Sunday, April 29, 2012

Where is My Flock?

" I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and they know me-- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-- and I lay my life down for the sheep." [ John 10: 14-15].

Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. On this day, we celebrate Jesus' role as the shepherd of His Flock. I have seen beautiful paintings of Jesus in his shepherd's robe, cradling a lamb in His arms. I love this image of Jesus. In times when I feel vulnerable and alone, I meditate on this image. Then I feel loved and protected. I feel as if I belong to Someone and Something. I belong to His flock. I belong to God and to Jesus, and they love me.

It was not always this way. My mother was complex and mercurial; she was a wounded soul. One moment, she was gentle and nurturing. At other times, I would come home from school, not knowing "which mother" to expect.

My father did not seem to know how to observe boundaries. A sibling called me ugly every day and sometimes hit me. I was told, when I cried, that I was "too sensitive". No one objected to my being called ugly everyday, so I concluded that I AM ugly.

There was no refuge in my neighborhood. That sibling, who taunted me with ugly names, encouraged the neighborhood kids to taunt me as well. I had no trusted friends, no one I could confide in.

That feeling of not being safe, I carried into school with me. I refused to raise my hand even if I knew the answer. If I did call out the answer, the classmates taunted me for being "too smart".

My beloved grandfather died when I was ten. Other relatives lived in another state; some even lived out of the country.

I became like the Flying Dutchman, a ship brighly lit with lingering traumas, sailing endlessly alone, unable to find a safe port.

My mantra became, "Trust no one." This mantra appears in today's Psalm No. 118: 8-9 : " It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust [even] princes."

And yet, even though I decided not to trust humans, it is humans who have saved me! And I truly believe that they were sent by God to help me to trust in humanity again; and ultimately to trust in God again!

There was the Jewish teacher in first grade, who invited me after school to decorate the classroom for Christmas. I felt like a princess. I felt needed. I was not so invisible any longer.

In my adult life, there was the pastor who took the time to say hello and learn my name. He wondered why I never went up for Communion. That hello was the start of my Conversion. Gradually, I was able to trust enough to commit to a church.

With a church, I belong to Someone and Something. I belong to a parish. I am a follower of Jesus. I belong to God.

How lonely so many of us are today! Relatives live far away. E-mail and Social Media help us to maintain contact. But when we are in front of a computer or a tablet, tapping out messages, we are, ultimately, still alone. We are not hearing the breath of another next to us. Or sharing a Meal of Communion.

We are part of a Flock for a reason. It is not just because we need God. He knows that we need each other as well!

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal [February 18-19, 2012] entitled "Religion For Everyone", by Alain De Botton. The author argues that we should build a community place, sort of a "secular church" where people of all races and economic backgrounds can come together to share a meal and "go deeper" in our conversations, to talk about regret, fear, forgiveness, compassion and love.

Has it come to that, that we are talking about building "secular churches"? Have we forgotten who Jesus was and what he stood for? What we do not need is more secularity. What the world does need more of is--- the Sacred.

Church and religion are more than merely flocking together. We also need to stand for something. This does not always have to mean energetic social activism. It can begin with simply coming together every Sunday in search of the Fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Forbearance, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. These are the best parts of daily life; these are the positive things that we all seek, the priceless fruits that Jesus embodied. These are the Reason why we come together as a church, as a Flock and as a Faith.

God, You have sent Jesus to be our Good Shepherd. I pray that I may always remain part of Your Flock, where I may partake fully of Your Love, Joy, Peace, Forbearance, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control.

[Related Posting: "His Flock", May 16, 2011.]

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Porous Veil

" Two disciples got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the other disciples. They told how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. Jesus himself stood among them and said to them. "Peace be with you." They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?  Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.' As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, 'Have you anything to eat?' They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of him. [Luke 24: 33-42].

In this Scripture, Jesus appears to His disciples after His death. The disciples are "startled and terrified, thinking they saw a ghost." But a ghost does not eat. They were "incredulous for joy and amazed." As if to calm them, Jesus says, "Peace be with you!"

