Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Loaves and Fishes

" Jesus. . . withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Crowds followed him on foot from the towns. . . . . As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ' . . . Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.' Jesus replied, 'They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.' 'We have only five loaves of bread and two fish', they answered. 'Bring them to me,' he said. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and they gave them to the people. They all ate. The disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.' [Matthew 14: 13-21].

Have you ever been in a desperate situation and wondered how you were going to get through the coming days, even the coming hours?

I have been in such a situation-- I was once a victim of a violent crime. I was alone, scared, wounded in all ways. The worst part was the sinking realization that there was no going home to my dysfunctional family, who would not take me in, and who could not help me anyway.

I was in a new city and had few friends. But throwing a dart at a map and striking out on my own would be a worse choice. In yet another new city, I would know no one.

At that point in my life, figuratively speaking, I had less than a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. I had sunk down, down and hit bottom.

I was so overwhelmed, it did not even occur to me to ask God to heal me. Or to send help. But He did send help.

I was a student then, and word got around. Students, who had little to offer, made meals for me.  They invited me to sleep on their couches when I was too afraid to stay in my apartment alone. They shared class notes, they studied with me. They listened to my doubts, my fears. They invited me to eat lunch with them or go to a movie, so I would not be alone.

My young son recently asked me if I thought that the story of the Loaves and the Fishes is "real"? He said that he thought so, because "Jesus is a pretty powerful guy!"

I believe so with all my heart because of how, out of nothing, my classmates created something miraculously loving and healing. I felt enveloped in compassion. For the first time in my life, I felt truly loved! I was saved!

You see, Sin and Death are the great levelers. They burden us. They knock us down to the dark depths of the soul.  All of us humans on earth are affected equally by sin and death -- rich and poor, young and old, without regard to race, gender or culture.

 But Love is the great multiplier! Love begets love! It is infectious. It is contagious.  A tiny smile, a warm gesture, a kind glance-- these are NOT meek and powerless. They are strong medicine for the soul. Love is  what saves us!

I think of the French Resistance during WWII, how families in the French countryside, with so little to sustain themselves during wartime deprivation, took in and saved countless Allied soldiers. Or I think of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War in America; how ordinary families sheltered and fed slaves seeking freedom in the North, then passed them along to the next safe house.

The power of Love is not a small thing! It can change lives. It can begin with a small gesture and become a movement. It can change history!

Jesus, I pray that I may multiply my love for others, that I may feed their souls!

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

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Prayer for Wisdom

"The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, 'Ask something of me and I will give it to you.' Solomon answered, 'O lord, my God, You have made me, your servant, King to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. . . . Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.' The Lord was pleased that Solomon make this request. So God said to him: 'Because you have asked for this-- not a long life for yourself,  not for riches, nor the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right, I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now; and, after, there will come no one equal to you". [ I Kings 3: 5, 7-12].

I read this Scripture and I reflect upon the things that I pray for lately. So many times, my prayer life consists of complaining to God about how sad or discouraged I am! I ask God to make my son do his homework! Or I ask God to inspire my spouse to lose a little weight or to be more helpful around the house. Certainly, God is there for us at all times and for all reasons.

But this Scripture also reminds me of a time when my prayers were much more impassioned, more desperate.

You see, when I was in graduate school, I was the victim of a horrible crime. I am blessed to be alive today.

My dysfunctional family told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was to stay in school, or I would be a failure.  No matter that I was so bruised and beaten that I could barely get out of bed. No matter that I was too terrified to stay in my apartment for fear that the guy would come back and finish me off. No matter that I was too battered emotionally and physically to focus on making a meal, let alone trying to study.

I remember so clearly sitting in my student apartment, sobbing, wondering how on earth I had gotten myself in this position? I did not know how I was going to be able to stay in school-- but I also knew that going home was not an option.

Suddenly, I began to pray! I was in my early 20's. I had not been to church since I was about 14, when my family stopped taking me to services. Prayer did not come naturally. And yet, I prayed.

You would think that I would have prayed for someone to punish my family for abandoning me. You would think that I would have prayed to land a lucrative job and become so rich, I would not need them any longer. You would think that I would have prayed that God send people to help me. Certainly, you would think that I would have prayed for healing in all ways.

Instead, what I prayed for was Wisdom! All I wanted to know was what kind of family would leave their daughter at a time like this? My prayer was sincere. All I wanted was to understand.

