Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Deadly Punishment

"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. . . If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? . . . In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost." [Matthew 18: 10-14].

I was in law school several years ago. There was a Legal Aid clinic in the law school. Students could volunteer there for academic credit. One of the guys I knew was helping to represent a man accused of a horrific murder.

I asked this other student: "HOW could you represent a man like that?" He said, "This man is up for the death penalty. I would rather save one man from deadly punishment, and let others accused of lesser crimes receive a penalty of life in prison." I realized that this student was trying to save the one lost sheep.

I asked, "But HOW can you draft legal arguments in favor of a man accused of murder?" He replied, "We are all innocent until proven guilty in this country. Everyone has the right to a vigorous defense.  Besides, Maybe he IS guilty? I say, What if he is innocent?"

Later, in the early 1990's, the Innocence Project was born with well respected defense attorney Barry Scheck, in conjunction with the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. With the advent, and legal acceptance of, DNA testing, suddenly there were men being set free from death row, who were there for crimes they did not commit. I began to deeply doubt the justice of the death penalty.

Then, a few months ago, there was an article in the New York Times [August 29, 2011], describing "decades of research demonstrating that traditional eyewitness identification and procedures are flawed, and can send innocent people to prison." And yet, in so many court cases this inherently flawed "eyewitness evidence" is the heart of the case!

This so-called "eyewitness testimony" was recently the center of a Georgia case against an African American man, Troy Davis, who was tried for murder. Troy Davis admitted that he was at or near the scene of the crime that night. BUT there was no weapon found, there was no DNA evidence linking Mr. Davis to the crime. And yet, Mr. Davis was executed by the State of Georgia. Belatedly, seven out of nine the "eyewitnesses" claiming that Mr. Davis was the perpetrator later admitted that they lied, because they were threated by the real killer.

This is not only an injustice. It is an outrage! It is a shame to see an innocent man waste many years of his life in prison. It is a tragedy if he dies for a crime he did not commit.

Not only that, it is getting harder for defendants in violent criminal cases to obtain fair representation. Many defense attorneys in the worst violent criminal cases are receiving threats. This was the case in the horrific Cheshire, CT home invasion case. Walter C. Bansley III is the defense attorney for Cheshire home invasion defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky. Since agreeing to represent Komisarjevsky, Bansley  has lost friends, he has lost clients, he has had bricks thrown through his law office and he has had to move his office to a secret location.

So why would any attorney take a case like this? In an article in the Hartford Courant [September 15, 2011], Bansley is quoted as saying: "Why do it? Because I think the death penalty is barbaric. When it comes to this case, Komisarjevsky doesn't deserve the death penalty and there needs to be people like us to stand up for him. I don't think as a community we should be killing anyone under any circumstances."
Don't get me wrong. I hate what the Cheshire defendants did. (I was a victim of a violent crime myself and I live with the traumatic effects every day.) And I do not think that there is any doubt that the defendants committed this crime, since they were caught fleeing from the scene. But enough people died that day in the Petit home in Cheshire.  Enough.

How would imposing the death penalty in this case make us any better than what these defendants did on that day?

For a complete list of the countries still allowing capital punishment, please access the public page for this blog at

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

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Love Thy Neighbor

" A legal scholar tested Jesus with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?' Jesus replied, ' You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. All of the Law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.' ".  [Matthew 22: 34- 39].

When I was a child no one hugged me or said that they loved me. I used to try to "trick" my mother into saying those precious words, "I love you."  Endlessly, I asked, Mommy, do you love me?" But the words never came.

So, I took myself underground. My soul became dry and shriveled. I was not receiving the life giving words of love that everyone needs. I said nothing. I hid in my room. If I came out of my room, I tried to make no visible moves. Instead of walking, I crept around and I floated by. I wanted to be invisible. I did nothing. I said Nothing. I became Nothing.

As I grew, LOVE became the most important thing in the world to me. If a relative asked what I wanted for Christmas, I said, 'Nothing.' Things do not matter to me. Money and possessions do not define me. All I ever wanted for Christmas was to break bread together, to feel joy and love at the holiday table.

As an adult, I try to embody Love each and every day. In fact, Love IS me. You cannot separate Love from me, nor me from Love.

This is what God is like. He IS Love. And we are to love Him with all our hearts and souls and minds.

But how to do that? With God, yes, Love is a feeling. It comes about in our gratitude for everyday blessings. It comes about when we pour our hearts out to Him in prayer. It comes when we experience His joy in a gorgeous sunrise or in the smile of our child.

But for God, Love is also a verb! Love means showing our neighbor, by our actions, the same affection and esteem as we show ourselves.