How else to prove His Resurrection, than to appear in bodily form to the disciples, after His Crucifixion? How else to  to prove this, than to show them His wounds on His hands and feet, the way that the disciples remembered, on that awful day of His dying on the cross. There He was, appearing before them.  And not only that, He ate with them.

The phrase, "Peace be with you!" is uttered by all of us immediately before we receive the Eucharist. Like the disciples, we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread together, in the sharing of the meal.

We also recognize Him in his wounds. How many of you, like me, gaze upon the Crucifix, as we kneel and wait our turn to proceed down the aisle to Communion?

It is written in Mark 15: 37-38, that when Jesus died, " With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last. [Then] the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom." This curtain was the barrier outside the Most Holy Place, where once a year, a High Priest came to spill sacrificial blood on the altar, to cleanse the people of their sins.

After Jesus died, this curtain was rent from top to bottom. By Jesus' death, this barrier between the ordinary people and The Most Holy Place, the place reserved for only God, was gone!

Week after week, when I go to Mass, I can feel this Veil tumble down. I am in God's presence, in God's place. I give this one hour of myself to Him, to praying to Him, to singing to Him, to receiving the body and blood of Christ.

When the doors of the church slam behind me on Sundays, I always worry that I leave God behind. Certainly, it is difficult to retain that feeling of complete peace that I get from going to Mass. I know that God never leaves, me; but do I leave God?

During my conversion was the only time in my life that I began to consistently speak to God, outside of church. When I started to "get answers", I ran to one of my pastors and said, " Okay, I am really spooked right now." He chuckled and said, "Oh, you will get used to it."

I did get used to it! I essentially depend on remaining connected to God, not just on Sundays, but all days. I feel God's presence at so many moments of the day, reminding me of His Grace, reassuring me that He is with me always. I once said this to someone, as if trying to measure how spooked I should be; and they said, 'Lucky you!'

 My last trip to the place where my mother-in-law died, I stayed about a week with a relative. Finally on the last day, I complained to God, "I feel so sad!" Then I mused, I wonder if I will see a butterfly? I really need to see a butterfly. I was walking out to go for a walk and I looked up and saw a butterfly! Is this a symbol of the Transformation that Jesus went through, the hope of His Resurrection? All I know is that I went for my walk with a huge smile on my face!

I am trying to figure out how to feel this special in God's presence all the time. The disciples give me a clue: To touch and see Jesus' wounds. In the simplest possible sense, this means to meditate upon the Cross.

Another clue: the way in which the disciples share a meal with Jesus. In today's world this means, breaking and sharing the bread at the Eucharist.

And finally, it is to truly feel the awe, the amazement and the incredulous joy that come from recognizing that Jesus still lives  -- in all of us! Every time I receive the Eucharist, I cry. Every time! I am overwhelmed. Confused. Incredibly joyful!

No, not terrified, for I have become used to the presence of the Supernatural in my life. But it never gets any less awesome to me, to feel the presence of God. The barrier between myself and the Realm of God has become a porous veil.  Jesus' loving sacrifice has opened the way for us to become closer to God in our daily lives.

Jesus, I am overjoyed and in awe at the recognition of You in my life! I pray that I aways feel Your love and the presence of Your Father throughout my days.

[Related posting: "Transfiguration of Christ", March 5, 2012].

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rescuing the Invisible Child