In those days, I did not even know who Solomon was. Decades later, I learned that I had prayed the Prayer of Solomon! I thought, Wow! How did I know to do that?!

I believe in my heart that this was a case of being showered with the gift of the grace of God. I have always had a very hard time understanding what God's grace means? But here was the clearest example. I needed God's protection, where no human protection was available. I was a mess, fully human, fragile, battered. My heart went out to God, asking, WHY, God, why?

And His heart went out to mine! I am still on the journey to seeking that wisdom.

But suffice it to say, His love and grace were with me at the time of my prayer. I did finish graduate school. Top half of my class! Many, many fellow students, and professors, came forward to help me. They supported me academically, they made sure that I did not give up.

How often today do we see people who desire only fame, fortune, power? When do we ever hear of people who simply strive to know the Truth, who want only to do the right thing?

God, I pray for Your grace to help me to see with Wisdom, to act with knowledge of Your ways, and to love others with compassion and understanding.

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

Monday, July 18, 2011

Judge Not

" Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck our of your own eye', when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." [Matthew 7: 3].

A child is criticized for the shape of her nose; for her last name. She is taunted for being an "A" student. Her grandfather is successful and so she is "blamed" for being rich. That was me as a child. After awhile, I hid in my room and spent more time than necessary on my homework. It was not fun to go out and play any longer.

Years later, I went to graduate school. One afternoon, classes had gotten out early and I was home alone. There came a knock on the door. I thought it was my neighbor next door, who often came by to have a cup of coffee together before the long hours of studying.

Instead, I was confronted by a stranger with a ski mask and a long knife! I managed to survive but I was beaten pretty badly. And yet my family blamed me for opening the door. For opening the door! And when I said that I wanted to come home for awhile, to heal and to reassess, they called me a failure.

My name was shielded from the press because of the nature of the crime and because I was a young female. I had to sneak around the city hospital to get medical care, lie about my name and the reason for my visit. I was extremely grateful for the anonymity. But I could not shake the feeling that I was being shielded because the assumption was that I had done something wrong!

I learned, the hard way, what it is to be judged for something that I did not do.

There is an awful lot of judgment going around these days, isn't there? It is becoming an epidemic. Maybe because of the ubiquitous social media, the way that our smart phones have become an extension of our own hands, we have instant data at our finger tips. We make instant judgments. When we really know nothing.

Judging others has become an ugly parlor game. It is beyond charades, it is beyond Trivial Pursuit. It is voyeuristic, it is a viral vendetta.

This reading from Matthew absolutely does not forbid justice. We can and must have our legal system, our judges and juries. We human beings cannot get away with, literally murder, and beg off by saying, "Judge not!" This is a misuse of the Word.

I was subject to some harsh criticism and at a very young age. I have learned to spend my time, not indulging in judging others, but making sure that I deepen my relationship with God and that I try every day to emulate the love and gentleness of Jesus. I may stumble and fall in those areas, but my heart is pure and eager to obey God.

St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4: 3: "I care very little if I am judged by you. . . . I do not even judge myself. It is the Lord who judges me."  From this, I have learned that I may form my opinion, but I let the secular judges and juries opine on what we humans are capable of. And in the end, I let God be the Final Judge.

St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 4 goes on to say, " Wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts."

God, you know everything that is in my heart! As I learn to perfect my soul in you, teach me not to judge others for the process of their own Faith Walk.

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

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Garden of Faith

" A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among the thorns, which gew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop - a hundred times what was sown." [ Matthew 13: 1-9].

Jesus was a master story teller, wasn't he? Think about it, farming and gardening were commonplace in ancient times, when people were so much closer to the land. Even today, almost all of us can relate to the hard work, but attending joys, of a garden.

Jesus speaks of a garden as a metaphor of our Faith.

Through years of struggling over my faith, I have learned that my faith will not live and grow if I do not tend to it carefully. Just as the farmer must avoid planting in a place with no soil, or avoid planting in rocky soil, or amongst thorns, so I need to seek rich soil for my faith -- or it will die!

As a child, I was taken to church, but it was a church where people were mostly concerned with congregating with the Right People. The women wore their Sunday best, silky dresses with fur coats, jewels, fancy stockings. The men wore expensive suits, silk ties, their best leather shoes.