When I was in first grade, I finally got a glimpse of what Love is. My first grade teacher asked me to stay after school. When she said that, my heart was pounding. What had I done wrong?! But I was not in trouble. Instead, she asked me to help decorate the class Christmas tree. I was the only one asked to help. My teacher, Miss Brownstein, was Jewish. I felt special, honored, valued. I was no longer invisible.That day, I found out what Love is!

As an Adult, Love means showing others that they have a place in the world. Love means taking some risks. Several years ago now, I found out that Love means speaking up.

I used to work in a big office building, on an open floor full of cubicles. The department was in corporate finance and we dealt with millions of dollars every day. One day, a young temporary employee came to work in our department. She was very pretty. She was beautifully dressed. I even heard that she made her own clothes. She was a martial arts master. She practiced calligraphy. Her work was impeccable. But every day, I heard gossip and criticism about her. You see, she came from China. Her English was very good but not perfect. She had an accent. She looked different.

One day, I could take the harsh talk about her no longer. I stood up at my cubicle and announced, "How would YOU like to move to China with your six year old daughter and only a few possessions; try to figure out how to rent an apartment, get a driver's license, buy food, enroll your daughter in school?Get a job in a sophisticated financial services firm and handle millions each day? I wonder if you could even do it. I wonder if you would even dare try?"

There was dead silence after I had spoken. Then, the "ringleader" of the gossip paused and told me, "Wow! I never thought of it that way!" And I never heard another bad word about this employee. Not only that, I became her friend. I learned a lot from her.

How important is Love? It is the basis of everything. Forgiveness is Love. Peace is Love. Courage to speak up is Love. Patience is Love. Exercising our gifts is gratitude for God's Love. Faith is trust in God's Love. Joy is basking in God's Love.

I have taken to telling my son, 'If you are not sure how to behave, always do the loving thing.' The loving choice is not anger, impatience, hate, bigotry, violence, or fear.

God, I love You with all my heart and with all my soul and all my mind. I pray that I may embody Your love each day, in all that I do and say.

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

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Give to God What is God's

" The Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap Jesus in his words. 'Teacher', they said, 'we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?' . . . . Jesus said to them, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.' " [Matthew 22: 15-21].

Jesus was in fact trapped here. If he said that Caesar's power should be recognized by the payment of tax, Jesus would be accused of forgetting God. If Jesus said He recognized only God's power, he could be accused of treason against Rome.  How to unwind this trap?

I grew up in what was ostensibly a Christian household. Yes, we attended church. We called ourselves "Episcopalian". But, even as a small girl, I gradually came to see that this label "Episcopalian" was what we DID on Sunday mornings and not who we were inside.

My Episcopal church gave Communion on one Sunday per month. It was called "Communion Sunday". We tended to skip those Sundays. My mother thought that Communion was unsanitary: all those people touching hands to receive the host, and drinking from the same cup. Communion was a practical exercise for her,  one she did not want any part of. It was not imbued with any meaning in her mind.

And yet, almost every Sunday, I heard about the central role of Communion in the Christian church.

My family would make remarks about the families who attended church regularly and actually believed "that stuff". I would hear that those who are in church more often are less capable of getting through life. Or that regular churchgoers are even hypocrites, because they are the ones who are the worst sinners.

And yet, I heard in church that Jesus died for us ALL, to save us from sin.

I would hear talk in my family about "those people", persons with a different nationality or color of skin.

And yet, as a child, I learned a song that says, "Jesus loves me, yes I know." I thought that meant, "All are welcome." Or so the hymn goes, anyway.

I would hear at home, "You have to take care of yourself first!" But in church, I heard, "It is better to give than to receive."

As you would expect --we stopped going to church right after I had received my First Communion and I had become Confirmed. I asked to keep going to church, but I was told, "We already did that." Going to church was a rite of passage, and I had already "graduated" from church. Continuing to attend church made about as much sense to my family as would returning me to high school ad infinitem, even after graduation.

As you can imagine, when I reached my teens, I was pretty confused about my faith and the role of God in my life. I thought at times that I had to choose between my parents and God! But I wanted both, I needed both. And YET -- deep inside my heart, I could recognize that my parents were wrong!

So I took my faith underground. In my family, it was unacceptable to go to church or put one's faith in God for things that I was too human to accomplish myself. So I simply stopped talking about these ideas. That does not mean that my faith went away. It simply went dormant. There were times that I wondered if my parents were right, that maybe there IS no God. But I could not bring myself to believe that.