"The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; and those who are crushed in spirit, He saves". [Psalm 34: 18].
The month of April in the United States is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. I wish every month were child abuse prevention month. . . . This is true the world over, that the silent and forgotten children need to be protected.
There is an old expression that says, "It takes a village to raise a child." This expression supposedly comes from African lore. It speaks of a time when villages were small, and each villager helped to watch over the young ones.
I admit that I used to hate that expression. I did not think that it was very relevant today. I was under the misguided belief that this saying tends to denigrate today's parents, who are only trying their best to raise children in this difficult world. I used to regard this expression as an example of superior thinking. Who does a neighbor or a stranger think they are, telling a parent how to raise their child? How dare they assume that a parent even needs help? Isn't that a little patronizing?
But lately, I have been noticing a lot of reports of child abuse in the media. Is it just me, or have instances of abuse become much more prevalent? Or maybe the rising use of social media and the Internet have made us that much more aware of abuse.
I just did a quick Google search on child abuse, and up popped three instances in the United States, in 2011 alone, of parents charged with felony abuse, for keeping their children in a cage. ( Nebraska, October 2011; Virginia, May, 2011; and Oklahoma, February, 2011).
Are you sick at heart? Because I am. Are you angry?
Perhaps we cannot imagine getting involved in cases like this, because we cannot bear to really look and see. Or we assume that "someone else" is going to take care of it. Or these cases are so extreme, that they do not even seem real.
But, I think of the children involved, and the lifelong effects of abuse-- the feelings of shame, and worthlessness, the depression, the substance abuse that can develop as a means of making the pain go away.
In one case recently, a man was arrested for abusing his young son repeatedly over the course of several years. The child was interviewed after his father's arrest. The child said, "I wanted to die."
In another case, a young girl of about three was standing in her bedroom, crying. Her mother told her to, "Stop crying, or the neighbors will think that I beat you." The little girl could not stop crying. So her mother said, " Stop crying or I will give you something TO cry about." The little girl cried even harder, suddenly afraid of what it would feel like if her mother gave her something to cry about. Then she cried even harder, desperately hoping that a neighbor WOULD wonder what was going on, and come to rescue her.
Except no one ever came. Gradually she shut down. She had trouble sleeping. She would stay awake in her bed until everyone was asleep. She started sleep walking. She had trouble eating. She ate more at school than at home, and hoarded food in her room. She stopped speaking. Why bother to speak? She had given up on humans.
Eventually, she decided that it would be better to become invisible. She floated in and out of a room. She rarely spoke. She became quite thin, as if she wanted to disappear. Sometimes, she even felt as if she could not breathe. Her wounds from the abuse were "explained away". She could not look anyone in the eye. She put up a wall of defenses to keep people out, because no human could be trusted. After awhile, if anyone said hello to her, she was startled. She had actually begun to believe that she really was invisible.
When Middle School teachers asked what was wrong, she told them, "Nothing". Did she really believe that? Or was she scared of retaliation if she told? She figured, if she was truthful, maybe she would be taken away from her family. But if no one believed her, she would have to go home and face her family's wrath. Either way, she was trapped.
There are an untold number of "invisible children" out there, not just in the United States, but all over the world. They remain invisible because abuse thrives in secrecy. Abuse also thrives in the environment of fear that takes hold, after multiple threats of retaliation from the abuser.
The invisible children often do not particularly care about the degree of blame leveled at the abuser, or about the kind of help that these abusers supposedly need. Endless debate about who knew what, and when did they know it, does not rescue the abused child. What these invisible children truly and desperately need -- and dream and fantasize about-- is to be rescued.
Often, the abuse survivor has rescue fantasies his or her whole life. In the best cases, this can result in the formation of healing relationships as an adult. More often, this rescue fantasy can result in the survivor becoming a Rescuer, never the Rescued. That is, the survivor engages in an endless round of attempting to rescue lost souls, and, therefore, an endless round of failed relationships.
I have come to see the real meaning of "It takes a village to raise a child." This expression really means that it takes all of us to notice and rescue the invisible child. It is painful work to really "see" the invisible child. After all, it is a graphic reminder of "man's inhumanity to man".
To turn and walk away, however, is to fail to rescue a soul who is already deeply wounded. By ignoring abuse, will we confirm and even compound the child's deepest fears, that no human beings on the planet can be trusted to love fully and genuinely?
Martin Luther King said, "He who accepts evil, without protesting against it, is really cooperating with it." More starkly still, he said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
Rescue me, O Lord, from evil men; protect me from men of violence, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up strife every day. . . .O, Lord, I say to You, You are my God." [Psalm 141: 1-6].
[Related posting: "STOP Abuse!", April 14, 2011].
(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Truth of His Wounds

" Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.' A week later, his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked [for fear of the Jews], Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' Then he said to Thomas, ' Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop doubting and believe.' Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!'. " [John 20: 24-28].
This Reading has often been dubbed "Doubting Thomas". For those of us who seem to be "born skeptics", this Scripture is all about us!
Sometimes I reread this Scripture and it seems to be all about fear and doubt. So often, I have hated my doubt. I have been so anxious that my doubt is a bad sign, an indicator of a lack of faith. I am afraid that I will spiral down in my doubt and drown in it, that my doubt will take me to a dark place from which I will never escape.
WHY do I have to doubt? After all, Jesus says in this reading, "Blessed are those who have seen and yet have believed." [John 20: 29]. How come I cannot always believe, without seeing?
Then I cringe, because certain family members of mine have mocked Catholics for their "blind faith." They insinuate that being a Christian means that you are gullible, perhaps not even intelligent enough to think for yourself. So is it better to be a "thinking Christian" after all?
I think back to the times, in my doubt, that I have asked God for a sign, for some sort of proof. Or even tested him with a challenging question. I would pray, 'If you are really God, why can't you make this happen?' Then, I would wonder, am I being too childish to ask for a sign? After all, as an adult, I should simply believe, without needing constant reassurance from God.
And yet, I have, in fact, requested signs. And God, being as Merciful and Loving a Father as one could imagine, has responded. I like to think of this as His Divine Mercy, reassuring me that He is still there-- and in charge.
I think back to the time when I thought I would never become a mother. One fine spring day, I was feeling very down about this. I went outside to the porch, to gather up the flowers I had laid out in a bunch to dry. On one of the stems was a ladybug. Immediately I gasped and thought, "Our Lady!" I gained some hope at that moment. Was this a sign.? Was I supposed to banish my doubt and believe? Many years later, our son was born. . . .
In this Reading, Thomas wants a sign, he wants proof. I take comfort from the fact that the doubter is a disciple. So. . . .I am not faithless, or sorely lacking in Love for Jesus, if I doubt. Even a disciple has doubted. It is okay if I doubt from time to time, as well.
As much as I can perhaps make peace with my doubt, I can also see that Jesus' wounds are a very visible, but gruesome proof of His love for us. I read about Thomas seeing the nail marks, putting his fingers there and placing his hands in Jesus' side and I wince. Jesus' wounds are real!
The wounds are painful to see. But the wounds also are the Truth. The wounds show graphically the full extent of Jesus' sacrifice for us. The wounds are the proof of Jesus' Love.
In this space, I have shown you my wounds. But, I do not wish to dwell on my wounds. I do not want to "live there", surrounded only by my pain and fractured sense of self. No, I show my wounds in order to show proof of the power of God's redemptive Love. Without the love of God, I would remain irrreparably wounded. I might not even be alive.
Do you show the world YOUR wounds? Not to whimper, or to bemoan your broken-ness. But to exhibit your sacrifices for Love? To prove how you have overcome your wounds through following Jesus? I tell people that the wrinkles developing around my eyes are "battle scars", and I am not ashamed of them!
One year during Lent, I heard a talk by Brother Loughlin Scofield. He said that our wounds ARE our gifts! That sounds odd, even backwards. The example he gave was from a church directory. This booklet listed parishioners' talents and gifts. But these were listed as, "Cancer Survivor", "Heart Attack", "Widower" etc. How can these be gifts? Because all these people who suffered, also drew strength from God. Because all these people have so much more wisdom to give others now!
I also think of St. Paul who said: "Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest in me." [2 Corinthians 12: 9]. My wounds, my doubt, invite God in!
God, I am only human and therefore, I doubt. I pray that I may see my doubt, my weaknesses and my wounds, as powerful gifts that draw me closer to You and to Jesus, Your Son.
[Related posting: "Doubt", May 1, 2011]
(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Redemption

