Monday, December 30, 2013

World Day of Peace

"And you will all be brothers." [Matthew 23: 8].

I long for peace.

In my home growing up, I suffered black eyes. I went to school with black eyes. I went to a family wedding, wearing a beautiful pink ruffled dress, and black eyes. The real problem as to why I was getting black eyes was never resolved. I was told, "Stop getting black eyes. You are embarrassing us."

I went from violence in the home, to violence in the outside world. I went off to university, and one day a man followed me home. I was assaulted. I almost died that day.

To this day, I cannot stand even a movie showing violence. Part of me knows that the dramatic action is not real. Part of me feels that what I see on this screen is all too real to me.

There is violence at home. There is violence in the neighborhood. There is violence in the world. There is no peace.

World Day Of Peace 2014 is January 1, 2014.

In his World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis writes: "The ever-increasing number of interconnections and communications in today's world makes us powerfully aware of the unity and common destiny of the nations. In the dynamics of history, and in the diversity of ethnic groups, societies and cultures, we see the seeds of a vocation to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another. But this vocation is still frequently denied and ignored in a world marked by a "globalization of indifference" which makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves. In many parts of the world, there seems to be no end to grave offenses against fundamental human rights, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom. Alongside overt armed conflicts are the less visible but no less cruel wars fought in the economic and financial sectors, with means which are equally destructive of lives, families and businesses."

Make no mistake, friends, I watch network and cable television, I listen to the radio. I read three newspapers a day. I scan the Internet. I am aware of violence in so many countries.

In this year of 2013-2014, we have seen violence in the following countries:

Afghanistan: suicide bombings continue, as Taliban insurgents battle to regain territory, in light of U.S. withdrawal of troops
America : Mass shootings occurred throughout the country, including in Newtown, CT, Washington D.C. Navy Yard, and Centennial Colorado. Deadly bombings at Boston marathon by former Chechen citizens.
Argentina: violent street crime has risen.
Bangladesh: a pre-election rally turned deadly in Dec. 2013. Garment worker's rally over pay turned violent.
Burma/ Myanmar: religious violence between Buddhist mobs and Muslims.
China: deadly violence between Han Chinese and Uyghurs in Xinjiang.Threats of  violence over sovereignty of Senkaku islands, which are in dispute with Japan.
Columbia: Farmers' protests, over impoverishing farm policies, turn violent.
Congo: terrorists attempted a coup on Dec. 30, 2013 to rid President Kabila. A UN report in 2013 catalogued the violence committed by the M23: recruitment of child soldiers, sexual assaults and torture.
Egypt: Violence from clashes between Muslim Brotherhood and their foes. On Dec. 29, 2013, an explosion occurred near military intelligence units.
Guatemala: pervasive poverty promotes violent crimes.
India: Clashes in August 2013 between Hindu and Muslim communities have caused violent attacks.
Indonesia: religious intolerance against Christians, Ahmadiyahs and Shia Muslims is increasingly violent and deadly.
Iran: Despite an accord with the United States to limit the development of nuclear weapons, in Dec. 2013, a rocket attack hit a camp occupied by Mujahideen.
Iraq: The United States entered in 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein. Explosions and shootings continue to rock the country from the strife between the Shia and Sunni groups.
Israel: The Gaza continues to see Palestinian/ Israel conflict, with shootings, tanks and airstrikes in the region.
Japan: Japan's military has a five year plan to procure drones, jet fighters and destroyers, over the dispute with China for the Senkaku islands.
Jordan: Massacre in eastern Amman, Dec. 27, 2013 as part of country's tribal rivalries.
Kenya: Post election violence spiked after the election of Kenyatta and his running mate Ruto, both charged with crimes against humanity.
Kosovo: election violence in Nov. 2013 between Serbs and ethnic Albanians.
North Korea: President Kim Jung Un ordered his uncle executed for treason. He has also threatened a nuclear missile attack towards the U.S. and allies.
Lebanon: offshoot of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for Nov. 20, 2013 attack on Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
Libya: Militias remaining from the overthrow of Gaddafi continue to plague the country with violence.
Malaysia: tension between Malaysia and Philippines has led to violent clashes.
Nigeria: August, 2013, a Christian town was bombed. Boko Haram group is accused of crimes against humanity, including attacks against schools.
Pakistan: border violence between India and Pakistan. Continuing bombings of Christian churches by Islamist Pakistan Taliban.
Russia: Two suicide bombings since Oct. 2013 on behalf of Chechnya muslim terrorists.
Saudi Arabia: Ethiopian migrant workers have been physically assaulted by security forces, and many killed.
Somalia: Al-Shabab militants control the southern part of the country and are attacking foreign mission workers. Doctors Without Borders exited the country in August, 2013.
South Sudan: The Nuer tribe is battling against the Dinka tribe, and the Dinka President of the country. Thousand of  innocent citizens have died, because of tribal affiliation.
Syria: Civil war rocks Syria. More than 2 million refugees have fled the country. Strong evidence of chemical weapons used in 2013 against citizens. With chemical weapons under watch now, Syria is using barrel bombs packed with shrapnel.
Thailand: Violence rocked the Dec. 27, 2013 election protests.
Turkey: protests against the growing encroachment on secular interests turned violent, as the government used tear gas and water cannons to clear the crowds.
Ukraine: Violence broke out in Dec. 2013 at protests over the government's decision not to join the European Union.
Venezuela: the government in May 2013 sent the military with assault rifles into ghettoes to curb deadly violence.
Vietnam: Facebook organized picnics to gather together bloggers for human rights. Attendees were attacked violently by police, May 2013.
Yemen: Violence killed many in the Northern province as Houthi (Shiites) fought with Salafi (Sunnis).
Zambia: A Cornell Law School study reported in June 2013 shows that sexual violence against girls in schools is extensive.
Zimbabwe: Diamond mines in Marange are mined under violence and slave conditions, according to a human rights group.

You notice that I have not spared any country for political reasons. Violence knows no political party or ethnicity. Violence cruelly affects us all, equally.

Fifty years ago, in his book Strength to Love, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, " We must pray earnestly  for peace, but we must also work vigorously for disarmament and the suspension of weapon testing." We are now two generations past the day when he wrote these words. Where is Peace?

Pope Francis has even reached out to atheists and agnostics, to work for and demand Peace. He said, "I invite even non-believers to desire peace. Join us with your desire, a desire that widens the heart. Wars shatter and hurt so many lives!"

Pope Francis began his World Day of Peace message by saying,  "The family is the wellspring of all fraternity, and as such, it is the foundation and the first pathway to Peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its Love to the world around it."

May the Peace and Love that come from God spread throughout the world! We must pray for Peace. We also must demand it and work for it!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Feast of the Holy Family

" When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of The Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,        'Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.' Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod. When Herod had died, behold, the angel of  the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ' Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.'  He took the child and his mother to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archaelus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee."  [Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23].

At this point in the biblical story of  Jesus' life, there is talk in the region that a King was born, a Son claiming parentage from God. Herod is fearing for the future of his reign. He determines to hunt down this Baby and eliminate the threat, by killing the baby Jesus.

God, acting through dreams and angels, is protecting the life of His Son. But this forces the family to flee, from Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Israel -- to Galilee.

In sacred terms, this is the Holy Family. In God's sight, this family is perfect, Holy, heaven-sent.

In a secular sense, this family is, essentially, homeless. They are refugees, because the secular world cannot accept them. The Holy Family is chased, by fear of violence, over miles. They are literally running for their lives.

At this holiday time of year, we all long for the "perfect family".

But we ourselves, and our families, are much less than perfect.

In my family, my father worked reliably for almost 40 years in the same field. But every night, he came home, and in his quiet anger and despair, he made himself sloppily drunk. His anger?- -- he took it out on me.

My mother, sensing that her family was out of control, imposed ever harsher rules. She flailed frantically, trying to impose order on her chaotic world. In her own way, she took her anger out on her kids, as well, by insisting that they be perfect. Her perfectly rational rules became perfectly cruel.

I grew up isolated and alone. I thought I was the only one undergoing such suffering in the world.

After I left home and got an education; after I married, and became a mother; I began to lift my head out of my own field of traumas. I began to hear others' stories.

I had long thought that if anyone else dared to tell me their story, their story would somehow denigrate my own sufferings. I thought that mine was the worst story ever told. No one else could be in as much pain as I was.

It was a wise woman who told me that you cannot compare pain. For better or worse, our pain is OURS. We own it.

I look around me, and I see a woman who lost her long battle with cancer. She died way too young, leaving behind a young family.