The people seemed dressed to impress, dressed for success. If parishioners like that treat church as merely an entree into Acceptable Society, are they truly nurturing their faith? Or are they more concerned with their status and wealth?

Perhaps they are like the one that Jesus describes when He says in Matthew 13: 22 -- "The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful."

At 14, my family no longer took me to church. I had been baptized, received my First Communion and been Confirmed. Church was now something that we had "accomplished". At that point in my life, I was making good grades in school, everything seemed to be going well. I had loved going to church, but if I asked my family to go, I was told, 'No, we already did that.' [?!!]. Being a young teen, I had to accept my family's answer; I was not independent enough to challenge that.

Without church and an active faith, without the practice of prayer, the joy of the Eucharist, the peace that comes from God, I became subject to every twist, turn and whim in my young life. With only 14 years of a very shallow faith, when life got difficult, I had no faith to draw upon. If things did not go my way, I could get angry; fall into despair; try to "make things happen" on my own, then get frustrated when nothing happened. I was lost, without knowing it. All I knew was that I seemed to have no anchor.

In short, I was like the one Jesus describes in Matthew 13: 20-21. --"The one who receives the seed that fell on rocky places is the one who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes, he quickly falls away."

RecentlyI finally reached a point in my life where "trouble and persecution" were overwhelming me. My father had died unexpectedly, my best friend was terminally ill (and ended up passing away), I was caring for my frail, elderly mother; in short it felt like my world was falling in on me.

It began to dawn on me --I needed my faith back. I gradually came to see that I had not tended my faith in decades. And it showed. I was confused, unfocused, overwhelmed, in despair. I suddenly realized that God "was gone". I panicked.

I began to take tending my faith much more seriously. I got to work on my faith immediately by meditating and praying daily. I knew I finally had to take a stand and choose a church. When I received the Eucharist for the first time in decades, I finally felt more real joy than I had in a long time.

But I became all too aware that although I had a much stronger faith, I knew almost nothing. In matters of faith education, I was frozen in time, still that 14 year old girl who had stopped attending church so many decades earlier.

I was like the one Jesus describes in Matthew 13: 19-- "When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart."

Our faith may be strong in our hearts.  But without any understanding of the Word in an intellectual sense -- in our heads-- it is all too easy to lose our way. As I returned faithfully to Mass, I realized that I did not know the Sermon on the Mount from the Ten Commandments; I did not know Pontius Pilate from Judas.  I felt so  ignorant, so foolish. What kind of Christian would I be if I did not try to study the stories in the Bible, or work on absorbing our shared history and the deep meaning of our sacraments? I decided to sign up for Bible Study, so that my faith will be not only deeply felt, but also comprehended in a meaningful way? 

Now, I know that I want to be the one who "received the seed that fell on good soil, . . . who hears the Word AND understands it. He produces a [rich] crop." [Matthew 13:22]

God, I pray that my faith stays strong, that I continue to nurture a deeply rooted relationship with You, and that I hold You close to my heart through Your Word.

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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Adoption by God

"Brothers and sisters, I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed to us. . . . We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies." [Letter of Paul to the Romans; Romans 8: 18-23].

Recently, I was watching a cartoon with my young son. On this show, a cartoon character says  in dismay, "Wake me up when my life no longer stinks!"

Don't you feel that way sometimes? We all see crises and even tragedies in our lives. We fight to keep our jobs, to pay the bills, to raise our kids responsibly in an increasingly insane world. There are business people who should have integrity, defrauding thousands of people. Tornadoes or hurricanes or tsunamis devastating entire communities.

I look at my own life:   my family who had serious addictions, a suicide in the extended family, a near brush with death when I was four and almost drowned, a childhood of being bullied, a serious illness diagnosed at age 7 which was never properly treated, abuse in every form, leaving home and becoming a victim of a violent crime. For just about every year in my life, I can name a serious loss or family crisis or personal trauma .

And so when I first read this Scripture, my initial reaction was, "Are you kidding me?! All the pain, and trauma, and physical, mental and emotional abuse that I endured are "AS NOTHING?" Does anyone really think that I can ignore all that I have gone through in this life and be like Teflon, unscathed?!

And yet, lately, I detect a shift in myself. I notice that I no longer wallow in the "Who done me wrong song". Why? It is hard for me to articulate, but I have reached a point of no return, so to speak. There is so much to process and absorb, it is all too much to believe. To figure out. To understand. I cannot hold all that intense pain, from a lifetime of suffering, all in my mind at the same time.