" The angel said to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, He has risen, just as He said." [Matthew 28: 5-6].
The long season of Lent is finally over! We have emerged from the desert of the temptation of sin, and from the dark time of reflection and fasting. We have keenly felt the poignancy of the Last Supper. We have walked through the somber valley of Jesus' death on Good Friday. Easter now brings us the joyful hope of Redemption.
I have not had an easy life. And yet, my life has been filled with Redemption!
When I was thirteen, my mother and my grandmother drew me aside and told me that my mother almost died giving birth to me, and I almost died too. I could have been depressed my whole life, or scared because 'life is so dangerous'. Instead, at that moment, I suddenly understood that there IS a God. He brought me into this life. My whole life became a matter of Redemption because I had conquered death. At the age of thirteen, I understood that life is sacred.
When I was three, I almost drowned in a neighbor's pool. Yet again, I was given life!
Despite growing up in a dysfunctional household where no one ever hugged me or said 'I love you', I set about, at age 13, tending to my mother's garden, bringing flowers into the house, and taking care of the family's mending each Sunday afternoon. I believe that it is by God's grace that I was able to exhibit so much love. I believe that I wanted the opposite of hate and abuse and neglect. I wanted, not revenge; I wanted Redemption. I longed for God, before I really knew who He was.
In graduate school, I was the victim of a violent crime. I almost died that day. But I prayed to God. I could not believe that my life was over. I pleaded with God, "I have so much more to live for!" God saved me again. He gave me another chance at life! He gave me another Redemption.
When I was ten, I felt that I had no haven where I could be safe. I could not stop what was being done to me. So I stopped speaking. I decided to become invisible. Today, in this space, I am speaking to the world!
When I was thirteen, I created my own Redemption by behaving lovingly in the face of a cold, unloving atmosphere. As an adult, I have continued my practice of "creating Redemption" -- a neighbor many years ago gave me a plethora of zucchini from his garden. In turn, I made zucchini bread and gave him a loaf or two! Recently, I discovered a big bin of left-over yarn in my closet. Now I am making scarves for the homeless shelter nearby.
We are called to "create Redemptions" here on earth by bestowing our love on others, even on those who, we believe, may not deserve it.
Gradually, though, I am learning something far more important about Redemption. The true power of Redemption comes, not merely from human effort, but from God! Jesus went willingly to the cross. But it is God who lifted Him up!
If I think that I have been on my own-- gardening for my mother, sewing and mending for my family, baking zucchini bread, knitting scarves-- I am wrong! It is God who has given me this life, many times over. It is God who has given me these gifts! And it is God who, by calling me to love Him, is calling me to love the world!
God, in calling Your Son to Your side, You celebrated the power of Life over death. I pray that I, too, may celebrate Redemption, by drawing closer to Your Love!
[Related posting: "Easter Joy!", April 23, 2011].
(c) The Spiritual Devotional, 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Friday

