Sunday, July 29, 2012

Five Loaves and Two Fish

" Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him. He said, 'Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?' He asked this only to test his disciples, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. [One] of his disciples spoke up, 'Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?' Jesus said, 'Have the people sit down.' The men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, 'Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.' So they gathered and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of loaves left over. After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, 'Surely this is the Prophet who is come into the world.' [John 6: 5-14].

When I meditate on the Reading, what I see is a foreshadowing of Jesus giving the first Eucharist, blessing the bread and saying, 'Take this and eat from it.' To this day, in churches all over the world, we receive Jesus' bread, and there has always been enough to eat.

I think this is because the bread symbolizes the life-giving love that Jesus gives us! That love is plentiful, it is generous, it never ends.

By this miracle of the loaves and fishes, the people recognized Jesus as Prophet. But we are all called to be Prophets.

I like to think that, therefore, we are all called to recreate the Loaves and Fishes miracle, every day. We are called to make something sacred out of very little. We are called to turn a tiny gesture into endless Love.

As a child in a dysfunctional family, I tried to create an atmosphere of Love. When I was about 12 or 13, I volunteered to tend my mother's garden. I brought flowers into the house to beautify what was essentially a very ugly atmosphere. A few stalks of leaves and flowers brought God's beauty into the home. A tiny gesture, a lot of Love. Loaves and Fishes.

When I grew up and got married, my husband and I bought our first house. Our neighbor had a huge vegetable garden across the whole width of his property. He produced a bountiful harvest: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini. One day, he gave me some zucchini. I went home and baked zucchini bread, and brought him a loaf. Loaves and Fishes.

Several years ago, my best friend was diagnosed with cancer. I was shocked and devasted by the news. I knew that, medically, I could not save her. That was up to the doctors-- and God. But I did try to rescue her and her young family with Love. I told everyone I knew about her plight. Word spread. People donated meals, volunteered to run errands, to carpool, to mow the lawn. The family never had to worrry about their day to day needs. Loaves and Fishes.

An elderly neighbor is widowed and lives alone. She is nervous at night, but until recently, she never confided her fears. One day, she asked me if I knew anything about gardening. I thought about all the gardening I did as a child and how awful that felt, trying to gain love where there was none. Yet, I ended up planting some little flowers in my neighbor's front beds. She told me how happy she is every time she sees the little flowers. Loaves and Fishes.

Recently, I heard a poignant story about a homeless man who did not own a scarf to keep him warm in the winter. I cried over this. I know what it means to not have basic needs met. In my closet, I had bins and bags of unused yarn. I began to knit scarves for the homeless shelter. People would ask me what I was knitting? When I told them the story of the man without the scarf, they offered to knit scarves, too. Some, who did not know how to knit, donated yarn. Loaves and Fishes.

"Loaves and Fishes" is real. Every day. 

Now I ask you: Do you dare to practice "Loaves and Fishes?" The tiniest gesture can mean a world of Love to someone. How much do you dare to give Endless Love ?

What is the miracle of "Loaves and Fishes"? It is the alchemy of Love, the miraculous process by which almost nothing-- a tiny seed-- becomes something Sacred, a never-ending source of nourishment for the soul.

[Related Posting: "Loaves and Fishes", July 27, 2011.]

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

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Come Away and Rest

" The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.' People were coming and going in great numbers and they had no opportunity to even eat. So they went off in a boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.They hastened there on foot. . . When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them many things."[Mark 6: 30-34].

It is summer. Time to go away and leave the world behind a bit. Time to visit with family. Time to stay up and watch the stars come out and the moon rise above the horizon. To sleep in for a few hours the next morning, or to take a nap. To go swimming and feel the soft waves lap against one's shoulders.

What strikes me in this Reading is that even Jesus needs to get away to rest. So who are we to think that we can keep going and going?

How often our days are such a blur, that we realize that it is already 3:00 and we have not even eaten today?

I confess that sometimes, I am sort of addicted to this busy-ness. I get anxious if I am sitting alone, doing nothing. As a general rule, I regard sitting quietly as "purposeless behavior", and therefore, a waste of time.

