Monday, June 27, 2011

Corpus Christi

"Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven." [John 6: 57-58]

This week we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Catholics believe that the host and the wine are not just the symbol of the body and blood of Christ. We believe that the host and the wine ARE the body and blood of Christ.

It took me most of my life to understand and to embrace this concept!

In my own defense, I was not raised Catholic. In my Protestant church, Communion was a "commemoration" of the Last Supper. We emphasized the part where Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me."

I came from a family who took me to church mostly to meet the Right People. My family wanted me to learn "right from wrong". I suppose any intelligent person could get this in ten minutes merely by reading the Ten Commandments and then throwing in a recitation of, "Love thy neighbor as thyself". So what was I going to church for?

It was not for receiving the Eucharist. Not in my family. Communion was held in my church only once per month. These were the Sundays that my family mostly avoided going to church. I do not know if this was because Communion made the service too long. Or if it was all that kneeling that was required?

So I figure that, since my First Communion occurred when I was 13, and since we stopped going to church when I was 14, and since we avoided Communion Sunday about half the time, I probably received Communion about a dozen times in all.

Then, after my grandmother died when I was fourteen, our family quit going to church. When I would ask why, I was told, 'You are already Confirmed, you don't need to go to church any longer.' (?!!!)

If I wanted any positive proof that God has a sense of humor, I would only have to focus on the fact that I married a Catholic!

For over 20 years, I attended Mass faithfully, but when it came to going up for the Eucharist, I sat on my hands. I did not feel called to convert. Nope, not me!

I thought that I could get full credit as a Christian if I went to Mass faithfully, even if I did not go up for Communion.

Then, my world began to collapse. My father died. My best friend died. My mother became increasingly frail, then terminally ill.  It fell to me to care for her.

I went to my pastor in a panic. "Father", I said, "God is gone!"

First, he advised me to meditate and pray. When he wrote out a Scripture for me to study, I had this image of a doctor writing out a Rx! I wondered if the Scripture could really heal me?

Then, we began working on my conversion. I started to see my goal of receiving the Eucharist as reaching out for some powerful medicine! You see, I finally began to understand that I NEEDED to receive Christ! I NEEDED to be closer to God! I kept "hearing" in my head, "Only say the word, and I shall be healed!"

Did I feel different once I began to receive the Eucharist again? Absolutely I did. Each week, as I head back to my pew, I feel awe, joy, trepidation, peace. I pray that these feelings last with me the entire week.

It is hard for me to understand the person I used to be, the church-goer who used to believe that the Eucharist was optional! I realize now that the Eucharist is the whole reason for Mass. It is medicine, it is taking on the strength of Christ even as He suffered, it is taking on His healing power.

I think of all those times when I suffered a loss, or a crisis in faith, or a deep struggle in life, and even a singular joy in my life. I think of my own wedding, the funeral of my dear mother-in-law, the total joy at the birth of my son -- at none of those times was I able to receive Communion.

I wish I had been converted then. I wish I had those years back in Christ. I wish I had the love, the community, the strength of Christ, the closeness to the Father, via the Eucharist.

And the best part is that no matter where I go in the world, the Eucharist is the same in every Catholic church. As soon as I hear those comforting words inviting all to the sacred meal, I know that I am home. Everywhere I go, I am part of Something, part of a community. Everywhere I go, I am not alone!

How much more precious would the Eucharist be to you if it were taken away? I tell my son about the Irish people, who had to worship in secret when the English outlawed Catholicism. I tell my son that going up to the altar for the Eucharist is an act of affirmation, an act of solidarity with all those who have been persecuted, punished and jailed for receiving the Eucharist. I tell him to go up to the altar for Communion, in order to stand up for all those who fought and died for the right to receive Communion.

Do you think this happened only in the early church? Or only in less enlightened times in the 18th and 19th centuries? No, persecution still occurs today in several parts of the world. In some countries, Christianity is essentially illegal.

God,  may I always remain grateful for the precious gift of the Eucharist! May I always feel Your strength, Your healing powers and Your love when I am in Communion with You!

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


"The little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' " [Matthew 18: 14].