"Jesus said, 'For this I was born and for this I came into the World, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." [John 18: 37].
Good Friday is also known as Holy Friday. I have always wondered about how this day could possibly be described as "good". For this is the day that Jesus died on the cross.
I went to pray in my church today. The eternal flame, in the candle over the Tabernacle, was extinguished. The font of Holy Water was empty, not burbling as usual. The Tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament that usually contains the Host, was open, but empty. Tiny sparrows have, over time, taken up residence in the church, and built nests. Usually, they chirp happily as I sit and pray. Even they were silent. All around me was sadness.
I am going through this now, in real time, with an elderly relative. This is a man who has always been the father I never had. He treats me like a daughter. He is gentle, never angry. He has a deep faith. He is kind, generous to a fault. Although he is frail and fading away, he bears it all with such incredible grace.
When my husband and I murmur to him about his condition, he comforts US. He says, "No one lives forever, you know."
I get angry sometimes. It seems like there are people in this world who are evil and self-absorbed and prideful. And yet they seem to prosper. This reminds me of Job 21:7-- "Why do the wicked prosper, growing old and increasing their power? Their homes are safe and free from fear. Yet they say to God, 'Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways.' "
I feel selfish sometimes. I want my dear relative here with me. I am not willing to let him go, even though I know that God's plan for him is to go to Heaven. Why can't this dear relative live forever? Yet, he is suffering so, how can I wish him to continue in this life?
I cry sometimes. I really NEED this man in my life. Can't he see that he needs to stay by my side?
He comforts me, he give me wise advice.
Above all, I dread his funeral because that will really mean "goodbye". I will be lost without him.
Then, I think, How can I remember him and make his life really mean something? I will celebrate his birthday every year. I will sorrowfully commemorate his date of death. Perhaps I will prepare and serve a special meal, and invite others to share it with me?
Above all, I want to become like this man, to ensure that his special character lives on in ME. I want to be as humble, as gentle, as loving, as concerned with justice as my dear departed. This is what will ensure that he lives on in this world. I also want to tell others what this man meant to me.
Jesus, the Son of God, was sent to us in human form. If I feel all of this with my beloved relative, how much more so do I feel these things with Jesus? We celebrate His birth at Christmas. We mourn His death on Good Friday. We prepare and share a special meal, the Eucharist: ["Do this in remembrance of me". 1 Corinthians 11:24] .
We honor His life as meaningful and Holy, by emulating His virtues. " My children, I will be with you only a little longer. A new commandment I give unto you, as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.". [13:15].
We still may want to hold onto Jesus and not let Him go. But Jesus said, "Do not hold onto me . . . . . ." [John 20:17]. He knew that He was destined to go to the Father.
Good Friday is like witnessing, with a heavy heart, the funeral for Jesus. We are in mourning. But on the third day, we know, that we will celebrate His rising again. Jesus will be at the right hand of His Father. This was God's plan all along!
God, I do not want to accept the death of Your Son. But I know that He lives on in my heart!
[Related Posts: "Good Friday", April 22, 2011].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Holy Thursday

" Jesus knew that He had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, he poured water in a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel wrapped around Him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?' Jesus replied, 'You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.' 'No', said Peter, 'You shall never wash my feet.' Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash your feet, you will not receive my inheritance.'" [John 13: 3-6].

During Jesus' time, people wore sandals on their feet. On the unpaved roads, their feet quickly grew dirty and dusty. The feet are the dirtiest part of us, since they walk on the ground. Even today, in the Middle East, exposing the bottoms of one's filthy shoes in front of another is a great insult.

I cannot imagine anyone washing my feet-- let alone Jesus!! This is how Simon Peter is reacting in this Scripture. He says, "No. You shall never wash my feet."

When I was converting, it was during the season of Lent. That was a hard enough season for a beginner, a season spent "in the desert", alone and in contemplation. Then came Holy Thursday and The Washing Of The Feet. I reacted viscerally against this idea. I hit a wall spiritually.

Many parishes reenact The Washing of The Feet. What is there to this ritual? Then I realized, this tender moment of Jesus washing the disciples' feet is a foreshadowing of His ultimate service and sacrifice in the Crucifixion.

So, what Jesus says here is correct. If I do not accept His sacrifice, I do not accept Him!

I tried to discern what was keeping me from fully receiving Jesus? For me, it was feeling that I am not worthy.

What keeps us from Jesus' sacrifice, His gift, and ultimately the "inheritance"-- the glory-- of Jesus?

Is it Fear? Perhaps we fear such a close connection with the supernatural.

Is it Doubt? Perhaps we doubt who Jesus really is? Or we doubt the awesome effect He can have on us, if we only accept Him?

Perhaps it is Pride? Maybe we think that we do not need anyone's help, let alone God's, or His Son's?