I remember several years ago, when I was working full time, and I was on vacation, out of the country. I was supposed to retrieve voice mail by calling a 1-800 number. When I found out that the 1-800 number did not work outside of the United States, I was elated! I thought, 'Wow! I am really getting away with something here!' This joy --that I was actually having a vacation totally free of office worries-- was tinged with guilt. My boss had warned me to stay connected at all times. With this 1-800 number in my wallet, I could not enjoy my vacation, with an open and relaxed heart-- and truly leave my responsibilities behind.
Even though I am not working in an office any longer, I still struggle with leaving everything behind, and "going away to a deseted place to rest." I have had many such stressful vacations in recent years.
In early summer 2006, my best girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer. She was scheduled for intense treatment precisely during the time when I would be away with my family. I hated to leave her and her young family behind. She would need me. I raced around for a month beforehand, compiling lists of people willing to offer help. I still felt guilty going away to rest.
In the spring of 2007, my dad died abruptly. That left me to care for my frail mother. Once again, I almost did not want to go away. I hated to leave my mother, even though she was in assisted living, and other relatives were around to look in on her.
In the spring of 2008, my best girlfriend died. Once again, I felt guilty being away. I wanted so badly to be around, for her husband and her kids.
In the spring of 2009, my mother died. I had so much to do to clear out her place and settle her affairs. I left for vacation feeling overwhelmed, and guilty about all that I had to do.
In 2009, my father-in-law's wife had also died. Since he was now alone, I hated to go on vacation-- even though he had neighbors who did so much for him and other family who would be visiting.
In 2010, my nephew landed in Intensive Care from an awful accident, right before we were scheduled to go on vacation. I constantly checked my e-mail and voicemail for word on his condition. I hated to be on vacation while he was in such bad shape.
Why are we not able to get off of the world for awhile and rest? Do we believe that we are so indispensible? Is it ego? Do we really think that the world will end if we go away for a short time? Or is it fear?
Someday, I am going to learn how to turn off the laptop, the tablet, the smartphone, the landline, the television. I am going to go away to a deserted place, and I am not going to beat myself up over being on vacation.
I tell myself that if I am not healthy and rested, then I am no good to myself or to anyone else. I cannot serve God, or my loved ones if I am strung out and anxious.
The hardest part in being a Christian is knowing when to love and serve; and when to go away and rest. It is NOT true that to be a good Christian, we need systematically harm ourselves in service of others, until it hurts and we can no longer stand! This is not what God expects from us.

Jesus struggles with this too. Jesus knows, that at times, He needs to eat and to rest, away from the crowds. He knows when to return, out of compassion, when the flock has no shepherd to guide them. Loving others sometimes means sacrifice, sometimes means taking a well deserved rest.
Jesus, like You, I pray that I will know when to love and serve; and when to go to a deserted place and rest.
[Related posting: "Summer!", June 22, 2011]
(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Good Pastor

 "Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: 'Take nothing for the journey except a staff -- no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but do not bring a second tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.' " [Mark 6: 7-11].

The call to the priesthood has not changed much in over 2,000 years. When a man is called to the priesthood, he travels light. He brings no food, and few possessions. He leaves his moneyclip and his valuables behind. The priest is provided with vestments from the Church, he owns a simple set of everyday clothes, a few books and personal mementos. To pack and move on is a very simple task, indeed.

Today, in a rectory or retreat house room, there is "a single bed, a desk and chair, a sink, a rocking chair, and a crucifix on the wall.[From "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything; A Spirituality For Real Life", By James Martin, SJ].

 A priest is married to the Church. He stays in his parish or mission as long as he is called to live there. He celebrates most holidays either alone, or with another priest. When he is called to move on, despite deep regrets at leaving the church that has been both his home and his workplace, he obediently moves on -- just as the Apostles did before him.

I wish more of us would give clergy members the credit that they deserve. I have had pastors telephone me when my mother died. When I returned to Mass the day after my mother's funeral, a pastor greeted me just inside the door of the church. I was so desperately sad, I wanted to bolt, but he was there leading me into exactly the place I needed to be.

Pastors celebrate the birth of our children, and they baptize them. They are there to offer our children their First Reconciliation and their First Communion.

I get almost deathly sick with my chronic lung disease sometimes, and when I finally make it back to church, the pastor is always there to tell me, "Take care of yourself."

There ARE good pastors today, good priests, who take their job as Good Shepherds very seriously. A few clergy- not all of them Catholic-- have committed egregious and criminal acts, for which they can and should be punished.

But priests, and the Catholic Church do not deserve to be universally vilified. I was reading an article recently that was written by Sam Miller, prominent Cleveland Jewish businessman. In this article, he states, "Do you know that the Catholic Church educates 2.6 million students everyday at a cost to the Church of 10 billion dollars, and a savings to the American taxpayer of 18 billion dollars.The students go on to graduate studies at the rate of 92%." Who do you think teaches these students? Priests. Nuns. Catholic believers.