Finally. . . . it is summer.  I remember as a child, on the last day of school, reveling in that exuberant feeling of freedom!  I ran all the way home from school. I knew that I could sleep late every day, and on a hot day, read books under the towering maple tree in my yard. At night, I could look at the fireflies with amazement and wonder how in the world they got those little lanterns inside them?

We had no air conditioning in those days. My mother would make ices out of fruit juice. I would swing as high as I could on our backyard swing, just so I could feel a breeze blowing through my hair. I thought it was absolutely awesome that my mother put away the oatmeal and served us cold cereal for breakfast.

Then there was the day that  it was over 95 degrees. I was staying with my aunt and cousins, and my aunt took us swimming. When we got home, I was still hot, so my aunt filled a bathtub with cold water and ice cubes. My cousin and I took an ice cold bath! We each barely slipped a toe in and we were screaming with laughter! I can guarantee you that this time, we stayed cool for a very long time!

This summer, I look forward to spending time with my son. I mean quality time, when we turn off the TV and the video games and the DVD's. It pains me to hear of parents who dread the summer, because they do not know what to "do" with their kids. The parents sign their children up for every activity they can find, because they are sure that there will be dire consequences if their kids are bored for one second.

It also pains me to see parents never really having a conversation with their children. They speak to their kids like they are a family pet: "Sit. Stay. Eat. Come here!"

When I have made the time to actually have a conversation with my son, I have been rewarded richly. Jesus intuitively understands the wisdom and openness that children have. He says in this Scripture, "Let the little children come to me. . . ."

In one such conversation with my son, we were going for a walk. We noticed the clouds scudding across the sky, and I remarked how I thought it might rain. My son looked up at the vast heavens and said, "Mommy, why does God have to be so BIG?" The question startled me. Such a wise question from such a little guy. I said, 'Yes, God is as infinite as the Heavens. BUT God can be extremely small too!' My son asked, "How small?" I said, 'Well, He made ladybugs!' My son thought about it, then commanded, 'Smaller!' I said, 'How about a grain of sand? Or a cell? Or a molecule?'

I have woven God and Jesus into our everyday conversations. When he has misbehaved, I have asked him, "Is God pleased now?" If he gets a little disrespectful in his speech, I talk to him about honoring his mother and father. And I have talked to him frequently about how God sent him to us and what a gift he is.

I truly wish that some adults in my early life had spoken to me in this way. Now, I have so much catching up to do. Not only about how to pray, or making right choices. Not only about learning the Scriptures. But also regarding feeling natural and comfortable in talking about God. I do not want to get all preachy and turn my son off from God. But I do want to show him how God is a necessary, everyday, even vital part of our lives.

How to capture these moments of sheer magic in our conversations? It seems like I have to go for more walks with my son. Sit under a breezy tree. Lie in the grass with him and look up at the stars on a clear night. Sit on the porch, eating fruit ices and musing on what I pray about. Or how about telling my son at bedtime, not just, "Say your prayers"; but also telling him that I will pray for him if he confides in me that something worries him.

God, as I seek to know You, may I impart Your ways to all the little children in my life!

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

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Holy Trinity

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you." [2 Corinthians 13: 14]

We hear these words at just about every Mass. These words are the summation of The Trinity. The Holy Trinity is the mysterious unity of three crucial Christian beings, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, into One.

The world started with God: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." [John 1:1].

Then came God's only Son Jesus: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . . . [John 3:16].

Last week was Pentecost, the birth of the Holy Spirit in the Christian church. "I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth." [John 14: 16].

The Trinity is one of the hardest concepts to grasp in the Christian faith. It seems impossible for us to hold in our minds all three of these, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, separately, and yet, to simultaneously understand them as One!

I used to try to define each one for myself and to separate out the roles of each. I would agonize over when a Christian would properly pray to God vs. Jesus vs. the Holy Spirit? I would ask questions like, 'Who is the Great Healer, God or Jesus?' And the person would look at me puzzled and respond, "Both!"

Then I used to become impatient with myself. When would I be a mature enough Christian to truly understand the Holy Trinity?

Then I asked just about every Catholic I knew to define the Holy Trinity and the relationship of the three. If I asked six Catholics, I would get six different answers! I became totally confused.