I see another woman who, as a girl, was abused. She went on to marry an abusive man.

I see another woman who was abused by a sibling. She was the only one who was not in tears when the sibling died.

I think of the Lost Boys of Sudan. They had loving families, unlike mine. And yet, after they lost their families to war and violence, the boys faced a sea of traumas, charging antelopes, raging lions , militia with guns, and famine: atrocities that I never faced.

I am so very grateful for the family that I now have:  my husband and my son. But sometimes I wonder--is this family "good enough"?  I mean, none of us is related to each other biologically. I sometimes fear that my family is " patched together" like a crazy quilt. Is my family only second best?

What IS a good-enough family?

Consider the story of Davion Navar Henry Only, 15 years old, who was born in a Florida prison. He has no biological parents left. Unwilling to wait any longer to be adopted, he stood up in his church, wearing a black suit and holding a Bible-- and he asked for a family. He said, "I know God hasn't given up on me. So I'm not giving up either."  He received over 10,000 responses! Is THAT good enough?

Or, consider Jackie Turner, a teen from California, who placed an ad on Craigslist, asking to 'rent' a mom and dad for the holidays-- for $8. Jackie had been in the foster care system all her life, and had been starved and beaten by her foster parents. After placing the Craigslist ad, she held a program at her church where several teens were matched with honorary families. Jackie said, "This season is all about Love."

I am beginning to see that having a family is not all about being biologically related. After all, Mary was not related by blood to Joseph. Nor was Joseph related by blood to Jesus. And Jesus' father was God.

Family is about whom you love, and about who loves you. As Paul says in Colossians 3: 12-21, "Brothers and sisters,-- put on, as God's chosen ones, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. And over all these, put on Love, that is, the bond of perfection."

If Jackie Turner and Davion Navar Henry Only could stand up for Love, no matter what anyone else thought of them, so can YOU!

If Jesus stood against the rulers in Rome, who did not believe in Him and who feared Him so much, they wanted to kill Him, you TOO can stand up for Love. You can ask for Love. You can demand it in our world.

For all the beauty of the Holy Family, standing up for Love is the least that we can do!

[Related Posting: " My Imperfect Christmas", December 20, 2103].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Imperfect Christmas

" Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they had lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to quietly divorce her. But just when he resolved to do this, an angel of The Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins '. .  . . When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of The Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife. She bore a son and he named him Jesus." [Matthew 1: 18-25].

Christmas is not as joyous as it could be for me. Every year, I am afraid that I am not going to be ready for Christmas. I tell my family, "Stay out of my way, and don't ask me to do anything extra . I am the one who makes Christmas happen!"

I listen to myself, and what I hear is a frazzled self -- anxious, frustrated, irritated, maybe even a little angry, because, it seems that every year, Christmas has fallen on my shoulders.

I am anxious about the decorations. Is our wreath maybe a little too tired looking? Should we put up little white lights on the outdoor trees, to match the little white lights on the pre-lit wreaths? And what did ever happen to the grapevine reindeer that I thought I had in the attic?

I worry that the candles on my table will be crooked, and that my relative, who thinks she is Martha Stewart, will point out my obvious flaws.

I wonder, if I make a gourmet meal all from scratch, will anyone notice or care if the desserts are bought at a bakery? And what if I served a cheesecake for dessert, and no one wanted to eat it?

I feel sort of sorry for myself, because my parents are gone, my only sibling travels for holidays and my aunts, uncles and cousins live far away. Really, I HAVE no family, except for my borrowed one, in my husband's family.

I totally resent anything interfering with my Christmas plans, including inconvenient winter illnesses, my computer hard-drive crashing, or the invariable mega-snow storm that delays my holiday planning.

Then, I re-read the True Christmas story, and I think -- I must be crazy!

I do not have the perfect family. But Mary and Joseph did not exactly make the "perfect family"
either --- not in the secular sense. Joseph was a lowly carpenter, not at all "high society".  Mary was a young girl of about 14, probably illiterate, pregnant before Joseph married her.

Joseph wanted to quietly walk away from this 'problem'. But God intervened and talked Joseph out of his plans to exit this situation.

I used to bemoan the fact that all I have now is my own nuclear family, cobbled together over the years. But Mary and Joseph are not biologically related. There is no mention at all in the Bible of Joseph's father or siblings. And Jesus is, essentially, "adopted."

I am embarrassed about the violence in my past, and have a hard time accepting that I was meant to be born into this crazy world. But Jesus was born at a time when King Herod was out to find Him and kill Him, all for the rumor that Jesus was preordained to be the one True King. Jesus's birth was, literally, marked by violence.

I worry about whether my home and my decorations will be good enough for friends and extended family to visit. But Joseph and Mary had no place to stay in Bethlehem. They rested in a manger, where Jesus was born among the lowly cattle and sheep.

I may feel deprived that I have only my husband and son, but the fact is --- Mary and Joseph and Jesus are the most miraculous and holy family of three, ever to be created by God, and united as one!

Joseph and Mary and Jesus made the lowly manger the most sacred place associated with Christmas, for all year, and for all time.

I may worry about whether I have found the perfect gifts for friends and family. But I need to keep repeating to myself that it is JESUS, who is the one perfect Gift.

It is incongruous to celebrate the humble beginnings of Joseph, Mary and Jesus; and then go about putting ourselves into a frenzy, vainly trying to create an extravagant tableau for our own Christmas.

 By today's secular standards, the conditions surrounding Jesus' birth may seem like one awful, irrational "mistake."

I am learning that when things do not go perfectly, that is when an opening occurs, for God to enter.

This Christmas, I want to celebrate that the humblest events are truly the most joyous, the most holy, the most glory-filled, and the most miraculous of events EVER witnessed on earth.

May the workings of the Spirit this Christmas, in ways mysterious and unexpected, become your most miraculous moments this year.

[Related Posting: " Christmas In My Heart",  December 14, 2011]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Be The Message

 " When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his followers to Jesus with this question, "Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?" Jesus said to them in reply, ' Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.' As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, 'What did you go out to the desert to see? To see a prophet? This is the one about whom it is written: 'Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.' " [Matthew 11: 2-11].

Jesus is coming. Every Advent, we celebrate this blessed event again.

Imagine what it was like for the people of Jesus' time to confront Him and to determine who He really was?

John the Baptist had come along before the Christ, cleansing those who would follow Him, by baptism in the river Jordan. People were asking John the Baptist, was HE the Christ?  But John replied, " I am baptizing you with water, but the One who will comes after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals." [Matthew 3: 1-12].

Sometimes,  people wonder whom to believe?

Prophets speak and people listen. But Jesus reveals His true place as the Christ, by the miraculous changes that can be seen and felt and heard in His followers.

In Isaiah 35: 1-6A, 10, we are told, " Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine
recompense He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be
cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. "

Remember, dear friends, that as a young child, I was so downcast by the cruelties of my family, by the severe traumas and their utter lack of compassion, that I stopped speaking.

I was fed only intermittently. I began To tell myself that I was not hungry anyway.

I was told that there was no God. I took my Faith underground, because I was afraid that they could take my Faith away. After a time, I became blind to God, because I half -feared, and half -believed, that God did not exist.

I hid in my room and determined to make no sudden moves. I learned to walk noiselessly. Maybe that way, I would be safe. After a time, a sibling would sometimes lock me in my room. I was a prisoner in my own room.

My family controlled what I would eat, what colors I would wear, what I would believe, what I would study in school, who my friends were. I was oppressed in my own family.

But God sent people into my life to help me. These were Christians, who loved peace and who believed in helping strangers. Eventually, I met the Catholic man who would become my husband.

Nowadays, you can see that I no longer have to be anxious about where my next meal is coming from. " The Lord gives food to the hungry." [ Psalm 146: 6-7].

After I married, I started wearing a cross around my neck openly, and attending church. I began to understand that no one can take my Faith away. " The Lord keeps Faith forever." [ Psalm 146: 6-7].

As I moved away from my unjust childhood home, I was treated as a precious daughter by my husband's family.  "The Lord secures justice for the oppressed." [ Psalm 136: 6-7].

I escaped those times of being confined to my room. "The Lord sets captives free." [Psalm 146: 6-7].

I studied the Bible and began to really see the hand of Jesus, and the Grace of God, everywhere in my life.  "The Lord gives sight to the blind." [Psalm 146: 8-9].

I began to be less depressed, and more serene and even joyful. "The Lord raises up those who were bowed down." [Psalm 146: 8-9].

A friend has watched me go through all this. She says that I am being transformed before her very eyes.