After a lifetime of sorrow and pain, I am ready to turn my attention to something else. Yes, to imagining something so perfect that words cannot express it. I need to foresee a place that is sacred, brimming with love, permeated with peace. I need to visualize the glory of Heaven.

The other shift I see in myself is that I am ready to throw off the considerable burden of life's pain and instead put on a mantle of a fighting spirit. When I read this Scripture, I want to say, perhaps to those who have hurt me or who have not believed in me: 'Do you think that all the abuse and pain I have gone through will change me? Will these sufferings sway me from seeking God and trying my best to be humble and loving like Jesus? NO!'

St. Paul says in Romans 8: 35-38,  " Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . .neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!" Sometimes in the darkest of times, I follow this sentiment. I say, 'Nothing anyone can do to me will change who I am inside. I won't back down.'

I am even ready to say to the demons of my past, "I was adopted by God! HE is my Father and Mother! To Him, I owe my allegiance, not to all the sin and evil in the world. The pain of my past shall not rule me."

Yes, I do like this reading from Paul to the Romans. And I love what he said in 1Corinthians 14: 11 : "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see [God] face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully."  Our true reality in the end will not be the struggling in this world. Our true reality is our eventual home with God.

What would YOU do if you lost everything, even as a child--  contemplated a mother who abandoned you, a father who abused you, a sibling who bullied you, extended family who were dead or living far away? Would you sink into despair? Would you become angry at the world?

Or would you fight? St. Paul famously said,  "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith." [ 2 Timothy: 4]  Keeping the faith does not mean in this life that you will not have to fight, and run hard. Keeping the faith means that I believe in a purer place and a loving Creator whom I cannot see!

So I choose to rest in God, even in this life. I cannot ignore all that I go through in this life. (Neither can you, my friend.) But this life is merely a prelude, and not the End Stage. The final chapter occurs as we enter eternal rest.

God, as I face the struggles and pain of this life, I pray that I may imagine my life with You one day, in Your glory.

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


"Come to me, all you who are weary and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." [Matthew 11: 28-30].

I have been a fighter all of my life. I am someone who is a survivor, who has lived by my wits, and who has utilized all of my own intelligence and strength to get through whatever life has thrown my way.

I came into this world fighting. While my mother was giving birth to me, she went into distress. I almost died before I was even born.

I come from a dysfunctional family. You know, various addictions in the family; every kind of abuse:  verbal,  physical, and more;  medical neglect; lack of maternal affection (no one ever hugged me or said, 'I love you'); physical neglect such as, some nights I went hungry even though there was plenty of food in the house. There was a fire in a relative's house, chronic flooding in my family home, a suicide in the extended family.

At age five, I would tell my mother in mid-afternoon that I was sleepy, but she would say that I was too old to be tired. I learned to put myself down for naps.

By age ten, I had stopped speaking.

Getting enough to eat was a struggle. I knew that if I did not like what was served at meals, I was not getting anything else to eat. Once, I stuffed myself at the neighbor's house because I knew that I would not like what was being served for lunch, and I would not be given anything else to eat, not even a piece of bread.  When my mother called me in for lunch after I ate my fill at the neighbors', I lied and said I was not hungry. I learned to get my nutrition at neighbors' houses or in the school cafeteria. I hoarded candy in my room.

You can call this being a Survivor. You can call it being a fighter. You can say that in some ways, I raised myself. Whatever you call it, I knew from a young age that I had only myself to rely on.

These were good skills that helped me to survive.The trouble is, some adults in my situation never learn to "turn off" the fighting stance. Even as an adult, safe and secure in my own home, I have been capable of  Fighting Life. I have gone to the supermarket and become practically enraged that they were out of my favorite flavor of yogurt. (It's that fear of not being fed again.)

I have spent my life being treated as someone who is invisible. So if someone cuts me off in traffic, there I am, invisible again. It has at times been enough to ruin my day.

I have spent countless hours, thinking about these events, writing about them in my journal, venting about them with close friends and family. I have wailed that I do not WANT to have had this life of pain, these parents, these traumas.

Unfortunately, I cannot wave a wand at my past and make it go away. And I am no closer to understanding why this all had to happen to me, than I was when I started!

