Saturday, March 30, 2013

Where is Your Joy?

" What has happened to all of your joy?" [Galatians 4: 15]


Joy is in short supply today. Maybe it has become unfashionable, uncool.

We want to remain straight-faced, unflappable, unreadable. Joy is not self-contained. It spills over, it is gloriously messy.

We are so very busy. We are driven to fill each moment with busyness. We don't want to give up our addiction to productivity for one moment. But relentless busyness is the enemy of Joy.

We are keyed up, wired to devices-- our smart phones, our laptops, the Internet, tablets, instant messages on Twitter, the intermittent lure of "Likes" on Facebook. Media has made us more advanced, more precise. But the media is "becoming" us. We are heading for eyeglasses that allow us to "see" the Internet by voice activation. If we "become" media, we become more like machines. But inescapable mechanization kills Joy. Because Joy is so very human.

Joy is in the real world, not in the virtual world. Joy is in Nature. Joy is in face-to-face contact. Have we killed the real world? Have we killed human contact? Have we killed Joy?

The early Christians were so joyous over the Risen Christ, that others thought they were actually drunk. Maybe they WERE drunk. Drunk with Joy!

Easter gives us the very real promise of Joy. Easter is the grandest, "Yes, but . . .", that the world has ever seen.

Easter confers the Joy of  becoming alive again.

I almost drowned when I was four. Yes. BUT, my mother's arms lifted me up out of that suffocating water and I lived.

In my early twenties, I almost died a violent death at the hands of an attacker. Yes. BUT, I prayed to God to live-- and the attacker stopped trying to kill me.

I can dwell in the realm of death and repeat to myself for my entire life, that I almost died. I can dwell forever in that Dark Place.

OR, I can turn my hopeful face to the Light of my Redemptions. I can live in the Realm of possibilities and hope.

I used to think that I was responsible for creating my own Joy. I do not think that is possible. We cannot manufacture Joy. But we can allow Joy to find us.

Joy resides in such tiny moments, that if we are too busy, or preoccupied, or overwhelmed, we will miss it.

Joy is fleeting, evanescent, ephemeral. I have found Joy in a butterfly that flitted past me. Everyone else was too busy to notice. But I saw it. And it was as if God had winked at me.

I have found Joy in prayer. When I pray and God answers me, He is speaking to ME! Out of all the billions of people in the world, He took time to notice me. What Joy, to feel God in my life!

I have found Joy in simply being with loved ones. No agenda, no itinerary, no productivity goals. Being with the ones whom I love, has invited in laughter, hugs, and peace.

I have found Joy in being in the present. Not dwelling in my ugly past, or worrying about the future.

I find Joy when I cease fighting my life. My life-- ugly, complicated, unruly-- simply IS. Jesus did not fight His life. He did not waste His life trying to defend Himself from his detractors. He simply WAS. The Serenity Prayer says: "Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it." Acceptance brings Joy.

I have described my life as "My Palm Sunday Life". [ March 24, 2013]. It has been a walk towards things I must do.  But those are things that I dreaded. Why can't our lives be more like, "My Easter Life"?  Have we banished Joy? Have we outlawed Joy?

Where is YOUR Joy?

[Related Posting, "Easter Joy", April 23, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

To really see Joy, I have to slow down. I have to go outside.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Stations Of The Cross

Today is Good Friday.

It is the day on which Jesus was executed.

The women weeping and wailing, and the agony of Mary, constituted His funeral.

I find it astonishing what effect there is when we tell the Truth, simply and plainly.

We are surrounded today by media-- advertisements everywhere, on the supermarket cart, in the backseat of a taxicab, on the Internet, even in certain restrooms, in airports, on Face Book; media streaming in the doctor's office, public service announcements in elevators, in malls.

Everywhere, we are bombarded by spin and commentary. The media claims to provide valuable information. In the end, media only confuses and obfuscates.

Here is the plain Truth about Good Friday. Here are the captions to the Stations of the Cross:

1) Jesus is condemned to death.

2) Jesus carries His cross.

3) Jesus Falls Under the cross.

4) Jesus encounters His mother.

5) Simon helps Jesus carry His cross.

6) Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

7) Jesus falls the second time.

8) Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

9) Jesus falls the third time.

10) Jesus is stripped of His clothing.

