Monday, February 28, 2011

Love Never Ends

 Love is patient. Love is kind. . . . . Love never ends [1 Corinthians 13: 4-8].

God IS love. His love for us never ends.

I almost died as I was coming into this world. The doctor saved me and made sure I was born. He also saved my mother and made sure I had a mother. God was with me.

When I was three, there was a fire in a relative's house. I was not there during the fire but I was there in the aftermath. I was terrified. God was with me.

When I was four, I almost drowned in a neighbor's pool. Strong arms pulled me up out of the water. The arms of my mother. God was with me.

In my old neighborhood, I was bullied and called names. God was with me.

In my parents' house, when I was growing up, the basement flooded every time we had a lot of rain. We would go downstairs in our slickers and galoshes and bail the water into the sink. Even as the water was rising, God was with me.

When I was in my early twenties, I was a victim of a crime. I could have died that day but I prayed to live. God was with me.

When I received active resistance from relatives over marrying a Catholic, I held my head high and married him in the church anyway. God was with me.

I struggled to become a mother, as all around me were having children. When I finally became a mother, I was overjoyed. God was with me.

One day, on the way home from the park with my young child in a wagon, a wind raged and blew down a huge maple tree. I ran, pulling the wagon as hard as I could, to avoid the tree falling on us. God was with me.

In a 3 year span, my best friend, my father, my mother and my mother-in-law died.  God was with me.

I felt that God had gone away and had forgotten me.  I meditated and prayed and made the decision to convert, in order to become closer to God. God was with me.

I have been through fire and floods. I have almost drowned, almost been struck by falling trees. I have been the victim of a crime. I have watched loved ones die from cancer. I have been bullied, mocked and persecuted.

I did not always know it at the time, but God was there. Maybe in  the fog of my pain, I could not see clearly.

But God was there all along. He loved me. He protected me.

God, rain your love down on me, even when I cannot see your face or feel your arms holding me in your embrace.

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


"I , the Lord, will take hold of your hand, I will keep you and make you . . . . a light. . . . to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness." [Isaiah 42: 6-7]

Freedom! It is a universal longing of the heart. Just as "the desire for God is written upon the human heart" [The Catholic Catechism], just as we long for God, so we long for freedom.

I came from a place where there were Rules. Food Rules about eating what was put in front of me, or there would be nothing else. Some nights, I went hungry.  Rules about how to wear my hair. What colors to wear. What style of dress. What school to go to. What to study. What profession to choose. What company to work for and where to live. Rules against going to church. Rules about whom to marry.

You would think I would have taken up drugs and dyed my hair purple. You would think I would have rebelled.

A dear friend, kind of like a sister, would tell me, "God wants you to be yourself." This sounded to me like a simplistic thought, even childish.

But God did give us free will:  Sirach 15: 15-20 says, "God has set before you fire and water, to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him."

Freedom was granted us from God. This freedom is the very basis of human rights. If the regime is oppressive enough, there is something in the human spirit that rebels, that wants to resist and break free.

The Christians resisted Roman rule. Eastern Europe resisted Turkish rule. The French engaged in protests against their monarch, which became riots, which became The French Revolution. The Revolution spread to the American colonies.

History has not changed much. Much of the world is still not free. In China, practicing one's religion is illegal. In Sudan, the powerful Muslim majority to the north persecutes the Christians in the south. North and South Korea are divided.

But there have been protests recently in Tunisia, Lybia and Egypt, that became prolonged and extensive enough to threaten and even to topple rulers.

My heart aches over the deaths and injuries there. We long to be free, to be released from our prisons. It is a yearning so strong, an impulse that we are willing to fight and even to die for.

God, free us from the bonds that hold us captive, release us from our prisons of doubt and fear, and let freedom reign!\

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Love Your Enemies

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." [Matthew 5:44]

I have had enemies in my life, even as a child. Other children who called me names, who picked on me for the shape of my nose, or the ethnicity of my last name, or the straight A's I got in school (as if it were an embarrassing thing to be smart.)

I have had adults who called me a failure, or who asked, Who would marry you? I have been mocked for wanting to give to charity, shunned for marrying a Christian, instructed to skip church and especially to avoid Communion.

