Toughening Up

taking up cross

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 17:5-10 NAB

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

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

Meditation Reflection:

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

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

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

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

Me.: “Clean dishes on which to eat.”

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

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

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

Me: “Clean clothes.”

Child: “Ackh. Mooooom. Forget it.”

5 mintues later:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

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

~ Written by Angela (Lambert) Jendro © 2016

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prayer of st francis

Hard but Satisfying Work…Gospel Meditation John 6:24-35

by Angela Jendro
Fra_Angelico_coronation of Mary

Fra Angelico – Coronation of Mary

August 5th, 2018; 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

(updated and edited from post August 2nd, 2015)

Gospel of John 6: 24-35 NAB

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus instructs us to “work for the food that endures for eternal life.” The people responded wisely  by asking a follow up question, which in modern language could be phrased “tell us the job description.” The task seems simple enough – “believe in the one God sent.”

How is believing in Christ work though? If believing in Christ were merely an intellectual assent then it wouldn’t be much work at all. However, believing in Christ means believing He is the Savior sent to transform our hearts and lives. This requires not merely an assent of the intellect, but the arduous work of aligning our will with His, and allowing Him to change our lives. Consider the life changing “yes” of Mary, Joseph, the Apostles, all the saints, and the transformation in lives of people you know who have accepted Christ and follow Him intentionally.

In his famous book, What’s Wrong with the World, G.K. Chesterton astutely states the reason why so many people forsake believing in Christ and the reward that comes with it. He writes,

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Jesus does not say “I am the bread of life who will force feed you”. Rather, He states that those who come to Him will never hunger. Still, you may ask, how hard is it to come to Christ? Well, how hard is it to make it to Mass every Sunday? How difficult is it to attend one or more daily masses a week? How hard is it to find 30 minutes to pray with Scripture? How hard is it to listen, with your full attention, to your child, spouse, or friend in need? How difficult is it to turn to Christ in prayer when you are feeling anxious, frustrated, or angry rather than escaping through t.v., drinking, or shopping?

Coming to Christ and believing in Him is work, but like any job it gets easier as you get the hang of it. Imagine the career satisfaction you could experience in a job with that kind of reward. We all want happiness and we go to great lengths to achieve it. Christ promises that if we are wise enough to put all of our efforts toward relationship with Him, we will be guaranteed an abiding happiness we can find nowhere else.

Consider:

  • In your daily life, what is the biggest challenge to seeking Christ?
  • What do you hunger for most? How do you try to fill that hunger? How long does it last before feeling hungry again?
  • When was a time you experienced delight, satisfaction, peace, or happiness from God?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way to come to Christ this week that has been difficult in the past. (wake up 30 minutes early to pray, spend 10 minutes with each of your kids, download a bible app to your phone, attend a daily Mass, make a holy hour at adoration)
  • Start a gratitude journal for God’s gifts to you each day. Before bed think back on your day and identify God’s grace at work in your heart and life.
  • The next time you feel anxious, frustrated, or angry, stop and sit in silence with God for 5 minutes. Find a quiet spot (even if it’s your car or bedroom), set a timer, and just turn your heart and ears toward God. Gently push away distractions and be in God’s presence. Let Christ fill your hunger and soothe your thirst.

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018