Then, I would receive answers like, "Oh! It's a mystery!" For a time, I even began to think that Catholics possessed the "Secret if the Trinity", but were holding out on me. I became irritated. I wanted the "Secret" and I wanted it now! None of this gray area for me, I wanted things to be black and white.

Lately, I have begun to see the Holy Trinity with more acceptance. After all, if the Holy Trinity is God + Jesus + the Holy Spirit, what a HUGE, powerful resource for me to go to, anytime I need spiritual sustenance!

I still feel sort of edgy around these great spiritual mysteries, but I am willing to sit with this Mystery for awhile. I can meditate on the Holy Trinity, perhaps examine its vastness, as vast and awe inspiring as looking up at the night sky and seeing the billions of stars. We would not try to pick out every one of the billions of stars, would we? We would simply accept the majesty of them, as is.

If I did have to separate out the three elements of the Trinity, here is what I would sketch out in my feeble, humble, ineptly human way.

God, to me, is like the Head. He is the driver of the plans, the One who knows and  understands and leads us.

Jesus is like our hands. He is the one who ensures that we serve others and that we demonstrate our Love for others.

The Holy Spirit is in our heart. The Holy Spirit is the seat of Truth, what we know in our hearts to be right, to be our conscience, to be who we really are.

It would make no sense to have a complete body without Head, Hands and Heart. Yes, we can talk about them separately, but for there to be true power, in thought, deed and conscience, we need all three. This, to me is the Trinity.

And so, the Holy Trinity, being One in Three, Three in One, brings us full circle. It makes us whole, complete, loving, intentional human beings. It makes us Christians.

God, may I know You, the Creator of all, through the love of Your Son, and through the gentle guidance of the Spirit of Truth.

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Father's Day

"Honor thy father. . . ." [ from the Ten Commandments]

The third Sunday in June is Father's Day. It is a day that has been celebrated in some way since the early part of the 20th Century. It began in America but is now celebrated almost all over the world.

It is a day to celebrate our relationship with our father, the love and affection and good example that he always imparted.   Honoring one's father comes so naturally to some.

Others of us have grown up with a decidedly more complex and difficult relationship with our fathers.

Maybe your father was emotionally distant? Maybe he was even verbally abusive? Maybe he was always absent, either working too many hours or preferring to be off with his buddies rather than being home with his family?

I truly loved my father, but he was deeply flawed. How to honor such a father? I have to say that in the past few years, I have announced that I hate Father's Day. Sometimes, I see a father out and about with his tiny daughter, maybe at the park, maybe at the airport. They snuggle and hug and giggle together. This is something I never had. I feel a surge of envy. A pang of loss at the pure fatherly affection that I never encountered in my young life.

But then, as I watch the scene, a joy comes over me! No, I never felt such safety and security in  my father's arms. But to watch another father's pure love unfold is exactly what is RIGHT about the world! It is an antidote, a redemption over all the abuse and hatred and anger in the world.

Some adults with my experiences are so closed and angry that they shut out all father figures in their life, even God! I never could shut out God. First of all, He has had a way of insinuating Himself into my life, with such patience, sometimes with such insistence, that I cannot turn away.  God knows, sometimes better than I do, that more than anyone, I need His pure and unconditional Love.

In my situation, I needed more unconditional love, even if it came only from God at first. I could not afford to let anger, pain, hatred or bitterness get in the way. Those attributes are the pathway to despair, a kind of living death.

And so, God has sent other father figures to me, in human form. Doctors who have helped me with not just my physical health but my overall well-being. My pastors who have guided me through rough waters. Gentle men I have met along the way who have imparted their lifetime of wisdom. And especially my dear father-in-law, the father I never had.

Lord,  I pray that in seeking You, I discern Your endless and unconditional Love as my one true Father!

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

Monday, June 13, 2011


 "When the day of Pentecost came, [the Apostles] were all together in one place. Suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. . . ." [Acts 2: 1-4].

Pentecost means "fiftieth day" and is celebrated the 50th day after Easter, and ten days after the Ascension of the Lord. It marks the time when the Apostles were endowed with the Holy Spirit. With this birth of the Holy Spirit in the Church, the Apostles could go forth and preach the Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus himself foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit in John 14: 14 -- "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever -- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will never leave you as orphans. I will come to you."