I am speaking again! I am speaking the Word of God now. I embody the miraculous transformations, that you can see and feel and hear and touch. I was once a Ghost, someone who did not eat or speak or feel or sleep or make any audible noise or occupy space. I am a human being who was once lost, and is now saved.

In this space, I am nameless and faceless. I give you neither my name nor my photo.

It does not matter who I am. I am only the messenger for God. I speak for Him, and for His awesome power in my life. There is One so much greater than I am.

You cannot see Jesus directly. But you can see Him in the face of everyone who believes in Him and who speaks His praise and His Word.

I am the voice of one, crying out for The Lord.

I am the messenger.

By my transformation, I AM the message!

[Related Posting: " I Will Not Be Silent", January 23, 2013; " I Speak The Lord"s Name", February 19, 2013.]      

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Shop Like A Christian

" Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body and what you will wear. Is the body not more than clothing? And why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. Will God not much more clothe you -- you of little faith?" --[ Matthew 6: 25- 30].

When my son was a little boy, he asked me why almost all of his toys said "China", on the underside?
I explained that most things sold in the United States are made, and shipped here, from China.

He asked, " Why?" I said, " In China, it is cheaper to make things. But some people say that Americans should buy more things made in the U.S., because the people who work in China are sometimes very young and they are paid very little."

He replied, " The people in China need to make money, too. But they should be paid more, if they don't have enough money to live." My son was a little choked up when he said this.

Sometimes, the wisest things are said by our children, if we take the time to listen.

I think a lot about these matters, as I am now in full Christmas shopping mode. I think about what is on my shopping list, and what stores or websites I will shop from. Increasingly, I am thinking about where the items on my shopping list are coming from?

I have had this on my mind since the recent news reports about factory conditions in Bangladesh, where so many of the clothes sold in America are made.

I recently attended a lecture given by Elizabeth Cline, author of the book, "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion." According to Ms. Cline, the average wages in clothing factories in the United States are $10.58 per hour. In China, wages in clothing factories are $1.26 per hour. In Vietnam, wages are $0.53. In Cambodia, wages are $0.45. In Bangladesh, wages are $0.35.

Obviously, these wages are the reason why the clothes that Americans buy are made overseas.

But, in a word, why should we care?

Remember the factory collapse in Bangladesh in April, 2013? A young woman named Mahinur Akhter was trapped in the rubble for over 8 hours. Her ordeal made international headlines.

Mahinur was 15 or 16 at the time. She has no birth certificate, so she is not even sure of how old she is.

An article in The Wall Street Journal, on June 22, 2103, detailed her plight:  She was able to easily obtain working papers claiming that she is 20 years old. She works for $90- $100 per month. She works from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., but when there is a big deadline, she works until 3:00 a.m. or even 6:00 a.m., but is then required to be back at work by 8:00 a.m. She is required to finish a piece every 30 seconds. Workers are subject to verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and physical abuse for mistakes or failure to meet quota.

The day before the factory collapse, workers heard the walls cracking. The next day, workers were threatened with a penalty of a month's salary, if they did not re-enter the factory.

Most of what Mahinur makes goes to pay for her two brothers' school tuition. She is quoted in the Wall Street Journal article as saying, "People my age should be in school."

And so we ask, what about inspecting these factories, to be sure that they are clean and safe? An article in The New York Times dated September 2, 2103 reports that oftentimes, the factory that is made available for inspection is a perfect, model factory. The piles of new clothing there are actually made in substandard factories, elsewhere.

Then, we ask, what about limiting the workers' hours? A Wall Street Journal article dated September 20, 2013 reports that some factory owners keep two sets of books so that excessive labor cannot be detected.

Dear readers, Mahinur could be my daughter, my niece. She could be your sister or cousin. We are ALL the adopted children of Christ. "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; [but] if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy." [1 Corinthians 12: 26].

I cannot, in good conscience, buy clothes from Bangladesh, without thinking of Mahinur and her co-workers, laboring in slave-like conditions. Is a fashionista's drive to have 15 cheap T-shirts, in every single color they make, really worth the life of a young girl like Mahinur?

Elizabeth Cline, at her lecture, asked her audience to become more aware of where our clothes come from. She also asked that we simply buy less. Or, buy clothes from American factories, where we are more sure of working standards.

And she challenged us to stop thinking of clothes as disposable items. "In the old days," she said, "we used to mend clothes."

The story of Mahinur reminds me of the stories in the documentary "Girl Rising". We can watch that powerful film, we can applaud, we can even advocate education for girls, or donate a few dollars to the cause.

But in the end, what are we really DOING to help the situation of girls like Minuhar?

I like what Elizabeth Cline said at the end of her lecture. She said that, from traveling and researching for her book, she learned something. She learned "the power of individuals to change institutions."  

The only way I could say that better is to say, Let us learn of our own collective power to change our brothers' and sisters' lives around the world.

Shop like a Christian.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Peace On Earth

" If you want Peace, work for Justice." --- Pope Paul VI

" On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and of awe of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. . . .  Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his lips. Then, the wolf shall be guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like an ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord." [Isaiah 11: 1-10].

Re-reading this Scripture passage, I was moved once again by the beautiful image of Peace, so all-encompassing, that even mortal enemies amongst the animals shall lay down together.

These images remind me of the lowly beasts, such as the donkey and oxen and sheep, who pay homage to the newborn baby Jesus. This image has been the subject of countless Christmas cards and precious works of art.

And yet, where IS that Peace in all the world? 

A few years ago, I was talking to my son about how certain countries have hated each other for centuries. He was barely in grade school then, so sensitive that he started to cry at the prospect of warring nations.

He wanted to know more about these countries who are sworn enemies? I told him that because of atrocities during World War II, Japan and China hate each other. Even today, they are sparring over a string of uninhabited islands in the East China sea, named "Senkaku" by Japan and "Diaoyu" by China. A recent article on is entitled, "Why a Pacific War Is Possible: The Dangerous Hatred Between China and Japan."

There are other examples of long-standing national hatred: Turkey and Greece; France and England; England and Ireland; Israel and Palestine.

In this conversation with my son, I was pathetically accepting of this state of affairs.

But, my son would not accept this as status quo. He asked, "But, WHY?" Then, he told me firmly, "I am going to become a diplomat and I am going to talk to all these countries and MAKE them get along!"  My reaction: HOW did I get so jaded as to say, 'Well, that's just the way it is' ?

I learned that day, that the first step to Peace is to NOT accept it as inevitable. Re-read this Scripture and transform your vision of what is possible. There is a pure innocence about this Scripture that is poetic and awe-inspiring. I hope that everyone can refuse to dismiss this vision as mere fantasy.

Many years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, " It is  no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and non-violence. Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools."

In other words, we must fully face the urgency of this matter.  In matters of seeking Peace, there is no tomorrow; because by tomorrow, even more human beings will be sacrificed on the altar of hatred and war.

Ironic, that this Reading comes up this very week, in which the world lost a great leader for Peace, Nelson Mandela. He not only recognized the need for urgency and tireless commitment to Peace, he knew that his quest for Peace was one for Justice.

He was even willing to die in the fight for equality. He said, " But if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his activism. In prison, he contracted tuberculosis, and ultimately he has died of complications from lung disease.

Martin Luther King himself said, " Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement."  He also said, " Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself."

I pray that the world will see a vision of Peace that is possible. I pray that the world will see, once again, another visionary, a man or woman who is willing to urgently and faithfully work for a lasting Peace.

[Related Posting: "The Prince of Peace", December 20, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Throw Off The Darkness

" For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh." [ Romans 13: 11-14].

In this Scripture, Paul is speaking at a time after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Paul tells his followers that their salvation is nearer than ever. This is because Jesus has already died and been resurrected, and ascended into heaven for us. And so, we are ever closer to the End  of Time, when Christ will come again.

We cannot know when the End of Time will come, when Christ will come to be among us again. But we are called to be ready anyway. This is why the Gospel for this week says, "Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. So, you must be prepared." [ Matthew 24: 37-44].

All of this sounds awfully apocalyptic to our modern ears. Who talks seriously like this today?

But, today's Christian life does still embody the call to be ready, always.

All of which leads us to the concept of freedom of choice. Going all the way back to the Old Testament, Moses explained to his people: " See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments.

 My own family mocked Christians, and especially Catholics, as gullible followers, who blindly follow the Rules. Their chief criticism was that "Christians cannot think for themselves". They had this misperception that Catholics are some kind of spiritual robots, who unquestioningly do what the Pope says.