The point is-- at a this point, I have seen enough alcohol abuse in my family and the havoc it wreaked; I have been the brunt of enough verbal, physical and other abuses too traumatic to mention; I have been through enough turmoil over losing my faith, then re-gaining my faith again; I have paid enough of a price for my  health issues that I suffer from, only because of childhood medical neglect; I have been through the recent painful losses of the family members who made such a mess of my life-- and wondered how I could ever mourn them; I have looked at my plate full of food and told myself that no one is going to take my food away today; I have struggled with balancing my need for rest against my survival instinct to push myself to the limit; I have pushed myself to feel confident to speak again.

In the end, I crave Rest! I am humble enough, finally, to understand that I cannot figure all this out on my own. Nor can I achieve healing alone! I am working hard on improving my lot. But some of this is going to take prayer, faith and "giving it to God."

Do YOU fight your life? How much trauma, crisis, anxiety and struggle will it take before you say, "Uncle!" Before you seek the Higher Power in your life to assist you?

I certainly do not mean that you should dig a deep, muddy pit, crawl in it and give up. But if you believe that only you alone can solve all your problems, that everyone else is someone to resist and resent, if you are angry at everyone and anyone because of what trials you have had, then your burden will not be any lighter.

Finally, I am seeing that I can talk to Jesus about all the painful paths in my life. I can ask Him to help me to accept everything that I have endured in my life, with humility and gentleness. I am gradually understanding that acceptance of my past does NOT mean that I have to like it! Finally, I realize that as I seek His ways of humility and gentleness, this is the path that will give me Rest. The path to peace is NOT resentment, undue anxiety, anger, hate, narcissism, greed, etc. . . .

Jesus, in my darkest moments, I pray that I will find with You, your humble and gentle ways. I pray that with You, I will find sacred Rest.

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

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

In a recent survey, a dismal percentage of people knew that July 4, 1776 is the day that the United States of America gained its freedom. Then, there is the politician who claimed that Paul Revere rode his horse through New England towns to warn the British that the Americans were coming. Instead of the other way around!

It has been about a generation since I have heard July 4th referred to as "Independence Day". Or since I have heard Memorial Day referred to as Decoration Day, the day that we decorate the graves of military veterans who fought and died for our country. Now it is considered old-fashioned to refer to these holidays by their original names, to give any credence to their original meaning.

What does July 4th mean to you? Pigging out at barbecues, going to the beach or lake, watching fireworks? How about going to the mall to hit it big with the summer sales?

What does independence mean to you? Does it mean a fashion statement, the wearing of the red, white and blue? To some it means, "This is a free country! I can do whatever I want, whenever I want." It is a license to behave badly. An excuse for entitlement.

To the first pilgrims who came here, Independence meant, among other things, Freedom of Religion.  Independence meant being free to practice their religion of choice, as opposed to being told which religion to practice, or being told not to practice any religion at all.

Today, Freedom of Religion has begun to sound a lot more like Freedom FROM Religion. People cringe if we mention God in our conversation. It is cooler to mention casually that we played a round of golf on Sunday morning, than to say that we went to church. Instead of celebrating that this is a country of all religions, we sweep clean any mention of religion or faith at all.

On Independence Day, I think of my grandfather. My grandfather volunteered to serve in WW I. That's it, volunteered! He rarely spoke about his experiences in the war. He simply believed in it, so he did it.

And yet, the fact was, he sat in a deep, dark trench in France, a pit filled with mud and rain water and human waste. Bombs and bullets rained overhead. In that pit of men who were packed shoulder to shoulder, there was gangrene, there was the deadly influenza, there were lice and never, ever enough to eat. From this, I think, must have come the phrase "War is Hell".

When I attend Mass, I think of my grandfather, and I remember that he and so many others fought for my freedoms-- including my freedom to practice my religion. And many others died in combat to preserve this freedom.

I went to Mass today and there were only a handful of people there.  Maybe you are wondering why anyone would bother to go to services on this day at all?

My wish for all on this Independence Day is that you get to swim and eat great food, view fireworks, maybe attend a parade, and yes, even snag a bargain or two at the summer sales.

But most of all, I pray that whatever your religion, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc., that you find a house of worship this week and make it a point to exercise your Freedom of Religion. That you stand up and be counted in favor of Freedom of Religion. And that you celebrate the fact that in America, we welcome people from all over the world, no matter what their faith.

God Bless America! God Bless you all!

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