Mr. Miller goes on: "The press. . . has been trying to totally denigrate in every way the Catholic Church in this country. They have blamed the disease of pedophilia on the Catholic Church, which is as irresponsible as blaming adultery on the institution of marriage. Let me give you some figures that Catholics should know and remember: 12% of the 300 Protestant clergy surveyed admitted to sex  with a parishioner; 38% acknowledged other inappropriate sexual contact in a study by the United Methodist Chruch; 41.8% of clergy women reported unwanted sexual behaviors. Meanwhile 1.7% of the Catholic clergy has been found guilty of pedophilia; 10% of Protestant ministers have been found guilty of pedophilia. This is not [solely] a Catholic problem."

I admit that I agonized over my call to convert to Catholicism, which came at the time of some of the worst evidence of abuse in the Church. It took all I had to separate out the few nefarious men from the good of the whole of the Church. I had to recognize that most priests are like the pastors I know, who are gentle and wise-- who are men to be only admired.  

A friend and wise woman told me: "WE are the church! Your friends, your neighbors etc." That is, we are ALL called to be Good Stewards, and to love and care for one another.

Mr. Miller, (a Jewish man, not Catholic!) concludes: Walk with your shoulders high and your head higher. Be proud to speak up for your faith with pride and reverence, and learn what the Church does for all other religions."

I cannot condone the actions of a few. I do not want to be associated in any way with what they have done. I can only stand up as a Christian, and try to do good and be good, in a world that is often so very wrong. I would say to you, that many, many priests are admirable examples of this ideal as well, if only we would care to look.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Am Just Me

" Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out. . . My [child], if you accept my words, and turn your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand what is right and just and fair -- every good path.  For wisdom will enter your heart." [Proverbs 1: 20-21, 2: 1-10].

Every once in awhile, a good book comes along, that changes your mind, that touches your heart, that imparts pure wisdom.

I have just finished reading such a good book, that has changed me, touched me, made me wiser. The book is "Just Cate", a dual memoir by Noelle Alix and Angela Martin. In this book, Noelle and Angela, lifelong friends, recount the story of their enduring friendship. In alternating voices, they tell, as well, the story of Noelle's daughter Cate, a child diagnosed at birth with Down Syndrome. Along the way, as Noelle and her husband raise Cate, Noelle's faith, while faltering at times, ultimately deepens.

This book has touched me for so many reasons: I endured a very difficult childhood. I was in an environment where I was not safe in my bed at night. I used to keep myself up at night, until everyone in the family was in bed. In that time, I would read by the shaft of light that came into my room from the hallway.  

In recent years, I have been unable to read books any longer. Reading has become associated with those times of feeling unsafe. The fact that I was able to read "Just Cate" is a miracle in and of itself. This book has become a significant part of my healing journey!  If I could meet Cate, I would tell her, "Cate, you got me reading again!"

Cate has given me wisdom in so many more ways. When I was young, no one ever hugged me or said, "I love you." I had years when I feared that this meant I was unloveable. In this book, I was struck by how family and friends insisted on holding baby Cate all the time. Here is a tiny girl, who is "different", but who receives so much love! I learned that we are all imperfect, but we are all loveable.

As the years went on in my insecure home, I began to shut down. I stopped speaking at age ten. It is still hard for me to speak my mind. I agonize over whether I have said too much about myself; or whether I have said too little to defend myself. But then I read about how Cate went up to each person in a doctor's waiting room and asked everyone what was wrong. She asked each patient, "You okay? You feel better?" I need to remember that it is always okay to be outspoken in your love.

Some nights, growing up, I was not fed dinner. I began to hoard candy in my room. I developed "food rules": analyzing which foods go with which other foods; or eating food groups one at a time, and in order. Then I read that Cate eats lemons! I thought this was about the old cliche of, 'When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.' No, Cate goes one step further.  She eats the lemons. I guess I need to learn to be less anxious about what I eat.

Over time, I tried very hard to be invisible. In my house, being conspicuous was dangerous. I began to dress carefully in order to blend in. And then there is Cate, who does not worry about what she wears. She wears what she likes, even to her mother's dismay. I wish I could be that way. . . .  I am working on it.

Like Cate, I have a chronic lung disease. Every time this disease spins out of control, I fall into despair. Sometimes, the treatments feel worse than the symptoms themselves. I know that I fight this disease.  But I have learned something from Cate. At times, she needs to wear a vest to break up the congestion.  She cheerfully declares, "Hate the vest", and she doesn't dwell on it.