11) Jesus is nailed to the cross.

12) Jesus dies on the cross.

13) Jesus is taken down from the cross.

14) Jesus is placed in the tomb.


Could this "will of the mob", to crucify Jesus, happen again? Sadly, I do believe so.

[Related Posting, "The Replication of  Evil", Nov. 8, 2012.  Recommended reading, "Ordinary Men", by Christopher Browning. Related visuals, "Lenten Meditations, Feb. 27, 2013].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Thursday

"  Jesus knew that His time had come to leave this world and return to the Father. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, abd that He had come from God, and was returning to God. He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel wrapped around Him. He came to Simon Peter, who said, 'No, You shall never wash my feet.' Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.' " [ John 13: 1-8].

I remember asking my pastor about five years ago, what was this business about Jesus washing His disciples' feet? Shouldn't it be the opposite? Shouldn't WE kneel down and reverence Jesus?

By kneeling to wash his disciples' feet, Jesus took the form of a slave!

To my fascination and, almost horror, I found out that on Holy Thursday, many parishes reenact the washing of the feet.

I had the exact same reaction as Simon Peter: I could NEVER allow Jesus to wash my feet!

My friends, there are so many barriers to our Faith and I think that I have lived them all!! ---

Innocence, which in my case, came from being a mere child and believing that Faith can be found only in church.

Physical barriers: When my family stopped taking me to church, I gave up on my Faith. I thought they had taken my Faith away, and that, with my church being clear across town, I had no way to get to church to find it again.

Over-confidence: when I was finally able to break free from my faith-less, abusive family, I guess I thought that everything would be okay from then on; so, why did I NEED God?

Doubt: I began to half-believe what my family said, that there is no God, and that going to church is a "waste of time and money".

Fear: When I finally began to make a serious effort to investigate and nurture my Faith, I hid my crucifix, my Bible and Catechism books upstairs in my house, so no one in my extended family could see them. After all the Catholic-hating rhetoric growing up, I thought that I was doing something wrong, trying to further my Faith life.

Exhaustion: I became tired of fighting for my Faith. "This is too hard!", I told God.

But the worst barrier for me was the last one that came before my Conversion: feelings of worthlessness.

From my abusive childhood, (which goes back to a time when I was pre-verbal), I have this awful tape that goes through my head: " Ugly"; " Guilty"; "Worthless".

Pick a week, and one of these themes is no doubt going through my head, in an endless, psychic Mobius strip. A faithful friend says to me, "Why do you allow the Dark Side to keep repeating these lies about you? Because they ARE lies!"

The Truth is, we are all children of God and we are all worthy to receive God's Grace. I have finally realized that I will NEVER reap the Promise of Jesus, or of God, if I can never feel worthy enough to approach Jesus and allow Him to cleanse me. This is what Jesus means when He says, 'Then you can never have a part with me.'

Every year, on Holy Thursday, instead of cringeing, I am going to ask myself, "How ready am I NOW to approach Jesus and allow Him to heal me?"

And, if I can allow Jesus to heal me, what a gift! For then, I will be strong enough to go forth and to heal others!

[Related Posting, "Ready For God", Nov.8, 2011]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

My Palm Sunday Life

" Christ Jesus, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, [ reached, achieved.]  Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and humbled Himself , becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." [Philippians 2: 6-11].

It is Palm Sunday. In church, at Mass, we grasp palm fronds by the handsful, the way that the disciples and the crowds did, as Jesus marched to His certain death upon the cross. We walk solemnly into the church, in a funereal parade, following the pastor, and the altar server lifting high the Cruficix.

Every Palm Sunday, I feel this sickened pit of dread in my stomach. I know where we are going. Everyone knows where we are going. We do not want to go there. But our heavy steps take us there anyway.

This is what Jesus did for us-- as God in human form, as teacher, as friend. He walked solemnly, with few words, to His death.

We are all called to "die to self", on this Palm Sunday, and on every day . . . .

And what does this really mean?

I "died to self" in my childhood home. As abuse upon abuse piled on, I became Nothing, so that no one could find me; and so, no one could persecute me. I ate little and became a whisp. I took a vow of silence, so that my words could not be held against me. I slept little, so that I could remain on watch. I showed no emotion, so that no one could believe that they had gotten under my skin.