Jesus, I pray that I may draw ever nearer to You, so that I may receive the inheritance that is in You!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Road To Cavalry

" The great crowd that had come for the feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting: 'Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' ". [John 12: 12-13].
"Many spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields." [Mark 11:8].
The place where Jesus was crucified was called Cavalry. It was on a small hill overlooking the gate to Jerusalem, the place to where Jesus marched, on the day we now call Palm Sunday. The hill was in the shape of a skullhead, and also called Golgotha, or "Place of the Skull".
I can only imagine the feelings of Jesus, as He made the long walk to Jerusalem, and to Cavalry where He died. Perhaps He had a sense of dread, as is apparent in the Garden of Gethsemene after His arrival. He says to the disciples, " 'Sit here while I pray.' He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.' He fell to the ground and prayed. 'Father, everything is possible for you. Yet not what I will but what you will.' " [ Mark 14: 32-35].
I went to Palm Sunday Mass today. We went into the great church hall to hear the First Reading and to witness the blessing of the palms. Then, we each took a palm frond, and like the crowds accompanying Jesus into Jerusalem, we marched into the church.
I admit that I squirm at the feeling of dread that comes with Palm Sunday. Everyone knows to what end Jesus comes. How can it be good? The ancient Greeks sacrificed animals to appease the gods. How could we accept the greatest sacrifice of all, the Crucifixion of God's only Son?
What sacrifice would you make for Love? I grew up in a home that was dysfunctional and abusive. A few times during those years, I thought that God had forgotten about me. Like Jesus, I wanted to cry, "My God, why have You [abandoned] forsaken me?" [Mark 15: 34].
Yet, I did not get angry or lash out. I did not become rebellious, or run away. Instead, I tried to listen in church and I tried to emulate Jesus' ways : Truth, Light, Peace, Love, Humility. As in Isaiah, "The Lord wakened me morning by morning, wakened my ear to listen like one being taught. He has opened my ears and I did not become rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, I did not hide my face. I set my face like flint." [Isaiah 50: 4-7].
Of course, I was a mere child then, and I could not escape, although so often, I had fantasies of being rescued.
Many, many years later, after my father died suddenly, I took my mother back. She lived in an assisted community, but day after day, she came to my house, and blasphemed Catholics, and criticized my (Catholic) husband to my face. I dreaded this time in her life, when I had to care for her. But honestly, there was no one else. I am the only daugher. All other relatives were far away or frail themselves. I said nothing when she went about these speeches. I simply took care of her, the best way I knew how.
Friends, relatives, neighbors, thought I was a fool to care for her. My mother had always been mercurial-- cooperative and soft-spoken one minute, cruel and rejecting the next.
Christians speak of the dread that comes from being called to The Road To Cavalry. We see what we are called to do, we know the sacrifices that will be required, and the dreaded end; but, we cannot run from the calling that God puts upon us.
Not long after I took my mother back, I felt so overwhelmed that I sought spiritual guidance. That conversation led to my decision to explore conversion. I knew that I could not make the sacrifices required to care for my mother, without becoming closer to God.
My conversion was one of the hardest things I have ever undergone, because as I was undergoing conversion, I was subjected to the frequent commentary of my mother, who was rejecting Christians as weak hypocrites who were gullible and foolish!
And yet, I could only respond to the pain of my past by exhibiting Love. The answer for me has never been- can never be-- to hate back! I wanted to love back; I did not want to sin back, to become the sin-hater who slowly becomes the sinner.
A few months after my mother came to live near me, my best friend died of cancer. She had been battling this terrible illness for two years. Out of the sacrifice I had made to care for my mother came my conversion. Out of my conversion came the incredible gift of being able to receive the Eucharist at my friend's funeral.
Out of dying to self, forgetting and forgiving past pain, and humbling myself to serve the one who had pained me so deeply -- came the ultimate redemption, the gift of the Eucharist!
About a year after my conversion and my friend's death, my mother died. The day after her funeral, I walked into my church for Mass. Yes! I had a church now! I could call myself Christian. The pastors were there to greet me. A woman I know only slightly sat next to me and held my hand throughout the entire Mass. I sobbed. Choir members hugged me after Mass.
Jesus' sacrifice is a huge testament to Love. The way to honor that, and to thank Him for that, is to become the most gentle and loving Christ-follower we can be. This kind of Love is not easy. It is sometimes The Road to Cavalry, a road filled with dread.
Jesus, in emulating Your ultimate sacrifice, I die to self, and receive Your sacred Redemption.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.