed by a mute spirit to Christ (MT 9:22-24) “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
  • Each day be forgiving toward someone in the same way you would like God to be patient and forgiving toward you.
    • Ideas: The person who cuts you off in traffic, the colleague who annoyingly one-ups you, the child who throws a tantrum or acts ungratefully, the spouse who forgets something or acts irritably, the fast food employee who messes up your order…

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

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Learning to Trust

Divine Mercy

Divine Mercy Sunday

Gospel John 20:19-31 NAB

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Meditation Reflection:

We spend so much time and money distracting and soothing ourselves from regret for our mistakes and fear of our mortality. Christ’s victory over sin and death opens the possibilities of a new beginning during this life and life eternal in the next. The Risen Christ finds the apostles in fear and brings them Peace. Thomas misses the opportunity for peace however because he refuses to believe his fellow apostles’ unanimous witness. Despite his own witness of Jesus’ many miracles and the reliability of the disciples’ account, he refuses to receive Christ’s peace without seeing the healed wounds of the Lord for himself. Christ would have been in His right to refuse such a demand but in His mercy He appears directly to Thomas so that his faith could be strengthened and he could receive the riches Christ had suffered to give to him.

Imagine the joy Jesus must have felt, having earned our salvation through such intense suffering, when He could then bestow upon His apostles the administration of His Kingdom which is none other than the forgiveness of sins. Every mother knows the relief of holding her newborn in her arms after a long pregnancy and birth. Jesus must have experienced a similar relief when He enjoyed our new life given through His loving sacrifice.

Pope St. John Paul II declared in 2000 at the canonization of St. Faustina, that today, the Sunday following Easter, be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday. Christ had appeared to St. Faustina, a simple uneducated nun from Poland, in the 1930s and spoke with her about His great desire to bestow His mercy on us. His message did not add anything new to the Gospel, however He re-emphasized His view to the modern world relaying to her His greatest pain which He identified as souls refusing to trust in His mercy. In the Diary of St. Faustina, (recorded at the request of her spiritual director), she relays these words of Jesus to her regarding today:

I desire that priests proclaim this great mercy of Mine towards souls of sinners.   Let the sinner not be afraid to approach Me. The flames of mercy are burning Me – clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon these souls…Distrust on the part of souls is tearing at My insides.   The distrust of a chosen soul causes Me even greater pain; despite My inexhaustible love for them they do not trust Me. Even My death is not enough for them.” (par. 50)

Like Thomas, many of us struggle to trust Christ. We fail to have confidence in Jesus’ ability to change our lives and renew our souls. Using Pope Francis’ analogy, we treat Confession like a dry cleaner. We can imagine being showered off but not truly changed. In doing so we do not emulate humility but rather wastefulness.

Today we reflect on the mercy of Christ and ask that He increase our hope that we might trust in Him. The devil steals our joy, but Christ came to give us joy to the full. He not only forgives us, but enables us to live a supernatural life of virtue and peace. On the Feast of Mercy, God exhorts us in every way possible to receive His mercy, to give mercy, and to trust in Him. Let us pray for the grace to surrender the myth of perfection in exchange for the truth of sanctifying love.

Consider:

  • Reflect on the joy Christ feels when He can shower upon us the mercy He worked so hard to earn for us. Consider the mystery of a mother or father’s love that takes pleasure in sacrificing for their children.
  • Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you struggle to accept Christ’s help because you feel unworthy of His love if you make mistakes or fall to sins? Do you feel you need to be holy all on your own?
    • Pelagianism, a heresy in the early Church, asserted that Christ came to set a good example for us but we have to live up to that example by our own efforts alone. The Church declared that the human will alone could not perfect itself but rather required supernatural grace. Do you try to perfect yourself to feel worthy of Christ’s love, or do you accept your worthiness of His love and so the possibility of being made perfect by Him?
  • How much do you need to see to believe? What evidence has Christ given you already that you ignore? What witness could you give to others about the reality of His presence?
  • Consider a time when you experienced the peace of Christ.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Do one act of mercy for someone each day this week.
  • Do one act of mercy toward yourself each day this week.
  • Thank Christ each day for His gift of mercy. Make a gratitude list east day of His blessings.
  • Learn about St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Image, and Feast Day.
  • Say the short prayer, “Jesus I Trust in You”, throughout the day.