I did not rebel. I " gave my back to those who struck me. My face I did not shield from buffets. I set my face like flint". [ Isaiah 50: 4-7].

Many, many years later, when my father died abruptly, I took my mother back. Despite all the ugly things that had gone on, I cared for her in her last years. She had rejected me, mocked me and abandoned me. I did not WANT to take her back. But I also did not want to become the one who rejects and abandons in turn. So I took her back anyway.

There are some things that we do out of extreme Love, even though we do NOT -- with every nerve of our being -- want to do them.

Even while I cared for my mother, I was caring for my best friend, who had become seriously ill with cancer. She had called me after her diagnosis and asked me to take over for awhile. My heart sank in dread. I could not imagine managing things for her. It was a huge task. How would I even know what to do? But she told me that she trusted me! As much as I simply wanted to sink down and spend my days crying, I rose up and I got to work. This was a Palm Sunday kind of dread, but I did it anyway.

Whether we realize it or not, it is Palm Sunday every day for us as Christians.  Perhaps you have not died to self in such a dramatic way as I did. But every day, we are asked to do things we do not want to do, in the name of Love. Every day, we are called to walk Christ's path to Gesthemane, that leads to the Cross. Every day, we are swallowed up and spit out of the whale, like Jonah, and sent to the opposite shore, to Ninevah, to preach to those who will not listen to Faith!

How to "die to self" and therefore, become more Christ-like? Start small. Start with the everyday:

I do not WANT to awake at 6:30 a.m. every day to ensure my son eats a good breakfast and to get him off to school. But I do it anyway and I do it with Love.

I do not WANT to run to the market right before it closes, to buy milk or bread, when I did not realize earlier that we had run short. I want to slam the money down at the clerk, because of how expensive food is these days. But I go to the market anyway, and I even smile at the clerk.

I do not WANT to make dinner every night, but I do it anyway, because time spent breaking bread with my family is so very precious.

Dying to Self means loving deeply, loving from the heart, loving the way Christ did-- totally and unconditionally, for US!

If we focus on the feelings of dread, life becomes a chore. If we focus on the Love, life becomes a Joy!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, March 22, 2013

War Is Not a Game

" [My job, firing air to surface missiles] is a joy for me, because I'm one of those people who loves playing Play Station and X Box, so with my thumbs, I like to think I'm probably quite useful. If there's people trying to do bad stuff to our guys then, we'll take them out of the game, I suppose. Take a life to save a life." --Prince of Wales, Harry, who fires Apache Hellfire missiles, rockets and 30 mm guns in Afghanistan, against the Taliban.

" [Prince Harry] doesn't have the brain to know that there is a war here." -- Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan.

Oh, the lure of  glowing fire from our deadly weapons. This fascination with weapons is a barely disguised desire for unbridled power.

I grew up in a war zone. It was a Silent War within my own family, marked by parental alcoholism, cruelty, abuse and neglect. This War was the only thing I ever knew. I WAS the battlefield, and I bore the scars from the endless War: bruises and black eyes from physical abuse, medical neglect, verbal abuse ( being called ugly every day, and a Failure), failure to thrive because of an uncertain supply of food, abandonment even in a life and death situation.

I hate War. I do not care about what St. Augustine said about a " Just War". If he even ever said it.  I will not argue politics, or terrorism, or diplomacy here. These are not within the realm of my expertise, nor my purview. In refusing to take sides here, I do not believe that I am relinquishing any power of rhetoric: Jesus was apolitical, yet, He was the Prince of Peace.

But when someone as high-profile as Prince Harry (aka Captain of Wales) claims that War is just like a video game, I cringe in horror. And I will speak the Truth about War.

The first War that I have known, that ever held the promise of a "clean war" was Operation Desert Storm in Iraq in January, 1991. I watched television footage of the invasion (euphemistically called an "Operation"). All I saw was black and white video of a bomb strike, surgically taking out a building. No muss, no blood, no feeling of actual human beings being hurt or killed. The decimation of humans with the touch of a button, high above the scene of war, makes it all too easy to kill.

But the belief in a "clean war", an "easy war", is a Myth.  

Are you aghast when I say that it does not matter who "wins" a War? Arguably, my family "won"-- yes, they succeeded in breaking me. I can heal, somewhat, but I will always be fractured. Yet, my family, my cruel abusers, did not "win" either. Who wants to know them?