The Apostles were touched by tongues of flame but not consumed by the fire. This reminds me of the Burning Bush. This is the fire that enables them to speak God's Word across many lands.

Oh, Holy Spirit, the most elusive and mysterious element of the Holy Trinity!

What is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is like the old saying, 'I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it'!

It's when I have had someone on my mind, then the phone rings and it is that person on the other end of the line.

It's when someone dear to me is down and struggling with an awfully rough patch, and I don't have any idea what to say. Somehow the perfect words come to me. That is the Holy Spirit at work.

Often, when I do not evern know what to pray for, I ask the Holy Spirit for help. It feels like a whisper in my ear, a soft guidance towards the right path and against temptation, sin and death.

I was once out in the garden on a hot day, and after only 20 minutes of weeding, "Something" impelled me to quit and go into the house. Minutes later, there was a loud roar and an old ash tree fell to the ground right where I had been standing!  Shall I credit the Holy Spirit?

But the Holy Spirit does not merely guide us away from danger. It draws us towards the seven gifts of the Spirit:  Wisdom, Understanding, Right Judgment, Courage, Knowledge, Reverence, Wonder and Awe.

If we pursue these gifts, we receive the fruits of the Holy Spirit:  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. Couldn't we all use a lot more of these in the world?

Dear Holy Spirit, I pray that I can "hear" your guidance, that I can listen to your soft voice and receive your Gifts!

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

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Gift

"Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying, 'I pray not only for these [apostles] but also for those who will believe in me through their word. . . . Father, they are your gift to me.' " [John 17: 20-16].

I think of all the Gifts that God has given to me:  my very life, every breath, my beautiful home on a leafy, suburban street, my devoted spouse who calls himself "my anchor"; the fact that I have plenty to eat, a clear mind, a good education, clean water to drink. I could go on and on.

Then, I think back to my past life when I was a child:  how, if I did not like the dinner that was given to me, I went to bed  hungry; the various abuses: emotional abuses such as threats of being disowned, verbal abuse such as being called a failure, physical abuse such as being hit if I did not walk away peaceably and in time, medical nelgect, abandonment when I was in desperate times.

How have I come so far? I know in my heart that it is God who has made all the difference. God has been a great Gift in my life. I have listened and obeyed, and He has brought me faith, hope, love, mercy, patience.

I suppose I could have turned away from God and Jesus. I could have blamed God for my early and painful experiences.

I could have become so angry over the reality that my life was not physically safe and secure, let alone nurturing, that I refused to let God and Jesus into my heart, where they belong.

I could have been so deeply buried in my pain that I was unable to see Their presence in my life.

In truth, I had no humans on my side, no mother who could nurture me, no father who could love me appropriately, no brother who could respect me, no relatives who could see the abuse and end it, no neighbors that my family was close to who could rescue me. When you have no human beings on your side, you have God and Jesus as your friends, as your family.

The fact that despite all this neglect, abuse, pain and suffering, I was able to see God and to accept His love, to recognize Jesus and attempt to emulate Him -- is nothing short of a miracle.

Besides, at an elemental level, I could not afford to turn away from God, from Jesus -- despite all my pain, despite any resentment at how my life turned out, despite my moments of despair or my feelings of worthlessness. If I wanted to survive, I had to turn towards God and His Son -- not away-- to reach out for their love.

Then we come to this Reading. In this Scripture, Jesus prays for His apostles AND for all who will believe. In other words, He prays for US!

Not only that, Jesus says that His apostles -- and by extension, all those who believe in Him -- are gifts from the Father!

Jesus says, "Father, they are Your gift to me!" WE are that precious in the eyes of God and His Son!

We are the gift to Jesus because Jesus needs us, as His friends to carry on His Word, and His love. And as gifts to Jesus, we are the saving grace for each other.  I truly believe that God has brought me many people in my life who have rescued me. The teacher who invited me to stay after school to help decorate the classroom and who, by this simple act, showed me that I mattered. The man who became my husband, who saw the value in me, despite al of my pain. The doctor who recognized that my troubles were a lot deeper than my physical ailments and who insisted on helping me. Those in my parish who have encouraged me, prayed with me and for me, believed in me. In short, I have been the recipient of much love.