Or, my family would cast judgment on Christians for being hypocritical, when they stumble over the Rules and fall, and yet still claim to be Christian.

I do not think that anyone could get away with the excuse that they do not know the Ten Commandments. Even a small child has heard of the Ten Commandments.

My parents DID know the Ten Commandments. They were raised in Christian families. They just refused to follow the Ten Commandments, and they mocked those who did.

Sometimes I wonder how I could possibly have become a Christian? Well,  I learned how to make all the right choices, precisely by watching all of my parents' awful mistakes.

My parents never hugged me or said, "I love you." From this deep hole in my heart, I learned to love everyone. I learned that Love is the greatest Commandment.

From my father's bigotry, I learned to "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

From my family's material greed, I learned not to covet what others had. The more they tried to
control my behavior with bribery, the more that money became irrelevant to me, and the more I hated any abusive wielding of power. I learned never to make false idols out of money or power.

My family's verbal abuse truly wounded my soul. From this, I learned that hate is murder. I speak gently always, and I try to radiate kindness.

I grew up believing that I am ugly and worthless, because of how I was treated. A dear friend explained to me that they told me lies. From this, I learned to detest falsehoods.

Out of my parents' dysfunctional marriage, came jealousy and rivalry. I became the battle ground. If my father drank, his behavior towards me became possessive and dangerous. I learned to avoid alcohol and jealousy, a potent and toxic brew.

I have come so far today! I am exiting the darkness, and reaching for the Light. This is hard work, harder than I ever imagined.

Paul tells us exactly how to reach for the Light, though. He tells us in Romans 13 to "put on the armor of Light, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ."

This does not mean only to try to emulate Him. It means to cloak ourselves in Him .

It also means to throw off the darkness. That is a very powerful image at this time of year..

It is Advent, after all! Light some candles on the Advent wreath. Light the Christmas tree.

But above all, put on the Armor of God: " Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in His mighty power. Put on the full Armor of God, so that you can take your stand against [the darkness]. [ Ephesians 6: 10-18].  We never battle alone!!

Vow to BE the light, to counter any darkness you meet with Light! The darkness can fight, but it can never win. . . .

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

" And now, bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth; who fosters people's growth from their mother's womb, and fashions them according to His will! May He grant you joy of heart and May peace abide among you. May His goodness endure to deliver us in our days." [ Sirach 50: 22-24].

The grace of God and the bounty of His blessings to all of you and your families!

Never forget to thank God for ALL that you have. His bounty is never-ending.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ The King

" The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, ' He saved others, let him save Himself if He is the Chosen One, the Christ of God.' Even the soldiers jeered at Him. As they approached, they called out, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.'  Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, ' Are You  not the Christ? Save Yourself and us.'  The other, however, rebuking Him, said in reply, ' Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly . . . but this man has done nothing criminal.' Then he said, ' Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.' He replied to him, ' Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.' ".     [ Luke 23: 35-43].

My Wise Advisor has told me, you die in the way that you have lived. 

Therefore, if you lived angry, you will die angry. If you lived bitter, you will die bitter.

But, if you lived in peace, you will die in peace. If you lived in gratitude, you will die in gratitude.

In this Gospel, Jesus died the way He had lived. He died with all humility. He was confronted with rulers and soldiers demanding, "Are You not the Christ?"  Notice that Jesus did not shoot back, "Do you realize who I AM ?!"

Above all, Jesus died in Love. His last act was not to save Himself.  It was to love and to save others, who believed in Him.

I have all this in mind as I love and remember a friend of the family who died several years ago.

I first met this lovely Irish lady, Muriel, before I was even married. It was the first Thanksgiving after I had met the man I ended up  marrying. My family did not allow me to share Thanksgiving with his family, because we were not even engaged yet. But I was able to join them or dessert.

Dessert that year was at Muriel's house. I walked into her home, nervous and shy. But she sat me down, gave me a cup of tea and a piece of pie. I felt instantly welcome.

Many, many years later, her beloved husband died.  Then years after that, she was diagnosed with cancer.

I had married my husband, and we had moved away from the town where he grew up and where Muriel lived.

One day, I received a call from one of my husband's siblings: Muriel was traveling up to a hospital near us, for treatment.

Towards the end of her long battle, Muriel was admitted to a convalescent home IN the town where we lived. There was only one conclusion -- God had sent Muriel back to me, and I was meant to share her company and her stories.

Muriel had married late in life and never had children. I had a mother who was cruel and unforgiving.
For about 4-6 weeks, she treated me like the daughter she had never had. And I gained the kind of loving mother I had only dreamed of.

 Muriel was tall and slim and always, always impeccably dressed. Her wool tweed skirts, flat pumps
and cardigan sweaters, her pearls and her perfectly wavy hair, all marked her as a proper Irish lady.

And yet, she had a keen sense of humor. She was smart and almost sassy. Best of all, she called me "dear" and "honey", like a mother would. And if the weather was bad, she would call me, just as I was anxiously looking out the window, and she would tell me not to come, it was too dangerous. I knew she needed my visits, but always, she put others before herself.

Muriel refused to get "down in the dumps", as she called it.

I would urge her to reminisce, to tell me her stories. I would tell her, "Tell me again, Muriel, about the day that a horse showed up in your yard!"

She told me that story again several times, about how her husband was at work and one morning, she looked out the window and found herself looking straight into the eyes of a horse. This was not so remarkable, except that she lived in the suburbs of a large city. What on earth was a horse doing in her yard?!

We laughed until tears came down our cheeks, a good, belly deep laugh that we both needed. She told me how she called the police and they told her, "Right, lady." Then, she called her husband and he had to run home at lunchtime, to see it for himself.

One day, my husband's sister came in from out of town to see Muriel. We all knew that Muriel was near the end. That ebbing away was the "unspoken thing" in the room.

At the end of the visit, Muriel did not want to say goodbye, but she had to let us go. My husband's sister gave her a tight hug. But, I could not bring myself to hug Muriel. I could not believe she was so near to the end.

I was convinced that I would see Muriel again at the usual time the next week. So instead of hugging her, I gently massaged her feet and said, " See you next week."  Muriel smiled at me weakly.

The very next day, my sister-in-law called to say that Muriel had passed away.

For the longest time, I felt horribly guilty about how I had not hugged Muriel. About a year later, the call came upon me to convert. At Holy Thursday, I told my pastor that I could not imagine Jesus washing my feet! The pastor said, 'Actually, it is the most humbling thing that you could imagine.'

It was then that I knew that I had NOT done the wrong thing in rubbing Muriel's feet, instead of hugging her. No, I had been called to love and to serve Muriel. I had bent down to essentially anoint her feet.

But it was Muriel who had served me and loved me best. For she had served as a mother, with love and good humor, when I needed it most. She had given me more than I ever gave her.

I ask you:  How do you live? How do you love?

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Recipe For A Saint

" They will seize you and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have led you before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance will you secure your lives". [Luke 21: 12-19].

This passage is truly chilling, is it not? It makes one absolutely fear the call to become a Christian.

I remember "hearing" the call to convert a few years ago. I was filled with doubt. I wanted God, at the time, to just leave me alone and go away. I could not fathom the timing of the call.

After all, for fifteen years after I married my Catholic husband, my faith-less, God sneering parents were living far away from me. Why couldn't God have called me then? Wouldn't it have been so much more convenient to convert, on the sly, when my family was miles away, and blissfully ignorant?

But no, the call came after my father had died suddenly, and after my mother had moved near to me. Each day, she sat in my kitchen while I took care of her and fixed meals for her; and she would malign Catholics, saying, " The Immaculate Conception? You expect me to believe THAT!?" Or, she would announce to me that Catholics are gullible and ignorant. "Like sheep", she said.

I really did want to convert. But converting, right under my mother's nose, meant that I had to confront my Faith head-on. I had, since childhood, buried my faith deep down, because those feelings of Faith were scary and unsafe, in a house so dogmatically anti- religion and anti- Christ.

But that deep longing to know God was not going away. And so, I ran to my pastor in a panic.  But he offered no comfort. In fact, he said, "You can run, but you cannot hide."  Ouch!

I wish I had known about this Scripture that says, "But not a hair on your head will be destroyed."

At the time of my conversion, I was not sure what scared me more-- the persecution I was running FROM, or the infinitely powerful, all-knowing God, whom I was running TO.  Maybe a bit of both.

When I talked to my pastor about how huge and omniscient and even spooky God is, my pastor chuckled and told me, "Oh. You'll get used to it."