No, there are no winners in War. I tell you, BOTH sides lose.

Journalist Russ Hoyle, former senior editor, who has written for the New York Daily News, Time and the New Republic Magazine and now, The Daily Beast, recently spent three weeks in Afghanistan. He reports that Afghan clerics actually expect an outbreak of civil war in Afghanistan in 2014, when the United States withdraws. So, who is the "winner" here?

Consider as well, the very real scars of War. I know these all too well: the nightmares, the flashbacks, the hyper-vigilance, where you feel like you always have to have your back against the wall and a clear exit strategy; the fundamental distrust of people because even insiders can maim you; the black hole of depression; the fear that you cannot get too close to even good people for fear that you will only lose them; the panic attacks that come, without warning, that sense of suffocation when you encounter a sound or smell or sight that takes you back to the War Zone; that awful, constant feeling of loss and guilt over things you never could have prevented anyway; a gnawing inability to forgive oneself or nuture oneself, because the feelings of worthlessness are inescapable; feelings of isolation because no one could possibly understand what you have been through or accept your deeply defective Self; feelings of dismay and betrayal when someone tells you that you are "doing great".

And, now that winning in Afghanistan is so very uncertain, the United States is allowing women into direct combat. I am all for empowering women, but I do not call this progress.

Dr. Donna Washington, a professor of medicine at UCLA, has found in a study that 53% of homeless women veterans also suffered military sexual abuse. Many female veterans who suffered M.S.T. have already escaped from years of abuse and domestic violence at home. A former female Army Reserve officer says, " It just pulls the skin off you." [New York Times, Feb. 28, 2012].

It is not just the military personnel who suffer from casualties or death. In the War on Terror, fewer than 5,000 U.S. military personel have died. But about 135,000 local citizens have died. Do we not mourn them, because they are invisible? And if we say, well, 5,000 U.S. deaths are only a bit over the total number of persons who died on 9/11-- are we seeing soldiers as pieces on a chess board?  Or as human beings with souls, with families, with living, breathing dreams?

The next time that you see the violence of War, I hope that you do the human thing, and cry. And I hope that you pray with all your soul for a more peaceful world.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Casting the First Stone

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test Him, so that they could have some charge to bring against Him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with His finger. But when they continued asking Him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again, He bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So He was left alone with the woman before Him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” [John 8: 1-11].

Many years ago, I was working in a bank, in a big downtown scryscraper.  In the office was a temporary worker. Let's call her Yanana.

She had emigrated from China at the age of thirty. Her husband had come before her to America, and he had found work and a place to live. Then her husband had sent for her.

Yanana had arrived on a plane, with her young daughter at her side. She brought all the possessions that she could carry, in one suitcase.

In this office, the employees said that she was not American. They said that she spoke with an accent. They said that she wrote English poorly. They said that she should learn English. They said that she made mathematical errors in her work. They said that she did not understand instructions.

Each criticism was like a tiny stone thrown her way. Yanana was unaware of these strikes against her. But they poisoned the workplace. Yanana was isolated and without friends.

I listened to this small swell of pebbles, but this small tide soon became  an avalanche. I tried my best to keep my head lowered, and my mind busy with my own work.

But after some time of  enduring this litany, day upon day,  I could stand it no longer.

Remember that, when I was ten, I had stopped speaking. I had given up on my own power to stand up to anyone. When I had started working part- time in college, it was painful to even answer the phone, let alone to go into the boss's office to discuss my work. So often at meetings, I had to make myself  say just one thing.

When Yanana went out to lunch one day, I stood up among the cubicles. I was shaking and my voice was not steady. But, I said in a clear voice, "How would YOU like to pack up everything you owned, bring your tiny daughter on a plane and move to China? How would YOU like to work at a bank, handling large sums of money for clients, and do this all in Chinese?"

There was dead silence.

The worst of the critics paused. She said, " Wow! I never thought of it that way. . . ."

No one ever criticized Yanana again.

I became friends with Yanana. At Thanksgiving time, we discussed her holiday menu. She decided to roast a turkey, but stuff it with rice. At Easter, I gave her my best cheesecake recipe.