Trust – And the Leap of Faith

Reflection on John 6:60-69

Giusto di Gand Joos Van Wassenhove Instituzione delleucarestia (from commons.wikipedia.org)

by Angela Jendro

August 25th, 2018; 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 6:60-69 NAB

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Meditation Reflection:

The psalmist exhorts us to “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 34).  He does not say, “see then taste”.  Rather than requiring scientific evidence to support the miracle of the Eucharist before receiving it, Christ pleads with us to believe in Him and receive the Eucharist after which we will see its power to give life.  Belief in the Eucharist should not be predicated upon whether it satisfies our natural reason or whether or not we feel like it.  Instead, Christ’s word alone, His teaching as Lord and Savior of the world forms the basis for belief in the supernatural miracle of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Because of its supernatural quality, it necessarily exceeds our natural experience and reasoning.  This makes it difficult for any person to believe in such a transformation based on merely human experience.

The Catechism discusses this common problem, writing:

The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ (Jn 6:60) The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks.  It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division.  ‘Will you also go away?’ (Jn 6:61):  The Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only He has ‘the words of eternal life’ (Jn 6:68) and that to receive in faith the gift of His Eucharist is to receive the Lord Himself.”

In this passage the followers of Christ divide between those who “returned to their former way of life” where their faith wasn’t challenged and those who, with Peter, can only say “We have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy one of God.” The passage seems to indicate that everyone present experienced confusion and found Christ’s teaching difficult to accept.  Many of us share this same experience.  We follow Christ and marvel at His actions in our life.  Then we come to a point where one of His teachings, whether in Scripture or through His Church, seems too difficult.  We are tempted to rationalize that no one could really believe it and then go on living as we were. Christ challenges us to respond instead like Peter by putting our trust in Him.  If we are convinced that Jesus is the Christ, then we should be convinced that everything He says and promises is true.

Consider:

  • What makes you convinced that Jesus is God and Savior?  Are you convinced?
  • What teaching of Christ do you struggle with the most?  Do you follow Christ always or only when it makes sense to your natural reason?
  • Which is more reliable – Christ’s wisdom or your own? Why?
  • Do you find it hard to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist?  If yes, why?  If no, why not?  If you have a deep belief in the Eucharist, consider how you might share that belief with someone else.  Pray for a providential moment.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Faith is a gift.  Pray each day this week for an increase in the gift of faith.  You could share the prayer of the man in Mark 9:24 who said to Christ, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”
  • Make an effort to deepen your belief in the Eucharist.  Spend time praying at Church or adoration, go to a daily Mass, read about the Eucharist in the Catechism http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm, read John 6 again, read about Eucharistic miracles. Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind and heart.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018 (edited from original post Aug. 23rd, 2015)

The Trap of Stubborn Self-Reliance

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

April 8th, 2018 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday

Gospel of John 20:19-31 NAB

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Meditation Reflection:

The Christian faith is neither a well-crafted myth nor a brilliant philosophy.  Rather, the Christian religion is based on eye witness testimony of the resurrected Lord.

It began with the testimony of Mary Magdalene, who encountered the risen Christ in the morning when she went to His tomb and was subsequently sent by Him to tell the apostles.  They felt excited and a bit confused “for they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9).   In the evening, Jesus appeared to them as well except for Thomas who wasn’t there.  Upon seeing Him with their own eyes they believed and rejoiced.

When they shared their Good News with Thomas he refused belief until he could see it for himself.  Thomas had been willing to die with Christ (John 11:7-8, 16) but he couldn’t envision rising with Him. In consequence, his faith – though fiercely loyal – remained limited to his own personal experience.

One week later however, Jesus had mercy on Thomas’ obstinate self-reliance and appeared to him in the flesh and so enabled Thomas to believe.