How can I possibly love these people?

To me, loving one's enemies happens in a continuum, over time, just like our spiritual journey spins out over years and decades.

As children, we learn that, "Two wrongs don't make a right." In other words, we are told, do not live by "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." [Matthew 5: 38]. So, we come to see that if someone assaults us, it is not wise to do the same back.

Gradually we see that it is not in our self interest to hate our enemies. Have you ever seen anyone so angry over a past injustice, that they live their lives in spiteful discontent, hating everyone and everything? Hebrews 12:14-15 says, "Pursue peace with all people, lest any root of bitterness springing up should cause trouble." Hate is a bitter seed that can gradually but surely destroy us within. When we hate, we die inside, rather than choose a life of peace and joy.

At a young age, I concluded that I did not have the time or the energy to devote to hating others. I needed allies to help me get what I needed. I did not need more enemies. I needed the strength to survive. I did not need to eat myself away from within, with hate.

As we begin to grow up, we learn to live by The Golden Rule. "Do not hate your brother in your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself." [Leviticus 7-18]. We treat others the way we want to be treated.

And maybe, if we cannot forgive our enemies enough to be around them much, we can at least pray for them. I have been in a place where it has been too enormous for me to love or forgive my enemies but I have had a generous enough spirit to ask God to forgive them.

I reached a time when I realized that where people did not welcome me, I had to leave there and "go to another village". [Luke 9: 1-5] In other words, I found another family and different people who would love me.

All these self-defensive maneuvers about loving one's enemies? They start to sound like bargaining with God!

So, lately, I realize that deciding to love is not just about my self interest, about keeping the peace in order to preserve myself from harm. Nor is it about some sort of communal pact of  treating others well, in order to try to guarantee good treatment back. Neither is it about recusing myself from the process and pushing the job of forgiveness onto God. No, it has become about who I am as a person.

My elders have been growing old and sick. I could walk away from someone who had hurt me deeply, abandoning her at a time of dire need.  Or I could step up and become the loving person I wish I had had in my life when I was a child.

Over the years, I realized that some of the people who had hurt me so deeply had become old and frail and could not hurt me any longer. I realized that in walking away from the persons who had sinned against me, I was in danger of committing the same sins myself --  hating, not loving; judging, not forgiving; abandoning, not showing commitment.

Leviticus 19:17-18 says, "You may have to reprove your fellow citizen, but do not incur sin because of him." I never want to become the person I criticize for sinning against me!

My commitment was not just to the person I was meant to care for. It was a commmitment to my own integrity. It was my commitment to God.

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love is Kind

"Love is kind". [1 Corinthians 13:4]

A little boy goes to kindergarten on the first day. Already, about a month prior to that day, a boy he did not even know came up to him at the park and stabbed him in the back with the tip of a metal airplane. The jab broke his skin and left a mark.

But on the first day of school, the boy is first in line, banging on the door to get in. Before too many weeks pass, he comes home with a nasty bruise on his back. Someone in his class had shoved him into the sharp edge of a wall in the kindergarten corridor. Now the boy is not sure how much he likes school.

In first grade, another boy in his class tells him that he is going to kill him after school.  The boy is terrified and begins refusing to go to school. His teacher and the principal establish a procedure to dismiss him before anyone in his class, so he can be escorted safely off campus. Still, the other student whispers death threats in the hallway and at recess.

In third grade, the boy comes home with a big purple bruise on his arm. The boy finally gets the courage to tell his parents that at recess, one classmate dared another to hurt him.

In fourth grade, the boy is kicked between the legs. This hurt a lot, so the boy tells a teacher. The next day, the student kicks him between the legs again. The boy tells his mother angrily, 'You told me to tell the teacher! Now look what happened! It's all your fault!'

In fifth grade, a student tells the boy that he is retarded. The boy begins refusing to do his homework, claiming that he is not smart enough. In reality, he is an "A" student.

That same year, a student tells the boy,  "Get out of my life!" The boy comes home angry and argumentative. When his mother asks what is wrong, he says, "Mommy, am I a mistake?!" Then he bursts into tears.

A few months later, two boys gang up on him in the line to recess and chant to the boy that he is a failure.