The truth was, I so admired her. Yanana was beautiful. She was a martial arts master. She made her own clothes. She was a calligraphy artist. She could cook gourmet meals. And it was her boss who was making errors and blaming Yanana, because it was easier to blame the temporary immigrant worker, than to admit her own errors.

This is why the scribes and Pharisees had to walk away. They were blaming the adulterous woman, but were sinners themselves!

How many hours a day do we spend in criticizing and judging others? I challenge everyone to watch the news each day, and discern how much of what passes for news is actually "judgment of sin".

I agree that we cannot forgive, or make the world better, if we do not discern what went wrong in the first place.

But, as Jesus did, we need to speak up when those who are not perfect themselves, are condemning others.  This is why Jesus says, "I do not condemn you. Now go, and from now on, sin no longer." Jesus does not accept the woman's sin. But he defends her from certain death at the hands of sinners.

There is to no profit to staying in condemnation forever. If we spin our wheels in blame and condemnation, then we can never advance, or heal.

Lord, I pray that I may accept my mistakes, receive the Lord's forgiveness, then pick myself up and try harder the next time.

[Related Postings, " Judge Not", July 18, 2011]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Prodigal Son

" Jesus told this parable: ' There was a man who had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.' After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. Coming to his senses, he got up and went back to his father. His father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, 'I no longer deserve to be called your son.' But his father ordered his servants,
'Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast.'

Now the older son became angry and refused to enter the house. His father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, 'Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet, you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him, you slaughter the fatted calf.' His father said to him, ' My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now, we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' " [ Luke 15].

Every few years, this Scripture comes up again in the cycle of Gospel Readings. The first few times I read this, I thought that this parable must be wrong!! I was angry. I thought that somehow this story must be a mistake!

In the culture of that time, as a son asking for his inheritance today, was the equivalent of saying to one's father, "You are dead to me."

So then, HOW could the older son, who had stayed faithful and obedient to his father all of his life, be treated this way?  Shouldn't it be the opposite?

OR does my angry refusal to accept this story speak volumes about my hardness of heart toward my own family. . . .

It always took everything I had to be respectful to the parents I had been born to; the parents who never said, "I love you", who neglected to treat my serious lung disease, who sometimes did not feed me, who abandoned me in a far way city after I had almost died in a violent crime.

And so, I was as loving as I could be while I lived in that house. Or, at times, to protect myself, I stayed out of the way.

Even Jesus said that, if you are not welcome in one village, to pack your sandals and go to another village. [Luke 9]. So, one day when I was old enough for university, I simply left. This is as it should be. We are never called to love to the point of accepting abuse.

But then, many years after I had left home, my father died abruptly. The brother, who had been extremely harsh on me as well, called me and, with sad emotion in his voice, told me, "Dad did not make it. You'd better get down here [home.]' "

All the cruel years melted away in that moment. My father was lost and gone! I got in the car and drove to my parents' home.

Forgiveness is what the story of the Prodigal Son is all about. Forgiveness is a funny thing.

To even go home, I knew that I had to forgive, but I was trying to "contain" my forgiveness, to make it conditional:

I will forgive if my transgressors are dead and gone, like my own parents are, because everything is in the past now and can no longer touch me.

I will forgive only because my mother is frail and overwhelmed and no longer has the strength to hurt me.

But do not ask me to forgive if the transgressor is my brother, who seemed to get everything he wanted, when all I did was labor my whole life, to nuture my parents.

I do like to tell the story of how all the years melted away the day my father suddenly died and how I ran home to take care of my mother until the day she died.

I talk a lot less about the forgiveness I need to cultivate towards my brother. . . .

I want it to count that I never hated him. In reality, it was more like, I was afraid of him.

I do not want to admit that if he showed up at my door today unexpectedly, I might not let him in.

I don't want to talk about all those holidays when I said 'Merry Christmas', threw a gift at him that I did not want to buy, then ate at his table and barely spoke to him. What did HE do, except grow up in that same painful, traumatizing house?

I hate to even mention all the family treasures that I coveted-- no, fought over and believed were owed to me-- for the lifetime of cruelty and abuse that I endured.

I once asked my pastor if there is anything that is unforgiveable? How I wanted the answer to be yes, for all the severe abuse committed against me. The pastor paused and said, "Hmmm." Then, he said, "Umm. No . . . ."