It was at the time of my conversion that I began to see that persecution is not always something you can run from. And, it is REAL. Religious persecution is not some archaic, Biblical event that never occurs in modern times.

I had felt the sting of it when my parents refused to stand in line at my wedding, at the time when I married my Catholic husband. I feared their wrath at holidays, and so I took to tucking my golden cross necklace under my shirt. Or, sometimes, my husband and I were disinvited to holidays, or pointedly not invited on vacations with extended family.

There were times when my father thrust his index finger in my face, even before my conversion, and lectured me about the Pope. He would say, "A politician who refuses to oppose abortion can be excommunicated?! Give me a break!" Or, " The Pope can tell a Catholic who to vote for, over the issue of abortion? Are you kidding me?! No one tells ME who to vote for!! "

After I converted, I lost not only family, but friends.

It is a special kind of lonely feeling when you are being persecuted. You feel as if you are the only one in the world going through this.

I think it takes reading and studying pieces of Christian history, to understand that we are not alone in being persecuted.

My favorite Saint is St. Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11: 23-28, Paul elaborates on some of what he suffered for converting to Christianity: " Are [others] servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this). I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger  from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and gone without food; I have been cold and naked. In Damascus. the governor had the city guarded, in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands."

Saint Paul was one of the worst persecutors of Christians, before his conversion. After his conversion, he became one of our greatest saints. (And yet, St. Paul declared that " I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. o, I worked harderr than all of them."-- 1Corinthians 15: 9].

After reading these passages about St.Paul, I feel so much less alone in my difficult walk in Faith.

I am certainly not nominating myself for sainthood, but I can learn so much from the Saints about how to walk this path of Faith:

First, St. Paul said it himself, he worked hard. The road of Faith is not a lazy road.

Second, St. Paul persevered. This is exactly what Jesus means when He says in today's Reading:
"By your perseverance, you will secure your lives." Perseverance means, literally, you fall down, but you get up and keep going, anyway.

Third, you rely on God's Grace. In this Reading, Jesus says, " [Your persecution] will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I Myself will give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute."  I love how here, we are made to understand that, through it all, God is there; we have only to listen!

Fourth: You do NOT have to be perfect! St. Paul began his Faith Walk by stoning Christians. Moses, the founding father of the Old Testament, murdered an Egyptian man whom he saw beating a fellow Hebrew!

At the end of his life, Paul said, " I have fought the good fight , I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." [2 Timothy 4: 7.]

You and I, too, by persevering, by working hard, by being open with a genuine heart to God's Grace and Wisdom, can withstand everything that comes at us, just for being Christians!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Lost Boys of Sudan

" For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost." [ Luke 19:1-10].

The history of Christianity is a history of movement. This history extends back in time, to the days of  the Old Testament, when Moses led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt.  Moses and the Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness and the desert.

We think today that these stories of the Old Testament are "metaphorical" or archaic. We cannot imagine bondage and years of wandering, or persecution and personal struggle-- all in the name of our Faith, and our cultural and religious freedoms.

But this ancient history, of bondage, trauma and exodus, is very much happening today.

I have recently had the unique opportunity to interview two men who grew up in South Sudan, and who came to America as "The Lost Boys of Sudan".

I first met Dut Tong several years ago. He is impossibly tall, but he is graceful. He moves with a slow, fluid gait, despite his height. But what I notice about him most are the intangibles --his brilliant smile, his peaceful spirit, and his utter joy. It is somehow perfect that "Dut" means patient.

Recently, I also met Dut's cousin, Clement Mou. Clement is articulate, pensive, quick to laugh, patient and gentle. Fittingly, "Clement" means merciful.

These men came from South Sudan, a nation in Africa bordered on the North by Egypt, to the East by Eritrea, to the West by Chad and to the South by Uganda. In the late 1800's Britain ruled Sudan as essentially a British colony. This is how Christianity came to Sudan.

Dut and Clement grew up in a small village in South Sudan, with their parents and siblings. A war had begun in 1983, in North Sudan, against the central government of Sudan. Several groups aligned themselves in the Northern capital of Khartoum: The National Islamic Front, the Militia of North Sudan, and three Misseria tribes locally know as the Maram.

There was talk in their little village of this war, far away in the Northern regions of Sudan. This enemy group was methodically moving from town to town, starting in the northern capital of Khartoum. But in 1987, this war came, in the form of a massive attack, to their own village.

Dut is not even sure how old he was at the time. The people in his village cannot read. There is no school. There are no calendars or computers. Dut estimates that he and Clement were about 11 or 12.

When the marauders came in 1987, they roared through the village in tanks, bulldozing houses, destroying crops, stealing the cattle. They forced friends, family member, neighbors, cousins, to kneel before them, then shot them in front of everyone. Clement watched his father, his brother, his friends being killed. Dut's one sister managed to escape.

It was then, Dut told me, that he knew that the war was no longer only in North Sudan,but that, "This war was for everyone." And he knew that this militant group was targeting Christians, and enslaving children.

Given the violence of the massive 1987 attack, Dut and Clement simply fled. There was no time to try to find relatives, grab any material things, or make a rational plan.

The boys became separated. They had no money for transport or food. They had no mode of transportation. I asked them if they had a horse or a donkey to ride. They chuckled at my naivete.

Dut said, "No, we walked."

At first, separated, each went from one nearby village to another, looking for family. Eventually, their travels became more about finding food and small jobs, in order to survive. Dut watched the cattle for the enemy, hoping in exchange for some food. He was working as a slave, for no pay. If he felt in danger, he escaped the enemy, but fell into their hands again some distance away.

Always, they were looking over their shoulders, alert for the enemy who could kill them at any moment. If someone approached them, they could not discern at first, if they were friend or foe.

Meanwhile, Clement had seen the Maram looting cattle, killing young boys and taking girls as slaves. In fleeing, he knew that he was running away from his parents, Dut, and all his relatives. He managed to join in with some other boys from his village or neighboring towns. They exchanged information, and discovered that all their towns had been wrecked. They began to realize that they would have to leave the area.

Those who fled traveled under cover, in jungles.  They encountered antelope that could gore them, and always, they had to stay away from the lions that could eat them. Clement watched a boy being eaten by a lion. They hid at night, in the jungle, when it was much more difficult to see the enemy in utter darkness. There was persistent famine, and boys were dying of hunger. There was pervasive disease, and no medication.

Separated, Dut and Clement traveled different routes, all the while desperately trying to avoid the men who were shooting Christians.

Dut walked north towards the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. I asked him how long did he think he had walked? He hesitated: " Thousands of miles. Maybe three years." He admitted, with a wry sense of humor, that part of that time, he may have been walking circles, looking for food. Finally, a Good Samaritan put him on a train for the last leg to Khartoum.

It was not safe in Khartoum, though. This was the North Sudan city where the Islamic Front had their main base. Dut could not openly worship or celebrate Christmas. He could be put in prison for being Christian. He stayed in Khartoum for 2 years, but he knew he had to flee again. 

He dearly wanted to return to South Sudan to search for his relatives, but he was scared that even if he did make it back there, the enemies from whom he had escaped so many times, would kill him. He decided to head for Egypt, traveling there by boat.

Meanwhile, Clement had joined with the Sudanese Liberation Army, a Sudanese militia group trying to defeat the enemy. As a young boy, Clement was given military training, to be prepared to protect himself against the enemy, and against animals such as antelope and lions. At times, the SLA sent Clement to the front lines of battle.

Clement was still on the move. He walked East to Ethiopia. He estimates that he walked three months to get there. Clement saw disembodied body parts along his travel route. There were aerial bombardments by the enemy trying to kill as many of these boys as possible.

He arrived in Ethiopia, destitute. He found his way to a refugee camp. At first, they slept ouside. Then, they built their own huts. The United Nations came into the refugee camp in Ethiopia, and brought food and medical supplies.

Clement lived there for 3 years. It was there that he was baptized and that he chose the name "Clement", meaning merciful.

In 1990, when the regime of Heile Salassi was overthrown in Ethiopia, the enemy attacked the refugee camp where Clement was living. A massive aerial attack killed most in the camp. Clement fled, along with a few others. As they crossed the Gulla River, most of them drowned. Clement knew how to swim, though, and he made it across.

Clement ended up in Pachala, on the South Sudan/Ethiopia border. The enemy attacked again.The refugees fled to Kapoeta, then moved to Narus, in South Sudan. Always, the enemy followed them and rained down aerial bombardments,trying to kill as many as they could.