We too can fall into the trap of self-reliance in matters of faith – limiting our belief to personal experience and rejecting the witness of Jesus’ apostles and His Church.  Our present culture tends toward “cafeteria Christianity”, meaning we pick and choose what we like and leave what we don’t.  We view doctrine as a buffet of ideas that we can take or leave according to our personal preferences and reasoning.

Imagine Thomas saying to the other 10, “you have your truth and I have my truth, one is not better than the other.”  Yet, one is that Jesus is risen and the other is that Jesus is dead!  How could Jesus’ Church endure with such conflicting beliefs?  The same remains true today.  Capitulating to the attitude of an individualistic faith undermines Christ’s work.

Jesus chose to share His Truth and Grace through the apostles’ witness (and their successors – the pope and bishops).  Their interpretation of Scripture and the power of their miracles came from the Holy Spirit bestowed on them by the Lord.

At the final moment of Jesus’ death, He breathed His last and surrendered His Spirit to the Father.  On the evening of His resurrection, He breathed upon the Apostles, and gave them His Spirit and His authority:

“‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”

Christianity is an encounter with the incarnate God who dwells within the very souls of His baptized disciples and makes them one Body.  Jesus is not a restaurateur who offers the world’s greatest buffet.  He is the Son of God who desires all persons to be united as a family in the Lord and therefore established a visible Church endowed with His invisible presence to guide and govern its members to His eternal kingdom.

Today, one week after Easter, we celebrate the inexhaustible, generous, mercy of Christ which He lavishes on all who will accept it. As He did for Thomas on this same day, Christ reaches down into the darkest parts of our souls, to our most acute failures and sins, to apply the healing balm of His Merciful Love poured out on the Cross for our salvation. Our Lord is a crucified Lord.  When He appeared to the apostles “He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:20).  He did not choose, as Satan tempted Him to be in the desert, king without the Cross.  Similarly, true disciples are crucified disciples.  They have died to self, and self-reliance, and live by the Holy Spirit in communion with the Church.

There’s no sin too great for Jesus to forgive. He only requires a repentant heart which chooses to trust in His love.

There’s also no weakness of faith He can’t strengthen, no doubt He can’t dispel, and no question of doctrine He can’t explain to you – if you let Him.  And remember, He has given us the fellowship of the Apostles through both the Scriptures and the living voice of authority in His Church.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Today’s Gospel passage concludes with John offering the same witness to us that was offered to Thomas. Today is the day to surrender to Christ in prayer every doubt you harbor and every limitation you place on faith.  Then, receive His mercy in daily prayer, immersion in the Scriptures, the Eucharist at Mass, and trying to learn the Church’s reasons for her doctrines.  In consequence, you too will become an eye-witness of the resurrected Christ to others.

Consider:

  • When buying a product online or hiring someone for a house project, how much credence to you give to people’s reviews?  How much credence to you give to the testimony about Jesus from the Apostles, the saints and martyrs, the Christians you know who testify to the Lords’ work in their lives?
  • It’s hard to trust someone you can’t see.  Do you make Christ visible to others in your life?  How might you witness the reality of His truth and mercy even more?
  • Reflect on the choice presented today: whether to sand stubbornly in self-reliance or enter the communion of the Body of Christ – His Church – and lean on one another.
  • Jesus told St. Faustina that His greatest pain is distrust on the part of souls in His mercy.  Pope Francis, observed that we fail to believe in Christ’s mercy because we have no experience of mercy in our lives and therefore believe no one – not even Christ – will help us. To what extent has this been your experience?  What makes it difficult to trust Christ?  How might you extend mercy to the people in your daily life so that they might be strengthened to trust in Christ’s mercy?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day this week with a prayer of surrender to Christ.
  • Every time you feel helpless, turn to Christ in prayer and throw yourself at His mercy. Repeat the prayer He gave to St. Faustina to have written under His image: “Jesus, I Trust In You.
  • Do at least one corporal or spiritual Work of Mercy every day.

Related Posts:

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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Eyes Wide Open…Gospel Meditation for Sunday August 7th, 2016

by Angela Lambert

 

Raphael,_The_Miraculous_Draught_of_Fishes_(1515)

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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