The boy develops anxiety. He has trouble sleeping. He thinks he is stupid, or worse yet, a "mistake". He refuses to go to school, to religious education, to sports activities. He is alternately angry or remote. He declares, "That's IT, I am shutting down now. I am done!" He gets in fights at school and he is the one punished "for reacting". He steals a plastic knife from the cafeteria, which he keeps in his jacket pocket for self defense because school is no longer his Safe Place.

This is not a hypothetical. It is a true story. It does not take place in an urban school. All of this happens in an upper middle class community.

We live in a culture that worships People Behaving Badly (aka celebrities). These are (in)famous people known for trashing hotel rooms, engaging in statutory rape, getting their way by throwing telephones at people, showing their ugly side by uttering profanities and racist diatribes. We watch videos of teens bullying others and feel a vicarious rush of adrenaline. We consume movies about Mean Girls. Our favorite films are about "Males on Vendettas."

Okay, so you can accuse me of being child-like. Maybe even childish. But where is the Love in our culture?

Love is supposed to be kind. Where is the kindness?

If my feelings are hurt by all this and my own heart is breaking, How does God feel?

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hate = Murder

Jesus said, " You have heard it said long ago: 'Do not murder'. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." [Matthew 5: 21]

We all remember the Ten Commandments from Sunday school or Catechism class. We think, this is pretty easy. I'm a good person, I would never think of killing anyone! Or cheating on my spouse. Or carrying out a gigantic lie such as a fraud. These standards are pretty low, hunh?

In this Scripture, Jesus says, He is not abolishing these Commandments, He is "fulfilling" them. Uh oh! Now I am getting a bit wary when we start talking fulfillment. Suddenly, I am afraid that things are going to get a lot harder.

Okay, so Jesus IS upping the ante. He repeats the Commandment, Do not murder. Then he equates being angry against one's brother with murder. In other words, anger is murder in your heart!

Now I am not so sure about my place in Heaven! I used to think that I was in good graces because I was not estranged  from my brother. I said Merry Christmas to him and sent him a gift, right? I never yelled at him or even tried to give him unsolicited advice!

I have lately tried harder, like talking to him, really talking about the past misunderstandings or even the hurts. That's progress.

But then I came across Psalm 50: "Do you speak against your brother, the son of your mother? Do you think I do not hear you?" Oh, boy, now I am in trouble!  I used to think that if someone behaved badly, then they deserved for the world to hear how evil they were!

I can see, Lord, that I have a lot more work to do. Truly loving my enemies means forgiving them. Love IS forgiveness! It cannot mean merely acting polite and wishing the anger away. And it can never include being so mean as to gossip about others' sins and frailties!

Forgive me, Lord, in my unforgiveness!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 14, 2011

God Is Love

"Dear Friends, Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. . . . because God is Love. Dear Friends, since God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us." [1 John: 7-12]

I once asked around the family dinner table, "If no one in my childhood ever told me, 'I love you', or hugged me, how can I love everyone so deeply?"

My young son had learned this in his catechism class. He giggled at the thought that Mommy did not know something so simple.  He placed his hand on my heart and said, "Silly Mommy, it's because God is in you!"

Popular psychology says that anyone who has never been loved cannot love others. This implies that Love is taught.

But this Scripture says that the capacity for Love is inside us. AND that we have been endowed with it since birth!

Our Love comes from God. In fact, God IS love. He does not merely teach love, He does not merely model Love, He does not merely command Love. He IS Love.

So often in my life, I have wondered in my dark moments, "Where are you, God?" I have asked myself, Can I just not see Him through the blind fog of my pain, or is He really not there at all?

No one can see God, but He is there, just as surely as we feel Love for our children, our family, our spouses, our friends. And just as surely as they love us.

That inner spring of Love offers us the greatest redemption of all, the possibility of hope and rebirth no matter what our origins or past hurts!

"Love one another deeply, from the heart." [1 Peter 1:22]

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Light of the World

In Matthew 5: 14, Jesus says, "You are the light of the world."

Read this again. It does not say, Jesus is the light of the world! It says, WE are the light of the world!

Jesus, as Light of the World, is delegating this authority to us. He is making us His disciples, His many "lights of the world."

I wonder, How am I supposed to go about that?