In the latter part of 1992, Clement arrived with others in Kenya. He had walked a month and a half to get there. The UN was consistently following the refugees. In 1999- 2000, the United States Congress received information about the continuing plight of the South Sudan refugees. They were dubbed "The Lost Boys of Sudan". A bill was passed, allowing the boys asylum.

Dut, in Egypt, and Clement, in Kenya each applied for asylum. Clement had lived for 9 years in the camp in Kenya. Although they could have ended up in Canada, Australia or the U.S., miraculously, both arrived in the United States! Through inquiries among the community of The Lost Boys, they found each other.

Dut says that he knows that God saved him! He feels safe in America and is very grateful to be here. He is married and has a beautiful family.

Clement was 24 years old when he arrived. But, at the time of his arrival, he did not even know his age. He was married when he came to America, with one child and another on the way.

Clement is living up to his name today. He is a medical nursing assistant, administering mercy and healing to many in his care. He has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, and he has neared completion of his MBA, with a concentration in Justice Studies.

When Clement is not working, going to school, or involved with his family, he spends all of his accumulated vacation and holiday time, back in his South Sudan village. He recently went back to his village for two months to teach the village children, under the tree that serves as their school. Clement knows that the villagers, who cannot read or write,will have a much better future if they are educated.

I asked Dut and Clement what they wish for? I am humbled by the fact that they ask nothing for themselves, despite all they have endured. All they want is help for their village. They want their villagers to know God, and to be educated enough to protect themselves.

Dut told me that about 2 million Sudanese people have died from violence, famine and disease since 1983. He says that this war is not over; that this was a war over religion, a Christian war; that today, this war is "everybody's problem". He says that the international community must respond, and that people of strong faith must help.

A few years ago, the South Sudan government shut down the well in their little village. The villagers began to drink water from the lake. Children were dying, one after another. Dut's parish in America donated a new well. Today, the village has clean drinking water, and the children can live.

Now, their wish is for a simple brick building that can serve as a school. They also wish for books and school supplies. In the rainy season, the children cannot be educated under the tree, that has served as their school for so long. Dut says that the men in his village will make the bricks for the building. They would be able to use the building on Sundays as a chapel.

Not long after I contacted Dut, he said, "We are ready to tell our stories to the world."  How powerful it is that, although once "lost", Dut and Clement have been given a voice to tell their stories. I emphasized to them what an honor it is, that they have shared their stories with me.

In this space, I give voice to those who are voiceless. Dut has thanked me for providing faith to the hopeless. He has told me, " I believe that your strong faith has brought us to YOU!"

I call Dut "brother"now, and he calls me "sister". This is absolutely the true meaning of "brothers and sisters in Christ". It is fully what Christ intended, when He said to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The world has become a very small place, dear friends. We are all in this together and if we do not help each other, then we only hurt one another. . . . .

May God bless Dut Tong, Clement Mou, their village of Akochatong, and The Lost Boys of Sudan!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 11, 2013

God of the Living

" Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked Him a question,
' Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise the children for his brother. Now, there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally, the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the  woman be? For the seven had married her. '  Jesus said to them, ' The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die; for they are like angels; and they are the children of God, because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise, even Moses made known in the passage about the [burning] bush, and He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.' "  [ Luke 20: 27-38].

When I first read this Scripture, I was very confused. I was not sure how to take this reading, either in an historical sense, or in a contemporary sense.

What I have found out, first, is that this event occurred when Jesus was going from place to place, teaching about God, His Father, and about how to live.

At that time, there was no Christian church, and no Bible, per se. There was the Torah, the Jewish holy Book, comprised of the first five books of the Bible, from what we now call the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

The Sadducees were an aristocratic ruling class, and among the priestly class. They claimed direct lineage from King Solomon. They believed in the Torah only. Therefore, they preached the law.

And --they did not believe in the resurrection.

Then Jesus came, preaching that one can only know the Father through Him; and we find Him talking about one day going back to His Father, who resides in Heaven.

And so, now from this perspective, I can see how the Sadducees would have thought Jesus was radical. Or crazy. Or blasephemous. Or even a criminal, to even attempt to overturn the rational order of the time.

This was a time in Christian history, the time Before Christ, when there were great controversies about who was a "real prophet" and who had the straight lineage to God.

As for my own life, I meditate upon the concept of resurrection. I try to imagine a life where there IS no resurrection: no, not just my own resurrection, but Jesus' before me.

In the month of November, which begins with All Souls Day, we reflect upon the loved ones in our lives who have died. We are grieving their loss. But we also are greatly heartened that they live on!

This is what Jesus is saying when he replies, " [The children of God] can no longer die, for they are like angels;and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. . . . for to Him all are alive."

Many, many years ago, when my mother-in-law died, I was overwhelmed, distraught and even depressed. I knew all about the concept of resurrection. I KNEW that this truly good and loving woman had gone on to Heaven. But to me, I was still stuck in that secular sense that she was lost, gone, dead.

On her deathbed, my mother-in-law whispered to me her prediction that I would someday convert to Catholicism. What she said to me about that seemed so ludicrous at the time, I wondered if she was telling the truth. I concluded that she must be wrong!

It was not until I converted many years later, that I looked up to Heaven and smiled a huge grin up at my mother-in-law.  Finally, I was understanding that this life, and the next, are not just about the Rules of religion, as in the Torah.

No, this life is a continuum of the next life, in the sense that we are all children of God.  And therefore, it makes no sense to debate about rules of marriage in Heaven. In this life, and especially in the next life, we belong, not to any human being,but to God.

Recently, a friend's mother-in-law died. Once again, I felt a profound sense of loss and grief. But my friend corrected me gently, saying, 'No. She is in a much better place. She is no longer in pain. All of her wounds are made perfect now. Actually, I am very happy for her, because of where she is now.'

I see now why my own mother-in-law encouraged me to convert. She was essentially inviting me to the table of the Lord-- in this life, at the Eucharist, yes; and to an even greater table, in the future promise of the resurrection. She knew that if I made my Christian vows and lived lovingly I, too, could rise to Heaven, and we would see each other again.

What an irresistible invitation! My  mother-in-law was not going to die, she was simply going home to her God.  And she is waiting there for me!

And now, my earthly grief can soften, and give way to sacred Joy, because God is not God of the dead, but God of the living.  For, to Him all are alive!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lover of Souls

" Before the Lord, the whole universe is as a . . . . drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But You have mercy on all, because You can do all things; and you overlook people's sins that they may repent. For, You love all things that are, and loathe nothing which You have made; for what You hated, You would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless You willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by You? But You spare all things because they are Yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for Your imperishable spirit is in all things! Therefore, You rebuke all things little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in You, O Lord!   [ Wisdom 11: 22 - 12: 2].

[Note: for those reading a Protestant Bible, the Book of Wisdom is considered non-canonical or apochryphal by those denominations. Therefore, the Book of Wisdom does not appear in that Bible].

I grew up in a harsh family, who judged everyone and everything. You would have thought that, as the only daughter and the baby in the family, I would have been cherished; or even immune from derision. But I was not spared their cruelty.

I lived in what was, in essence, a Cold War.  I was the battleground between my parents, who seemed to take their anger at each other out on me.

I was not like anyone else in that family. I was exquisitely sensitive, creative, emotional, spiritual. And my parents were always carping, ungenerous, even abusive.

I gradually internalized that anger and Hate. I was not even aware of it until years later, but I had slowly started to believe that I did not belong in that family. Then, I began to believe that somehow I was simply an awful cosmic mistake. Before long, I began to hate myself.

This dysmorphic view of self can spin out of control. Childhood abuse survivors fight daily cycles of self-loathing. One day, I may experience uncontrollable feelings of "Ugly" burbling up, like so much muddy detritus from a hideous past. The next day, " Worthless" may be the theme. The following day, "Guilty" may stream through my waking consciousness, as if I am still sentenced to bear the Guilt of all the things that I did not do, for the sake of my parents' sad marriage.

By the time I grew up and met my husband, I used to tell him that I felt as inconsequential as a dust mote. Most days, I felt as worthy as a crushed bug.

Sadly, this is all too common for children who endure traumatic childhoods. Elizabeth Smart, kidnapping survivor who now speaks out for other survivors, has said, " I'll never forget how I felt, lying there on the ground. I felt like my soul had been crushed. I felt like I wasn't even human anymore. How could anybody love me, or want me or care about me? I felt like life had no more meaning to it."

It was a few years ago that a dear friend gave me my first Bible. I found myself paging through the Gospel of Matthew. It was the "self-help" book that I realized I had been longing for. This was reliable advice because it came from God.