As a young adult, if I went home for a holiday, I instinctively hid my gold cross under my collar. If my family came over to my place, I hid my Bible upstairs. I did not try to attack them for their lack of faith. I knew it would do no good. Some family members even told me point blank, "Church is a waste of time and money." How can a child fight that?

So, throughout my life, I "paid to Caesar what was owed to Caesar". I did not disrespect my parents about their faith or lack thereof. I tried as hard as I could to "honor thy father and thy mother".

I did not become them. Neither did I abandon them. When my father died abruptly a few years ago, I took my mother back. She had to go into assisted living in her last years, but I saw her almost every day. We were diametrically opposed about faith until the end of her life. She would say to me, "You do not NEED to go to church." I would gently correct her, "I cannot take care of you the way that I do without it." She never had any idea how much faith and trust in God it took to bring her back into my life and become her caregiver.

My whole life, I walked this narrow tightrope. Trying to respect my parents but striving mightily to give to God what is God's -- my faith and trust in Him, my spirit, my gifts, my soul! Some have told me that I have a steely bond with God. Given my family of origin, I have had to keep my eye fixed upon Him or I would have become totally lost.

Impossible, you say! How could you have made those distinctions as a child? But this kind of walk IS the Christian walk. It is extremely difficult. It is painful and scary. It is confusing at times, and even uncomfortable. But it is right.

Think about your own situation. Maybe you have spiritual longings, but you are in a family of little faith. Maybe you live in a place with few churches, or even in a country where religion is restricted. How do you respect your current "regime" but also remain true to the God inside you?

Iwould say, in the end, honoring those boundaries is what can make the difference between being an ordinary human being, and someone who is truly great. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "If I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because this movement IS God!" Why is he one of our greatest heroes? Because he stood up to "Caesar" and said, No more. Kill me if you have to, but I speak God's Truth.

Where is the line between God and Caesar? You may not realize it, but we walk this line every day, moment by moment.  The line is in the mother telling her children, 'No, you will not watch that violent movie.' It is in your decision to fast from meat during Lent even if your friends are going out for hamburgers. It is in an employee refusing to sell a product that he finds distasteful or immoral. It is in celebrating Sundays as Family Day, even if everyone else is shopping at the mall. It is in giving God your honor, your time, your conviction.

God, I live in this world, but I belong to You! I pray to always keep You in my sight, in my heart and in my life.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Raising The Future

"How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods, and sees a brother or sister in need, and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action." [I John 3:16-18].

October commemorates Respect Life Month. It is a month that resonates with me. You see, when I turned thirteen, my grandmother and my mother sat me down in the kitchen of my home, and as they wished me Happy Birthday, they became sort of teary eyed. They told me that I was growing up, becoming a fine young woman. And that they never thought they would see this day -- because my mother almost died in childbirth and I almost died too!

That moment changed my life. With this news, I was forced to contemplate that I might never have been born at all! On my thirteenth birthday, I felt as if I had been born all over again. I was acutely aware of what an incredible gift I had been given.

Life becomes greatly more significant and precious, when you meditate on the hypothesis that you might never have been born at all. Even the worst days of your whole life are precious, simply because you are alive!

I wish the whole world could feel that elation at being alive, and that fierce determination to make your life count and really mean something!

There is a tiny, unassuming building in my area that embodies this dedication to the preciousness of life.  It is a compact, tan brick building on a residential street, the kind of building you might totally miss if you did not know it was there. It is St. Agnes Home, a residential program for expectant mothers.

Perhaps some may blame these young women for their "predicament." I hope it is because people do not always see or understand their circumstances. These women may live in overcrowded and substandard housing. They may have become estranged from any family, because of their "mistake".  They may have had to interrupt their education or had to quit work because of their pregnancy.

These women are often teens with few resources. They have made the courageous decision to honor life by bringing their babies into this world. These women deserve our help, not our condemnation.

I like to call St. Agnes Home a tiny powerhouse. From the street, it looks so small, and yet, inside, there are bedrooms for 16 young women. There is a licensed daycare so that the women can go to school. There is a small school on the premises, with three classrooms and a computer room, for women who need more academic support than is offered in a community school. There are licensed RN's on staff who make sure that mother and baby are  receiving the proper nutrition and health advice. There is even a thriving vegetable garden in the back yard.

So, someone may say, there are only 16 young women who are in residence. Why bother when you can help so few? To that, I say, God helps us all, one at a time.  Every time a mother is rescued, her baby is rescued at the same time.

As I delved into the history of St. Agnes, I realized that they have been in existence since 1914! In their previous facility, there were 120 rooms and four stories. That adds up to hundreds of precious babies and their mothers, getting the help that they need.