I am still trying to piece together all of the lifelong abuse. Memories come back in fragmentary pieces: feelings of terror, flashes of cruelty in nightmares or in waking images. I tell myself that I cannot forgive yet, if I do not know all the details of what was done against me. Please, God, give me more time!

I had to think long and hard about what the pastor said. It hated to think it, but true forgiveness cannot be conditional.  Conditional forgivess is like bargaining with God. But God --who loves us totally-- wants our total love.

One day, I called my brother and apologized about my feelings of blame against him, for all of the damage wrought on me. I had already done a lot of work towards forgiving my parents. Why couldn't I soften my heart towards him?

My brother paused. I sort of held my breath. He apologized heartily for what he had ever done to hurt me. He finally said, "That's what I like about this family. We can be brutally honest and still love each other." I breathed a sigh of relief.

He freely says, "I love you" to me now. I am not ready for that yet. I cannot say it back. I still have work to do on forgiving.

Our feelings of forgiveness are a journey. Forgiveness is a long walk that will end in us gaining far more than we would ever lose. Forgiveness is not defeat, it is the victory of Love.

I want those feelings of forgiveness to grow inside me. I do not want hate to eat me up inside "like a bitter seed." [Hebrews 12.]  This is not what I survived for, after that severe life-long abuse.

With a hard heart inside me, I can never fulfill the plan that God has for me. I can never have space in my soul to tap into my gifts, or to find the love that I need to continue on.

And, if my brother-- who was so harsh to me-- can let go and love; but I, who was never abusive, vow to never let go of my hard feelings for him -- then who is the sinner here?

Forgiveness-- because I owe it to myself; because I owe it to God.

[Hate= Murder, February 17, 2011; "Love Your Enemies", February 21, 2012].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I Was A Stranger

World Day of Prayer, March 1, 2013

According to the World Day of Prayer Program 2013, "World Day of Prayer is a world-wide ecumenical movement of Christian women of many traditions who come together to observe a common day of prayer each year on the first Friday of March. Each year a different country serves as the writer of the World Day of Prayer worship service, interpreting the Bible in their own context, and lifting up issues of mission, justice and peace that are important to them."

This year, the women of France developed the program. Next year, the women of Egypt will present their Order of Worship.

I present here an edited version of the World Day of Prayer 2013 program:

Theme: "I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me"

Procession: Several women led the procession up the aisle. They all wore red and orange and yellow, in harmony with the beautiful World Day of Prayer 2013 poster.


Leader:  Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour! World Day of Prayer USA welcomes each of you today to join our sisters in France who have prepared this worship service for us. We would like them to tell you about themselves and where they come from.

Odile: I am the chairperson of the French WDP committee and I live in Paris.

Jeanne: I am a doctor from Cameroon. I became a French citizen through marriage.

Greta: I am German, single and a teacher in the South of France.

Marguerite: I was born in the Eastern part of France. I am a homemaker and mother of four.

Cecile: I work with my husband on our farm in the center of France.

Genevieve: I am married to an Englishman and have just retired from my job in a shop.

Stranger: God calls us. We know that we are God's children. And we know that we are but "strangers and foreigners on the earth."

Leader: God calls us. Let us listen and be open to the word of Jesus Christ. " I was a stranger and you welcomed me." Throughout the world, let us unite in prayers.

Gathering Hymn: " In Christ There is No East or West".

Praise:  Some of the women take turns praising God, and the Congregation sings as its Response, "Laudate Dominum".

Odile: Praise to you, O Lord. You created us in your image and we are all different. Thank you for this diversity. Thank you for the cultures and traditions that have emerged in our places of origin."

Jeanne: Praise to you, O Lord. Each one of us is unique in your eyes. You guide us on the path to solidarity, whatever our origins, languages, appearances and personalities.

Greta:  May praise, honor, and glory be given unto you Lord, for the bounty that you have granted us.

Seeking Forgiveness :

Marguerite: We turn to the Book of Leviticus and listen to God's instructions that we are not to exploit strangers.

Leader:  The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: " You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. . . When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien." [Leviticus 19: 1-2, 33]

Irena:  I am from Ukraine. I answered an offer for a job in France, lured by the hope for a better life. But, my very own Ukrainian people conned me, and without a job, money or documents, I found myself totally dependent on a prostitution network.