I found Matthew 10: 28- 31: " Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. . . . So don't be afraid; you are worth far more than many sparrows."  I suddenly realized that no matter what anyone could do to me, especially physically, no one could kill my soul. I realized that, even if I saw myself as smaller than a sparrow, God loved even the sparrows and He cared for every one of them.

That God could care so much about a tiny sparrow, I found a bit hard to believe at first. But from there, I was able to recognize the cycle of "Ugly", "Worthless", "Guilty" for what it was-- it was the abuse talking! The self-loathing was not "Me". I began to talk to myself and to tell myself that the "Ugly/Worthless/Guilty" rhetoric was a Lie. All were lies.

Recently, I found this Scripture from Wisdom. And tears came to my eyes. Finally I see the Truth about myself. "Lord, You loathe nothing which You have made; for what You hated, you would not have fashioned."

In my life, I have endured much trauma, including facing death many times. And yet I have been saved, I have lived!  I have told myself after each such trauma, "I guess that God has a reason to keep me here." I see now the Truth of Wisdom11-12: "How could a thing remain unless You willed it?"

I am still afraid of harsh judgment. I crave Love and Mercy from others. I am not perfect, but I need a gentle hand of correction. I want to be good, but I fear condemnation. How beautiful it is that Wisdom says: " You rebuke all things little by little, warn them and remind them, . . . . so that they abandon their wickedness."

And in the end, it is so very healing to enter into a loving relationship with God, who encourages us and corrects us like a gentle Father. For He regards each one of us as so very precious. He truly is a lover of souls and His imperishable spirit is in all of us.

It is by this process, little by little, that I believe in You, O Lord! And, from an outpouring of Your Love, I now believe more in myself.

[Related Posting, " My Precious Life", October 2, 2013; " Hating This Life", March 25, 2012.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Way Better Than You

" Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee [an expert of the law], and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself: 'O God, I thank You that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, 'O, God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." [ Luke 18: 9-15].

I am so humble, so retiring, that at times, when I have attended an event, people have sworn that I was not even there!

The truth is, all of my humility comes from being a witness to all of the extravagant pride expressed by my family.

You see, I grew up with people who used to say the very things that the Pharisee said, in his so-called prayer.

My own mother used to repeat with pride how much she paid in taxes, and how the amount she paid was probably more than anyone else paid. Somehow, she felt that this made her a better person than all of those "losers", who did not have enough income to pay so much tax.

She used to disparage the Christians who attended church regularly. She said they were hypocrites, since they were the adulterous ones, who were having affairs behind their spouses' backs. They were the ones who disobeyed the law, but who pretended to be so holy, as they sat in the front pew at church every Sunday. She would tell me that the people who always went to church needed God more, since they were the ones so incapable of accomplishing anything on their own merits.

Then, there was my father. He thought that our English heritage made us superior to everyone else. He had nasty and vile names for every ethnic group on the planet. He judged others merely by their country of origin, not by any true knowledge of who they were as an individuals.

The more my parents insisted on elevating themselves over others, the more embarrassed I became. The more I shrank into myself.

Every night at the dinner table, I heard the litany of self-promotion, such as, "Thank God, I am not like the rest of humanity." I did not want hear any more superior pronouncements from my imperfect family. Who had appointed them the arbiters?

I used to want to stay invisible for this reason. I hated how humans judged each other. Would I be judged that way? Would I never be good enough for anyone?

Out of intense dislike for self promotion, I have become humble. I have been called unassuming, gentle, modest, quiet, self-effacing. I call myself a Nobody, a Nothing. I do not want anyone to notice me. I prefer resting in a forgotten corner.

And yet, I have come to find out that God not only notices the humble, He actually selects them as His messengers. God elevates the lowly. He praises them, glorifies them.

I have been reading lately about Moses. We think of him with as a man with a thick mane of curly hair, a dramatic figure with fiercely determined eyes and a strong grip on the rod of God.

But, in fact, Moses was a reluctant hero. When, In Exodus 3, God calls to Moses out of a burning bush that is never consumed by fire, Moses reacts in fear. Moses hides his face, "for he was afraid to look at God."

When God calls Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses says, "Who am I that I should bring them out of Egypt?" ( Exodus 3: 11).

When God tells Moses to invoke His name when convincing Pharaoh to let his people go, Moses says, "But suppose [Pharaoh] does not believe me or listen to me?" (Ex. 4: 1).

Even when God gives Moses the miraculous power to turn his staff into a snake, Moses points out his limitations, saying, " I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." (Ex. 4: 10).

Then God says, " Now go, and I will be your mouth and teach you what you are to speak", (Ex. 12).  Even then, Moses says, " O, my Lord, please send someone else!" ( Ex. 4: 13).

The humility of Moses prefigures the humble origins of the disciples, and even of Jesus Himself.

I myself have asked my pastor, 'Why would God choose ME? I am only a woman, a wife, a mother, an ordinary citizen.'

And my pastor has told me, 'So was Mary.'

And Jesus was "only a carpenter."

And the disciples were only fishermen.

God, in His infinite wisdom, can challenge us. He can promote us. He can, recognizing our humility and humble origins, choose us to prove His Divine strength, through us!

And so, now, when God calls me, I am going to try to teach myself not to say to Him, " I am afraid. Who am I to do this? Who would believe me? Pick someone else. You cannot mean that you have chosen ME. For I am a Nobody."

God makes us in His own image. We ARE somebody. We are all His messengers.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Persistent Widow

" Jesus told His disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always, without becoming weary. He said, ' There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, 'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.' For a long time, the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, 'While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me, I shall deliver a just decision for her, lest she finally come and strike me.' The Lord said, ' Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to His chosen ones who cry to Him day and night? Will He be slow to answer them? I tell you, He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?' " [ Luke 18: 1-8].

I have often wondered what this passage of Scripture could possible mean? The judge in this parable is fully secular, lacking in compassion for the lowly widow, and slow to respond to her cry for justice.

Is not the Greatest Judge, God Himself? How can God be compared to a corrupt secular judge?

In the Quest Reflection Booklet for Small Christian Communities, the commentary on this Scripture says, " If a dishonest judge can be forced to render judgment by the persistence of a woman who simply will not give in to the apparent hopelessness of her situation, the gospel asks us to wonder how much more an infinitely loving God will be drawn into our prayers." [ (c) 2013].

This Scripture asks us, How much will you pray? How much will you persist?

I remember a time in my life, when I prayed unceasingly for years. This was because the prospect of becoming a mother seemed hopeless for me.

So many of my family and friends were getting married and having children. I got married, but I was married for so many years, and I remained childless.

This was a long time spent wandering "in the desert"!

I used to hate to go to the mall to buy pajamas, because you had to walk through the baby department to get to the sleep wear department.  Just that walk alone, through the baby department, felt like a slap in the face. I would suddenly start to feel depressed, seeing all those adorable baby outfits.

I used to see women who were expecting a baby, and I would say to myself, 'I really believe that I could be just as good a mother as they will be. So, God, why is it that I am denied this blessing for so long?'

I thought maybe I should try to fix this situation myself. I gave up on caffeine. I started exercising and taking vitamins. I ate a better diet. I consulted various doctors. I had testing done.

My husband and I even bought a home big enough for raising children.

Finally, I began realizing that my situation was pretty hopeless. I began to fear that I would never become a mother.

Then, I asked a friend-- a Christian-- what do you do if your situation seems hopeless?

She gave me a copy of the Novena of St. Jude to pray. St. Jude is the patron saint of the hopeless. I figured, that pretty much summed up my situation-- hopeless.

Now, I was still on the fence about joining a church. I was not Catholic then. But I believed in God (and still do).

Every day, I followed a new routine:  I set the alarm early. I went for a walk as the sun was rising each day. What a beautiful way to renew my hope, in the dawn of a new day!

Once I got home from my walk, I made coffee. As the coffee brewed,  I faced the kitchen window in the direction of my church. At my kitchen window, I had hung a cross that I had fashioned out of Palm Fronds, from Palm Sunday that year.

Every morning, I would pray the Novena. When it came time to state my Special Intention, I prayed, "God, and St. Jude, I pray for a happy, healthy baby to raise, in Jesus' name." When I said, "In Jesus' name", I meant that I would teach my child to know Jesus and to follow Him. How could God deny me that Intention?

Now--- I prayed this Novena and Intention daily for TWO YEARS! If I ever forgot to pray it one day, I prayed twice the next day.

Was I foolish? Or filled with Faith? Or desperate?  Maybe a bit of all three.