Some may say, so what, you get the young mother and her baby through the first year of the baby's life, and then what?

I would like you to hear the story of Shanda. She came to the home at age 14, pregnant and scared. Her mother was abusing drugs. She was being raised by her grandmother. There were 10-12 kids in the house. When she found out that she was pregnant, she describes herself as "devastated". She was too ashamed to continue going to school. Her neighborhood was violent -- no place to raise a baby.

With the help of St. Agnes Home, she earned her high school degree. Her average in her senior year was a 4.0! She went on to college. After college, she earned her Masters in Social Work. Now she is not only supporting herself, she is able to give back and help others.

We have so many issues in our modern life: drug abuse, child abuse, poverty, terrorism, pollution, joblessness. We cannot afford to neglect the next generation. They ARE our future!

God, my life is precious. All life is precious! May I speak this with my lips, but also prove it with my love.

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

Friday, October 7, 2011

Many Are Invited

"Many are invited but few are chosen". [Matthew 22: 14].

In this Scripture, Jesus tells a parable of a king who invites guests to a wedding feast for his son. The first set of guests refused to come. The next guests paid no attention and went off to field and business. The next guests abused the king's servants and killed them. Finally, the invitation was relayed to the streets, and any and all were welcomed to the feast. A man who came to the banquet refused to don the wedding garb that was provided, in order to clothe the guests in respect. The king becomes angry and casts him out.

It is then that the king concludes, "Many are invited but few are chosen."

When I read this parable, I am reminded that "the desire for God is written in the human heart."  [Catholic Cathechism].  So why do we turn away from God's open invitation?

When I was a tiny girl, my parents took  me to church. I was baptized there, I received my First Communion there. I was Confirmed in the church.

Abruptly, around the time that my grandmother died a tragic death, my parents stopped taking me to church. I was upset that they took church away. I asked to go but they refused to take me. In my child's logic, I thought that by taking church away, they could take my faith away.

I did not dare to defy my parents and walk the many miles by myself, across the busy roads through town, to my church. I also did not dare to defy my parents and ask a neighbor to take me to church.

I had physical impediments to going to church. I had spiritual impediments imposed upon me from others. The atmosphere around faith and religion were intolerant. Perhaps you have not gotten closer to God for similar reasons?

My habit of no longer going to church slowly transformed into a deep seated doubt. My parents' lack of belief settled into my spirit. Gradually, my not going to church became wondering where God was? Even wondering if there was a God? Perhaps you have not gotten closer to God out of indifference, which has grown into full fledged doubt?

When I became old enough, I left home to go to college, then to university for graduate school. I was many miles from home and miles from the religious intolerance I had lived under. I was free, theoretically, to go back to church, to explore my faith. But I was busy with friends, bogged down with trying to work for high grades, so I could become independent. Somehow, I never "got around to" finding a church. Perhaps  you have not gotten closer to God because you are preoccupied with worldly things?

After college and university, I met my husband, who is Catholic. Once we met, I started going to church with him regularly. This was the first step to drawing nearer to God. Except, just as when I was a child, I thought that God resided in church, and not in my heart! I thought it was enough to attend Sunday Masses to become closer to God. I did not know that, in addition to attending Mass, I needed to attend to my spirit. Perhaps  you are not closer to God because you are relying solely on the rituals of Mass?

Recently, my world fell apart. My best friend was diagnosed with cancer, my father died abruptly, I had to move my seriously ill mother near me and provide for her care. My best friend lost her battle with cancer. Then my mother-in-law died. Then my mother died. I lost sight of God. I honestly thought that He was gone. Perhaps you have not gotten closer to God because you are in such pain and confusion that you can no longer see Him?

Sometimes, we hit bottom spiritually. The only person we feel that we can cling to is God. IF we can find Him!

I felt like I was in a frightening storm and everything was upside down and backwards. I needed a Rock to cling to, I needed to feel like I could somehow right my world again. This is when I converted.

I finally chose a church and began the work of finding God again. Of reconciling myself to Him. This did not seem like a very good time at all. My mother, who was very suspicious of Christians in general and Catholics in particular, and who was with me on a daily basis, kept telling me that I did not "need to" go to church. She repeated her anti-religion litany as often as possible. Perhaps you have not gotten closer to God because those around you would criticize you and even persecute you?

I was at that time struggling to care for my ill mother, settle my father's estate, run my household, care for my husband and son. I would ask God, 'WHY now, God? Can't you see I'm a little overwhelmed?'
Perhaps you have not gotten closer to God because you cannot see the rationale for God's timing?