I have had times lately when I feel so broken and useless from the damage of my past, that I wonder, 'Who would want to be with me, or even want to know me?'  Then, I read about Cate, who in our society is the very definition of imperfect. What I see is a girl who loves everyone, who knows who she is and what she wants-- a girl who has spunk!

I am on my own personal journey of healing now. I am trying to learn to speak my mind, with love. I am trying to worry less about what I wear and what I eat.  I am reading books now! I am trying hard to accept my lung disease and not waste my energy fighting its very existence. 

In the end, my journey is focused upon Wisdom. I want to accept my imperfections, my frailties. I am telling myself: if Cate can be "Just Cate", why can't I be "Just Me"? Yes, I am broken, but I am exactly how God made me.

There is "nothing wrong with Cate". There is everything right and just and fair about her. The priest who gave Cate her First Communion said, 'She is a tremendous gift.' And she IS truly a gift: to me, to everyone.  If only you care to open your heart to her wisdom, you will receive a hidden treasure, the gift of Cate!

[Resources: "Just Cate", a dual memoir by lifelong friends, Noelle Alix and Angela Martin. Available at; and at

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

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Obstinate of Heart

" The Lord said to me, 'Stand up on your feet and I will speak to you. 'As He spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. He said, 'I am sending you to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people I am sending you to are hard of face and obstinate of heart. And whether they listen or fail to listen -- for they are a rebellious house-- they will know that a prophet has been among them. Do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and though they are a rebellious house. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen nor fail to listen.' " [Ezekiel 2: 1-8].

My parents were hard of face. They rarely smiled. They wore grim faces. Theirs was not to smile and spread joy. Their life was a daily routine of drudgery and toil. Their outlook was one of constant criticism and judgment of  others. No one ever measured up. Not even me.

My parents were obstinate of heart. They were cold, ungenerous. When I was a toddler, they would force feed me what I hated. By age five, I was asking on a daily basis, what was for dinner? If it was something I would despise and gag on, I knew I would get no dinner. I knew that I would go hungry that night. If I asked, at age five, for a nap, I was told I could not be tired because I was five. But I knew the Truth, that I WAS tired, so I put myself down for naps.

I felt like Ezekiel in today's Reading. I was sent to a rebellious house. But I was only a child, whereas Ezekiel was a man.

How could I  possibly have dealt with these people? God tells Ezekiel, "Do not be afraid of them or their words." But they called me ugly every day and when I got angry, they said that I was too sensitive.

God told Ezekiel, " Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you."  Surely, I felt their stings and barbs. I was told, "Not everyone can be as perfect as you."  They booby trapped my room, so even my own bedroom was not a safe haven. If I complained, they kicked me outdoors.

God tell Ezekiel, "Whether they listen or fail to listen, they will know  that a prophet has been among them." Sometimes, I would tell my family, 'We need to give to charity.' They would mock me for this.   

These times remind me of today's Gospel in Mark 6: 1:   Jesus returns to his hometown to preach. As He began to teach, the listeners asked, "Where does He get these things? Isn't this the carpenter?" I was asked the same thing often times: "Where do you GET this stuff?!" Or, "Where did you come from, under a toadstool?"

Jesus chides them, "Only in  in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house, is a prophet without honor."  I would ask to go to church and I was told, 'We don't do that.' Like Jesus, I was amazed at their lack of faith.

I have felt a bit of guilt in recent years that I was not able to, in essence, convert my family, to somehow convince them that a life of love and generosity and joy is a life better lived. But, like Jesus, I could  not perform any miracles there.

All these years, I thought I was the weak one because, over that rebellious house, I could never seem to win out. I thought that my family was too strong for me. Yet,  in 2 Corinthians: 12,  one of  my favorite Biblical Scriptures, St. Paul says: " When I am weak, then I am strong." And so I ask you, who was the weak one in my house? Was I the weak one to stand up to them and say that we should give to charity or go to church?

Was I the weak one to take it upon myself to do all the family mending and sewing, and to tend my mother's garden? Was I the weak one to feel Love by giving it? To speak and behave in Love, whether or not they listened? Or failed to listen?

I did what Jesus did. I  ministered to them , I tried to love them. But when no miracles of love transpired --as Jesus did, I packed my things and I left home. Perhaps, in retrospect, they thought that I was crazy. Or perhaps, someday they will see that a prophet had been among them.

I speak this, not to glorify myself, but to say that we are all called to be prophets. We are all called to speak and to live in Love, whether others listen or fail to listen. My family did not change me by being hard of face or obstinate of heart.