Leader:  "The alien who resides with you shall be a citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." [Leviticus 19: 34-36].

Joyce:  I was born in France and grew up here. My parents had come to France before my birth to escape war in Congo. In spite of my French diploma, I cannot find a job because when people read my name and see my picture, they do not think I could be truly French.

Leader:  "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. You shall keep my statutes and all my ordinances and observe them." [Leviticus 19: 36-37].


Some of the women speak, then in turn, the congregation responds with "Kyrie".

Cecile: Forgive us, Lord, for each time we did not rightly welcome the one turning to us for refuge. Forgive us for our words, which hurt others, and our attitudes, which humiliate them. Forgive us for our cowardice and our indifference.

Genevieve: We find assurance of God's pardon in the book of Revelation: " See, the home of God is among mortals. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." [Revelation 21: 3-4].

VeraI am Brazilian. I have been in France for five years. My life is very tiring because I do domestic work for several families. I love France. I have many French friends who help me.

Marie-Leone: I lived in Rwanda until the genocide when my father, brother, aunt and uncle were killed. Smothered by so much suffering and horror, I found sisters in Christ [in France] who consoled me, helped me. I praise the Lord for guiding me to Christian sisters and brothers who opened their homes and their hearts to me.

Francoise: My family has lived in France for many generations. As a hospital nurse, I want to witness to the way foreign children are welcomed when they come to France for major surgery.

Leader: Today, O Lord, we have everything to learn from your Word. Free us from all ready-made explanations that prevent us from hearing your Call.

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40 -- "Truly, I tell you, just as you did [this] to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

Hymn: "God Makes Us Friends".

Speaker: A native born French person, who spoke about French history, culture, language, religions etc. The concluding comment: ' The American people are the amongst the most free in discussing their spirituality and faith.'

Veni Sancte Spiritus: Some of the women speak, then in turn, the congregation sings "Veni Sanctus Spiritus"

Greta: We pray for young women who dare to cross borders to study or work, drawn by the promise of a job and a better life. We pray with alarm and concern for those who are caught in the dangerous trap of human trafficking.

Marguerite: We pray for the courage to face the reasons people are driven from their homes: war, natural disaster, climate change, a failed economy.

Cecile: We pray that our churches will be places of welcome for all people, regardless of where they come from.

Genevieve: O Lord, our God, our refuge and strength, let us pray [The Lord's Prayer].

Sending and Blessing:

Stranger: Sisters and brothers: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." May our smile bring warmth. May our words help to sustain life. Jesus tells us: " Just as you did this to one of the least of these, you did it to me."

Closing Hymn: "May God's Blessing Surround You."

Worship Service (c) World Day of Prayer 2013

Profound gratitude to the women of France, who developed this program and who led us all in prayer. Blessings, peace and justice to all who prayed together on this special day, all over the world!

[Related Posting: " Let Justice Prevail", March 7, 2012.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

My Little Fig Tree

" Jesus told this parable: ' A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but he did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ' For three years now, I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree, and I haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'  'Sir,' the man replied, ' leave it alone for one more year, and I will till it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'  " [ Luke 13: 6-9].

I love this symbol of the little fig tree. It is an image I can meditate upon. It is a metaphor for the eternal promise of spring, of Jesus' Resurrection. It is a symbol of God's patience with us because, just as the gardener in this parable gives the fig tree more time in which to thrive, so also God gives us time to cultivate our own Faith in Him.

Like the fig tree, our Faith goes through times of drought and times of fruitful bounty. We can cherish our Faith, but at times, also despair of our faith. Faith does not grow in a linear fashion. There are generous harvest times, but just as often, times when our faith is in danger of dying.

My own faith life has been a roller coaster.

I was not baptized until I was about three. Although I was a bit older, this was a time that my faith was validated, even as a tiny child.

I was confirmed and made my First Communion when I was thirteen. I still remember that special day. I could almost believe that God saw me and acknowledged me.

Almost immediately thereafter, my family stopped taking me to church. Thus began my long time of drought. They told me, "We do not go to church." At that tender age, I thought maybe it was wrong to believe in God.

When I was in college, I told myself, 'Life is good, why do I need God?'

After university, I was exhausted, learning new skills in my first job, saving for my first apartment. I thought I was too tired for God.