God, through Your power, and through the love of Your Son,  I have been saved. I pray that I can recognize how precious I am in Your eyes as well!

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

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Early Church

"Then [the apostles] returned to Jerusalem . . . .When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers." [Acts 1: 12-14].

Growing up, didn't you just love to hear about how your parents met, and about how you were born? Maybe your parents met on a fluke, on the merest of whims. Maybe you were born in the middle of a huge blizzard. But born you were; and so, your family was born.

The readings from Advent through Pentecost remind me of those beloved stories of beginnings. The times when you would beg your grandfather to tell you once again about his war stories, and how he survived to come home and start a family. Or when you would plead with your parents to retell the story about the night when you were born.

Now, at this point in the Christian year, we have just about all the elements of our church. We were given the sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

In this Reading, we have this vision of the apostles gathering together with the women of the early church to pray and to remember Jesus. In the readings of this Easter season, our Christian church is born!

I love this image of the early Christians, gathering together in a simple room, to be in community and to pray. Isn't this what participating in Mass is all about? Isn't this what prayer is all about?

As I reflect, I realize, the apostles needed to pray together frequently before going out once again to serve, to minister to others, to live the message of love that Jesus taught. Their community prayer is what binds them together, what gives them strength as a group and as individual Christians.

How often do I regard attending Mass as a chore? An obligation? A ritual governed only by rote?  

How often do I think that prayer is something to go through alone?

How often do I forget to pray before I try to minister to someone?

How often do I discount the power of prayer when I pray with many Christians, many voices? ('When two or more are gathered together, God is present?').

How can we as Christians recapture that profound sense of community, that need to be together in prayer? How can we recapture that excitement, that relief, of identifying ourselves as Christians; of identifying with each other as Christians, one flock, a family?

God, I pray that You draw me towards other Christians, to the celebration at your table, to the praise and power of Your name!

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ascension of the Lord

" After [Christ's] suffering, he showed himself to [the apostles he had chosen through the Holy Spirit], and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days  and spoke about the kingdom of God. . . . . He said to them, 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.' After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid him from sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going. . . ." [Acts 1: 1-10].

The Ascension of the Lord marks the time when Jesus, having shown himself in body to the Apostles at various times during 40 days, now departs to Heaven, to be seated at the right hand of His Father.

Have you ever sat in Mass and heard certain words, for perhaps most of your life, maybe for many years, but never fully understood them?

I used to listen to John 14: 6-- "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through me." -- and heard these words as if by rote.

I didn't fully understand them, in a personal way, until I went through my conversion to Catholicism. During my conversion, for some reason, I decided that I had to "get" the Trinity before I felt ready to receive the Eucharist.

God, I had You long ago-- or maybe You had me! After some time in the conversion process, I actually began to understand in a sort of intuitive way, the Holy Spirit.

The Jesus part I sort of struggled with. Sure, I try with all my heart to emulate His Way. I understand, "It is better to give than to receive."  I always have longed for love, the deep and unconditional love that Jesus embodies.

And then, suddenly, my best girlfriend died. She was a young mother, a wife, a teacher. I cried, I railed, "It's unfair!" As I tried to comprehend her death, I told myself, the only "reason" for her death was if I could see her again. In Heaven. Or, that she was most assuredly in Heaven and was no longer suffering.

And how did she get to Heaven? Because Jesus went before us! Because "No one comes to the Father except through Jesus!" I finally "got" Jesus!

So, the next Holy Day being the Ascension of the Lord, I got myself over to early a.m. Mass. I was very nervous, but I got up and walked up to the altar for the Eucharist!

The only thing that would calm me was that I imagined my girlfriend walking up with me, assuring me, encouraging me. I also imagined that with me were my Irish Nana, and my dear Irish mother-in-law (like the mother I never had).

Sometimes I am so naive, so unschooled in the Catholic way, that I did not realize that what I was imagining was "the Communion of Saints". Whatever you call it, this is what got me up to the altar.

And by "practicing" my First Communion at the Mass for the Ascension of the Lord, I was truly ready to receive the Eucharist at the funeral of my friend!

God works in mysterious ways, does He not?

Jesus, you have blazed the way for us to Heaven! I pray for all my loved ones in Heaven; may I see them again!

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