My parents are gone now. BUT --I still love. I still live. I have not changed. I am the immutable one, who believes in the power of Love over all hate, over all hardness of heart, over all  lack of faith.

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Celebrating My Independence

The Fourth of July is a significant date in American history. It is the day on which The Declaration of Independence was signed by the 13 original colonies.

The Revolutionary War may have started over the argument of the colonists' desiring no British "taxation without representation", i.e., against substantial levies from England, without the ability to vote as a full citizen.  But the reason that the Pilgrims came here in the first place, well before the colonists, was chiefly for religious freedom, not economic freedom.

After a long Revolutionary War, the United States Bill of Rights was passed in 1791. There are ten articles in the Bill of Rights, among them, freedom of religion, freedom of  speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from unlawful search and seizure, due process under the law, right to a speedy trial by jury, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

I see how we Americans behave and think, and it seems to me that we take these freedoms for granted. How do I know?

All I have to do is to consider my own past:

We have a right to freedom of speech. Yet, after I married a Catholic, my dad would point his finger in my face and angrily declare, "Catholics refuse to support a political candidate who favors abortion? Give me a break!"  My own family was not supporting the right for Catholics -- and anyone  else-- to speak their opinions freely.

We have a right to freedom of assembly. After my dad died, I moved my mother near me.  With this move, my mother got a chance to meet some of my neighbors and friends, people she had never met before.  One day, she said to me, quietly, "What?-- are ALL of your friends Catholic??!" She was very disapproving, as if she had the right to tell me who to hang out with. My  mother is gone now. I choose my own friends, for whom I do not apologize.

We have a right against unlawful search and seizure. No one can come and, without legal reason, touch our stuff, rough us up, etc. When I was a child, there was no lock on my bedroom door. Family members could -- and did-- boobytrap my room. I would stay up late until everyone was in bed, terrified over who would come into my room and who would harm me. Now, I am grown and in my own home. I can sleep at night, secure that I am physically safe in my bed.

We have a right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. It seemed that, growing up, I was always being blamed for committing some act I did not do, or being punished for something that was not my fault. I don't know what I did wrong, but one day I came home from school and all  my stuffed animals had been given away.Years later, in grad school, I was the victim of a violent crime. My family did not allow me to come home to heal. Tough love? No; cruel punishment.

We have a right to freedom of religion.  Yet, when I was 14, my parents stopped taking me to church. I would ask to go and they would say, "We already did that." Over time, I felt my faith withering up and floating away. Today, I am grown and married. I live in walking distance from my church. I can enter my church any time I want. I attend Mass regularly and I am deeply grateful for that.

This Independence Day, I am celebrating my own independence. I have all of my freedoms now. But of all my freedoms, I think that the most important one to me is freedom of religion, because that is where the soul lies. For, if we have no soul, we are not truly human.

There is great debate recently about the role of religion in America. In his book, "Coming Apart", Charles Murray presents stark data that America is rapidly becoming a secular society. Murray cites that 59% of white working class Americans describe themselves as totally non-religious.

There are some who would give into this trend of secularization. They would give up on religion altogether, as an archaic and unnecessary institution. I was startled to read in the Wall Street Journal (February 18, 2012), an article by Alain de Botton, author of "Religion For Atheists." In this book, he seems to assume that America has already given up on religion and has decided that a wholly secular society is better anyway. Then, he mourns modern society's loss of sense of community (?!). In conclusion, he proposes that we take the best from religion when it comes to feelings of tolerance and community, but leave aside the pesky inconvenience of  theology. He proposes that we open a Restaurant of Agape (brotherly love), where we can all share a meal together, but stripped of the sacred meaning of the Eucharist.

Is there hope for religion in America? I gained a lot of hope from reading an article in the June 25, 2012 edition of Time magazine. None other than liberal columnist Joe Klein argues in an article, that the government sending out checks alone will not cure what ails America. No, he says, we need faith-based programs to care for our poor, our elderly and our frail citizens, precisely because they offer more than a mass mailing of "cold, impersonal checks. " The churches offer a "loving community that is not judgmental." Their mission is "to comfort and console."

I would say to you that Love counts for more than all the checks in the world. Love is priceless.

This Fourth of July, I will remember all of my freedoms. But chiefly I will honor my freedom to worship my God. Call me crazy, but after I sleep safe and secure in my bed, after I give thanks for my friends and family, and for the merciful ( not cruel) judgment of God ---I am going to Mass. I am going to stand up in church and be counted as one citizen who is grateful that I can go to church whenever the spirit moves me!

"One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

(Related posting, "Freedom of Religion", March 7, 2012).

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