Then, I met my husband. He went to Mass each Sunday, even after working hard all week. I would go along, but I was totally lost in the Order of Mass.  I thought I was too confused to seek God.

We traveled a long, despairing road before we were able to become parents. I thought that I was losing my Faith in God.

Many years later, my world fell apart. In rapid succession, I lost my father, and my best friend. It fell to me to take my mother in, the mother who had mocked me, who had rejected me and abandoned me, even at my worst hour.

I sold my parent's home, my childhood home. I settled my father's affairs. During these times, I did not know what I even believed in any longer. I did not know up from down. I sometimes did not know what day it was.

I was overwhelmed. I developed the oddest feeling that I absolutely, finally had to become closer to God. I could not go on like this alone, with my world so upside down and backwards. I felt as if I were twisting in the wind. I thought, if I fell, I did not want to fall alone.

The time had come to cease sitting on the sidelines when it came to my Faith. I met with the pastor at the church. I thought he could offer some words that would help me find my equilibrium again. I found myself blurting out that I wanted to convert.

My conversion was painstaking and painful. I was a "baby Christian." the Holy Trinity confused me;  questions about why, how God could ever love me scared me; the story of Jesus washing His disciples' feet amazed me.

Finally, I received the Eucharist again!! God had waited a very long time for me. He had waited for me almost my entire life. I felt triumphant. It had been a long drought, yet I was finally going to bear some fruit.

But my mother's constant, harsh blasphemy against Catholics was wearing me down. Then, another wave of abuse scandals broke in the Church. I was devastated.

I thought that priests could not, would not sin. I thought, in their special prayers, that priests had a hotline to God. And-- I thought that parents were supposed to love their children, not abuse them.

In truth, priests and parents are human. And heartbreakingly, they do sin. Even against us.

Just as I was becoming bold enough to seek God, I ended up wanting to bolt. I decided to stop receiving Communion. Then, I figured, if I am not going to receive the Eucharist, why would I go to Mass at all?

What had I even accomplished in my conversion? I had just worked extremely hard in my conversion, only to succeed in running from the arms of my abusive family, straight into the arms of a Church rife with abuse. I had hoped that conversion would offer the healing that I so desperately needed. Instead, my conversion hurt, it hurt so terribly much!

I called my pastor and I told him, " I cannot do this any longer!" The abuse scandals had tainted my conversion.  My mother's blasphemy felt too much like vicious persecution. It all came at a time when I was such a tentative Christian to begin with.

But the next Sunday came, and my husband insisted that I come to Mass with him and our son. He told me that I had no choice. It would set a bad example for our son.

I went to church, but I decided that I did not have to listen. Then, the Homily came. The pastor spoke about seeking Jesus. He asked,' Do you turn away from Jesus? And why? Because you are angry with God? Because your parents disappointed you? Because you did not get everything you wanted in life? Because someone hurt you deeply and you want to run away?' Ouch! That was sharp, but I needed to hear that!

The pastor went on, ' Well, Jesus wants desperately to be your friend. He almost pleads with us. In John 15: 15, Jesus says, ' I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends. . . I no longer call you servants, I call you friends. You did not choose me, but I chose you. I appointed you to go and bear fruit-- fruit that will be everlasting.'

Suddenly, I realized that, even as I had finally begun to cultivate my own little fig tree-- that is, my Faith-- I wanted to give up and cut it down. And why? Because of the sins of others?! 

Of all our impulses, the impulse to destroy our own Faith will surely never cure the sins of others.

Believe me, I have tried to "confess" the sins of others against me, to confess their sins FOR them. I can tell you, it does not work! All that I am left with, in this process, is my own sinking sense of despair at the grave sins of the world.

I have also tried to run away from my Faith, because of all the sins of the world. But no matter how we dither, or how we despair or try to hide, God waits for us. He insistently, persistently calls our name. He waits until that time of Spring in our life, when we are ready to cultivate His Fruits.

My only Salvation will be, must be, to nurture my own Faith. No matter how others in this world sin -- or maybe in defiance of how others sin-- I will cultivate my own little fig tree. Then I will grow a flourishing little fig tree, and my Faith will bear much fruit.

[Related Posting: "The Fig Tree", Nov. 18, 2012.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

But then, the