I began to feel after awhile, like I was nagging God. What would His reaction be, that I was being such a "pest"? Eventually, would He call down to me and tell me, 'Enough already! I KNOW what you want!' ?

Maybe He really was "working on it", only I did not see anything happening. How could I trust that something was happening behind the scenes, when I could not see it?

Every day became the same to me. Every day, I determinedly asked God for the same thing, using the same words. Every day, I told my husband, as we were drinking our morning coffee, 'Maybe today is the day we find out if our baby is coming.'

When our son was finally born, after 15 years of married life, a friend asked me, 'HOW did you wait so long, with no complaint, no anger, no hopelessness, no despair?'

I told her, it was because I had Faith! I really did trust that God would handle this problem for me.

This Scripture asks, How much will you persist? But Jesus also asks, " When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on earth?" In other words, Jesus asks, not just, 'How much do you ask', but also, 'How much Faith do you have?'

It took far longer than I expected to become a mother. Nothing happened in the way that I expected. It was God's way, God's timing.

But, in the end, our son was born. And he really is "happy, healthy and raised up in Jesus' name! " He serves at our church. He serves and protects his friends at school. He reads his Bible. He has a strong sense of justice. He is a gift!

And yes, I still have that cross, fashioned from Palm Fronds. The cross is now in my son's special treasure box. And I have told him, that he must keep that special cross forever.

" Be always thankful, pray continously, give thanks, whatever happens." [ 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18].

[Related Posting, " Putting the Last First", August 25, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Jesus Heals

" On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was traveling through the region between Samaria and Gallilee. As He entered a village, ten lepers approached Him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying,
'Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!' When He saw them, He said to them, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He lay at Jesus' feet and thanked Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God, except this foreigner?' Then, He said to him, ' Get up and go on your way; your faith has saved you.' " [ Luke 17: 11-19].

I grew up in a home with no Love and no Faith. I felt, even as a child, like an alien in a foreign land.

We stopped attending church after my grandmother died. It wounds the soul to be told as a child that it is necessary to go to church, and that there is a God; only to be told at age fourteen, that there IS no God. I would ask to go to church and was told, "We don't do that any more."

It wounds the soul to fear not being fed dinner. I remember at age five, realizing that, on certain nights, there would be no dinner, and that I would have to find food another way.

It wounds the soul to be told that Nana was Irish, only to be told, "We are English"; and, "The English are superior." 

It wounds the soul to ask often, as a child, for an expression of Love, only to be asked, "Why do you ask for this?"

A few years ago, when my father had died, and my best friend was dying way too young, and my mother was terminally ill, I finally had to face that I needed healing.

This hit with a vengeance, especially when my chronic lung disease came roaring back, at that time of so many deaths. Suddenly, I entered the medical world, of lung tests, breathing meters, doctors, inhalers,  medicines that tasted vile. And still, I could not breathe.

For the first time in a long time, my world was upside down. There were times that I did not know what day it was. So many things that I thought were "right", seemed suddenly, horribly wrong.

At this point in my life, when I had not received Communion in decades, I turned to a priest. I was not sure where this would lead. All I knew was that I was miserable.

The priest told me to meditate and pray. I kept "hearing", " Only say the word and I shall be healed." The priest told me that this was the call to the Eucharist.

But what needed healing? And what did the Eucharist have to do with it?

I was beginning to see that it was a lot more than my lungs that needed healing.  It was a lifetime, a world of hurt.

This is what happens in the story of Jesus and the lepers. All ten are healed by Jesus, physically. But you notice that nine " keep their distance".

Only one makes the effort to approach Jesus. And that one is a foreigner. He is an outsider. He appreciates more than anyone, the power of a healing gesture.

You know, there is healing. And then, there is Healing.

I usually hate asking for help. In my childhood, asking for help meant breaking my habit of staying below the radar. If you got noticed in my world, you got hurt.

When I turned to the priest for help, I knew that I needed to get closer to God. All of the things that I was battling, going back to the earliest times of my childhood, were too much for me to battle alone any longer. As the priest sat at his desk in his office, writing out a Scripture for me to reflect upon, I had this image that he was like a doctor, writing out an Rx.

Indeed, on EWTN, Father Andrew Apostoli has said, " Adversity prepares you to receive the Holy Spirit".

I began to see that there was a big hole in my heart. Soon, I began to ask God to help fill that hole.

In this parable, ten lepers were healed. But, only one leper was transformed both physically, and spiritually. This man ran to Jesus. He did not keep his distance. And Jesus said, "  Your faith has saved you!"

Being wounded, body and soul, is a terrible thing. But the need for Healing has brought me closer to Jesus. I did decide to choose a church and to convert. I did decide to follow Jesus. In a very emotional moment, I did receive the Eucharist again.

Every time I receive the Eucharist now, it is a transforming experience. I am overcome--physically and spiritually-- with feelings of God's grace, and with Healing from Jesus. I say, Thank you, for the blessings I have received.

 And I have been stronger ever since.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Mustard Seed

" The apostles said to Jesus: 'Increase our faith.'  He replied, ' If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea', and it will obey you.  " [Luke 17: 5-10].

 I grew up in a home without Faith. My grandmother died when I was age 14. It was then that my parents stopped taking me to church. They labeled Christians as losers and hypocrites. They banned church; and they spoke of God as if He were only a pathetic myth for the gullible. My mother used to say that, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." As if Faith and church were invented by powerful men, to keep the lower classes deceived and meek. As if . . . .

After my parents took church away, I made my Faith as small as possible. I tried to make my Faith invisible, because if no one could see the Faith that I had, no one could take it away from me, right?

If my parents got into a heated discussion about faith and religion at the dinner table, I became mute. I was afraid that if I admitted what I thought about God, that they would turn against me. I was never sure what punishment I would get, but I was never brave enough to find out.

My childhood was filled with fear. I grew up in a war zone, only the war was a battle of mother vs. father, brother vs. sister, father vs. daughter, mother vs. daughter.

In that house, no one ever hugged me or said, " I love you." I received either no touch whatsoever -- or harmful touch.

My mother could turn cruel in an instant.

My father seemed always to be seething mad. He could not seem to work out his anger with my mother. So he took it out on me.

At the hands of a sibling, I was bruised, locked into my room, called ugly every day. My room was booby trapped. When I cried, my parents told me that I was "too sensitive."

It was when I came home as a twenty-something, to announce that I was marrying a Catholic, that I felt their full fury. This was a Battle. Out in the open. About Faith. My parents told me point blank to find someone else. They refused to stand in the receiving line at my wedding. After my wedding, I took to wearing a gold cross, but I hid it under my shirt.

Almost ten years later, a dear relative became sick. He had to go to the ER. Suddenly, he was admitted to the hospital. 

After an inital x-ray, the doctors announced that they strongly suspected cancer, and a particularly
virulent form of it. If diagnosed, he would be dead in a few months. I found myself sinking into despair.

I had fought for so long. I had left home, I had earned degrees. I had done all the right things. I was fighting all these Losses in my life. No warm, loving mother. No gentle father. No sibling(s), as an ally.

Now this!! It was Un-fair. Where was God?

One day, the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law. She asked how was I doing, with this relative so sick? I burst into tears.

She said, " Do you have faith that everything will be okay?'

I snapped at her, " I HAVE no faith." I felt that my Faith had been shrunk down so small over the years, that it had become eroded, made invisible. What good was it?

I feared that maybe God really was a mirage. Or that He had forgotten me. He KNEW that I had no loving father or mother or brother. And for Him to take away my dear one?! That was IT.

My mother-in-law said to me, "Well. I have enough Faith for both of us." And she told me that she was going to pray and that I was going to pray with her. And she was going to put my prayer intention on the Prayer Network at her church. And then this dear one would live. I was so shattered, I almost did not believe her words to me.

We waited for what seemed forever, for the date of exploratory surgery.

The day of the surgery, I was at home, waiting for word. Suddenly, the phone rang. It was the doctor. The shadow on the x-ray was not cancer. It was only an infection.  My dear one would be fine!

I burst into tears, I sobbed so hard, I could not speak. I praised God!

And this was the first time that I knew that the tiniest bit of Faith is enough. We do not need to pray, " Increase my faith."

God has given us all the Faith that we need. That tiny seed of Faith that I had hidden inside of me all those years was still there! That bit of Faith had done its work!

That Faith is not found solely in church. That Faith is not found solely in the gold crosses that we wear. That Faith is inside us. No one can take it away. And that Faith inside us is always enough.

(c)  Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.