Isaiah 58: 7-9 tells us to "share your food with the hungry, provide the homeless with shelter, clothe the naked and not turn away from your own flesh and blood."

As a child, I have gone to bed hungry. As a child, I have been cold and been denied a sweater.

I have had times of desperation when I was too afraid to sleep alone in my own place, and acquaintances took me in and allowed me to sleep on their couches or on a mattress thrown on a floor.  Not only did they give me a bed, they gave me a meal.

I have been abandoned and rejected and humiliated.

There is no way to repay all those kind human beings, who have helped me on my journey to a better place.

No way, except to be sure that I never do to others what was done to me.

No way, except to resolve to help others as I have been helped.

My friends, this is Spiritual Warfare! The only true way to counter all the darkness in the world is to combat it head-on, with our Light. To be a force of light --- through our love, our patience, our compassion, our peace. 

It is our strategy, in order to banish the darkness!

More than that, it is The Way, the meaning of life. It is Life itself! It brings us out of that dead place, to a place brimming with love and joy!

May I shine forth enough Love to be a light to the world!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Love Is Patient

1 Corinthians 13:4 -- "Love is patient. . . ."

Thus begins one of the most famous Scriptures of the Bible. This passage has long been a favorite reading at weddings.

If Love is patient, then the opposite is true:   Patience is love!

Wow, this means that sitting in a traffic jam without honking one's horn, hollering, or trying to cut others off is Love? It also means that listening to an older person tell the same story for the 50th time is Love. Overlooking one's spouse's annoying but harmless habits is Love.

During my life, patience has meant taking the long view, often waiting years for things that others take for granted every day.

At age 13, I began saving my money so I could make my own way in the world. At 25, I finally finished school, and had the safety and freedom and independence that I had craved  for 12 years.

 The first time anyone ever hugged me and said "I love you" was when I met my husband. I was 26 years old at the time.

I was almost 30 years old before I could afford to own a car.

My husband and I waited for 15 long years before we could become parents. I prayed The Novena every day for 2 years before our son was born.

Recently, I chose a church and received the Eucharist for the first time since I was 14 years old. In this case, God was patient with ME. He waited many decades for me to come back to Him.

Some days, my son will tell me that he cannot wait 15 minutes for dinner. Or a few weeks for Christmas or his birthday. Or a few months until spring comes.

I smile and tell him, 'I waited 15 years for you! I think you can wait 15 minutes.'

If God is Love; and Love is patient; then God is patient. ----Can't I be patient too?

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Unlikely Blessings

In Matthew 5:1-12, Jesus preaches the "Beatitudes", also known as the Sermon on the Mount. This is not his first preaching, but it is probably his most famous.

It is a daunting litany of the pathway to divine peace with God: Blessed are they who are poor in spirit [heartbroken], mournful, meek, hungering for righteousness [justice], persecuted, as when people insult you and falsely say evil against you because of Jesus. For all this, we are to rejoice and be glad!

Are you kidding me?!  How's that for toppling the world order? In a society where we worship powerful people who act out of narcissism, and who trample others on their way to the top, these attributes would seem to be a sure path to failure, if not mockery.

Christianity is one of the most established religions in the world. Who knew it could advocate such a radical philosophy?

Yet, when I was growing up, I discovered that the surest way to disarm hate, was to give the opposite, love. The surest way to counter strife was with peace. I was always the peacemaker and if it was not possible to make peace, I quietly walked away until the storm had passed.

Looking back, I see that I had few options to change my little world. But what I did choose -- love, peace, humility, hope, compassion , a constant striving for God-- were actually Weapons! They helped me to avoid a quicksand of greed, hate, despair, narcissism, and rejection of my faith.

In a word, adopting this philosophy of turning the tables helped me to survive!

And Jesus says that we are to rejoice and be glad, that "great is your reward in heaven." Many times, with all the pain and abuse and trauma in my life, I felt like,  'Waiting until I go to Heaven is an awful long time to wait for these rewards!'

My pastor had an answer to that. He said, Showing others mercy, justice, compassion, faith, hope, love, peace, are the surest ways to Heaven on Earth!

God, I pray that even in my darkets moments, I am a source of Blessings to others!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.