And, I felt such overwhelming fear, because I had not received the Eucharist since I was a young teen. I could not imagine walking down that long aisle to the altar to receive Communion. Perhaps you have not gotten closer to God out of fear.

Then I began to think, Who am I to convert now, when I am an adult ---a wife, a mother, AND a lapsed Christian? What would people think of me when all of a sudden, after so many years of sitting it out in the pew, I suddenly started going up to the altar to receive? Perhaps you have not become closer to God because you think that you are not worthy?

I have also struggled with the fact that I was not born Catholic. I asked several Catholics, How do you know if you are? The answer was, it is who you regard as your flock, your clan. I took me a while to feel that this was my spiritual home. Perhaps you are not closer to God because you are not sure if you belong?

Miraculously, God invites us ALL to his banquet. Yet, there are SO many impediments to our responding to God! Jesus says, "Few are chosen." But the reality is, few of us choose HIM.

I have passed through just about every impediment to accepting God's invitation: physical impossibility, denial by those in control of my life, doubt, busyness, over-reliance on ritual, blindness, pain, confusion, persecution, fear, lack of self worth, feelings of not belonging.

In my experience, few are chosen because this is a  thick jungle of obstacles to cut through, to get to God.

But, I can tell you that, when I finally went up that long aisle to receive the Eucharist, I was in tears-- tears of relief, tears of joy, tears of acceptance. All the impossibilities, the doubts, the busyness, the empty ritual without the heart of desire, the blindness, the pain, the confusion, the fear, the persecution, the lack of self worth, the feelings that I did not belong -- all were swept away in that one moment of feeling nearer to God.

I still feel that way, every time that I receive the Eucharist. In that moment, I feel that anything preventing me from coming closer to God is swept clean, swept away.

God, I pray that You clear from my heart any fear, any doubt, any pain, any confusion, any blindness, any hurt, that can keep me from You!

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

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The God of Peace

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or even seen in me -- put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." [Philippians 4: 6-9].

I am a world class worrier. Sometimes, I say to my family, "Tell me what is wrong, so I can worry about it!"  I am so good at worrying, that I sometimes worry about worrying!

Peace. Isn't this what we all want? Peace at the dinner table. Peace in our childrens' classrooms. Peace amongst our neighbors. Peace in the world. Peace in our hearts.

I want a peace so huge, so vast and all-encompassing that it is hard to even fathom. I want a sense of solitude and calm and quiet strength to envelope me. That is what God wants for all of us. That IS God, the peace that surpasses anything that we mere mortals can ever understand.

So if my days are so filled with anxiety, how can I get some of this peace in my own heart? I need to hold onto what is right and true, not what is unjust and wrong. I need to hold onto what is pure and noble, not what is lowly or violent or debased.  I need to hold onto what is admirable and excellent, not what is mediocre or shoddy.

To hold onto what is right, true, pure, noble, admirable and excellent can be a battle these days. There is so much violence, injustice, sin and death in the world. This is not new; it was always so.

When I think back to my earliest days as a child, I was always in this battle.

There were times that I was called a failure, but I studied even harder and worked even more, to prove them wrong. I got all A's, I graduated with honors. I held excellence in my sight.

There were times that I was told, 'Who would marry you?' But I made sure to hold what was gentle and loving and sweet in my heart. And I DID marry.

There were times that my home was anything but quiet and peaceful. But I never returned the verbal abuse that was aimed at me. I said loving things. Or I kept silent.

If there was physical danger, I left the room. Or I left the house.

If I wasn't fed a proper dinner, I ate elsewhere, at a neighbor's or in the school cafeteria.

However ugly it may have been in that house, I brought fresh flowers in from the garden to decorate my room. I tended my mother's garden, weeding her flower beds, without her asking me. Without complaint. To counter all the ugliness, I gathered loveliness.

If I heard lies about myself, or about God from their lips, I whispered the Truth to myself, under my breath.

This is a hard battle. It has been a lifelong battle. I know that I could not do this alone.

So who has been my greatest ally? God.

Sometimes, I lose sight of God. I get close to despair at all the dark things in this world. Then I remember that I survived by thinking about and striving for what is pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. I did not wallow in what was thrown at me. I said, 'No! I have to believe in something else! I have to rise above all this! I have to move away from this, to something purer, more right!'

And if at times, I struggle to hold all these wonderful things in my mind, in the face of such ugliness, I pray. I petition God for whatever I think I need, in order to keep my eyes on Him. I always, always begin each morning of prayer with thanksgiving for my considerable blessings. I especially give thanks for everyone I have met who shows me the face of God.

God, may I look to You for whatever is pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, right, true, just and strong. May I always find peace in You!

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